Trimper’s Haunted House in Ocean City, MD. When I was kid, this ride scared me to death. There is, afterall, a bat with a blood-soaked mouth at its helm. Sure, he’s obviously plaster. But he represents the horrors inside that house. Sure, he’s obviously pretend. But clearly, there’s a real one inside.
This ride has been on the Boardwalk since 1962, occupying a building that was once a movie house. The ride and displays inside were designed by Bill Tracy, an amusements man known for designing dark rides, and by many counts, also known for his inner demons. Nearly all of the original Tracy pieces still operate in the ride today.
You step into an ornately carved coffin on wheels. Three of us–me, my mom, and my sister used to squeeze into the coffin seat. We didn’t dare ride it without Mom, and I didn’t even see it the first couple years I rode it, because I kept my eyes shut the whole time. I didn’t want to see the bloody bat eating the flesh of children. Because he does. Some say you can hear him ripping it off their bones.
Every summer the question was–would we ride the Haunted House by ourselves this year? Could me and my sister brave it without Mom? The year was 1988. I was 7 and my sister my 5. I knew I could handle it. I wasn’t afraid of no ghosts. That year, I strutted confidently down the boardwalk towards the Haunted House. And by strut, I mean that my parents kept telling me to pick up my feet when I walked.
Then we discovered the Haunted House had been redone. Formerly a one level ride, they had added another level, with new monsters and ghouls incorporated. It was a big deal. My dad busted out the video camera to get our live reactions on the changes.
“You guys were gonna ride it yourselves this year, until you saw they made the changes.” I stood there staring, wide-eyed and lip out. I was shocked. Two levels of Haunted House. Two levels of Haunted House. Mom rode it with us again that year. It was because of my sister. She didn’t want to do it without Mom. Totally because of her.
You barge through these big old doors, and the lights are out.
The Bill Tracy deisgned elements of the ride are instantly distinguishable from some of the newer, contemporary parts of the ride. They’re kooky, crude, and covered in day-glo paint.
The very first stunt you see is this giant, day-glo rat.
The floodlights come on. A shriek. He lunges at you, about to crush you, but then the lights go dark again. If you turn your head just before the lights go out, you see the motor pulling the rat back into position.
Another day-glo character, the Swamp Ghost:
Part of the charm of this thing is hearing the cranks and snaps of these old-fashioned stunts operating. At the precise moment, the Swamp Ghost slides over your head, and you hear the wheels spin along the metal rails. And before you exit the room, if you listen carefully over the tape-recorded screams and gurgles, you hear the machine crank it back up, waiting for the next coffin.
Another classic Tracy element are the forced perspective rooms:
Here are the crooked room, the train tunnel, and the upside down room. There’s also a “spinning” room, a “wavy” room, and a second crooked room. The coffin rocks on the track to play into the perspective. The train whistle blares.
The upside down room was always a favorite of mine. It was so funny that a lady would sleep on the ceiling! I love the attention to detail–the wallpaper, the curtains. Just out of the photo, there’s also an end table with a lamp and some books, including the Bible.
The greatest section of the Haunted House, and perhaps controversial, is the torture room. There’s no way they’d get away with something like this today–true Tracy mayhem, women tied up and hacked up.
See: Buzzsaw Lady.
Every minute, this poor woman slides down the rail through the buzzsaw, cutting her clean through the chest. She screams as she slides down, a scream recorded by Bill Tracy himself.
Then this scene is pretty disturbing:
Take a look at that face. Now you know why I didn’t ride without Mom. That is enough to give me nightmares tonight. Another fun detail of note is that the boobs move on the chained up lady, heaving in fear. And that kinda thing is hilarious to a kid. Look! Her boobs move!
The ride takes some whiplash-causing turns, and it moves pretty fast. You get banged around in the coffin. Going up to the second floor is particularly daunting–you’re going up at a 45 degree angle, and the brakes are screeching the whole time. It’s a bonus thrill of the ride–having faith in the engineering of this creaky old building.
When you get the 2nd level, you come outside, riding on the roof for a moment, with a view of the entire ocean and boardwalk below you. You pass by the blood soaked bat:
HE EATS CHILDREN.
You re-enter the Haunted House, barging through doors where so many clever teenagers donate their gum every year.
I think of the gum as a token gift to please The Bat.
In the 2nd level are some of the newer (in the late-80s) pieces.
Just because they’re contemporary doesn’t make them any less messed up than the rest of the ride. The electric chair dude still creeps me out. It doesn’t just shake a little bit as the strobe lights flash, mimicking electrocution–it convulses violently in the chair while the ride pauses, forcing you to watch it.
The main reason the Haunted House was renovated in 1988 was to fit in pieces from another Tracy-designed ride, the Ghost Ship ride in the defunct Playland Park. Here is one of those pieces, a bloody-mouthed shark:
It looks like this was once one of those boards you stuck your face through for a picture. This shark, swallow you whole.
One of my favorite new memories of this ride happened when the girlfriend came with me to the beach for the first time. She had never ridden the Haunted House before, and she took several of these pictures herself that first year. Towards the the end of the ride, water starts pouring from the ceiling:
I told her to prepare herself to get soaked. She freaked. “Oh my god, I didn’t know you get wet on this!” Since I’ve ridden this 2-3 times every summer for the last twenty years, I knew the water stops pouring dangerously close to the very last second.
“Is it really bad?”
“Oh yeah. Soaked. Just wait.”
We continued toward it, and she fidgeted to protect her purse. Now we were almost underneath it. She tensed. But the water faithfully stopped, just like it always does. I laughed. You only get that moment once.
Scaring kids is an honorable profession. But after so many summers, those kids grow up; they no longer fear the dark and monsters. What’s inside becomes hokey, laughable. They say, “oh I love those cheesy kinds of rides.” But for me, this will never be one of those cheesy rides. This ain’t one of them trailer-sized carvinal ones with a couple of props from the Spirit store hanging around.
Inside this one are works of art, works of imagination. History. Memories of being squeezed three to a coffin. Buzzsaw Lady. Blood-soaked Bat. And you know, that water malfunctioned in previous years, and this year it’s really gonna soak us. Just wait.