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Mountain Park Funhouses

Holyoke, Massachusetts

Written by Jay Ducharme

Photos courtesy of Jay Ducharme



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Mountain Park in Holyoke, Massachusetts began life in 1894 as a
trolley stop at the halfway point up to Mount Tom. It was a simple
place with gardens, a carousel, roller coaster and a few
concessions. In 1952 John Collins, who owned Lincoln Park in
Dartmouth, Massachusetts, purchased Mountain Park from the Holyoke
Street Railway. This was the beginning of the park's renaissance and
would lead to its golden years. The dark rides and fun houses that
were installed there were integral to the park's success. Between
1953 and the park's closing in 1987, the small midway featured no
less than six different fun houses and dark rides. In the late 1970s
through the early 1980s, there were two dark rides and a walk-thru
fun house operating simultaneously!

All of the rides were designed and themed by three individuals. One
was Edward Leis of National (and later International) Amusement
Device. He is probably best known as the designer of Mexico's
Montana Rusa roller coaster. In the 1950s, Mountain Park needed new
trains for their roller coaster and bought them from N.A.D. Leis
went to the park many times and assisted with renovations of the
coaster. He also lent his expertise to the construction of several
buildings, including the pavilion and the Out of This World
walk-thru.


You Are Visitor Number



The man most responsible for the unique look of not only the fun
houses but also the entire park was Dominic Spadola. This energetic
little man from Rhode Island had done work for that state's Rocky
Point, Lincoln Park and Whalom Park in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
He created colorful and fantastical figures out of plywood,
homosote, celastic and fiberglass. He helped develop the
angular, twisted pastel facades of the parks' buildings. He
created enormous clown faces that graced buildings and signs.
The stunts he designed for the Mountain Park rides had a
nightmarish but cartoonish quality to them. It was a tricky
balance to achieve: something that would thrill adults but not
terrify children.
The first dark ride at the park was called Laff in the Dark.
It was running for the "New Mountain Park" opening in 1953. It
was a single-level ride with Pretzel cars.


The design reflected that of similar rides at other amusement parks.
The lettering had an Art Deco look to it, with a crescent moon
placed between "the Dark." The ride remained for seven years.

In 1960, renovations began on Laff in the Dark. An upper level
was created. Six new cars were purchased. The transmissions of
the new cars were modified to allow a swift and sure climb to
the top. Each car had a differential gear in the rear axle and
a lot of torque. They came with what appeared to be a colorful
primitive ritual mask molded into their front in fiberglass.
The ride was themed as an African jungle and called Mystery
Ride.The letters on the building were placed on motorized
shafts and rocked back and forth. Below the letters was the
upper level, which featured a brief U-turn over the loading
station. On each side of that were two odd figures with large
ears and noses and gum-stick bodies that rocked back and
forth.

Below that was the station. On the walls next to the entrance
and the exit doors were six brightly-painted masks, all



different and sporting hideous grins.The masks also rocked
back and forth. The clash of colors, the stylized paintings of
jungle foliage and animals, the constant movement all over the
building - it was a tour-de-force for Spadola and a feast for
the eyes. For the interior, Spadola created a wide variety of
three-dimensional fantastical scenes, from Hell to
stereotypical African natives.


The Mystery Ride didn't last very long, however. Spadola had
other plans for it. To capitalize on a renewed interest in
dinosaurs, he wanted to theme the ride to the prehistoric
creatures. The track was lengthened and an extension of the
upper level was created out over the midway.


On either side of the extension, Spadola created two massive
dinosaurs. The one on the left was poised with its front and
rear legs up, as if it were about to stomp the patrons. The
one on the right stood erect with its arms outstretched.
Both had red flashing eyes, large sharp teeth and jaws that
opened and closed. The rocking masks remained, but the walls
around them were repainted to look like a cave. Spadola also
recreated images from the children's book "Where the Wild
Things Are" by Maurice Sendak


The building itself was covered with lumpy celastic over chicken
wire and painted to look like rock outcroppings. Roger Fortin,
supervisor at the park for nearly forty years,
was the third man responsible for the construction of the dark
rides and fun houses.He clearly recalls one day when he was
building the rock surface with Spadola. It was in November of
1963, and it was bitterly cold. The temperature seemed more
extreme because they had to soak the celastic in acetone to
make it pliable. Another worker walked over to them about 4:00
in the afternoon to tell them that John F. Kennedy had just
been shot. Seven years before that, Kennedy had celebrated his
39th birthday at Lincoln Park.


