August 09, 2007

PHANTASMAGORIA: REVELATIONS

Photo taken in 1973 just before the Phantasmagoria's debut (courtesy of Kyle J. Wood)

Disclaimer: The views expressed by former Bell's employee Kyle J. Wood are his own and do not represent those of R.K. Bell Enterprises.

Two of the most popular articles I've ever posted are related to a dearly departed dark ride aptly named Phantasmagoria which belonged to the temporarily defunct Bell's Amusement Park of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Last January I wrote about its effect on my own life, and in February I shared photos of a bittersweet walk-through tour that was given to me before they completely dismantled the building.

Two months ago the "Phantaz" was the farthest thing from my mind when I sent an email to a webmaster regarding his site that features (among other things) information on the infamous Oklahoma Girl Scout murders of 1977. (I was inquisitive because they took place just a few miles from my grandparents' home, but that's an entirely different story. You can learn about it here, but I warn you the events are true and they are absolutely horrific.) My message got a reply from Kyle J. Wood a documentarian as well as an authority on a variety of unusual subjects. He answered my query and then proceeded to completely blow my mind; first by recognizing my name from my previous Phantaz entries, and then by informing me that he had been in the process of personally refurbishing the Phantasmagoria since 2004! Furthermore, he revealed that he has lots of additional visuals and information that he's willing to share with the rest of us! (Man, stuff like this goes way beyond coincidence. I love it!)

A few weeks later I received a mini archive in the mail. Kyle sent loads of wonderful rare photos and facts regarding all aspects of the ride, from its early days to its demolition. He also gave his personal account of the work he was doing to bring the ride back to its former glory, right up until its fateful demise. While I've included the majority of his contributions in this post (every image that follows is from his collection), I've also updated my walking tour post with new information and photos that Kyle has provided. (In the near future I plan on setting up a site dedicated to all the Phantaz info I've posted thus far.) But now I'll stop bantering and get on with the goods...

First let me share what might be considered a bombshell by most Phantasmagoria enthusiasts. As the ride was being disassembled, Kyle happened upon a long lost trick known as "Singing Skulls!"

These hand made, papier-mache skulls each contain a small electric motor that enabled the mouth to open and close. The "Phantom Bus Driver" skull contained the same technology and may have been a "singer" as well. These were located across from the buzzard's nest in a slot that was later occupied by the grim reaper after it left its perch above the first dip. One can only wonder what these colorful spooks sang about.


This wiring guide in the original circuit box room references the newly unearthed trick. The Falling Tembers [sic] is another name for the mine shaft. A glimpse of the "Demishing [sic] Squares," can be seen in this early photo...

The standing individual ( holding a portable light) is Robert Bell Sr. -- Robbie's grandfather. (photo courtesy of Kyle J. Wood)

This trick was replaced by the more familiar ascending bang doors with the circular cutouts. The original doors had to be replaced because the square versions were too heavy and slammed too hard.

RESTORATION 2004-2006

"Phantaz was like a theater. The exhibits were the performers. The riders - the audience. If you disappoint them, they won't come back. Or if they do, they won't be happy and they'll let you know." Those are the words of Kyle J. Wood who joined the Bell's maintenance team in 2004. Wood's job entailed "everything and anything" but he was especially drawn to tasks that required an artist's eye. Kyle's strong background in the arts manifested during his school years and has led him into numerous creative projects.

Wood's gravitation to the haunted ride isn't difficult to understand considering his distinct interests in the unexplained, the macabre, and Hollywood productions. The Phantaz contains all of these elements as well as its own rich history. Kyle couldn't tolerate the state of disrepair it had fallen into. "Bill Certain [the chief electrician] said to me once, "Why fix it up if kids are just going to tear it up again?" explained Wood. After Bill passed away in August of '04 Wood took it upon himself to singlehandedly restore the neglected dark ride. "I did it all alone. I never asked for, or was given permission to touch the ride." The work he would put in was in addition to his already busy schedule. With nobody driving the rogue project Wood had to decide where to focus his limited resources. "I did what I thought was best."

Kyle set out to achieve two primary objectives: enhance the content and protect it from destructive riders. He was first faced with the sizable task of bringing many of the scares back from the dead. "[Phantasmagoria] was severely dilapidated when I started there. Most of the blacklight bulbs had gone dim and didn't illuminate things anymore. Most of the tricks were broken down. The mannequins were covered in years of soda stains, human spit and Silly String. The mummified remains of Bill Certain's favorite cat (who had disappeared years earlier) lay in the spinning barrel pit- perfectly preserved. It was a forgotten ride."

The reason the Phantasmagoria was such a popular target among vandals was very clear to Wood. "It was happening because the ride had no one inside. The cars came within reaching distance of the cages. The access doors to those cages were unsecured and accessible. I reinforced all cages with steel rods, running them through existing 2 x 4s - so no one could grab the cages and pull them out of the wall anymore."

