14. The Wesley Lake Section, Part 5

The Palace Amusements, Part 1

(Many photos. May take time to load)


Image 1.14.1 Some neon work on the exterior of the Palace Amusements.

When you stand between the Palace Amusements and the Casino Crown, the faint music of two carousels decorated the ocean air. I cannot say if the little merry-go-round across the lake in Ocean Grove contributed to the mixture, but the sounds of gaiety from the lake and from everywhere gave you a sense of being in a special place at a special time.

2.14.1. The Palace Amusements.

I took the above photo at sundown in December 1987, when the Palace still had some smooth flesh on it. It shows the southeast corner of the building, the carousel section. There is a long snack bar at left, behind the windows that frame the corner. The Carousel is to the right, behind the garage-style doors and the three vertical ones next to them. This hip-roofed section of the Palace dates from 1888. A hundred years later, the carousel it housed would be considered the oldest operating machine in New Jersey. Originally steam powered, its 70 hand-carved animals were by Charles Loof, the great amusement wizard of his day. The Palace itself established was by ERNEST SCHNITZLER, who designed the Ferris Wheel (then called a Roundabout), in 1895.

Image 3.14.1 The Palace Carousel.

The Palace had many entrances: a couple on Lake Avenue (the south side), on Kingsley Street (east) and on Cookman Avenue (north). The place was a giant warehouse of diversion. Let's go in through the Cookman Avenue entrance.

Image 4.14.1. The northeast corner of the Palace. The smiling face is known locally as "Tillie." It is a Coney Island import, named after George Tilyou, the owner and founder of the Island's Steeplechase Park. Click HERE for a photo of Tille I took in 1989.

On entering, we experience the Palace's delightful, all- encompassing cacophony: spangling, jangling tunes of the revolving carousel, the "pop-pop-pop" of the shooting gallery, the "ding" of bells, the dropping screams, the laughter fake and real amid melodies exotic, the rumble and sudden pneumatic explosions of air-breaks that slow the wild rides. That familiar scent of ocean'd wood, of motor-oil and popcorn permeates the atmosphere. Powdered daytime lights the place selectively, dusting from doors or beaming down from the Ferris wheels' sky-blue ceiling-gaps.

Before we continue, you should keep in mind the last sentence of the above paragraph. I took my photos inside the Palace without flash. Consequently, the interior looks darker than it actually was. I should also mention that I took my photos in 1988. This was the year that that the Palace officially closed (its 100th anniversary, by the way). At that time, the establishment appeared lean and a bit run down, a little seedy at the edges. There were many modern "Atari-type" video games and tacky "bulb-and-chrome" updates of older diversions. How bizarre! How cold! This was quite a change from the antique skill-crane booths and other charming catch-penny devices of just a few years before.

Okay, we enter on the north side. At our right is the Bubble Bounce, shiny capsule-cabs that spin on a giant dish. The dish revolves lopsidedly - one end goes up, drops, then the other end takes off, drops with that loud pneumatic "pop." By now semi-crazed, you control the spin by a large steering wheel in the center of your cab.

Opposite the Bubble Bounce, at the northeast corner of the Palace, was the Olympic Bob ride. I have never been on it. It never seemed very interesting. Its corner spot is dark and unappealing. Essentially, the cars or sleds go round and round at high speed as the hub that they race around rises and falls. The attraction has a snow scene backdrop that is meant to suggest the Alps or some such place. The following (rather dark) photo shows the Olympic Bob later in life:

Image 5.14.1 The Olympic Bob later in life.

A few steps to the south of the Olympic Bob (just past the open door in the above photo), is something that looks like a Ferris wheel. However, this is not the normal one, which we've already glimpsed. This strange contraption is called the Rock-O-Plane. It looks pretty serious: If the regular Ferris Wheel is a family sedan, this is a Formula One racer or fighter jet. Its color: fire engine red. Its metal cabs are shaped like slightly squashed peas and caged with perforated panels. The pilots are belted to their seats. Small and cramped, each cab holds two. This machine does not proceed at a leisurely pace. It really revolves! Not only that, but your cab - if you so desire - can go upside down!

I was always afraid to go on the Rock-O-Plane. When I finally got up enough nerve, I made sure I didn't pull on the handlebar. That is what made you go upside down. I would keep the cab locked in its default position, facing west. One time, however, I got a very unruly pod! Just as my cab soared through the opening in the roof I felt everything tilt back. Usually facing west, away from the ocean, I suddenly was confronted with a bright, blurred image similar to this:

Image 6.14.1. My stunning view from the Rock-O-Plane.

That was the last time I went on the Rock-O-Plane.

Opposite the Rock-O-Plane, right beside the Bubble Bounce, is an elaborate castle facade. Wide and nearly as tall as the Rock-O-Plane, this castle is a magical collection of stagy false fronts - brick towers, turrets, battlements and overhanging mechanical creatures. Some real elements were built seamlessly in: prison bars at ground level, windows, bridges... I think the hall of mirrors was added later.

Image 7.14.1. Part of the exterior of the Funhouse.

What is this castle place? It's the Funhouse, of course! I must say that, in my experience, Asbury Park had the best funhouse on the Jersey Shore. It was long, dark and elaborate. I was never quite sure how its serpentine black-walled route was structured into the Palace Amusements building, but this mystery was a part of its fascination.

But let us wait! We will save a trip through the Funhouse for later. When we get lost in the dark it'll be good to know that there's a world to return to. Remember what I said awhile ago about unseen things. The world around you, or behind your back, is important to the overall effect of life, even if you're thinking only of what's right in front of you. Looking forward to something is part of this idea.

Next we will encounter a remarkable Palace attraction that puzzled me when I first experienced it. It was something completely new, utterly mysterious...

Click on, if you dare!


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