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Dark Ride Paradise - Wild Bill's Nostalgia Center

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Later in the 1950s Pretzel manufactured, a two-level ride which a chain lift. The two remaining ones are at Camden Park and Conneaut Lake Park.


A third one does still exist, or at least did as of 2008. The people who run Shocktoberfest in Sinking Spring, PA had found one and set it up for their 2008 Halloween season. Still fully operational with plenty of working props. I only rode Devil's Den at Conneaut Lake once, but as soon as I got on this I recalled the very similar layout and the "riding in a shopping cart" feel. I don't know how many years they kept it or what became of it since, but I don't believe they used it this year.


Loved that! It was a fun surprise. I felt a tiny bit unsafe on it though, didn't you?

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When amusement parks are not open I tend to sleep late on Saturdays, but this morning was different. I was excitedly looking forward to taking a day trip to a place this has been featured on Roadside America and covered numerous times by the local media. A place that is known about by laffinthedark.com, D.A.F.E and the Bill Tracy Project.


Wild Bill's Nostalgia Center was my destination this morning. It is located in Middletown, Connecticut. Less than one hour from two amusement parks with very popular coasters (Lake Compounce and Six Flags New England).


Wild Bill Ziegler owns the place (hence the name). Wild Bill's first job as a teenager in 1959 was in a toy store. This was the year Barbie launched and Bill learned a very valuable lesson watching the store owners/management hoarding these hot Barbie dolls for their own families. After working for the state of Connecticut for about 20 years in various roles (including tax collector) Wild Bill opened a nostalgia store in downtown Middletown. But Wild Bill liked buying in bulk, didn't like the crowded downtown area and wanted his place to be a destination. So Will Bill saved up and bought the former Club Vasques and then a neighboring dairy farm on the outskirts of town. The nightclub was a hopping scene amongst mobsters in the 1940s with notables such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett serenading the crowds.


As I mentioned earlier, Will Bill is an established businessman, not a fly-by-night operator with a get rich quick scheme as his latest venture. Wild Bill works at the Center every day, I asked him if he ever took vacation. He responded that he goes to Trade Shows, such as The International Gift Show, in Las Vegas twice a year, so even his time off is a working vacation. He is well known in the community and on this day he was expecting Bob Backlund to come into the store to sign some merchandise. Being a huge WWWF fan as a kid I was hoping Mr. Backlund would put me in a cross-face chicken wing, but he did not arrive while I was there. As far as the new endeavor, Wild Bill will consider it a success as long as it covers the bills.


Chuck Burnham is the curator and has been a business partner of Wild Bill for 8 years. He has been working with dark rides and walk throughs for well over twenty years and got his start as a teenager apprenticing under the late Peter Rasulo at Lake Compounce for 6 years. He still has a good relationship with Lake Compounce and did a lot of work in creating their Haunted Graveyard. He has the knowledge and skills to bring these rides back to life. He has great passion for his work, and a true vision for the site. I saw an empty field, Wild Bill relayed Chuck's vision in vivid detail. Chuck told me the details of the stunts both old and new; some I'll reveal later, but some will need to be kept secret. During my 2.5 hour visit I spoke with Chuck briefly as I didn't want to take too much time away from his work. It is a lot easier doing construction on a warm sunny day like today. He and his crew are not just moving buildings, they are recreating them from the ground up.


One point Chuck wanted to make is these attractions will scare some kids, and adults. "This isn't going to be Disney," there are going to be warning signs posted. Also, when complete there will be much more to pre-occupy younger children. Wild Bill already owns 6 kiddie rides, including a rare kiddie whip. The plan is to include affordable games, a mini-golf course, food stalls, exhibits and operate the grove as a living museum. There are no plans to bring in larger or more complex rides, but for the older crowd there will be a stage for shows (they currently have shows over the summer), an old-school side show and even a tasteful old fashioned burlesque show.


Now let me show you some of the what I saw today.


The GPS says "turn right, now"


Yep, this is the place. By the way, Wild Bill's head in this picture is the world's largest bobblehead.


And this is the world largest Jack-in-the-Box. It's a 600 pound Clarabell the Clown head once owned by Bob Keeshan, that rises out of a silo.


And Wild Bill magically appears in front of his store.


The traffic light lets us know the store is open.


The store is filled with all kinds of "Strange Things"


This clown head came from York Beach and will be used in front of one of the dark rides.


This is one of the rarest items from the amusement industry. You may have heard of Laughing Sal; this is Laughing Louie. I was told this is one of only two known to exist and this one is fully functional.


