The 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.
  One 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.  
  According to Al: "The space was either noticed or the repair bill for the organ in the depression made the space available."
  That "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.

It 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."

Al's 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.

Similar 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 five cars.
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.

Just 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!"

The author would like to thank Al Recht and ride manager John for their courtesy.

All photos are by Bill Luca and George LaCross
© 2003