In the late 1960’s, one of the most popular of all Dark Rides ever to be installed in the Palace was built: "The Whacky Shack". Located on the former site of "The Jungle Ride" Ralph Lopez Sr. was in charge of the facade, while Lopez Jr. animated all the stunts on the front, including several upside-down heads that graced this once cherished ride. The name itself cojures up rides built by Bill Tracey’s Animated Displays Company, so it may have been very well possible that George Lange saw a similar named ride either at Wildwood New Jersey at Hunts Pier, or at another amusement park, or even at Traceys Display booth at an Iaapa convention. Either way, this ride looked nothing like Traceys creations, with an almost comical look and feel to it! Although this ride would "rein" for several years, in 1984, Asbury Park was about to get "hit" with something so great, it would make Dark Ride history, as the Lopez Team would both construct and build such a Dark Ride, that it would forever make its place in history. OK, here's the one you have been waiting for!
The "Haunted Castle"! Are you ready to explore it?!?
One of the greatest Dark Rides of all time would make its debut in 1984. A new facade as well as name was proposed by George Lange, and Ralph Lopez Jr. would take a "Stab" at creating a new attraction for the Palace. While the "Whacky Shack" was an all-time favorite of the parks patrons, its theme was getting old, so Mr. Lange came up with the idea of replacing it with a spooky looking Castle Motif, and Ralph Lopez Jr. was to do both the facade as well as the interior. Dubbed, "The Haunted Castle", this ride is the one most fondly remembered from the later days of the palace, and I rate it as one of the "Top-Ten Greatest" of all time!
Here is why: Mr. Lange’s format with the facade was executed flawlessly by Ralph Lopez Jr., he had to build in front of the old facade and even incorporate the Animal Head from the old Dark Ride into the facade of the Castle as well. The Pretzel cars were re-painted to look very "sinister" and not too much was "exposed" from the outside about the rides interior. But... what gets me to rate this particular Dark Ride so very highly, is, former props and elements from former and defunct rides in the Palace were re-used in the Castle. "Lizzie Tish" was given a new lease on life, as was the "Drummer from the Rock Band", the "Funnie Frite Heads" made for an incredible new stunt, and the classic "Frankenstein" was re-tooled to be air-operated by Mr. Lopez. All in all, the best of the older rides were all represented. There were two different versions of the ride though, the first, of course being the original that Lopez and Lange helped to craft in 1984. Lets take a ride: This Pretzel was one of a few being built that was called in the industry: "A Backwards Pretzel". This, meaning, that it went against the standard format for Pretzel in the fact that the cars entered the ride on the left hand side, and exited on the right.
The castle was the complete opposite, and only one of less then 24 Pretzel Dark Rides that "Bucked" the standard format. Six Classic Pretzel cars that were unitized in the former Pretzels stood at the entrance of the Castle. They were painted to look almost in a "Gothic" tone, very medieval looking, with fanned out "Bat Wings" decorating both the front as well as rear of the cars. About half of the cars were painted Blue with a dull white trim, the other 3 painted brown with a tan trim. The leather interior remained a classy red. The cars would enter through a set of double doors (A Rather common mark of Pretzel rides) and turn to the left, and venture down a long and narrow hallway, without hardly any headroom to stand up in. Its been said that this part of the ride followed an old part of the defunct "Old Mill" that one graced these hollowed grounds. Ralph Lopez also remembers George Lange Sr. stating, that, if he was to dig up the sidewalks surrounding the Palace, they would find several of the water ladled "Old Mill" tunnels that once operated deep within the ground. There was some "Monsters" painted in Day Glow paint on the left side of the walls.
