If I were to select some of the happiest moments of my childhood in Pennsylvania during the late 1950s, they would certainly include annual summer visits to Hershey Park. I was blessed to grow up in amusement park nirvana, with Rolling Green, Knoebels Grove, Williams Grove, Willow Mill and Hershey Park all within an hour’s ride away. Hershey was only a 50-minute drive from my hometown, but at age eight the trip there seemed endless. As you approached the town of Hershey the smell of chocolate permeated the air, especially on warm summer days. The towering cocoa bean silos and twin smoke stacks of the factory dominated the Hershey skyline, and back then visitors could actually tour the factory where chocolate was produced.

Hershey, like many other parks at that time, had free admission, free parking, free entertainment and free picnic facilities. With no admission entry, guests at these parks could roam ‘free range’ to choose and pay for each ride of their choosing individually. At 25 cents per ticket the Comet roller coaster was the most expensive ride in the park.

Some ride enthusiasts migrated to roller coasters and other white-knuckle rides, others to the tamer carousel or Ferris wheel, but I was always intrigued by dark rides. In part it was due to TV viewings at an early age of the classic Universal horrors horror films—Frankenstein, The Wolfman and The Mummy. There was something especially fascinating about riding in an unaccompanied vehicle along a track, under controlled lighting or through darkness, unaware of what lurked just ahead. I think Disney once referred to dark rides as “houses that hide the dark”. 

While most of the major rides at Hershey Park were located in the lower “hollow”, the Pretzel dark ride sat at the top of a small hill above Spring Creek. The Pretzel was my very first dark ride at eight years old and an absolutely frightening experience...which I would enjoy again and again.

Admission when I first rode in 1958 was 10 cents. The exterior of the Pretzel ride building, an area which the bumper cars now occupy, was painted a light tan with navy blue trim. The boarding area featured a pale blue wall embellished with painted white ghosts and the ominous words Fun, Thrills, and Chills. At one point in the Pretzel’s history there was a recessed area with a very dusty, non-functioning Laffing Sal. That lifeless gap-toothed effigy alone was enough to horrify you as a child.


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