We are pleased to share with you the article below, which features James M. Melonic of J.M.M. Studio
Courtesy of Laff in the Dark
Have you ever had a Day... a Day that is so unlike any other... that something so wonderful happens that it is unlike any other Day? A Day that a memory forever gets etched in your head? You start your Day having the strange feeling that things will never be quite the same by the time that it comes to an end. Just such a Day happened to me... some 14 long years ago. This particular Day was in the hot summer of 1985. I was in Ocean City ,Maryland, on vacation with friends and family, for a nice weeks stay. Myself, the "Self-proclaimed Amusement Park Expert", (Yeah Right!), enjoys the fine dark rides and walkthroughs at Trimpers, Jolly Roger and The Pier. Four walkthroughs, one dark ride and two mirror mazes later, we feel the need to explore some of the other quaint coastal towns nearby. Bright and early mid-week, we begin our trek and visit Dewey Beach, Bethany Beach, and finally end up at Rehoboth Beach last. It was here, on this Day, that a "Terror Came A Calling"! We were walking the boardwalk and enjoying the sun, sights and smells of this fine family resort area, passing several arcades, mini-golf and fast food stands. Suddenly... I see a smiling clown face with a sign that says "Funland". Hmmm... "never heard of it", I think to myself. "It must be an arcade or something" I think as I get closer to the building. I begin to spy several kiddy rides under an concrete roof, "Wow", I murmur, "What a cute kiddy land, how nice", I say to myself. But, soon as I go deeper into Funland I notice a Trabant, Paratrooper, Carousel and other big rides. Then... I slowly begin to see "IT"... and things would never be the same. The sinister looking "Haunted Mansion" sat, deathly silent, while its creepy facade spelt out the true meaning of Evil! Im..... In my own world now, time so oh very slowly begins to stand still, as if Iím in slow motion or something, as if Iím stuck in a bad dream of sorts. There is only one thing that I can see and sense, the "Mansion" is calling me. But... "Why is it silent?"... "Why is it motionless?"... "Why is it"... "bret?!"... "Bret?!"..." BRET?!", "What?", yell I as I realize that I have been standing in front of the facade for several sweat drenched minutes. "It doesnít open until tonight!", replies one of my friends. "Oh, that explains it", I reply, "But we have to come back tonight to ride it". "Fine" says my friend, "But for now lets go do something else". I take one final look at the ride... the Buzzard on the roof seems to mock me... seems to be telling me to just forget all about its most Haunted Home, and as I turn to leave, I cannot help to feel that the Buzzard is still watching me.
By now it is late evening and, while the sun begins to set in the west, a fog rolls in from the ocean. The "Mansion" as I begin to call it takes on even more of a sinister look, candles are flickering along the facade while a line has already formed in the waiting area. I purchase a fist full of tickets, and... almost silently get in to the line. As I watch the now moving suspended cars begin their ascent into "God only knows what" I take a fast look up at the Buzzard. He almost seems to look angry now in the fact that I did not heed his warning. The Ghoul next to him in a broken window almost looks like he is amused at me. But, alas, no more time to worry about this as Iím now next in line. I climb into the heavy, black and cast iron car and crash through the red doors of doom and begin the ascent upward, then outside, along the second floor, legs dangling above the Tea Cup ride. Another set of angry looking red doors appears in front of me, but the car surprises me by going into the wall instead, through a "secret passage"! I pass a Graveyard, complete with a tombstone that reads "You", through the Ice Caves, where huge bats try to kill me while a Miner tries to blow me up! I pass into an excellent looking 3-D Skull Room illusion, you know, the kind that another great dark ride in the state of Pennsylvania has also. I go through several other fantastic stunts and sets, but the best, most single terrifying part has to be the Living Room, terror never looked better! A Ghoul plays a creepy tune on a large Pipe Organ while drapes part with a hidden shock. There is so much going on here including another "secret" passage, that it takes several rides to notice everything and to take it all in. I personally feel that the Living Room is the single best dark ride spot, outside of the Disney rides, trust me, (And the Ghoul too!). I head past more Skeletons, a Frankenstein Monster and other stunts, and begin the downward run, while a 3-D Head is spinning around in a box, just at the bottom of the hill. There is yet one more hidden and shocking surprise though before the exit, but I wont ruin it for you by telling you about it here. I pass through one final set of doors, and go back out, into the midway, the exit never being really where you think it is. "I made it", I think to myself, as the Buzzard looks on, now approvingly, as if I passed some big test, and won its charms. And... on that Day...began a 15 year love affair with my "Mansion".
