Being a child during the early 90's and obviously a fan of the Friday the 13th and Night at the Elm street anthologies, I had a chance-of-a-lifetime to experience Miracle Strip's Haunted Castle back when it was still open. It was known to attraction fans and spooky themed rides in Florida for almost 2 decades until the closure happened. As an adult now, after all these years as I researched more about this theme park, a man named Bill Tracy designed it in 1965. It was one of the first parts of the part that was built when it opened to 1963 in Panama City, Florida. Bill was contracted to design and build the interior ride and also designed and built the outside decorations of the attraction that made it so iconic. Following the sad abandonment and closing of Miracle Park in Panama City, this ride was finally closed back in 2004.
Through my eyes looking upon the terrifying face of the castle that came complete with a creepy weather vane on top- which overall completed the outside of this frightening looking house. As a continuous avid fan of thriller movies- this was a real treat for the horror minded types like myself to visit haunted theme rides in my spare time. However I’m proud to have visited a real piece of dark ride history, as the U-Turn track rides of the yester-years are few and far to find these days. With narrow halls and limited space- the track which leads the 2-seater cars wormed its’ way through nooks and crannies all throughout this ride.
It featured a tiny little car with 2 seats which takes you through an indoor setting called by the term it has been named- which is: ‘A Dark Ride’. The ride itself takes you on a maze-like journey thorough the endless darkened rooms and settings. Thrilling me upon entering the first display- I encountered an inmate being electrified, a bloodied bald head, creepy cobwebbed spiders, decaying skulls and skeletons and the spontaneous sound effects and images that intensified the ride itself, it was also a very claustrophobic feeling most of the time with that familiar door banging which took you by surprise whenever entering another room display. This ride- which only lasted a few minutes from start to finish felt like an eternity at times. Who knew time could stand still, or was it the snail-like pace of that two-seater car dragging along corners so tight, it must have been turning on a dime….
Nowadays, I believe the Dark Ride introduced multiple inspirations and further creations for these kinds of rides. There are obvious ones that now sit at the very top- like at the Disneyland parks with “The Twilight Zone: The Tower of Terror” or, from Universal Studios on the “Revenge of the Mummy” ride, and even the ever-popular Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. Then there are such dark rides that are a bit lower in quality but stick to that original dark ride concept such as the: Spook-A-Rama in Brooklyn or the Haunted Castle in Santa Cruz. Most of these classic horror-themed rides seemed to originate in these smaller theme parks with creepy and bizarre settings right out of a 1950’s Detective magazine. In the very beginning this ride was aptly called: “Hour 13”, as this dark ride concept had originated in 1965 from the mind of Bill Tracy who worked for several outlets (specifically the Pretzel Corp. -who was the first in creating dark rides of this type) – this name was changed later to the Haunted Castle by the time it opened for the summer of ‘65 with much delight.
Even though miracle park had closed in 2004- many of the rides were sold-off by auction piece by piece over the years. It wasn’t until 2007 that a man from Birmingham, Alabama had purchased all of the ride parts and decorations. It was later that a childhood fan of the ride- Jeremy Cruise from Oxford, Alabama learned about the purchase of the Haunted Castle ride as well and began to negotiate with the fellow from Birmingham to buy the ride for himself. Opening as the “Terrortorium”, Jeremy combines a walk-through style haunted house with the added bonus of the rebuilt Haunted Castle ride itself. So for those who are curious what this ride was like- you’ll need to visit Oxford, Alabama.