One amusing renovation was to the lettering. The ride was renamed
"Dinosaur Den," which has the same number of letters as "Mystery
Ride." However, the letters aren't spaced the same. Since they were
all attached to motors bolted into the building, it would have been
too much work to re-arrange them. New lettering was simply placed
over the old. So for over twenty years, the name of the ride was
"DINOSAU RDEN." The ride was a big success for the park. In fact, it
was so successful that they ordered a seventh car to increase
capacity. Spadola used the bas-relief on one of the original cars to
make a mold of it. Then he re-created the bas-relief in fiberglass
on the new car. "On a busy, busy day," said Fortin of the cars, "you
could have them all going on the track…it was timed perfectly."

As far as my memory can recall, the circuit began with the car
curving to the right and slamming through a set of heavy wood
doors. The car immediately turned left and after a few yards
slammed through another set of doors with a tiger painted on
them. The car would then turn sharply right 90 degrees and
begin heading uphill. The first stunt was on the right. The
car swung again to the right, about 90 degrees, passing an
emergency exit and continuing uphill. Another stunt was on the
left. Another right turn, about 90 degrees, was met with the
next stunt on the right.

The car would turn 180 degrees to the left. Another stunt would be
on the right. Then after turning 180 degrees to the right and
passing a stunt on the left, the car leveled off. It would slam
through a set of doors, then another set, travel out onto the
overhang, pass by a stunt at the center of the overhang, swing
around to the left 180 degrees and then slam back through another
set of doors.



After passing through yet another set of doors, the car began its
descent. It passed by a stunt on the left, turned to the right about
180 degrees, passed a stunt on the left and then swung around 180
degrees to the left.


Another stunt was on the right, as was an emergency exit down a set
of stairs. The car would turn 90 degrees left and pass by an
enormous stunt on the right. It was about 20 feet long and dropped
down through the floor. Then the car swung 180 degrees to the left,
passed by a stunt on the left and leveled off. A 90-degree right
turn revealed a stunt on the right. The car was then traveling at
the far right end of the building. Then another 90-degree turn to
the right was met with another set of doors. After passing through
them, the car was traveling in a sort of tunnel. Looking off to the
left, you could see the station and midway. Looking to the right,
you'd see an animated stunt. Originally, it was a caveman dunking a
cavewoman into a big pot.
The last operational stunt there was Frankenstein, which
bobbed up and down behind a stone wall. After passing that
stunt, the car collided with another set of doors, turned left
180 degrees, went through more doors and back across the
tunnel area, only this time a little closer to the station.
More doors were hit. The car took a sharp turn to the right
into the final set of doors and then was back at the station.
My father ran the ride for many years. He tired of having to
lean forward to press the control panel buttons that would
advance the cars. So he fashioned a wooden rod 17" long. It
resembled an enormous screwdriver. It had a handle on one end
and a small cylinder at the other about the size of a short
stack of quarters. He could then sit back in comfort and use
the rod to press the buttons.


Over the years, the stunts changed. As vandalism increased,
there were fewer and fewer three-dimensional stunts installed.
Spadola used florescent paint on plywood and homosote cutouts,
and these were placed safely behind metal screening. One of my
favorite stunts was installed in the 1970s. It remained right
up until the park's closing. It depicted four children holding
flowers. Above them, in psychedelic 1960s lettering, was
"Flower Power."


I've long considered this to be the most
uniquely terrifying stunt ever placed in a dark ride. Most of
the other stunts depicted undecipherable figures, fantastical
and seemingly hastily drawn characters that only occasionally
resembled creatures you'd encounter in the real world. Spadola
included a couple of scenes of Hell (one of his few recurring
"themes.") Very few people, except for small children, found
any of these scenes scary and that was in keeping with the
family-park atmosphere. A "hi-tech" sound system was added in
the late 1970s. A series of eight-track tape players were
triggered by rollovers on the track. The system was difficult
to maintain, but amusing when it worked. After the park
closed, I remained on the grounds as a watchman. The Dinosaur
Den was a prime target for vandals who would come up to the
closed park with bolt cutters and sledgehammers. Their only
intent was to destroy things. I was constantly boarding up and
fencing off the ride, trying to protect it. Eventually, a
traveling carnival bought the cars and the track. They tried
to remove the huge dinosaurs, but underestimated their weight.
They succeeded only in dropping one onto the midway. They left
it there, where weather and vandals took their toll. I left my
watchman job in 1994, and a few months afterward vandals
burned the Dinosaur Den to the ground. Only the foundation and
the structure of the overhang remained.

Now the area is almost unrecognizable; the overhang has rusted
out, and nature is reclaiming the first dark ride that
thrilled generations of guests on the mountain.

 


The second fun house built at the park was simply called "Fun House"
with the subtitle "It's fun to get lost." It sat just to the right
of the Mystery Ride. It was an elaborate two-level walk-thru built
in 1960. Ed Leis designed the layout, and Dominic Spadola designed
the fašade made of wood, homosote, tin and fiberglass.
Big three-dimensional letters adorned the front. To the far
right was a large bas-relief cartoon labeled, "Magic Carpet."
It depicted a comical group of middle-eastern men on a flying
carpet. The entrance was through a short corridor on the left.
There was a railing made up of brightly-painted 2x4 wood that
formed the word "Maze." (That technique of forming words in
wood fencing was commonly used at the park.) The corridor led
to the beginning of an elaborately constructed mirror maze.

