by Paul Ruben
This was to be a special day for me. Earlier in my park-going career, in March of 1981, I attended the media preview of a quirky new dark boat ride at Six Flags Over Georgia, Monster Plantation. It was Disneyesque in quality, the first dark ride of this calibre outside of a Disney park.
It was there I first met a young, curly-haired designer, Gary Goddard. Since creating Monster Plantation, Gary has gone on to enjoy a long and distinguished career in the outdoor amusement industry, while I have gone on to, well, annoy a lot of people.
This day, in mid-May, was to be the re-introduction of a refurbished and enhanced Monster Plantation with the new name of Monster Mansion. Goddard had been hired to do the upgrade, and he was to be in attendance. I was looking forward to seeing him again. It would be as if he and I had gone full circle.
Oh, and I wanted a favour before the beginning of the media event. I wanted a photo of myself inside the attraction, which I know would be impossible once it began operating for the event. If anyone could make this happen, it would be Gary.
Since the powers that be at Park World insist I now carry a mobile phone (it’s like being on a long leash, I prefer travelling unencumbered), I used it to call Gary before arriving at the park. He assured me I could come early and had arranged access through park security.
He was standing outside Monster Mansion as I walked up, and before I could even say hello he said, “You know who you look like? Big Al!” Big Al is one of the animated characters inside the Mansion. “You have the hat, and you have the sunglasses. Look,” he asked his friend Phil Mendez seated nearby, “doesn’t he look like Big Al?” Mendez quickly agreed.
“I’d like to get a photo inside,” I explained. “Can you help me?”
“Sure,” smiled Gary. “But you have to take it with Big Al. It’ll be perfect. Perfect.”
With that we walked into the darkened interior of the Monster Mansion, I was introduced to Big Al, and gave Gary my camera. Here is the result, Big Paul. Now I ask you, do I look like Big Al? (Al is on the right.)
The new Monster Mansion was such a pleasure, a joy to experience. Years ago every traditional park had one or more dark rides, but now many parks do not, especially in North America. It’s a shame. They add character to a park, and provide an attraction that everyone in the family can enjoy together. There should be more dark rides like Monster Mansion. I’m now hoping another park will add a dark ride filled with monsters. Big monsters, little monsters, or even scary monsters like Big Paul.