This disco ball came from Studio 54. If Wild Bill really doesn't want to sell an item he puts a ridiculous price tag on it. He once had an item priced at $1,200 and almost sold it but the prospect left without buying. So what did Wild Bill do? He repriced the item at $1,500 and sold it shortly thereafter.


What are these, you ask?


Just sculptures that Wild Bill had commissioned out of 1,000 bear traps. He is willing to part with it for $500,000.


Ronald is there to welcome you.


I asked Wild Bill if this was one of his old girlfriends.


He jokingly said that this one was.


Wild Bill once bought 8,000 Sports Jackets. They still have the original price tags on them but he sells them for $5 each. He did not have any that were 44 Short, I looked.


This is Wild Bill's office!


I guess my desk isn't "that" cluttered.


One of Wild Bill's specialties is bobbleheads. He distributes Funko bobbleheads and was instrumental with their marketing plans. As a gesture of thanks they created a Wild Bill Bobblehead.


Here are some of his specialty bobbleheads. I used to love QUISP cereal.


If only I still had a VCR.


If you can't find that last beer can to complete your collection contact Wild Bill. He probably has it.


Sleds and fire extinguishers: Strange Things indeed.


As I was exploring the store, Wild Bill showed me what the nightclub looked like in the 1940s.


Another item Wild Bill specializes in is posters, This original one signed by Frank Gorshin, Adam West and Burt Ward is selling for $225. I told him that sounded low, and Wild Bill thinks so also and is surprised no one has purchased it yet. If you see it here on TPR and buy it let Wild Bill know where you heard about it. Frank Gorshin isn't signing any more items, since he's dead, so you better hurry.


Wild Bill bought a bunch of these posters for $2 in 1976, they are now selling for $35. And Farrah is still perky.


This is one of Wild Bill's most unique orginals. This picture has a unique element to it and the Hendrix estate tried to buy the 100 that Wild Bill owns. So Wild Bill saw the potential and had all 100 of them signed by the photographer and jacked up the price.


In Wild Bill's version, Jimi is flipping off the audience with "the bird", other versions of this picture are airbrushed with Jimi giving the peace sign.


I was afraid to ask the price for Marilyn.


Out on the property, Wild Bill and Chuck lead me into the silo for an upskirt shot of the Jack-in-the-Box


This is the counterweight made of scrap metal and animal parts that enables the 1/2 Horsepower motor to raise and lower the clown head.


Laff in the Dark at Lake Compounce is the ride that changed and molded Chuck's life as a youngster and he has this plaque right next to a mural he drew that replicates the ride's facade.


This is an old Ball Pit on site that will be refurbished, but for the time being two rides are being concentrated on.


PSA Warning: The upcoming pictures are taken from a restricted area courtesy of a private tour by Wild Bill Ziegler and Chuck Burnham. Don't be stupid, never trespass to take pictures!


This is a picture of the old Haunted House at Riverside Park serving as inspiration for the facade of the first and largest project.


This will be the entrance to Wild Bill's Haunted House and it be a walk through, not for the timid.


On this day, a friend will be bringing by his crane to lift this facade in place.


Chuck hard at work framing. These guys know what they are doing. They are in constant contact with the Fire Marshall, building inspectors and zoing officials. The Fire Marshall was out visiting the site this morning, the building inspector has approved the structural plans and zoning is approved.


Chuck and Wild Bill pose it front of the 1940's King trailer fun house that is being refurbished with add-ons. This is expected to be the longest permanent walk-through in the United States when completed. It is expected to take 13-14 minutes to experience.


From this angle you can better see the King Trailer.


Why am I showing the words Fun House. Because Wild Bill owns the old Staten Island Pretzel ride "Funhouse". That is the next ride attention will be focused on after the Haunted House. The ride was long shuttered, but 6 years ago Chuck worked some magic to allow Wild Bill to ride it (Wild Bill was the last person to ride it) and Wild Bill bought it on the spot and shipped it to Middletown. At laffinthedark.com there is a comprehensive pictoral review of the ride. This ride is quite unique as it is a reverse pretzel that enters through the right hand doors instead of the left.


Here is one of the pretzel cars that needs to be refurbed. If that pretzel emblem does not look familar it's because the pretzels rides at Sylvan Beach and Sandy Lake are the only two still running with this model of car.


Here is one of the single rails it will run on.


The ride will be called Laff in the Dark and will have a circus atmosphere with this old circus monkey cage out front along with the clown head from York Beach that is currently inside the store.


And this my friends is an old lion cage that will be used in the theming in front of the ride.


This is a family heirloom from when Wild Bill's grandfather worked in the Ringling Brothers Circus and will find its way into Laff in the Dark. Chuck plans to have all the old stunts working and is uping the ante with new stunts to make it super cool.


