Laff in the Dark
Growing up during the thirties and forties in Cleveland, Ohio, a favorite family outing and a special treat for me was a trip to Cleveland's famous EUCLID BEACH PARK. Although I was fascinated with the highrides I was intrigued and frightened by the LAFF-IN- THE-DARK ride.
Despite the fact that the park closed in 1969, the memories of its food and rides are kept alive today through a club called The EUCLID BEACH PARK NUTS, several excellent books and videos, and mall shows. Their famous popcorn, popcorn balls, candy kisses, and frozen whip are still being made and sold today.
The LAFF IN THE DARK building did not start out as a dark ride. Back in the 1920, it was an open-sided building which housed the new WITCHING WAVES ride. Although EUCLID BEACH PARK was always introducing new and unusual rides, this one apparently was a mechanical nightmare. It was removed in 1931. The building was then enclosed, and the cars were equipped with motors and a guidance system that could follow a twisting track. The building was huge measuring 192 x 8(L) x 56 x 8(W) x 17 x 8 (H).
According to the drawings, the twisting track measured 1112 1/2" in length. I thought I'd been told they could run 40 cars on the track, but that sounds a bit crowded. I noted that the drawing indicates a storage area for 26 cars and that sounds a bit more realistic. I do know that when they were running full tilt, the cars were dispatched very close to each other.
When I worked at the park during my college years I had heard that one of the members of the family that owned the park nearly died when he was overcome with fumes from painting the inside of the enclosed building black.
As a small child I had a hard time with this ride as the paintings on the facade were scary and then there was that small black hole where the cars entered and disappeared. I usually made it as far as the first stunt and then I closed my eyes and hung on for dear life for the rest of the twisting journey. That first stunt appeared to be a pile of cloth, but as the car approached it became a ghost that came toward you. In later years when I got past that point, it was fun and laughs all the way.
The large interior was divided into two areas so that at times in the dark you could easily hear other sounds and screams. The ride used many sudden sounds such as crashing cymbals, horns, clatter blocks, and of course sirens.
As I recall, there was a dragon near the ceiling that you could see at different times during the ride. Many stunts just suddenly appeared such as a gorilla, spider, eyes, lightning, and near collisions with mirrors and posts. I recall a doctor's office door appearing and as the car approached it quickly opened revealing a skeleton. There were also several enclosed scenes. One I recall as being a cave where a lion would jump out at you.
One of the more startling effects for me was, while riding in the dark, hearing a train whistle, and seeing the front of a train swing into my path to be hit by the car as the light went out. I don't remember seeing that stunt in later years. Perhaps it was too difficult to maintain. The ride also used crash-thru doors disguising as brick walls, rocks, or just blackness.