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Coney Island's Spook-A-Rama Still Keeping Riders in the Dark

Deno's Wonder Wheel Park at Coney Island


Photo of Coney Island Spook-A-Rama

REAPER-RAMA The grim reaper taunts guests outside of the Spook-A-Rama at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park.

Arthur Levine
While it may not have the cachet of Nathan's hot dogs, the Cyclone roller coaster, or the Wonder Wheel, the Spook-A-Rama at New York's Coney Island is nevertheless a seminal piece of living amusement park history. One of the few remaining classic haunted attractions, enthusiasts consider the Spook to be the Sistine Chapel of dark rides. Read on mortals...IF YOU DARE!
  • About Guide Rating (0=Yich!, 10=Wow!): 8.5
  • Thrill Scale (0=Wimpy!, 10=Yikes!): 5
    No physical thrill-ride action, but gore and psychological thrills may be frightening for small children.
  • Type: Classic Pretzel (the manufacturer) dark ride
Things to know
  • Location: Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, on the Boardwalk at W. 12th St. in Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY
  • Phone: 718-372-2592
  • Admission to the park is free. Guests purchase a la carte tickets for the rides.
  • Coney Island Overview
Halloween now means big business for many theme parks and amusement parks. Over the last few years, parks have built elaborate haunted mazes and kept their turnstiles clicking well into the fall. But this recent fascination with severed heads and chainsaw-wielding ghouls actually has a long history in the industry. The humble dark ride, with its curious collection of corpses, grim reapers, and other nightmare inducers was an amusement park staple.

Part sideshow come-on and part monster movie come-to-life, the garish dark rides were a midway sight to behold. Amid animated fiends, recorded shrieks, and brash signs promising the horrors that awaited within, tentative riders crashed through the doors and into the darkness at one end and emerged nervously laughing at the other (typically induced by a burst of air or some other shocker just before exiting).

Neither as flashy as roller coasters nor as charming as carousels, dark rides were nonetheless enormously popular. Every park had at least one, and major amusement meccas boasted many. New York's Coney Island alone once offered as many as 25 dark rides with evocative names such as The Devil's Pit and Shangri-La-Ha-Ha. Changing times and stricter fire laws, however, spelled doom for many of the traditional spook houses. In the latter part of the last century, hundreds closed in the US, and only about two dozen remain in operation today. Spook-A-Rama, arguably the definitive classic dark ride, is the lone surviving example of its genre at Coney Island.

Sitting in the shadow of the iconic 150-foot Wonder Wheel, the Spook-A-Rama, like much of Coney Island, oozes nostalgia. Its high-back cars, the quaint skeleton motif on the fa?ade, and even the name, "Spook-A-Rama," suggest another era. But, this is not a museum piece. Riders board the Spook today in search of the same scare-me-silly chills as riders from nearly 50 years ago.

Next page: Families Get a Charge out of the Spook

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