Anyone who visits a lot of vintage parks has probably seen something touched by the legendary Bill Tracy. Bill Tracy had a hand in creating dark ride and walk through funhouse attractions at over 50 parks during his lifetime, leaving behind some of the most memorable buildings and gags amusement riders would ever experience.
On the east coast we are fortunate to have several Tracy attractions still operating today, and lucky visitors to Waldameer Park in Erie, PA can visit two standing side by side. Waldameer opened in 1896 and remains a popular stop for families in northeastern PA due to its history, its world class thrill rides like Ravine Flyer, and the park’s free admission.
In 1970, the Bill Tracy Company installed a Whacky Shack to replace an existing pretzel dark ride called “Fun-In-The-Dark” The building is equal parts intimidating and whimsical to riders, featuring a silly face roof with animal print chimneys, and spiders crawling around the walls below. The angles and lines contradict everything you thought you knew about construction bringing resulting in a surreal, Seussian appearance. Featuring a ride-through cart, riders start outside on the first floor, and enter the house, coming out on the second floor and returning outside for a dip before re-entering on the second floor. Everything about this ride is classic Tracy, right down to the hushpuppy cars, and it comes highly recommended if you are in the Erie Area. You can read more about the ride’s history and the specific stunts inside at Laff in the Dark.
No photo will ever do this attraction justice, so I recommend watching this ridethrough video to truly experience the zaniness
A few years later in 1972, a second Tracy attraction was erected right next door.
Standing perpendicular to the Whacky Shack, The Pirates Cove features a near duplicate facade to the 1971 Pirate’s Cove found at Trimper’s Amusements in Ocean City, MD (Which is walking distance from a fantastic 1964 Tracy Haunted Mansion on the Ocean City Boardwalk!) Here are the two Pirate’s Coves side by side. On the left is the Trimper’s facade, and on the right, is Waldameer.
This is one of 3 remaining Bill Tracy walk through attractions, and includes several familiar figures and themes, as well as some very effective gags that still work to disorient and startle guests today. Since I was too busy being afraid to trip over something to take shots inside, you can see some interior photos at Laff in the Dark!
A walkthrough of the Pirates Cove Attraction can be viewed here:
Bill Tracy was truly one of the amusement greats. After building these two attractions, he was only with us for a few more years, passing away in 1974. Many of his rides have vanished as smaller parks close and they are lost to time, so if you have the opportunity to see some original Tracy attractions in your travels, you be sure to should take the time to visit and appreciate his legacy.
If you’re looking for the best history on the subject, you should click on over to the Bill Tracy Project and read up!