Ready to ride the Mystery Ride? After bumping through hinged double doors, riders were taken down a long narrow corridor toward the rear wall of the building. The corridor was dark, and one could hear the outside soundtrack piped inside; the bass of the African war drums so loud, it shook the car. In the distance, one could see wooden boxes of TNT stacked haphazardly, as the off-balance load shifted back and forth, threatening an explosion. Through another set of double-doors and into the dense jungle you discovered a man-eating plant devouring pith-helmeted explorers and native warriors; their heads vanishing into the leafy abys. Onward to another large diorama: a cannibal lair! Two menacing cannibals were flanking a cooking pot, and they protruded towards the riders then back, while their pith-helmeted main course beckoned for help. Below is a Polaroid taken directly after the most of scene was installed. At the time of the photo, the victim in the pot hadn’t been completed.
A sharp turn took you face-to-face with a male lion ready to pounce. Escaping the ferocious feline, you started your climb up the spiral descent. Under your car you could hear the clicking and clacking of the anti-rollback device. And you suddenly realized you were ascending over the depths of Hell. Spadola’s scene featured multiple devils pulling pit-helmeted explorers to internal doom. Below is one of those devils with some of the hell scenery in storage, decades after Lincoln Park closed.
Finally ascending to the very top of the spiral lift, riders saw another pith-helmeted explorer; this one imprisoned in a bamboo cell, the size of a shower stall.
Quickly, the car would crash through hinged doors and emerge into the daylight of the balcony. The lunging jungle warriors outdoor were even more frightening up close.
Back into the darkness of the Congo, you encountered this giant gooney bird (seen here much earlier when it was being crafted in Spadola’s workshop).
Moving away from the screeching bird, you came upon the other Spadola’s scene salvaged from Laff in the Dark – a witch stirring a potion. Below is Dom’s plywood rendition of it, which replaced his original in the latter years of Lincoln Park.
After declining the witch’s invitation for stew, you’d face up (literary) with THE most startling dark ride execution I’d ever experienced. You’d burst through the swinging doors into a darkened room. In a split second, a spotlight would illuminate a giant ogre with outstretched arms. He appeared to be lying on his belly. But this big guy wasn’t a sleeping giant — he slid right at you! Below is one of Spadola’s famous bug-eyed creatures, and his giant ogre resembled this only much, much bigger.
Discussing this scene with Spadola in 1977, he told me it was a very simple trick: the head was mounted in the center of a plywood cross laid flat down. The giant orge’s arms were actually painted plywood cutouts, laid across the arms of the cross. The structure was fastened to a tracked seesaw, and the weight of the car as rolled over a track lever, pulled down one side of the seesaw causing the giant to slide forward. It would slide back into place after the car was off the lever. Spadola also told me that that parents of young children, as well as adults with heart conditions, had complained about the startling trick, so he was tasked with disabling it after only a few years in use.
Leaving the giant with your pulse racing, your car would roll around a curved catwalk which was occupied with a jungle menagerie featuring a gorilla, lion, tiger and hippo.
Exiting that, and still descending, you’d enter a diamond mine: the Lincoln Park Diamond Mine according to the sign overhead. In it you’d see jewels embedded into the faux rock walls. In later years I realized this was lit colored glass, but Spadola still gets an A for resourcefulness. Moving ahead you’d see a cave-in scene with greedy miners being crushed by falling wooden beams and boulders. Suddenly, you’d burst out into the daylight lit cutout window — the display below I’ve described in Part II.
Back into the darkness briefly where a surviving miner took one last shot – he leaned down on a dynamite plunger igniting a recorded BOOM, and setting off another display of lit glass.
So did the Mystery Ride have a storyline? It’s debatable. One could say that it was about the terrible fate of greedy miners who dared take their TNT into the Congo to excavate its treasures. Under that premise, it stands to justify the scenes of the explorers/miners meeting their demise in Hell, a man-eating plant, a cannibal’s main course, and a cave-in. So then, why wasn’t the attraction named the Congo Ride? Probably because there were several creatures not likely to be found in the Congo – a witch and ogre for examples. So Mystery Ride? Worked for me!
In 1966, on a church outing, I was shocked to see the Mystery Ride had became the Monster Ride. The façade promised appearances by the Creature From The Black Lagoon, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and other classic monsters. It was the most decorated dark ride facade I’d seen to date.
But what actually lurked inside? To be continued…
Members of Things That Aren’t There Anymore: Southeastern Massachusetts Edition
To see a short video of Lincoln Park past and present, go here: