18. The Wesley Lake Section, Part 9

The Palace Amusements, Part 5

 

As a child, I had been in numerous funhouses on the Jersey shore. In those days, none compared to the original Asbury Park specimen. It was long, labyrinthine and well kept. For me, the fascination was not so much the spooky elements. Rather, it was the feeling of being in something mysteriously other. I could never figure out exactly how the many corridors and rooms fit into the architecture of the Palace Amusements building. Maybe I didn't want to know. It is this discrepancy between the relationship of spaces that has continued to haunt and transport me. Again, the fullness of the world left behind was somehow present, out there, though not exactly thought of. I was in a world within a world.

Here I must note that by 1988 (the year I took my Palace photos), practically nothing remained of the Funhouse interior. The exterior appeared in good shape, but the inside... well, I'll save for later an account of what I found.

Once upon a time, I knew the route of the Funhouse by heart. I even drew a map of it. The map has long since disappeared. Nowadays I have to be selective in my description.

We begin the Funhouse through a giant revolving barrel, just in front of the ticket booth. The barrel is made of smooth light-colored wood. Tall people could brace themselves spread-eagle in it and slowly cart-wheel to its revolution.

Out the other end of the barrel, we turn right, walk a few steps and make a left turn beneath an entrance. Suddenly, all is dark. There's an attic smell, like musty cardboard. The temperature is also like that of an attic, in summer! The outside sounds of the rides become swollowed up by the novel present; muffled, distant, they are part of a life and world we left behind. No shrieks or horror noises invade us, though - only the hollow-wood sound of our hands knocking walls and our feet scraping along. Carefully we feel our way through the first narrow corridor. Beneath our feet we feel bumpy, rubbery things. Dead bodies perhaps?

We negotiate a turn and continue on. But something is wrong with the floor! It's leaning radically to the left. You trip. Now it leans to the right. There, that's better ... it's straightened itself out. At various points along our route, windows light up, revealing a scene of horror. Now we see a head-and-shoulders view of a mother rocking her baby in a cradle. All of a sudden, the light turns a vague, sickly purple - the black-light reveals that her child is a devil!

We press on and on through the darkness. Sometimes we hear other explorers in other parts of the Funhouse - a laugh, a scream or the knocking of hands at the walls. Most of the time we seem alone. Uh oh. What's this? Looks like ... bars ... prison bars! Now what do we do? These bars are sold iron. Wait! Look at this. One bar is made of rubber. Pull it aside. Squeeze through. There we go!

A few more bends and we're at another window. Ha! A half-naked cannibal stirs someone in a pot!

What's happening now? Interesting. We see daylight, soft gray daylight. Outside sounds become clearer, clearer. There's a tiny round room before us. We're in one of the Funhouse's turrets or towers. We look out the window and see the amusements raging below - the bobsled, the Mau Mau ride. We're almost as high as the top of the Rock-O-Plane.

Still in partial daylight, we leave the turret through another arch. Suddenly we're outside, high up on the front of the Funhouse facade. We have to cross a bridge. Hold the railing! The bridge has two lanes of ruts in the floor, one for each of our feet. Inside the ruts are slats that buckle under each step. Far below, people watch. Keep an eye on the ticket-taker below. If he's not busy, he'll push a button and you'll get a loud shot of air in the you-know-where.

Made it. We pass through another arch and into darkness again. There were other illuminated windows in the Funhouse. (One, I believe, had to do with pirates. Unfortunately, these images are lost in the unreachable depths of my mind.)

On we go. There's a hump in the floor, like a small bridge. We cross it. Now a turn. Uh oh. More prison bars. But wait! We don't have to deal with them. There's a turn here. Uh oh again: The floor around this bend is steeply banked. Hold the railing - the floor is rotating. Yes, there's a disk beneath us that moves with each step. I'll have to brace myself on the railing and hop. Great, I'm on the other side. Come on. Give it a try. What are you doing behind those bars?

Something really neat is coming up. It's the climax of the Funhouse. Soon we will detect the presence of unusual light. Look ahead, there it is - hazy, purplish...

It's the Slanted Room.

Image 1.18.1. My computer "sketch" of the Slanted Room. I have a clearer picture of it in my mind that I can't quite match. This image gives some idea of the place, though I cannot remember what kind of designs were on the walls. I've been told that half moons played a part in the design. Yes, that does seem to ring a bell. The walls, people remember, were actally black. But the glow leaves a lighter after-image.

A sickly purplish greenish haze illuminates the place and it feels a bit hot. The whole room seems to glow from inside. We know it's done with black light, but it is hard to tell where the light comes from. There are two levels, separated by a few steps. A (double?) wooden railing divides the room in two. We enter on the high end. The walls are covered with weird designs done in light-receptive paint. Taking advantage of the tilt, we throw ourselves stumblingly from the high end down the steps to the low end and go smack against the wall. We have to go around the low end of the railing and then walk back up to get out.

I recall that it was always quiet in the Slanted Room. The only sound, I think, was the low hum or faint buzz of electricity, probably the source of illumination. Because of the tilt and the light, the place had a "pressurized" feeling. In fact, a friend of mine used to call it the "Pressure Room."

We leave the Slanted Room by way of a narrow corridor. It begins to get light once more. Day is returning. The cacophony of amusements becomes louder, more mentally visible. We hear the great ape of the Hell-and-Back roar one of his incomprehensible slogans. Now, through a window or two, we see the outside world again, the other amusements. (Here we go down a few steps, I think.)

On the ground floor, nearly free, we are faced with series of prison cages. It's the old find-the-rubber-bar routine. Keeping an eye on those nasty little airholes, we extract ourselves correctly. We find ourselves back on the main floor of the Palace Amusements, ready for a new round of fun.

***

When, out of curiosity, I visited the Funhouse in 1988, I found that its interior had been utterly stripped. It was not much more than a series of rough black-painted pine walls hammered together to form rooms. I'd say that two thirds of its length was missing. The place smelled of human waste. There were video cameras inside. Now that's scary!

Image 2.18.1. Self-portrait in a crazy mirror.

 

Come back soon!

Okay, I know your eyes are probably killing you by now. Next, we will leave the Palace and take a half-block stroll over to one of Asbury Park's most prized possessions - the glorious Mayfair Theater!

 

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