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The entrance to the Lakehouse Inn, Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio

 

The Lakehouse Inn Bed & Breakfast with  nine cottages and  a winery-tasting room situated on just under 2 acres of lakefront property in Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio.  CrossWinds Grill Now Open Click Here For schedule of entertainment.

 

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The entrance to the Lakehouse Inn, Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio



 



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RICK DAVIS, director of Darkride and Funhouse Enthusiasts (DAFE), sits in one of the ride cars at Fright Zone, Erieview Park, Geneva-on-the-Lake.

 

 

Preserving our childish fears

Fan club restores
GOTL darkride

By CARL E. FEATHER
Lifestyle Editor

It was the place baby boomer youth went to get scared out of their wits, steal a hug or leave a wad of bubble gum on the wall.
Often referred to as "darkrides," these amusement park fright houses sported names like "Haunted Mansion," "Spookhouse" and "The Haunted House." All of them shared common features: an enclosed building (usually dark or dimly lit), a passenger-carrying vehicle that ran on a track or similar guide, and gags or gimmicks that often included sound effects and flashing lights.
Many of these rides have succumbed to progress and more technologically advanced rides. According Rick Davis, director and co-founder of Darkride and Funhouse Enthusiasts (DAFE), less than two dozen of these traditional rides exist in the United States. Northeast Ohio and northwest Pennsylvania are blessed with several: "Whacky Shack" at Waldameer Park, Erie; "Devil's Den" at Conneaut Lake Park; and "Fright Zone" at Geneva-on-the-Lake's Erieview Park.
Davis and the other 200 or so DAFE members like to spend their summer vacations traveling to amusements parks that still have darkrides and funhouses. Randy Skalos of Conneaut is a DAFE member who gets a nostalgia rush from the darkride.
"It's just the old feel of them," Skalos says. "Probably the biggest thing was growing up in the '60s and '70s, those were the rides that scared you the most. Looking back at it now, you laugh and think, 'I was scared by this?' For me, it's just one of those childhood memories you think of very fondly."
The members of this 2-year-old group recently volunteered to clean and rebuild many of Fright Zone's gimmicks. Davis says the club has adopted the ride as their "pet project" and will probably return again next spring to do additional work on the classic ride.
Fright Zone was built as "The Haunted House" in 1963 for Westview Park in West View, Pa. Erieview Park owner Don Woodward says he purchased the ride from the defunct park in 1978. The ride was renamed Fright Zone and installed it in Erieview for the 1978 season.
Originally a two-story ride, Fright Zone was adapted to Erieview's one-story building. Woodward says Fright Zone replaced a "Pretzel" ride that was installed at the park in the mid-1950s. The ride's most frightening gimmick was a plywood skeleton.
"The main reason I bought it was because the gimmicks in the old one were almost nonexistent," he says.
Woodward was attracted to Fright Zone by its attractive decorative front and various gimmicks built by darkride legend Bill Tracy. Woodward says the ride is one of only three Tracy built while in a partnership with the Allen Hershel Company, which designed the fiberglass cars and steel track. The others are in Mexico and New York.
Tracy was an eccentric with a knack for designing gruesome, sexy scenes, like a scantily clothed young lady riding a buzz saw blade and a mad scientist sipping a corpse's blood through a straw.
"The guy who did these pieces was pretty detailed-oriented," Davis says of the scantily clothed women in the torture chamber gimmick. "He made his figures without leaving much to the imagination."
Tracy's engineering skills left something to be desired, however. Woodward says Tracy built the animations with household-grade parts that broke down under the strain of daily use. Many of the Fright Zone's gimmicks thus became static displays enhanced by sound effects and lighting. The damp environment near the lake also deteriorated the figures, many of which are constructed of nothing more than papier-maché.
Vandals also damaged some of the scenes. Woodward says several young vandals got out of their cars and trashed the graveyard scene a few years ago. Another vandal stole the main attraction off a decapitation gimmick.
Today, if a rider tries to jump cart and head out the back door with an unauthorized prize, an ear-splitting alarm sounds.
Davis says Fright Zone is particularly susceptible to vandalism because the gimmicks are not protected by chicken wire cages, as is the case in most darkride attractions. This visibility makes the ride especially of interest to darkride purists.
Davis says his club wanted to make sure the ride would be around for another generation, and therefore offered their services. Woodward admits he was skeptical at first.
"It was one of those cases where I didn't know what their abilities were," Woodward says. "Their hearts were in the right place, and we did a walk through and I figured they really couldn't hurt it too much. It was a small leap of faith."
The club members patched and painted many of the gimmicks. Skalos, who puts on one of the area's premier Halloween displays, took his "web shooter" to the darkride and refreshed the spider webs. Primarily, however, their first mission was to scrub and dust more than 20 years of dirt and grime from the ride.
"Overall, cosmetically, it looks pretty good," Davis says.
Woodward, who hired a company to do some work to the gimmicks several years ago, says he feels the DAFE club members outperformed the professionals.
"You guys did a superb job," Woodward told Davis.
Davis wants to tackle the animations next. He's already donated a head to the decapitation gimmick.
By modern amusement park and electronic game standards, Fright Zone is extremely tame. More frightening, realistic scenes can be found on neighborhood front lawns at Halloween. Nevertheless, it retains a special charm. Woodward says the ride is in the park's top five most popular attractions.
"It probably had 60,000 riders on it last year," Woodward says. "It is like the bumper cars, there is a group of riders who ride them over and over. A lot of them are 12 or 13-year-old boys."
Those boys could grow up to become DAFE members, who like Davis and Skalos, find that even the scariest things of childhood are mild compared to the world of adulthood.
"The scariest scene in there is when you pop into the open and you're back out into reality," Davis says.


                    
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