The maze was put together from eight-foot-high six-sided wood
posts, built of standard 1x3 lumber surrounding a wood core.
There was a ╝ inch gap where the pieces of 1x3 met. The layout
was drawn up on a blueprint. Then the posts were affixed to
the wood floor, and 4-foot by 8-foot panels of glass and
mirrors were positioned between the gaps in the posts.

If I remember correctly, the mirrors were placed at 45-degree
angles to each other. It was possible to re-configure the maze
by re-arranging the mirrors and glass into different gaps in
the posts. A path led between the panels and brought patrons
eventually into a "tipsy room," where the floor was raised up
at one end and lowered at the other.

Railings forced patrons to travel back and forth until they reached
the high end of the floor. Patrons would emerge at the left side of
an overhang above the entrance. From the midway, you could see only
legs as people passed through. There were air jets in the floor at
that point, naturally, to blow skirts up.
Then patrons would head to the back right section of the
building where there was a separate little "shed" structure
tacked on. That housed the "Magic Carpet." It was an elevated
platform with a bench. The patron would sit on the bench. An
operator would throw a lever and the bench would drop, dumping
the patron on to a large motorized conveyor belt.

The patron would be unceremoniously dragged down to the floor below.
The Fun House exit was then to the patron's right. As time passed
and patrons became more litigious, the Magic Carpet grew to be a
liability.
It wasn't necessary to ride the Magic Carpet; patrons could
simply walk past it to the exit. But more and more people were
starting to sue the park for injuries relating to it. So Roger
Fortin removed the Magic Carpet and added another tipsy room
there. This one was built like a jail cell with simple
1-inch-diameter scrap iron pipes welded to iron frames and
attached at the ceiling and the floor. "It just gives you that
much more illusion when you're walking through," Fortin said.
It was all lit with blacklights.


The Fun House was very popular. But over the years maintenance
became more difficult. The floor began rotting out. So in the late
1970s it was dismantled. In its place, Spadola and Fortin built a
single-level ride-thru attraction, The Pirate's Den. This was the
last dark ride built at the park. The cars were stock Pretzel
purchased new. Dominic and Roger came up with a blueprint of the
track. Pretzel then took the blueprint and custom-built the track in
sections, which were then shipped to the park ready for assembly. To
make sure the floor wouldn't rot this time, Fortin made a new floor
of poured concrete. Then he found out that Pretzel insisted that
their cars be run only on a wooden floor. So he fabricated a
separate running track out of wood and affixed it to the concrete.
The spectacular ballyhoo for this attraction was a huge pirate
ship that spanned the entire length of the building. It was
positioned above the loading station. It sported a massive
pirate's head and many cutout figures. To make sure kids
wouldn't get out of the cars and run around inside the ride
while the cars were moving, the front of the building sported
three large windows that were opened during operation. Thus,
the ride operator could see into the ride at all times. That
deterred any hanky-panky the kids might consider.

One obvious result of this was that during the day, it was no longer
a "dark" ride; light flooded the interior. But at night, the
blacklights made the interior look spectacular and surreal.
The layout was fairly simple: the car would leave the
operator's station and turn 90 degrees to the right. It would
knock open two big wooden doors and enter a long dark corridor
that ran along the left side of the building. Upon reaching
the back of the building (where there was an emergency exit
door) the car would turn 180 to the right and head back toward
the front of the building, passing by a big painted scene on
the right. The car would then turn left and begin a zigzagging
trip past the big windows. There was a scene of pirates
digging up a treasure chest to the left.



When the car got to the right side of the building, it swung
around sharply to the left and headed back in the opposite
direction, behind the diorama of the pirates digging treasure.
There was a painting of a pirate next to a skeleton, and to
the right, on the back wall of the building, was an enormous
painting of pirates on an island. The car then turned 180
degrees past a stunt of a pirate bobbing up and down and then
veered slightly to the right. The black wall in front of the
car would light up and behind a Plexiglas window an enormous
brown balloon would suddenly inflate, rising up from the
floor.

It had two eyes and sharp teeth and vaguely resembled a
gorilla. It never failed to elicit shrieks of surprise and
laughter. The car would then turn left sharply toward the back
of the building. If you looked closely at that point you could
see the one remaining vestige of the old Fun House: Fortin's
second tilty room. It remained there intact behind metal
screening. The car swung around 180 degrees to the right. And
to the right was the final stunt: a devil that would bob up
and down. The car would then turn right and slam through the
big wooden doors to the exit.



