Leon Shropshire Cassidy

Ladies and gentlemen, you see before you the man who started it all,  Leon Cassidy, inventor of the dark ride. This portrait, made in 1909, shows the formally-attired young Cassidy at age 19, on the threshold of a life of entrepreneurship and adventure.
Below, we see an even more youthful Leon Cassidy surrounded by family including his father Stacey and mother Nelly at right. Stacey was a famous six-day bicycle racer who participated in races held at Madison Square Garden. His bicycle resides in the Smithsonian in Washington.


     Born on June 16, 1890, Leon Cassidy grew up to become a proficient pianist and made a living accompanying the action of silent movies in the days of Pearl White and Douglas Fairbanks. He played piano in the Levoy Theater in Milllville, NJ, then came to Bridgeton to work in the Criterion and Stanley Theaters. The big theater organs were starting to become popular, so he took up organ and continued performing in cinemas.
      He soon went from being a hired musician to operating his own theater, and in 1920 acquired his first movie house with his future wife selling the five-cent tickets.
     Cassidy then sought other forms of entertainment opportunites and in partnership with Marvin Rempfer took over Tumbling Dam Amusement Park, a traction company park (or trolley park) on the east side of Tumbling Dam Pond, now known as Sunset Lake in Bridgeton. Cassidy's company brought the park up to date with a merry go round, scooters and a water slide. Then he turned an old bowling alley into game stands.
     One of the attractions that Cassidy felt the park needed was an old mill, a very popular ride with boats floating through a cavern of darkness filled with eerie scenery. But the construction of the mill and its waterways was beyond the budget of the struggling park. Cassidy and Rempfer began looking for a cheaper alternative and started tinkering with a spare Dodgem car. Soon they had a "dry" version of the mill which took riders through a darkened pavilion in small cars that followed a single electrified track. It premiered in 1928.
     Cassidy and Rempfer vigorously promoted the new and as yet unnamed ride, and decided to hold a contest to allow the public to choose what the ride would be called. They proclaimed that on Memorial Day the new name would be chosen from entries submitted by park patrons. A $5 gold piece would be awarded to the winner, provided he or she was present in the park at the time the name was announced.
     A young Miriam Dawson took the golden prize for her name, "The Firefly", inspired by the characteristic sparking of the electric pickup at the rail. The name didn't stick, though. Cassidy and Rempfer were uncomfortable with the association of sparks with wooden buildings, and soon assigned the name "Pretzel" to the attraction after a rider exclaimed that he felt like he'd been bent into a pretzel by the twisting path followed by the car.
      With the success of their new ride and the interest shown by other park owners, Cassidy and Rempfer quickly established a company to manufacture and market the Pretzel ride. Initially built to resemble Model A Fords, the cars were redesigned with the familiar pretzel-shaped decorations. Each 40-pound iron pretzel casting also served to add weight to the nose of the car to help keep the front wheel from jumping the track. The new 20-gauge sheet metal cars had a tapered shape similar to the touring pushcarts that were popular on the Coney Island and Atlantic City boardwalks. This car would remain the company's single standard rolling stock almost until World War II.