Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Remembering the horror that once lurked in Brigantine, New Jersey

The Jersey shore hasn't always been about sand, sun and surf.
There were horrors, too...

As a young kid growing up South Jersey for a few years in the late 1970s, I was mesmerized by the television commercials for Brigantine Castle, a haunted-house attraction located in Brigantine, New Jersey, just a few miles northeast of Atlantic City. The place looked like a schlocky (in the best way) 1960s or 1970s horror movie come to life. I was 8 or 9 years old, so, upon viewing these commercials, it didn't really register to me that these were just a bunch of college kids in pancake makeup making good summer money.1 (That's an over-generalization, but not terribly off the mark.)

I never did get there. The Castle's heyday ended with a damaging storm in 1982. It closed for good in 1984 and burned down in 1987.

But, because of those commercials, I've remained intrigued by Brigantine Castle. Here are two of them, from YouTube...

While there is a great website and digital archive of the history of Brigantine Castle, which I'll get to in a moment, actual ephemera is difficult to track down on the open market. I did come across this 1977 postcard for Brigantine "Horror" Castle & Amusement Pier a couple years ago. It was pushing the idea that this was "an exciting complex for the entire family." Because homicidal mimes and severed heads make for the perfect day with Gramps and Missy!

The photographs on the postcard were taken by Manos Angelakis, and the card was distributed by Joseph Harris of Brigantine. Here's a look...

If you really want the skinny on Brigantine Castle, the best — and perhaps only — place to go is, which was created more than 15 years ago by Seph and Bill Cherkasky as a repository of Brigantine Castle history. It was then expanded to encompass three classic dark rides of New Jersey, as the Cherkaskys added Dracula's Castle in Wildwood and the Haunted Mansion of Long Branch. Other dark rides and haunted attractions have also been reviewed and discussed on the website over the years.

But Brigantine Castle remains the centerpiece of the website, and the depth of history and information featured there is such that I hope there are backups and printed archives of all that material. I would hate to see this information become a Lost Corner of the Internet and then disappear altogether.

The Cherkaskys' documentation includes Brigantine Castle's history, three pages worth of photos of the actors who worked there, a large archive of pictures, some of the original sound effects and screams (including one described as "different men laughing with jack-in-the-box sounds"), and a look at what has become of the former site of the attraction in Brigantine. As far as ephemera goes, there fantastic scans of posters and brochures and other advertising material for Brigantine Castle that you should really check out. In particular, this poster is pretty terrific.

And if all that isn't enough, the Brigantine Castle website hosts 15 years worth of emails that the Cherkaskys have received, filled with memories of both Brigantine Castle employees and those who were thrilled and spooked while experiencing the castle back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. That is the part of the website that I most hope is preserved for posterity. Here are a couple of examples of those great memories...

  • I was lucky enough to be a member of the Brigantine Castle for the last 3 years. The memories I have from my experiences there are among the most cherished I have. For those of you reading this that share the knowledge of being a "monster" in the Castle or in any other haunted house, hayride or attraction, you understand. ... In the brief time I was employed at the Castle I became acquainted with many people, some of whom are my closest friends to this day, as close as any blood relation a person can have. One of the people I met was a man by the name of Joe Little. His name was a source of pure irony because he easily stood 6'4" if not taller. When he donned the platform shoes, green makeup and metal bolts, he was one of the most imposing Frankenstein's Monsters to have ever scared a shoobie into the fetal position.
  • My daughter and I have hysterically funny memories of one visit to the castle in the summer of 1976. My sister-in-law (Dot) and nephew were with us, and I had to lead the way. We spent a long time debating how to get over the hole in the path in the dark forest until the lurking werewolf finally told us it was glass. The Castle was genuinely creepy, even though we knew what it was, but my sister-in-law's terror had her clutching the back of my shirt in a knot and squeezing the kids between us. We did a lockstep through the castle with me laughing hysterically and Dot screaming hysterically. The body that sat up in the coffin really made her scream.

And now you probably want to read them all. Go ahead! Go!
(But you might want to keep a light on.)

1. Speaking of which, Ashar, now 16½, is working as one of the scary performers this month at a horror attraction called Panic at the Ballpark in York's downtown baseball stadium. From the brochure: "York's professional baseball stadium, PeoplesBank Park, become[s] a terrifying den of horrors as a force of vengeance and evil wreaks havoc on fans of the great American pastime." The different areas are called Head Basher's Hideout, The Dismemberment Shop and Dead Man's Play Land. An obsessed police officer, using his fingers as a gun, runs around trying to catch an evil, undead ballplayer.

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