If there is one amusement park attraction that enthuses and is as attractive to me as roller coasters, it is the funhouse. I even have a Funhouse sign hanging above the entrance to my home. Sadly, the old fashioned walk-through funhouse is a thing of the past. I was lucky enough to experience four full sized antique funhouses. The first was at the park of my youth, the late Lincoln Park, North Dartmouth, MA. The defunct Whalom Park, Lunenberg, MA had an excellent one as well. Just a few years back, I went through one in the now closed Williams Grove Park in Mechanicsburg, PA. Finally, I have also walked through Kennywood’s Noah’s Ark, the only one on my list still standing. Very few funhouses have been portrayed on postcards. Most of them that are, are photos of the external structure, especially if it were highly and imaginatively decorated as many were. Only a handful depict what’s going on inside the structure.
Herbert Ridgeway was an inventor. An inventor of amusements. He opened his piece de resistance, The Pit on Revere Beach in 1908. A huge structure along the beach, The Pit inside was an amalgamation of many small sized amusement devices, all patented by Ridgeway, which could be experienced as you walked through. When the idea of writing a postcard column came to me, it was this series of cards that made me want to do it. They are wonderfully wacky, and hearken back to a time when the feelings of personal responsibility were strong enough to allow amusements that couldn’t possible be replicated in the litigious society of today. They also are indoor close-ups of people which was quite unusual for their period (1908-1918). Of all the cards I own, these views are my favorites.
Firstly we have this nice overview of the building that really gives it some scale with the patrons (mostly men) were lined up along the walkways and seated around what is known as The Wheel of Fortune. Notice the padding around the support columns behind the wheel, and right in front, left and right.
This next view is almost the same, except some women have been drawn in on the right on both levels, and the shot is a bit tighter. You can barely read “Ride at Your Own Risk” on the central wheel with a loupe.
This next view is The Wheel Of Fortune in action. As you can see from the overview, this shot was taken standing to the right of the ride (in the overview), and the door that can be seen here upper right, is the door that can be seen far left in the overview (easier to see in the first overview). There is another Ride At Your Own Risk sigh on the wall upper left. Basically the patrons would sit on the wheel, and it would begin to spin, shooting patrons outwards towards the wooden walls and support columns (with padding). I have seen this card used, with a message about how the Governor’s son had died on the ride, but I was unable to verify that fact.
Next up is the Barrel of Fun, also known as The Barrel of Laughs. On this device you were to walk across a barrel that was slowly rolling. Having seen my wife spend sometime trying to maneuver in the one at Whalom Park, I guess it’s not as easy as I find it. Also, slipping and falling might put you in close contact to members of the opposite sex, certainly a plus of enduring some small amount of public ridicule.
We navigate the Barrel of Fun only to find ourselves at the Switch Back Chute, basically a wooden slide. All of the sliding surfaces made from laminated wood would have been highly waxed both to be as slippery as possible, and to help minimize splintering. I love the men in their hats, and women in their furs in this view. Also try to notice that all the close-ups in the set of views were shot using the same people.
Next we swing by the Leap Chutes, where we slide down a large wooden slide, and are ejected onto a sheet of canvas stretched tight, for a landing zone. You can see from this view that you come out with quite some force, and that you don’t have a tremendous amount of time to get off the canvas before more people are hurtling towards you, feet first.
This next view of the Leap Chutes finish, gives a better idea of how there is at least room for someone to help you get out of the way of the oncoming sliders. Again this affords you the opportunity for close personal contact with members of the opposite sex, as well as chances to see knickers and other garments not normally shown off. Also note the viewing area to the right, and the meager padding on the pole front left.
Next up is the Broncho Bridge, where one end of this bridge would move rapidly up and down, swinging up and down violently!
As we leave the Broncho Bridge, we walk down a set of stairs to an uneven surface below, we grab unsuspectingly to the metal rails on our right, much like the others we’ve used to steady ourselves through the funhouse, but these instead have a low level of electricity running through them. That’s right, we’ve encountered the Electrified Hand Rails!
Next is another attraction that probably broke more than a few bones in it’s day, The Incline Wheel. Ostensibly it is just a spinning wooden disc set inside a highly waxed inclined floor. It’s impossible to stay upright for long, just watch out for the flying limbs, and wooden walls! This was the first of these cards I found.
Next we approach The Moving Staircase. It’s exactly was it purports to be, a set of moving steps. Most go up and down as you try to climb them, though some moved side to side instead. I believe just the section at the top was the moving part, not the seemingly more stable steps below.
Next is a diabolical little number known as the Drop Seat. The rarest card in this series, the Drop Seat view captures the moment after the Drop Seat has been engaged. A high backed church pew type seat with a lever controlled seat that collapses, sending the person sitting in it to the floor. This one seems to have either independently collapsing seats, or collapsing seats on only one side . At Lincoln Park, their Drop Seat plunked you down onto a sheet of canvas where you slid down to the first floor, and the ride exit. Quite an exit, I’d say!
Another of the rarer cards in the series, is this one of the Tread Mill. I believe this to have been some sort of steps, or canvas roll, where getting one’s purchase and making it up the small incline was quite difficult. You can see the woman on top reaching out a hand to a fellow rider still entrapped by The Tread Mill.
Next up we see The Shaker Bridge with air jets. The Shaker Bridge was a small bridge one walked on, that would shake and shimmy violently from side to side and up and down as you walked across it. Since ladies (who all had skirts on) were holding on for dear life with both hands on the non-electrified handrails, a well placed air jet would blow up their skirts, showing the slips, knickers, bloomers, or lack thereof to all onlookers. Note where the young lady whose skirt is being blown up is about to step…
That’s right, she’s stepping right onto the Tricky Roller! Either the Shaker Bridge photo or this one has been reversed, as it is plain to see that where the young lady was stepping to our right, is the railings we see to our right in this photo. Perhaps there was a Tricky Roller on either end of the Shaker Bridge. In any case, you can see how it would be nearly impossible to get across the Tricky Roller without sliding down to the other level.
That is the last card in this 15 card series. I have seen one other view in another collection that was obviously of the era, and marked as being from The Pit in Revere Beach, but didn’t seem to be from the same photo shoot, or photographer. I have never seen it except in that gentleman’s collection.
Finally we have this unique card that someone has written on to give you a sense of The Pit. I’ll let you look at the front and back, and will list below it everything that’s written on it.
Oh Mother May I Go Out to Swim – Yes My Darling Daughter, but Don’t Go Near The Water
The Pit where you see the sights and also limbs.
Ladies please put weights in your skirt pockets – some breeze
Boston’s choice fruit – Baked Beans
Jonah Was short so look out for the whale kid.
Bunker Hill Monument is a memorial and not souvenir so don’t try to slip it in your stocking
You Bum Barber at the foot of the class please
Rome Wasn’t Built in a ay, but Lizzie’s bathing suit was.
Oh You Mermaid
Life is too short to be guessing
Who’s who and why? Just because his hair was kordy (sp?)
Barber Barber Shave a Pig.
And in pencil beneath
“This will probably keep you guessing for a while. One fair guess”
Wow, wouldn’t you like to know what that was all about! Anyway, we have one more column on Revere Beach coming up next, and then we will continue on further with other parks in Massachusetts and beyond. Also the sideshow cards will return either next time or the column after. Until then, I’ll see you in the queue line.