Saturday, November 21, 2009

Putting a Price on the Priceless - Trimper's Haunted House In Ocean City, Maryland - by Brandon Seidl

Many of you know of my love for the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and for Ocean City, Maryland. Through the magic of the internet, Mr. Brandon Seidl discovered my webpage which has a section dedicated to Ocean City - the old (which I'm hoping to expand, so anyone having any old Ocean City pictures they'd care to share, I'd love to have them!), and the new.

Brandon dropped me a note and it seems we share that love - especially for Old Ocean City. He's done two wonderful websites that I hope you'll take a look at. The preservation of the cultural history of things we loved as a child, which we continue to love as grown-ups, is important. It's important on a million different levels. Brandon talks about them beautifully - enjoy.

"Putting a Price on the Priceless -
Trimper's Haunted House
Ocean City, Maryland."

Brandon Seidl
Founder, Trimper's Haunted House Online
Co-Founder, The Bill Tracy Project

There is always an abundance of fond memories that stick out in our minds as human beings; our first kiss, that crazy, unforgettable birthday party, and perhaps, the fun times we had at our favorite amusement park as a child. But, what about the amusement park made it so special and memorable? The sticky cotton candy we struggled to eat while waiting in long lines? The park’s mascot waving to us as we walked by the enormous Ferris wheel? Or, the eerie sights and sounds coming from the park’s star dark ride attraction? For those lucky enough to have lived in visiting distance to a classic amusement park, no summer was complete without a family visit and a trip through the park’s famous dark ride. The dark ride was often one of the highlights of the adventure, an attraction which was a staple at many parks around the country by the 1960s. That spooktacular experience was one that trumps our amusement park memories, and although many of us first entered on a dare by a friend or family member, it gave us memories that we are able to pass down to future generations, generations that will hopefully be able to experience the same thrilling attraction with their own families.

I'm a lifelong visitor of Ocean City, Maryland and its many amusement venues, and feel like it's my second home. I've always been fascinated with The Haunted House dark ride located at Trimper's Rides and Amusements on the boardwalk ever since my first introduction in the late 1980s. I was immediately attracted to the towering façade, unique effects, and frightening sounds, but being the inquisitive kid that I was, I didn't just beg my parents for another ride. I began to take note of the different features and learn more about dark rides in general.

After many summers visiting the Haunted House with my family, I started to talk with the ride’s manager and gained substantial knowledge from him, who witnessed the ride transform and grow throughout his three decades of employment at the park. In 1996, I was lucky enough to experience my first walk-through, hosted by the manager. Needless to say, it was an amazing experience, and I still think about that first trip behind the scenes to this day. For years, I took pictures and videos to document the ride, only later realizing that I was capturing slight changes that reflected the ongoing passion and dedication to the Haunted House by its employees and owners. Finally, I had the opportunity to work at the attraction during the summer of 2002 and was able to operate the ride, learn its inner workings, and help with problems as they occurred on busy summer nights. My experience working the ride and my ongoing passion for its unique history translated into an immediate desire to promote the attraction in an effort to preserve it as long as possible. As such, I began developing a website dedicated to all aspects of the attraction and in only two years, it has become one of the fastest-growing dark ride websites in existence with worldwide followers; Trimper’s Haunted House Online.

Trimper’s Rides and Amusements as it looked in 1996.

Trimper’s Rides and Amusements, located in Ocean City, Maryland, is the resort town’s flagship amusement venue and has been family-owned and operated since the late 1800s. It is home to one of the world’s oldest antique carousels, a boomerang coaster, dozens of games and thrill rides, but most notably the Haunted House attraction built in 1964 by dark ride designer Bill Tracy.

The façade of Trimper’s Haunted House as it looked in 2007

Bill Tracy, who at the time was president of his company entitled Outdoor Dimensional Display Co., Inc., also built upwards of 80 other attractions along the eastern seaboard and in various locations around the country. Only nine original Tracy attractions are left standing today, all of which are absolute pieces of Americana that will hopefully be preserved for years to come. More information about Tracy and his accomplishments can be found at The Bill Tracy Project.

Bill Tracy on the cover of his 1962 catalog entitled
“We WORK in the DARK”

The Haunted House at Trimper’s was originally built as a one-story ride, but was later expanded to a two-story attraction in 1988 thanks to Granville Trimper’s acquisition of Ghost Ship from OC’s defunct 65th street Ocean Playland Park. Ghost Ship, built in 1965 also by Bill Tracy, offered a nautical theme which fit perfectly into The Haunted House’s second story addition. Although I don’t remember the Haunted House prior to 1988, I have a pretty good idea of its layout based on first-hand accounts. I have not, however, been able to obtain any photographs of the ride’s façade before the expansion, prior to 1988.

