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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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Philadelphia Toboggan Co.
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,
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
Victor dog,"Nipper", made by
Old King Cole Papier Mache Co.
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.