To build excitement this mural is on one of the wall of the Nostalgia Center.


By the way Wild Bill has the ability to throw fire directly from the sun at you. But he also wanted to let everyone know the following. He and Chuck are in possession of 11 attractions (dark rides and walk throughs). I'm not certain if all will be completely restored or if some will only be used for parts. They are currently following up on leads for others in hopes that current owners want them restored versus sitting unused. The other ones they own that will be restored after the Haunted House and Staten Island Pretzel are Dante's Inferno from Williams Grove and the Haunted House from Beech Bend. While at Beech Bend, the Haunted House was neutered to not allow the cars to spin, that will be rectified at Wild Bill's.


As I was leaving it appeared that Chuck had installed some of the framing he was working on earlier.


Thank you very much for reading.


The one thing I know for certain, "I'll be baaaack"

Edited by larrygator
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I also just want to point something out here...


People have given us crap in the past about not supporting "preservation efforts", but the reality is that we have never supported an effort that didn't make sense to us *cough* Kat&Kiwi *cough*, but this... THIS makes a lot more sense...there is a foundation, a plan, and a vision, and you can see it all currently being carried out.


TPR can and totally will get 100% behind this effort!


Thank you Larry for everything you've done introducing us to this project!



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11 Dark rides? Are you allowed to tell us which are being used for parts?


I really can't say for certain as I didn't ask for all the details. And I may have misspoke "assuming" some of them would be used for parts. But the good news is I'll be in contact with the project leaders and they will be sharing more info in the future either directly with me or by joining TPR.


I was told there are: 4 walk throughs and 7 dark rides, not 11 dark rides. I've mentioned 1 walk through and 3 dark rides in my post.


I know they are in possession of a mirror maze (so that's another of the 4 walk throughs) and the parts from the York Beach ride. I seriously could have spent another 10 hours talking to Wild Bill and Chuck but I had to respect their time and let them work.

Edited by larrygator
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It's great to know where those Beech Bend Pretzel cars are residing now as well as the other info. Thanks for the great update, Larry!


The one thing I can share about the old Beech Bend Pretzel ride is that Chuck has an idea for special theming on the ride to work with the newly liberated spinning cars.

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^Joey - you might want to check out my Southern Connecticut "foodie" PTR.


I made one big correction to the PTR as I forgot that Sylvan Beach still operates a Pretzel with the cast iron pretzel emblems on their cars.


One last picture to show what I picked up at Wild Bill's Nostalgia Center as Christmas gifts or for myself.


Charlie Brown Halloween bobblehead, Wild Bill bobblehead, Dardevil plush toy, 3 Stooges beanie baby type item, and my favorite the Stanford University Facilities shirt..

Edited by larrygator
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^Hoarding is ok if you have cools stuff and can find all your animals.


Larry, I know you got a special tour, is this place worth a visit without the VIP treatment you received?


It's a great place to shop for people (or yourself) when you don't know what to buy them. I'm a huge nostalgia buff, so I loved the place. Once I found out about the store I was planning to visit, whether I got a tour or not, as part of a larger trip. Wild Bill is always in the store and enjoys interacting with the patrons, so if you ask him about something you'll get a story if he is not busy. It is Roadside America's most visited place in Connecticut, Wild Bill says he even gets more visitors than the world's largest ball of twine.


There are at least 2 dozen other cool things in the store that I didn't mention or photograph. Most people that entered the store when I was there spent 20-30 minutes looking around. But if you want to look through all the vinyl records, posters, tin signs and other collectibles you could spend a lot more time.


You will only be able to see the work being done on the dark room facades from about 50 yards away. The ride stunts and vehicles are in or behind buildings and trailers.

Edited by larrygator
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^Hoarding is ok if you have cools stuff and can find all your animals.

Couldn't have said it better myself...



Thanks for making us aware of this really cool place Larry and thanks to Buffalo Bill and Chuck for creating it. Here's to hoping that they are able to fully realize their vision. I'm sure I speak for many of us when I say, I can't wait to make my first visit.

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This was one of my favorite Photo TR's Larry. Thanks for posting this! I really hope that I am able to make it up there once they finish. Chuck (as in cfc) really should buy that Batman poster.



I was thinking the same thing, but I think cfc already has a poster signed by Adam West and Burt Ward.

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I don't revisit this thread for four days and it explodes with awesome.


Larry, you've just given me and many more the best Christmas present we could have asked for with this thread.


And for Wild Bill and everyone involved in this effort, that goes double for you.


This is completely winsane, the whole damned thing.

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