“Totally trashed!”
“Washed away!”
“Gone for good!”

That’s how posters on various amusement park forums described the condition of Coney Island’s iconic Spook-A-Rama ride after it was flooded by nearly six feet of water generated by with wrath of Hurricane Sandy on October 29, 2012.

The surge that invaded the interior of the beloved ride, a long-time attraction of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, was not run-off from the heavy rains or from the Atlantic Ocean. It was a surge of murky sea water from an unlikely villain, Coney Island Creek, a creek that encompasses two sea inlets in New York City.

Despite the fact that Coney Island’s amusement district and the surrounding neighborhood were transformed into a moat, the owners of Deno’s were shocked by what they saw inside Spook-A-Rama when they arrived to survey the damage.
Left: Dennis Vourderis (he's on the left) stands with El Diablo after both did battle with Hurricane Sandy.
Right: Measuring the 6-foot high-water mark.
“It was devastation,” recalls Deno John Vourderis (better known as DJ), son of park owner Steve Vourderis. “There was five to six feet of water inside. Everything from the ghosts and goblins to the (wood) floors themselves were ripped apart.
Not one stunt remained in working order. We were able to refurbish five or so, but all needed work and extensive rebuilds. All the electrical, sheet rock, framing… it all had to be redone as well.”

So were there every any thoughts of giving up the ghost and closing the then-57-year-old dark ride?
“Never!” replies DJ.

Below: Several Spook-A-Rama cars lie in disarray, upended by flood waters and awaiting repairs to get them back on track.
Spook-A-Rama, installed by the former Pretzel Amusement Company of Bridgeton, NJ, debuted in 1955 as the Garden of Eden because its quarter mile track twisted through an open air courtyard with stunts along the way; stunts that were especially effective when the sun went down. Consisting of two buildings, the former smaller building being at the Bowery entrance, the ride’s name was changed to the more appropriate Spook-A-Rama in 1956. The ride was originally owned by Fred Garms and sold, with the Wonder Wheel and other amusements, to the Vourderis family in 1983. For full historic details, see our original article and our 50th Anniversary Award article.

Carrying on the Coney tradition, you can’t keep a good ride down (even when it’s underwater), the Deno’s staff quietly started planning the restoration. When observers to the devastation started getting their electricity restored, some posted prophecies of doom for Spook-A-Rama. Undaunted, park owners, brothers Dennis and Steve Vourderis, appointed Steve’s son DJ and Steve’s wife Stacy as project managers of Spook’s revival, with the goal of getting the ride opened for Palm Sunday, March 24, 2013.

“My mother has a knack for that sort of stuff. She has a great imagination and has always been passionate about the Spook-A-Rama,” explains DJ.

While admitting it would be a challenge, Dennis Vourderis soon began publically proclaiming that Spook-A-Rama would reopen, sending both shockwaves to the doomsayers and joy to the droves of the ride’s fans.

Deno’s management decided to commission the Scare Factory of Columbus, Ohio to add new stunts and to redo the façade.

“They are an American company, and that alone was an important factor,” says DJ. “They were willing to work with us is restoring some of the old haunts.”

Another set of horrors was the ride system, the interior stunts and the building structure. Fortunately, Pretzel ride systems are famous for surviving disasters from floods to fires. Inside Spook, the winding track was pulled from the old wood floor.

“I did the electrical,” recalls DJ. “Chico, Martin, and Reggie, our big three who have been with us for over 20 years, and our welder Tom, were the only ones who touched it outside of my father, cousin Deno, brother Teddy, and myself.”

In addition to the ride system repair, the building’s interior was completely restored including a special cleaning treatment, the painting of the walls and ceiling to the color black and the aforementioned sheet rocking and framing. Additionally, the ride’s original wooden floor was removed and replaced by a two-foot base of concrete. After discussing it for years, the Vourderis family saw the ride’s rebirth as the right time to extend the track beyond the rear wall and into a small section of the work shop.

Below: The recovery work proceeds with the installation of the track on the new concrete floor. Adhering almost exactly to the original layout, the track was lengthened into the new area thus creating a longer ride to accomodate the large number of new displays that were added. Right: New creatures begin to move in next to some old residents who don't look too inviting.