At Funland, Little Rock, Arkansas
Come this way...
By: Rick Davis
Do you remember when you worked up the courage to try your first dark ride as a child? The odd smell of ozone and grease that drifted toward the midway and the horrendous sounds that emanated from inside, curiously drawing you toward the ride. The fear of unknown terrors that caused a knot in your stomach and made your heart race as the attendant pushed the button condemning you to certain doom. The suspense of being alone in the dark while waiting for some unspeakable horror. The shock of each new monster that appeared to attack you. That feeling of relief when the last set of crash doors opened revealing the light of day. You SURVIVED, but you found yourself back in line to do it again, starting a ritual that you would perform many more times as you grew older.
Perhaps it was at that nearly forgotten amusement park near your home town that taught you to control your fear. Or was it the rickety old spookhouse at the county fair? You may not remember the name of the ride or even the cheap gags that once had you paralyzed with fear, but the musty smell of a dark ride still brings you back again and again to that cherished childhood memory.
A reminder of those earlier times can be found in the handful of rides collectively know as Funland. This tiny amusement park, that lies within Burns Park in Little Rock, Arkansas, is home to the Spookhouse which just may transport you back to those days of childhood wonder.
The tiny nondescript building that houses this nostalgic ride is devoid of decoration and does not even display the ride's name! The only clue to its function is the presence of its ride cars. Unfortunately the only history known about this Pretzel ride at this time is that "It was here when the park opened, and the park opened in 1964."
As you stand in line a familiar looking car creeps slowly towards you. You remember seeing that sleigh like car with its curved front before. The big pretzel on the front causes you to flash back to your childhood. You are ten years old again. Its wooden base amplifies the growl of its metal wheels and gears as it nears. A tingle travels up your spine as you cautiously enter your own personal time machine. The car that was so big and intimidating when you were a kid now seems barely large enough hold you.Could you have been that small once? The thought of taking that first horrifying ride alone now fades and is replaced with a later memory of the first time you brought a date along for a ride. A smile comes to your face as you remember how you enjoyed the cozy confines created by the two of you in that little car. That dark ride still made your pulse race with anticipation, but of a different sort!
You are jolted back to reality as the operator sends you crashing through the doors and inside on the tight twisting turning track that gave the Pretzel Company its name. Like many of the older dark rides, there are few walls to separate the scenes. This attraction depends on the darkness, and the motion of the car to disorient the rider and make this diminutive dark ride seem bigger than it really is.
Because there are few walls, and the space that contains the ride is small, the cars actually pass many of the gags several times at different points in the ride. The gags are activated in a sequence designed to show the gags at their frightening best advantage.
The seven Funni-Frite gags in this ride may be considered quaint in this age of interactive dark rides, but they give you a feel for what riders of earlier times may have experienced; a simpler time when the suspense was the truly scary part of the ride. Not knowing what ghoul would pop up next or when, was usually more frightening than the paper mache figure that actually appeared.
Time and wear, have altered the profile of many of the gags that remain in this "ride out of time." As you may see, some of the stunts bear little resemblance to the catalog pages, the outcome of a long career in the Spookhouse. But even time and wear does not dim the effect of the combination of the darkness and disorientation caused by the unexpected gags and twisted track into the past.
Although it may never challenge the high tech rides of today, this ride offers an interesting glimpse into an almost extinct era of simple gags and pure fun. If you would like to recapture a bit of lost innocence of by-gone days, you may want to take a minute out of your hectic schedule to experience this small off-beat ride. Funland is located just a few minutes north of the interstate highway at the Burns Park exit In the Little Rock area.
Update: Unfortunately, the Spookhouse was removed before the 2004 season.
This article ©2000 Rick Davis and used with permission.
Photos ©1999 Rick Davis, and used with permission.
Editor - Jerri Mills