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     What can you say about a Pretzel dark ride that's been running in the same place for fifty years, especially when that place is Coney Island, the legendary mecca of playtime and amusement for as long as rides have turned? Spook-A-Rama has always had a special place in our hearts and when we realized it was going to turn fifty years old this summer, we knew that this was the time to both celebrate its legacy and to present our Laff Achievement Award to the Vourderis family, who have owned, cared for and updated the ride since 1983.
     Spook-A-Rama was in a class by itself when it opened during that summer of 1955. Fred Garms and Paul Kleinstein, together with Bill Cassidy's Pretzel Amusement Company, put together a quarter-mile course for 30 cars in and out of two buildings filled with animated talking creatures. Competing with about a dozen dark rides then operating at Coney, Spook-A-Rama topped them all.
      In May of 1965, Garms acquired the Shangri-La Ha Ha ride from Jimmy Onorato at Steeplechase Park for $3600 and added its cars to the Spook fleet. More cars from New Hampshire's Canobie Lake Park later came aboard. Retiring in 1983, Garms turned Spook-A-Rama and the Wonder Wheel over to the late Denos Vourderis who transformed them and the surrounding properties into today's Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park.
     As the last permanently-installed dark ride in Coney Island, Spook-A-Rama has gone through many stages of evolution over its half-century reign on Jones Walk. It's shorter now, and confined to one building across from the Wonder Wheel. Yet it remains, as ever, the classic Coney Island spook ride experience. Sights, sounds, smells and perhaps even spirits from the golden days of Coney can still be encountered along its twisted track.

Happy 50th Birthday, Spook-A-Rama!

Above: Spook-A-Rama's 50th season was marked by a festive day at Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. Lucky patrons got a second ride free during the event.
Left to right: George LaCross, Lula Vourderis (Steve and Dennis' mom, holding grandaughter Theodora), Deno's co-owners Steve Vourderis and Dennis Vourderis (holding nephew Peter, Theodora's twin brother), and Bill Luca.
Below: Laff In The Dark's George LaCross and
Bill Luca relate details of Spook-A-Rama's history to representatives of the local print and broadcast media.

Steve, George, Bill and Dennis display two of the original Spook-A-Rama signs which adorned the first building
in the ride's early days. Three of these signs, each a four-foot wide section of  Spook-A-Rama history,
were graciously donated by the Vourderis family to the Laff In The Dark archives.

Today, a thriving Coney Island embraces its glorious past while looking ahead to a vibrant future.
Saluting Deno's with our Laff Achievement Award continues our long-standing admiration,
support and recognition of Coney and its time-honored amusement heritage.
Spook-A-Rama's silver anniversary celebration came on the heels of the Wonder Wheel's 85th birthday in April, and less than three weeks before the announcement of the city's acquisition of the
Surf Avenue B&B Carousel as part of its plan to restore and revitalize the central amusement area.
2005 has indeed been a very special year for Coney Island.
Laff in the Dark is proud to have been a part of it.

For more history, information and photos of Spook-A-Rama,
please visit our article "Coney Island Spook-A-Rama"

Laff In The Dark extends its sincere gratitude to Dennis and Steve Vourderis, their family and all the folks at Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park for their warm hospitality and generosity,
and for preserving one of the great surviving classic Pretzel rides and a true Coney Island landmark -


Photography by Ralph Grassi and George LaCross

The Leon S. Cassidy Achievement and Preservation Award is presented by Laff In The Dark to individuals or businesses who have made notable contributions to the world of traditional dark ride and funhouse amusements, as well as those who have played an important role in preserving existing historically significant rides for future generations to enjoy. The Laff Achievement Award features a one-twelfth scale replica of the classic Pretzel ridecar, and was created by Laff In The Dark creative director Bill Luca.

Laff In The Dark/www.laffinthedark.com