The beginningís for a dark ride at Rehoboth goes well back to the 1970ís. The park first contacted William Cassidyís Pretzel Ride Company, but decided that they wanted something more different, and this combined with the fact that Pretzel would be sold shortly, forced them to look some where else. They also considered purchasing the defunct "Haunted House" from West View Park in PA. Interesting enough, Mr. Cassidy talked them out of buying it, claiming that the ride was mechanically so bad that once the cars crashed Through the wall near the rides exit, sending it and its patrons for a wild ride down the midway! This Bill Tracy designed and built ride had great stunts and sets, but had problems in the track and cars, so the park backed away. They then decided to build a one-of-a-kind ride, patterned after the "Haunted Mansion" of Disney fame. The Venture Ride Company of Greer, SC was called in to make the proposed rides cars and suspended track. The cars were fabricated from the Cobra twisting style of ride from Venture. Jim Melonic from Fantasies and Dreams, the newer company started from Bill Tracyís Amusement Displayís Company was contracted to do the facade, sets and stunts. We will have much more on Jim Melonic and his Fantasies and Dreams Company in an upcoming article. Mr. Melonic was and still is one of the very best dark ride artists and designers of props and stunts that the world has ever seen! Funland started to build their dream dark ride in 1976, starting with a new concrete reinforced building to house and protect it from the Atlantic Ocean storms, and had hoped to finish it in a matter of weeks. But weeks would turn into almost Two years, as there were several "bugs" to be worked out of the ride. The original ride mechanism was not built for dark ride cars, and there was no braking or stopping system in place either. Also, the ascending and descending sections were built all wrong as the cars could not make the grade. Al Fasnacht, owner of Funland would go on to heavily modify the cars, add a braking system and re-do all the up and down sections of the rides layout. Mr. Melonic would have over 40 different people drawing sketches of the stunts and sets for weeks on end, each scene would take over two days to do! Melonic would also bring in some of the legendary Tracy stunts, cast from old molds, while also doing some of his own classic sets and stunts. Melonicís original stunts included: the Talking 3-D Head, Snake and Clock, Living Room scenes, Artwork with the Fireball painting, The hidden entrances and others, while he used Tracy Mineshaft and Truck gags among others. Almost two years later, the "Haunted Mansion" finally opened to rave reviews and all the Fasnachtís persistence paid off as they had one heck of a dark ride. It is interesting to note, that... there was also at least one sister ride of the "Mansion", dubbed the "Swamp Fox", built with the suspended Venture Cobra cars, and was possibly a portable ride that made its way down to Pigeon Forge, Tenn. and was hauled on two flatbed trucks. This ride is lost in history and time, possibly never making it past the problems that had caused the delay in the Funland ride. The "Mansionís" cars currently run on 24 volts, the stunts activated by trip switches on the track or on the floor. These switches control all the stunts movements, most of which operate on air controlled mechanics. The ride has a small control room, hidden in the center and this is where the digitally recorded sound on sound cards which can be started or stopped at will. The park maintains all the rides cars, track and stunts in-house.
One thing is for sure, the "Haunted Mansion" is not living on past hype, it is still creating a new legendary status, while delivering the "Scares" and while Mr. Melonic did in fact create a wonderful terrifying ride, it could have just as easily started to decline over the years, much like so many rides have in history. Oh no..... the "Mansion" Still Delivers due to the parks fine ownership and pride in all they do, and..... the help and personal attention that Mr. Brad Ginder, V.P. of Operations and Maintenance has given to this beloved ride! Mr. Ginder maintains the ride like a classic auto, and has built several New Stunts and Sets over the years, bringing the ride into the next century, all the while keeping the older stunts and sets in top-notch condition. The only casualty over the years has been the animated 3-D Head stunt that, after being repaired several times, finally wore out last summer. But, not to worry, the park has already replaced it with yet another fine stunt. Some of Mr. Ginderís fine works are the Mad Scientist Room, Frankenstein Monster, Haunted Morgue and Bats. This is a rare example of a dark ride, that ran terrific 21 years ago, and has not lost a single step while actually improving each year due to a very caring park staff and ownership! The park only operates the "Haunted Mansion", in the evening, after dinner time, to keep the sunlight out of the facade and ride, so you might want to take this into account if you plan to go and ride it. And..... yes, the Buzzard still lives upon his steeple, and yes..... . Ride it and see! For this article I wish to thank the following kind people, all who have helped greatly with this article: AL FASNACHT, owner of FUNLAND and BRAD GINDER, V.P. of RIDE MAINTENANCE and OPERATIONS at FUNLAND and JOEL STYER, who actually took a ride and now believes too!, and finally..... to the BUZZARD, for granting me interview time! Thank you all!