The Pirate's Den remained essentially unchanged over the years. The
paintings had a curious unfinished quality to them, as if Spadola
didn't quite have enough time. But the ride served its function as a
pleasant family diversion. After the park closed, the ride
(including the ballyhoo) was sold to Pirate's Fun Park in Salisbury,
Massachusetts. The remaining structure at Mountain Park burned to
the ground in 1994 along with the Dinosaur Den. The only thing that
remained recognizable was Fortin's second tilty room.
 

One of the most fondly remembered rides from the park was built in
the late 1960s on a site formerly occupied by a workshop and a game
concession next to the Play Land arcade. Spadola, Leis and Fortin
transformed the building into one of the most spectacular walk-thru
fun houses ever constructed: Out of This World.
This ride was dark. Most of the interior walls were painted
gloss black. Spadola designed most of the layout with
assistance from Leis. He created an enormous assortment of
bizarre paintings and three-dimensional characters to populate
the ride.The walls depicted planetary scenes with spacemen in
suits and weird nightmarish creatures. There were also many
whimsical characters. The entire ride itself was the ballyhoo:
from the realistic rock surface of the building (again,
celastic), to the giant flying saucer that seemingly had
crashed into it, to the overhang (fronted by a giant lime
green and pink robot) where patrons would walk out and around.


Everything was dotted with intense colorful flashing lights. A
peculiar combination of
synthesized noises blared out onto the midway from the eight-track
tape system, sort of like early "house" music without the beat.
The journey began with entry into the saucer. You'd pass
through a corridor with large rubber half-cones embedded into
each wall, from the floor to about hip height. They'd
alternate one on the left and one on the right. This was a gag
used in many other fun houses. From there you'd enter a dark
tipsy room. It had a black-lit wall with a painting of
astronauts on the moon, surrounded by alien creatures.You'd
then progress up a ramp and come out on the south side of the
overhang.

Advancing counter-clockwise around the overhang, you'd
encounter various moving platforms. On the floor of the
turnaround was a spinning metal disk that Fortin made. "It
would help you, turn you around the corner," he said. "But the
insurance people didn't like that." Next were wood planks on
the floor that moved forward and back. Heading back inside the
building, the corridor turned 90 degrees to the right. You'd
then be directly over the saucer.

There was a lookout onto the midway as you passed over air
jets in the floor. You'd take a left and follow a ramp
downward to the back of the building. There was another tipsy
room, which led to a corridor that brought you out the saucer.
A small room was built near the middle of the ride from which
an employee could watch the various corridors to make sure the
patrons were safe. Naturally, there were always kids who
wanted to fool around. Since the fun house was so dark, it was
easy for kids to hide in the corners and surprise unsuspecting
patrons.

After several years, the moving platforms were locked down to
appease the insurance companies. Eventually, there were so
many complaints from patrons of being harassed by kids within
the ride that in 1982 it was decided to modify the building.
The floor of the overhang was kept, but as a roof for a
coin-operated punching bag game. The lookout over the saucer
was retained for show only and outfitted with some of the
characters that used to populate the ride.


It was the only reminder of the once-glorious fun house. The
building itself was turned into a new arcade and stayed that
way until the park closed. Some of the other figures could be
found scattered around the midway, amusing and colorful
statues somehow out-of-place without their home.

After almost 100 years of fun Mountain Park vanished from Holyoke,
taking with it some remarkable amusement creations. The Mystery
Ride, Dinosaur Den, Fun House, Pirates Den and Out of This World
were unique because of the creativity and ingenuity of Dominic
Spadola, Edward Leis and Roger Fortin.
Now their brilliant work is gone. Their rides were made in a
time of simpler amusements, when scrap metal, wood planks,
homosote and a little resourcefulness could be assembled into
something that gave joy to generations. I treasure parks like
Kennywood and Waldameer that are carrying on a tradition for a
new generation of dark rides and fun houses that are simple
yet thrilling for all ages. In the early 1990s, a man
purchased one of the two robot statues and then drove around
with it strapped to the roof of his car until vandals set it
on fire. City youths took over the abandoned arcade, with its
roof leaking and fašade covered with graffiti, and used it as
a skateboard arena until heavy snows collapsed the roof during
the winter of 2000. Where there was once a thrilling work of
art now sits a heap of rubble, indiscernible except for the
roofline.



If you look closely at the opening in the fašade where the
overlook was, you can still see the park's last remaining
example of Spadola's work: an odd little spider-like creature
from Out of This World that somehow escaped being covered with
graffiti.



And it's strange, but it looks as if there's a tear coming out
of its eye.


I'm grateful that Roger Fortin was willing to share his thoughts
with me. I'd also like to thank Tim Champagne and Maureen Costello
for their kind assistance in keeping memories of Mountain Park
alive.