Giant Bat that is mounted on the façade of
Trimper’s Haunted House

Surprisingly, Trimper’s Haunted House Online has a acquired a huge following of fans who are always eager to learn of updates about the ride and browse through numerous photo galleries of the ride’s stunts; almost as if they are obsessed with the ride itself, even in the off-season. But, what about the ride makes it so appealing and nostalgic to visitors and enthusiasts such as myself? I often sit and ponder this; it’s nothing more than an old building with some wire-frame papier-mâché figures, cheesy air-operated effects, and a few fluorescent paintings. Or is it? What is it about these attractions that make us so fascinated? Why do we pay $3 to venture through a ride year after year only to find the same old stuff? And, how can we as fans and enthusiasts put a price on a classic attraction that is, for many amusement-goers, dark ride fans, or Ocean City residents and tourists, priceless?

I distinctly remember a conversation with a former Haunted House manager that took place back in the mid-90’s regarding the current value of the Haunted House. I asked him, “what do you think the ride is worth?” After a scratch of the head and a stroke of his beard, he replied, “two or three million.”

Haunted House lobby as it appeared in 1995

It would be impossible to put a value on a historical attraction such as Trimper’s Haunted House in this day, a day when fewer and fewer such nostalgic structures exist. There are simply too many factors that come into play, and too many points of view. To the average Joe, it is simply just another carnival ride with little significance or value. To a real estate agent, the value resides solely in the property. “Who cares about what is on it,” he or she might say. “We can put a condo here and sell it for 50% inflation when finished, especially since it’s ocean-front.” The value may be two or three million, but that value is in the property, not in the ride. To an enthusiast, the value is solely what is on the property—the ride itself. An enthusiast does not care about property value, but rather, the ride and its five decades of memories. An enthusiast’s concern is that the ride is running, in good shape, and is getting the proper maintenance and attention it needs to live on. Although these points of view would not be viable for dispute in the real world, because we are a money-hungry society, they would hopefully come into play in some fashion if such a sale would ever exist.

Original Coffin Car design from 1964

Today, I do not think the manager’s “two or three million” remark is adequate, nor do I believe he understood my true question. But, I may represent only a fraction of a percent of the population who feels this way. As more and more of these gems hit the landfills, the ride is, in my opinion, growing in value. Like an antique car where only five of its kind exist, when four of the five are no longer in existence, the fifth is invaluable. The Haunted House and similar attractions should be no different.

Crooked Hallway, the second room in
Trimper’s Haunted House

The true value of Trimper’s Haunted House is the smell of grease and grim, the dust collection on an age-old stunt like the Old Mill, the scribble of someone’s initials on one of the crooked timbers up Bill Tracy’s Mine Shaft, the echoing of sound effects and looping screams and groans, the bubble gum on the re-entry door to the balcony, or the multiple coats of florescent paint on the Knit Wit’s attire. These aspects, from lifelong rider’s standpoint, are what make the ride so valuable. But, how can anyone, even an enthusiast, put a price on the priceless?

One of Bill Tracy’s most famous stunts, Old Mill

It is my hope that all amusement park-goers, and in particular, those who visit Trimpers, continue to appreciate what resides on the grounds, be it a carousel, an old carnival game, or a dark ride such as the Haunted House. Ocean City boardwalk visitors of all ages have had the pleasure of enjoying Trimper's Haunted House for nearly five decades, and thanks to the dedication of Granville Trimper and the Trimper family, they will be able to enjoy it for decades to come, and continue to celebrate the attraction's true value and historical significance.


Earl Staggs said...

Many thanks, Brandon, for the trip down memory lane. I lived most of my life in Maryland and, of course, spent a lot of weekends in Ocean City. In fact, my mystery novel MEMORY OF A NOVEL takes place there. Whenever we visited OC, we always took our daughters to the amusement park and the Haunted House was a must every time. Thanks for the great memories.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

One of my very first stops whenever we go to Ocean City is Trimper's carousel. And I ALWAYS get a little misty-eyed. It's a thing of beauty and I love that the Trimper family continues the tradition and that so many honor it.

Know what I miss on the Boardwalk? Laughing Sal! I love Laughing Sal! She can now be found in the wonderful little museum at the end of the Boardwalk,and you can press a button and she'll laugh and laugh and laugh. And anyone who can hear that laugh and not laugh along just must be dead.

Unknown said...

Hi Kaye! You're in luck! I just published a page at today celebrating Laffing Sal!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

well I'll be darned.
Brandon - I LOVE this!!!
And now I can hear her laugh whenever I want (or need!!!).

I love your websites - keep up the good work!! they are super impressive, very interesting and a whole bunch of fun!

Earl Staggs said...

Omygosh, Brandon and Kaye, I had almost forgotten Laffing Sal. How wonderful that you've saved her for posterity. It was a treat to hear her again.