Monet had collaborated with Corot. Dickens co-authored
with Hemingway. Jimmi Hendrix jammed with Jim Morrison…okay,
that may be pushing it a bit, but you get the idea. Anyway,
these dream partnerships exemplify a real-life collaboration
between two giants of the dark ride industry: Bill Cassidy
of the Pretzel Amusement
Company and Bill Tracy of Amusement Display. Their masterpiece:
the former Le Cachot dark ride at Kennywood Park in West Mifflin,
Pennsylvania. Arguably, it was the ultimate classic dark ride.
Cassidy and Tracy didn't work together on Le Cachot when it
was created in 1972. Cassidy had designed and manufactured
a Pretzel dark ride for Kennywood in 1954. It employed a fleet
of Pretzel's new spinning cars that took the industry by storm
in the mid-1950s. Nearly 20 years later, when Tracy was commissioned,
to retheme it to Le Cachot (English translation: The Dungeon),
he retained the Pretzel fleet as well as Cassidy's disorienting
track configuration. With Tracy's fiendish boxed in stunts
and Casey's winding S-curves, it was a purist's fantasy come
true. Perhaps it was fitting that these two geniuses collaborated
after the fact, since decades earlier, Tracy worked for Cassidy
as an artisan.
Okay, let's start at the beginning. In 1954, Kennywood
already had four dark attractions: a Harry Traver-built
Laff In The Dark, a Noah's Ark fun house, a Daffy Club
almost certainly built by PTC, and an Old Mill. So what
prompted the park to add a Pretzel dark ride?
were popular and had universal appeal," recalls Carl
Hughes, former president of Kennywood, and as of 2002,
still employed by the park in semi-retirement. Hughes
didn't meet Bill Cassidy when he arrived at Kennywood
to install the dark ride. But in 2001,
Cassidy told Laff In The Dark that he vividly
his 1954 visit to Kennywood. "It was a grand old park with
nice people running it," Cassidy said. Like he had done for
many previous Pretzel installations, Cassidy laid out his
track and stunts in a previously used building. Kennywood
selected a structure that had debuted as a bowling alley;
then housed the Cuddle Up ride. As Hughes recalled during
a recent interview with Laff In The Dark, the Pretzel came
with the standard set of black box stunts that were "track
activated, mostly." (One of the most popular black box Pretzel
stunts of that time was "Bull" - a stunt still active in Sylvan
Kennywood's Pretzel had its track, cars, stunts and façade.
But it had no name. A cross-promotional contest with a local
kid's TV show, "Ida Mae & Happy" produced the winning name
"Zoomerang," probably inspired by the winding curves and the
360-degree spinning of the cars. Sadly, the Zoomerang cars
only spun for one season. Kennywood followed the lead of many
parks throughout the country and deadbolted the spinning mechanism.
"It was the easy way out for the maintenance staff," recalls
However, a locked Pretzel spinner on a winding track still
makes for a disorientating ride. With the car's high back
design and its sideways movement, the rider cannot see what
lies in front or in back; only what's coming over his or her
right shoulder. Even without the spinning, the elements of
surprise and confusion are prevalent.
dark rides became increasingly popular in the 1960s, and Kennywood
got into the act in 1961 by giving Zoomerang a complete makeover.
They hired Bill Tracy, whose Amusement Display company was in
Cape May, New Jersey to convert the ride into darkest Africa where
wild animals and man-eating pygmies lay in waiting for unsuspecting
also designed the façade for his creation, "Safari,"
installing a 16-foot tall African warrior over the
loading platform. The warrior said "some mumbo jumbo"
according to Hughes.
"Bill Tracy had a theory that the budget for new dark
ride scenery should be one-half stunts, one-half front,"
says Hughes. "This was in the days when everyone used
tickets, not POP (Pay One Price)."
1972, Kennywood decided to round up the jungle animals and
clear the brush for a third rendition for its Pretzel ride.
Once again the park handed the reins to Tracy who turned the
Pretzel into the dungeon of a sinister medieval castle. About
10 years earlier, Tracy had designed another spooky castle,
"The Castle of Terror," at Rocky Point Park in Warwick, Rhode
Island. In his Castle of Terror, Tracy pushed the envelope
of political incorrectness with large, graphic dioramas that
often included politically incorrect stunts. Perhaps he mellowed
a bit over the years, because his Le Cachot creation for Kennywood
was light on the grotesque and heavy on timing and lighting
effects. The stunts were positioned perfectly to take full
advantage of the riders' limited range of vision in the sidewinding
Pretzel cars. The stunts, most encased in black boxes, seemingly
appeared out of nowhere. It was one jolt after another.