And that was my introduction to the famous female funhouse figure who, I learned many years later, was named Laffing Sal. Next summer our family would revisit Revere Beach where I found Sal and Laffing Sam (her partner) dressed in pirate's garb, appropriate for the greeters of Treasure Island. I had no doubt they would go on laughing forever. After all, what sense of the ephemeral does a child of eight have? But, as was the fate of the Cyclone, Virginia Reel, Bluebeard's Palace, Hurley's Carousel, and the Hippodrome, Treasure Island and Laffing Sal and Sam are now just a memory in the mist.
     Today only the ocean beach which preceded them remains; its timeless tides bearing no witness to the millions of summer revelers who for decades enjoyed the rides, games and eating places that shared its shoreline.

Photo: Philadelphia Toboggan Co..
     As my family traveled to other amusement centers in the next several years, such as Coney Island and Palisades Amusement Park, I was pleased to discover that Sal had many identical 'sisters' on laughing duty. Laffing Sam occasionally turned up, but far less frequently. I would often find Sal perched atop a funhouse facade, or giggling inside a glass-enclosed booth at the sidewalk entrance, always accompanied by that same scratchy voice wailing in uninhibited mirth from a nearby loudspeaker.
      Since she had introduced me to the dark ride at Revere Beach, I came to recognize Laffing Sal as the cheerleader for what would become my favorite amusement attractions. I eagerly sought her out at every new park we visited and knew that I had located my special ride when I found her waiting for me, with her broad face and familiar smile, hooting and howling at everything in general and nothing in particular.
     Laffing Sal, the most recognizable icon of the amusement park funhouse, and to a lesser extent, dark rides, had been doing her act all over America since the early 1930's. She was conceived for the purpose of ballyhoo by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, then of Germantown, PA, which was a major player in the business of furnishing amusement rides such as carousels and roller coasters as well as a prolific builder of funhouses.

Photo: Philadelphia Toboggan Co.
PTC rightly felt that an animated figure of a laughing woman would both draw crowds to their funhouse attractions and put people in the mood to enjoy the indignities of shifting stairways, rotating barrels and strategically placed air holes in the floors. Sal was furnished more or less as standard equipment with the funhouses that PTC built at a very large number of traditional amusement parks in the 30's and 40's, and she was also purchased separately by many other parks to liven up their existing attractions.
Being more of a mechanical engineering firm, although they did employ master artisans to produce their carousels, PTC subcontracted the production of their Laffing Sal figures to the Old King Cole Papier Mache Company of Canton, Ohio. Old King Cole (OKC) was originally the merger of the National Papier Mache Works of Clinton, Iowa, the Milwaukee Papier Mache Works and the Western Papier Mache Works of Denver, CO. The three companies were combined by Charles F. Cole around 1906 in Clinton, Iowa and moved to Canton in 1907.
The company, which had already won fame with its mammoth papier mache animals at the World's Fair of 1893, came to Ohio with a train load of 3,000 molds and a dozen employees. Thirty or so more employees then joined the firm at the old Aultman plant at 920 S. Market Street. In 1911, Charles Cole sold his interest and after changing hands a few more times, the company was sold to Robert E. Mackenzie in 1924. Later, the firm was moved to a new building at 1800 22nd St. NE and sold to John P. Jackson of Louisville who  

Funstage, Wildwood, NJ
 Photo: Philadelphia Toboggan Co.
operated it until 1962. It was then sold to a group of employees and ceased operations soon thereafter.
(Hear a recorded interview with Jackson elsewhere in this article.)

Photo: Philadelphia Toboggan Co.
In the early days before the development of plastics, fibreglass, Celastic and other such materials, papier mache was the dominant medium for the low-cost and reproducible fabrication of figural objects. The process found widespread use in the amusement park industry, being employed to fashion the sculpted facades of a wide variety of rides as well as the decorative figures and displays of the interiors and exteriors of funhouses and similar attractions. Old King Cole was not, however,
specifically involved in any kind of amusement park-related work. They produced a large and varied line of display items for stores and company trademark signs. One of their most widely recognized products came about
when they were contracted by the RCA Victor phonograph company to produce models of Nipper, the famous dog listening to 'His Master's Voice'. OKC produced these in huge numbers for distribution by RCA to all the record stores which carried their products thoughout the world. When undertaking the PTC commission for Laffing Sal around 1930, OKC re-worked one of their existing products, an animated laughing Santa Claus which they sold to department stores. By substituting a woman's head and legs, making some anatomical enhancements and dressing the figure in a frumpy dress, jacket and hat, Laffing Sal was born. The now-familiar face was designed by Bert Lower in a series of cartoon sketches and possibly sculpted by Jack Worthington a clay sculptor employed by OKC. Lower would leave OKC some years later to
|RCA Victor dog,"Nipper", made by
Old King Cole Papier Mache Co.
become an art director in Walt Disney's amusement park division.
The process of production in papier mache began with clay sculptures of the head, hands, arms and legs. From these were cast plaster molds. Plaster was the prevailing mold-making material in the era before the advent of silicone and polyurethane, and was cheap and easy to handle. After curing, the mold, sometimes made in two or more sections, would be opened and the clay sculpture removed. Then layers of paper strips wetted with a paste mixture were pressed into the recesses of the mold. The casting would be allowed to dry to a leather-hard state before being removed for further drying so the mold could be re-used. The New York firm of Messmore & Damon, which used the process for producing theatrical set pieces, retail store and amusement-related displays, had a practice of placing the castings in large ovens to accelerate the drying. Old King Cole used a method whereby the paper was saturated with glue rather than water. If a hot hide glue was used, this would have had a rapid set-up time and produced a very strong casting. The pieces were then finished and painted.
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