legacy of the Spook House goes back to the Philadelphia
Expo of 1906-1907, and it owes its very existence to a
classic carousel. The building which houses the Spook
House and the park's existing carousel was acquired from
the Expo by Nick Droge, who brought the structure to Keansburg
where it was re-erected in 1913.
section of that building was used to house the large Gavioli
carousel organ, which is listed in Fred Fried's book on
carousels as one of the largest ever imported into the
U.S.It had moving figures and was about 30-feet long.
The band organ was sent out to Wurlitzer for repair.
to Al: "The space was either noticed or the repair bill
for the organ in the depression made the space available."
"space" would be used for a Pretzel dark ride installation.
Leon Cassidy, who headed the fledging Pretzel company
at that time, supplied his "Model A" cars and the company's
original channel track.
was 1931, and the attraction was called Mystery Ride.
The adjacent section of the building now houses a Chance
carousel. Another event that would shape the Mystery Ride's
destiny took place in 1935. That's when the amusement
area at nearby Belvedere Beach closed, leaving four cars
from that park's Pretzel up for grabs. More on that later.
And the Mystery Ride made a political statement.
First, there was a head of Hitler over a toilet
bowl. During the Cold War, the head was changed
to that of Stalin. "It was an old porcelain
toilet bowl with tank and wood seat with a head
placed on the seat in the appropriate position,"
recalls Al. "It didn't do anything but light
up, but everybody remembered it." It wasn't
long before Clarence and Al made some changes
to their Mystery Ride. In their second year
of operation they replaced the ride's aging
channel track, and added one of Pretzel's most
famous stunts, Al E.Gator. "The track was only
channel iron with the hot leg, a 1/8" X 1/2"
metal (steel) strip mounted in between the channels
by 3/16" flat head stove bolts and those red
fiber insulators used by Cassidy and Co.," recalls
Al. "It was worn out with nothing but shorts
all the time and it was very difficult to keep
bolted down as they used just a thin angle bracket
to hold it."
Other stunts were added or customized by the
Rechts. . "We made different stunts over the
years," recalls Al. "A dropping spider, a turning
pirate, a forty-inch diameter spinning wheel
with spiral lines in UV paint. We animated the
canvas snake so the head moved up and down and
in and out…a mirror illusion to simulate a car
crash with another car head on… various light
up heads placed in different locations, lots
of body parts moved around in different places
obtained from department store dummies." With
these changes came a new moniker for the Mystery
Ride. "Everybody called it the Spook House so
we finally decided that the name would be more
recognizable if we used it," Al says. And in
1955 new "old" cars were put in service. Here's
where the earlier closing of the Belvedere Beach
Pretzel was added to the equation. "I had four
original cars on the ride that I ran for a few
years and the Belvedere cars were stored inside
the ride for a while till I got them running,"
explains Al. "They had one-piece motor, axle
and gear assembly housings while the originals
had two-piece housings. I put those four (Belvedere)
cars in use about 1955 and kept one of the originals
for a spare."
father Clarence Recht purchased Keansburg's
Mystery Ride from the Demontreux family
in 1952. And it quickly became a family
affair for the Rechts. "My mother Rose
ran the ride for quite a while," recalls
Al. "My grandmother: My mother's mother,
Mary Hand, used to be a ticket seller
for it until she was 77 years old and
had to get out of the sun because of high
blood pressure so she had to retire."
At the time of his dad's 1952 purchase,
the Mystery Ride, according to Al, had
the following stunts: . Mice running up
the wall of a black box . A large canvas
snake . A spider made of plaster and papier
mache . Faces on the wall lit up by an
argon glow light.
So father and son headed to Bridgeton, New Jersey
to order new T-railroad type track, as well
as the Gator stunt, from another father and
son: Leon and Bill Cassidy of the Pretzel Amusement
Ride Company. "I was a young kid and I didn't
do the talking; my dad did that," recalls Al
of the 1953 visit to the famous Cassidys. "I
remember at that time they showed us the new
Pretzel cars they were just making that turned
at a 90-degree angle when they hit a trip bracket
to face whatever stunt was there." When the
track arrived in Keansburg, the Rechts reconfigured
the layout to make the ride longer. They installed
the Al E. Gator stunt, and liked it so much
that they decided to add a similar installation;
this one a lurching tiger. Al recalls that the
owner of Keansburg's bowling alley and arcade
discovered a papier mache tiger head in one
of the lofts. He gave it to Clarence who teamed
with Al to duplicate the Gator stunt mechanics.
to the Spook House's original fleet, the Belvedere
cars were first-generation "Model A" Pretzel
cars. They were originally red with black trim,
but the Rechts eventually had them painted black
with air-brushed flames and skulls. In 1960,
the Rechts expanded the loading area to accommodate
The 1984 closing of Atlantic City dark ride
was the Recht's gain, as they purchased the
ride with its famous ADC Giant.
"That Giant was a movable trick that I had mounted outside
where the piano player is now," says Al. "It rocked in
and out secured by a hinge at the feet and leaned outward
about one-in-a-half feet by cam action from a gear motor."
The Giant currently resides inside the Spook House as
a stationary stunt. In 1996, Al deployed several figures
from the Bonanza shooting gallery to the Spook House.
sitting in one of the Pretzel "Model A" roadsters is
a big thrill. I envision it coming off the Pretzel assembly
line, inspected by a delighted Leon Cassidy. As I crash
through the "Jason" doors, the interior has taken on
a new perspective. The comforting house lights are off;
the dim, eerie show lights are on. Everything looks
sinister. Even the woodpecker appears angry. Although
I interfaced with the Jersey Devil minutes earlier,
he startles me as I ride by. The ghoul in the blue windbreaker
looks even more like my former next-door neighbor. And,
as I suspected, the illusion of a collision with another
car is so real that I can't help but brace myself. They
couldn't have spaced the track any closer. As I emerge
into sunlight the ride operator asks me what I thought
of Spook House. I could think of more glowing adjectives,
but a contemporary one immediately comes to mind. "Cool!"
author would like to thank Al Recht and ride manager
John for their courtesy.
All photos are by Bill Luca and George LaCross
© 2003 laffinthedark.com