When you flip through the pages of books about amusement parks, photos of dark rides and fun houses are usually few and far between. Look hard enough at that photo of the Tilt-A-Whirl and you might catch a glimpse of the park's dark ride… just beyond the canopy…near the guy smoking a cigar. Well, the new book Playland from Arcadia Publishing, bucks that trend and thus merits a review by Laff In The Dark. Within the book's gallery of vintage photos of the famed Westchester County-owned park in Rye, NY are incredible images of the park's circa 1934 Laff In the Dark ride - which still operates in the park today as Zombie Castle.                   (Continued below)
Top:  Original Laff In The Dark ride as installed by R. E. Chambers in 1934.

Above: View of original Traver/Chambers cars including dragon stunt similar to the illustration in original Traver patent application at left. The cars were equipped with the Traver split-tilt seat gag, shown in patent drawing - upper right.

Left and below: Front view of dragon stunt and skeleton coffin trick.

Above: Bluebeard's Palace funhouse.

Right: Noah's Ark funhouse. Two other Chambers rides can be seen in this photo: Aeroplane swing in background and
Tumble Bug track at lower right.

Rare interior photos of this celebrated ride take readers time-traveling back to the days when riders came face-to-face with a giant dragon and watched a skeleton rise from its coffin. Oh, did I mention the tipping seat? Playland's Laff In the Dark had that Harry Traver patented gimmick installed in its rolling stock, as depicted in a photo in the book Playland. And there's an intriguing shot going back to when dancing skeletons adorned the façade before they were replaced by dancing clowns. On a side note, you can see how the Laff In The Dark façade changed over the years by viewing our feature stories on the rides at these links: Zombie Castle and Return To Zombie Castle
      Getting back to the book: Playland author, Westchester County native Kathryn Burke, did a meticulous job researching the park and procuring images. She includes exterior photos of Playland's former Noah's Ark funhouse which opened with the park in 1928. There's a great shot of the former Bluebeard's Palace walk-through, another 1928 original. According to Burke, Bluebeard's interior "held the secrets of the terrible pirate's lair." Funhouse fans will find some intriguing shots of the park's former Magic Carpet fun house (lost in a 1966 fire) and its wild obstacles that would make today's insurance companies cringe.
      But the hits keep coming. Burke reveals that Playland had several other walkthrough attractions including Niagara Falls, The Witches Forest, the Hill Billy Farm, Bamboo Fun and Jungles. See them all in Playland. Hey, does anybody out there remember when Playland's circa 1929 Old Mill didn't have an evil troll/friendly gnome theme? I can't, but according to Burke, the Mill once had scenes of the Grand Canyon, a desert and Noah's Ark among others.
      Burke's photo essay in Playland extends beyond dark rides and walkthroughs. She chronicles the park's construction, the entertainers who performed there, the pool, the Casino, the bathhouse and much more, including Playland's classic, still-operating rides: the Derby Racer (wait until see the photo of the crowd lined up for that ride decades ago) the Dragon Coaster and the Whip.

Burke's photo caption for the latter ride exemplifies her attention to detail as she reports that the original Whip tubs were replaced in the 1940s. And let's not forget Playland's long-departed Aeroplane - the legendary wood coaster that ride enthusiasts fantasize about being recreated. Playland has a rare shot showing the coaster's designer Frederick Church watching a train pass him on a bend.
     Here we've featured but a small taste of Playland's feast of 200 images. For dark ride and funhouse fans long-deprived of published vintage photos of your favorite attractions,
this one's for you.

George LaCross, Editor

Playland, Arcadia Publishing's Images Of America series. $19.99
Available at local retailers, online bookstores, or though Arcadia Publishing or (888) 313-2665.
Photos provided by Arcadia Publishing and used with permission.