Through yet another set of doors, led to the air-operated "Frankenstein Monster" that always gave a scare! Then it was through another set of double doors, and into the much bigger and main room section of the ride, that sat right behind the park’s "Twister" spinning ride, and next to the ""Bumper Cars". Turning toward the left, there was a set of comical "Funnie Frite" heads that followed your car on roller skate wheels! Next up and going toward the ""Bumper Cars" was a series of "S-Turns". The next prop was the immortal "Lizzie Tish" figure, followed behind another bend by a "Three Eyed Alien Ghost" that was an Animated Display Creators Prop that dropped to the floor using a track. It is thought that this prop was also used later on inside the Fun House in the back run of the dark hallways. To your right were two "Large Bumble Bee’s" running in place and suspended by cables. Around another "S-Turn" was a large metal "Spider and Spiderweb". Now going back towards toe Ferris wheel was one of the best props ever created, a "Bulldog" named the: "Cheef", mis-spelled on purpose. Turning to the left yet again was the "Soups On" Cannibal and Cauldron stunt. At yet another "S-Turn" was a large animated "Vulture in a Spooky Tree" that flapped his wings and made a large amount of noise! Around the final turn and moving yet again to the entrance was the last and final set of stunts: a "Diver getting attacked by an Octopus" and a "Giant Crab" on the wall that would scare you as your car would exit out the last set of double doors next to the Bumper Cars.
Of note here for hard-core fans of this ride: Each stunt had its own sound effect created and housed in a sound room, hidden deep inside the palace that contained an enormous continues recorder with many tapes for all the Dark Rides including the continuos laff from "Tillies Neon Face" located outside the building in a hidden speaker. When the Lange family sold the palace to the Vaccaro’s in 1986, the "Hunted Castle" would get one final remake before its ultimate demise! At first, plans called for a "Sally Dark Ride" type of interactive lazer tag guns to be mounted on the cars of the Castle, and scoring opportunities to be had by hitting the stunts inside. But. this plan was scraped. Instead, older props were pulled from the two large storage rooms inside the palace, and a great Dark Ride was made to be even greater. While only running for a few mere seasons, this was the best of the best. lets go: The "Cave Mouth" now contained a rather popular "Dry Ice" look and feel to it. Like the older version, you would go down the long hallway, with both Blacklights and the day glow spiders painted on the wall. ""Frankenstein" was still next, although his movements were rather jerky from years of use by now. Going through another set of doors, was a "Stationary Monster", and on the left was the "Spider on the Cobweb". Into another set of double doors, and the main section of the ride was "Lizzie Tish" who popped up behind a gravestone.
Through an S-Turn was another prop on the right, a lighted ghoul, and down into s section of the old "Funnie Frite sliding Heads". Into another S-Turn to the left and then the right was a hidden "Auto Horn" that sounded off, startling patrons. Here there were "String Cobwebs" hanging from above. Back towards the Bumper Cars was a "Devil Playing a Fiddle", which is a rare prop that’s history is thought to be lost for all time! Next up was the "Monster From The Deep" and then turning yet again, the "Diver attacked by the Octopus". Towards the bottom right and lower side of the track layout was a "Man Getting Hanged" stunt. Now moving toward the long hallway, was a "Skeleton flying out of a Coffin" prop. In rapid fire came "Ghost Flying toward the car" in the air, then a "Flying Bat" and around to the right and towards the exit, another "Bat flying over the car". Next up was a "Monster" on the right wall that reached out to you, then into the final set of doors and out of the dark and the ride, with...... the "Haunted Castle’s" final kick in the ass, a "Monster Behind Jail Bars" that would reach out and try to grab you, this being hidden from riders waiting in line to board, but a real shock and surprise that had riders howling with laughter for many minutes to come!
Sadly, this ride, as well as everything else, would come tumbling down a few years later. Peter Szikura would rescue many of the props from the Castle, and the "Bulldog Cheef" has a new and permanent home in New Jersey. The Castle’s cars, track and a few props are still, to this day, being stored in southern New jersey, awaiting a new fate, along with the cars from the Orient Express as well. What the future holds in not known, but what is know is that the Castle was one of the greatest ever built, and it is a legend that shall go down in time. The author wishes to thank both Pete Szikura, a prop and Dark Ride expert, as well as the last Assistant Manager of the Palace, Brain Maher for all their help with this segment of this article, Mr. Maher is also writing a new book on Asbury Park’s Palace as we speak. Also, to Mr. Lopez for all his help, and finally..... to George Lange for having the sense and inspiration to create such a wonderful Dark Ride, even towards his family’s end of ownership. Like everything else both he and his father did, they were always classy and first rate!
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