What was one of the most popular names for dark rides in the 20th Century? If you Rocky Point Park fans guessed House of Horrors, you’re wrong!
From about 1930 to 1960, Laff In The Dark was one of the most popular if not THE most popular name for dark rides. And before Rocky Point has its infamous Castle of Terror-House of Horrors, it had a Laff In The Dark, from 1948 to 1962. It was a cornerstone attraction in Rocky Point’s 1948 reopening following a 10-year hiatus caused by the hurricane of 1938. And clearly from the above photo of it, the façade was an attraction in itself!
Rocky Point Park actually opened its first single-rail dark ride, Fun In The Dark, in 1935; five years after dark rides came on the market by their inventor, the Pretzel Amusement Ride Company of Bridgeton, NJ.
The ride used Pretzel’s original rolling stock resembling Model A cars, as seen to the left in the photo below. Look at the beam above the cars for the inscription “The Laff Bone Ride”.
The large building was sub-divided into a dark ride and a small fun house and was apparently owned and operated as a family concession. You can see the words “Fun House” in the photo below.
At least two sources have said that this building survived the 1938 hurricane and was used to house Laff In The Dark upon its 1948 installation. Judging from the size and shape of this building, it doesn’t look like a match. But perhaps another surving midway building was saved for LITD.
Looking for laffs
A year before Rocky Point reopened in 1948, ownership had two major options for a new dark ride purchase: one from the Pretzel Amusement Ride Company or from the Ralph E. Chambers Engineering Company of Beaver Falls, PA. After he purchased the company from Harry Traver in 1933, Chambers had been aggressively marketing the rides he retained from the former Traver firm, including the Laff The Dark ride. Traver had patented this dark ride in 1930 as a less costly alternative to a Pretzel ride. The steel-frame cars had wooden bodies (Pretzel’s cars were all U.S. steel) and the displays consisted of animated plywood cutouts while Pretzel had more elaborate three-dimensional displays made mostly of papier machie. Below is a November 1930 Traver patent for his Kicking Mule stunt; one which later resided in Rocky Point’s ride. And speaking of patents, here’s the kicker, pardon the pun. Traver patented his entire dark ride but NOT the name Laff In The Dark! Hence, many of the parks began naming or renaming their Pretzel dark rides as Laff In The Dark.
Since Pretzel had the lion’s share of the dark ride market, surely it made a proposal to install a ride for Rocky Point’s reopening. But Frederick Hilton and Joseph Trillo, the new owners of Rocky Point, were rather conservative with their ride purchases, given the fact that it was a new business venture; one which the previous owners saw eliminated by the fury of the 1938 hurricane. In fact, the “new” Rocky Point was going to launch without a roller coaster of any kind. So, the owners went with a Chambers Laff In The Dark.
This May 1948 Billboard article announces the opening day lineup, including Laff (misspelled Laugh) In The Dark.
Situated between the Looper ride and a concession stand, the façade was quite festive. It included plywood cutouts of children from various nations holding letters spelling out the ride’s name. Also, a laughing lady sitting atop the ticket booth and a half-dozen laughing faces made of plywood. Four smiling embedded plastic masks graced the wall along the loading area. This design was that of Jack Ray, who produced all the Art Deco décor for Rocky Point’s new buildings. Price to ride LITD: a whopping five cents!
The ride used the latest rolling stock provided by Chambers, still housing wooden bodies, but marketed as a upgrade from the previous Traver cars.
Here’s a closeup of a Chambers car that operated in a Laff In The Dark at the former Williams Grove Amusement Park in Pennsylvania
There are no known interior photos of the ride, but based on several accounts (including my recollections from riding it in 1962), it was a standard-issue Traver/Chambers plywood cutout package including the Kicking Mule and the Fighting Cats, the same as the figures below from a Chambers Laff In The Dark also installed in 1936 at the Crystal Beach Amusement Park in Ontario, Canada and another installation (1935) at Playland Park in Rye, NY.
Below are some promotional items citing Rocky Point’s Laff In the Dark.
Towards the late 1950s, things got interesting with Laff In The Dark as the park tried to rebrand it as a scary ride.
Aside from the ascending and descending painted stripes, the facade’s mostly barren walls…
…were now inhabited by graphic illustrations suggesting a terrifying voyage inside. One of the ride facade’s original smiling embedded mask had been transformed into a devil!
Unless you consider two cats fighting over a picket fence, a mule kicking at a clown, appearances by Popeye, Maggie & Jiggs, and similar passive displays terrifying, the ride wasn’t as advertised. Very little changed inside.
However, there was a reason for that, and I cover it all in a past blog here!
Bungle in the jungle
In that blog post, I explain how Laff In The Dark became Jungleland in 1963…how Jack Ray’s Art Deco façade was masked by jungle vegetation, and much more.
As for Jungleland? That operated for six short years before the building was demolished. That’s a another blog post for another day, so stay tuned!
In the meantime, if you want to read about another Chambers Laff In The Dark, go here!
And to read more about the Pretzel Amusement Ride Company, go here!