When rides were the soul of Salisbury (Part I)

245EA5D2-919D-44B9-8F85-CC721F94BAFAOk, so upfront, I have to admit, the amusements at Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts were something I only experienced four times, starting in 1961 and ending in 2000.  So readers, feel free to share your knowledge/experiences of the rides in the comment section below.

Here goes — my grandparents first took me to Salisbury at age seven in 1961 as part of a New England amusement park crawl which included Paragon, Revere, and Old Orchard Beach.  Salisbury was the first leg of that crawl. I was totally awestruck by the oversized signage and garish, yet attractive, color scheme.  I loved the sight of the majestic Wildcat coaster, although I knew I wasn’t tall enough to ride it yet.  My grandfather drove around a bit, and eventually parked near Shaheen’s Fun-O-Rama.

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I noticed a lot of rides across the expansive pavement of this park, but the one that immediately caught my eye was the dark ride Witch Castle.

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Even at the early age of seven, I never saw a dark ride I didn’t like.  This one had cars with pretzel logos; same rolling stock as my beloved Laff In The Dark ride at Crescent Park in my hometown of East Providence, Rhode Island.  So I knew that Witch Castle just had to be a winner too.  Unfortunately, this is the only dark ride from my early youth that I can’t recall a thing about the interior.  So I’ll defer to this article on the website that I’m editor of:

http://laffinthedark.com/articles/witchcastle/witch.htm

The reason the ride cars had Pretzel logos is because the ride was the product of the Pretzel Amusement Ride Company, that you can read more about here:

http://laffinthedark.com/articles/pretzelride/pretzelride1.htm

The Fun-O-Rama park had an interesting history.  It was the brainchild of Roger Shaheen, a former automobile franchise dealer and a retail package store owner who converted his 300-car parking lot into Fun-O-Rama in 1959.  Shaheen’s park was once named in the former Amusement Business trade publication as  “One of the most unique attractions in the country.”

Boardwalk, Salisbury Beach, MA
Boardwalk, Salisbury Beach, MA

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After the ride on Witch Castle, my grandparents advised me to “Save your energy for the other parks” and we headed over to Broadway towards the vintage carousel.  My grandmother explained that this was one of her favorite rides as a young adult, and asked me if I’d consider riding with them.  I was honored that she asked,  and what seven-year-old couldn’t resist riding this awesome dog?

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The carousel has a storied past.  The original Salisbury Beach carousel, “The Culver Flying Horses,” was destroyed by fire in 1913.  According to Brass Ring. Looff’s Coney Island merry-go-round took its place in 1914. The name became “The Broadway Flying Horses” in 1933, when Salisbury’s Rogers family bought it. Its nickname for many summer visitors was “The Dobbie Horses.”

An anchor of Salisbury Beach’s seaside resort, it ran every summer at 2 Broadway until 1976, when Roger Shaheen bought it from the heirs of Louis Rogers. Shaheen, in a move that devastated the community, sold the ride in 1977, replacing it first with a water slide, then a go-cart course and batting cages.  The carousel in now in California, and the Newburyport News reported earlier this year that some efforts are being made to return it to Salisbury Beach.

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Fast forward to August 1970.  My family and I were returning from a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.  I was age 15 at the time and had recently completed a successful season in the East Providence Central Senior Little League, having been selected to All-Star team.  Between the regular season, practices, the All-Star games, and now Cooperstown, I was “baseballed out.”  My parents were very perceptive to their kids, and to that end, we stopped at Salisbury Beach where they knew I’d cherish a chance to take a swing at the Wildcat coaster.  Not having been to Salisbury in nine years, I had no clue where my dad was driving to when he exited the freeway.  I kind of expected batting cages or the like, so you can imagine my thrill when I saw the Wildcat looming large in the distance.

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Salisbury Beach has an interesting roller coaster history.  It began in 1885 when Stephen Jackman built the Roller Toboggan.  This roller coaster was removed shortly after when a young woman named Kitty O’Neil, fell to her death from a moving cab on the ride.

Roller-coaster-at-Salisbury-Beach-Mass-circa-1885

The Roller Toboggan was later replaced by the Scenic Railway.

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Which in turn was replaced by the John Miller-designed Sky Rocket in 1912…

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…whichwas replaced by the Wildcat in 1927.

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The Wildcat was designed by the Herbert Schmeck of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, and later rebuilt by the Dodgem Corporation.  I cannot begin to tell you how thrilling it was to board a PTC train on a breezy summer evening after being cooped up in a car for four hours.  The Wildcat provided plenty of airtime (negative g’s) and the first drop seemed much higher than the 74-feet it was supposed to be.   My three brothers and I rode it four times.  Good thing my parents stopped at Salisbury in 1970.  On Tuesday, July 25, 1973 a 45-year-old woman either jumped or fell to her death from the top of the Wildcat.  That was the coaster’s final season

To be continued…

Photo credits:

Bill Luca

laffinthedark.com

Boston Globe

Pinterest

carouselhistory.com

Brass Ring

Research: 

Wikipedia

Boston Globe

Golden Age of Roller Coasters

Brass Ring

To see the Wildcat in action, go here:

 

 

 

 

 

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