The evolution of the naked chick
Top Left:
The way she appeared in 2004

Top Middle: Wood's paint and wig makeover that lasted exactly one day before being vandalized (bottom).
Top Right: At Robbie's request a bikini was put on her. Kyle bought the smallest one he could find.

The front view of the nude lady isn't quite as alluring. Here she is seen visiting the workshop in 2004 after her date with a vandal.

Though the tricks were more secure they still needed some supervision. Once again Wood employed himself for the job. "I stayed inside the ride to catch people having sex, lighting up cigarettes (and weed), getting out of their cars, etc. I prepared the ride every morning, bringing the cars out, walking through to check for damage from the night before, picking up discarded condom wrappers and other trash."

How had it come to this? It wasn't just a matter of management surrendering in the war against mischief makers. Much had to do with limited personnel. Wood elaborates "Dennis Sanchez [a valued member of the maintenance team] was the man who kept the cars running and the ride safe. He said there was never any time to do things (creatively). Dennis had all the other rides to work on too. He could keep the cars repaired and get an occasional assistant to help him tack a vandalized cage back into place. Bill Certain never had time (or desired to) [focus on the ride] anymore. Bill would check the ride out electrically and safety wise before the season opened. Maybe replace a light bulb or two; not much beyond that."


Dennis Sanchez gives the rat some extra ears during the dismantling of Bell's.
(The Pharaoh's Fury boat seen on the left was about to be picked up and taken to Kansas.)

Bill Certain (1953-2004) drives across the familiar cement pattern on the Bell's midway


Kyle details more of his updates... "I added a lot of small accent lighting to help in illumination (low wattage colored bulbs). You couldn't see anything hardly! You couldn't even see the upstairs graveyard (only the skeleton in the coffin - who would get stuck in a sitting up position every few times and wouldn't lay back down). I added tracer dye (that green tint in the water of the Skull Pond) to make the water visible under blacklight. Before, the water was invisible."


In 2004 this nude figure was shrouded.

Kyle made her over with a getup inspired by a character in the film The Fifth Element.
Two weeks later he was sent to Wal-Mart for another bikini.


Mummies stood in alcoves on each side of the Skull Pond skull. This one was so badly disfigured by vandals that Kyle concealed it with web. After a season the spider met the same fate as the mummy and was found in little pieces on the track. (the other mummy was also destroyed and was replaced with a buzzard.)

Kyle manned the infamous bus with a Jason figure constructed with chicken wire, one of his old flannel shirts and some work gloves that he found abandoned on the midway.

Kyle repopulated the lengthy passage where the first dip once stood with an assortment of creepy stuff (and sound effects) including this re-painted skull strobe light which he "borrowed" from the Skee-Ball prize booth.


"Three airport runway strobe lights (each with ten inch wide lenses, non variable speed, made by Whelen Engineering in Connecticut) had all burned out, except for the one in the psychedelic room. The room's small spinning wheel wouldn't turn (the wood had warped under the intense heat). I fixed and repainted the wheel. The tinfoil (which was wall-to-wall from the Buzzard's Nest to the spinning wheel) was covered up many years earlier after kids kept picking at it. Because hundreds of thousands of staples had been used to attach the tinfoil, it was impossible to remove it by hand. Rolls of black tar paper were purchased from a local roofing supplier and stapled over the foil to cover it."

The Tinfoil Room (a.k.a. Strobe Room, or Psychedelic Room) as it appeared in early 2007.

This was the original spinning wheel, which was smaller than the orange and black replacement.

Wood also did what he could to spruce up the corroded exterior...

Kyle restored vision to the phantom manor with some long-overdue eyeball paint.

The image on the left shows how Kyle found "the brothel" in 2004. He repainted the leg, added a red interior light and hung an authentic curtain from the 1950s.

Another view of the restored bordello. The pitcher on the left once sat atop one of the chimneys. Kyle used it to cover a hole left by a missing spinning display.

Wood's commitment to the attraction continued well into the fateful 2006 season when an infamous microburst severely defaced the exterior just months before the park received its eviction notice. It's nice to know that before its downfall the Phantasmagoria was in the best shape that Tulsa had seen it in decades thanks to Mr. Wood's private renaissance. I only wish we could have seen where he was taking it.

Kyle J. Wood stands before the facade after it was ravaged by the microburst that occurred on 6-6-06.

DEMOLITION

The Phantasmagoria (center) was demolished on June 19, 2007

The next day more buildings followed.

Frequent riders will recall a sign early in the ride that said "Danger: Professionally Trained Guard Dogs..." Originally the sign was followed by a loudspeaker blast of vicious dog noises, although the audio was discontinued relatively early on. Evidence of the defunct trick lies in this second level view. The speaker is plainly seen at the bottom left.

Before it was home to the famous bus trick, this area was called the "tilt room" in which water appeared to run uphill. Before the demolition the bus was slated to be extracted by crane but at the last minute workers were able to maneuver it onto the ascent ramp and drag it out by hand.

Original wall pieces from the Tilt Room.

Former home of the Skull Pond

Pieces of the cave walls await trash pickup

The curved black thing behind the studs is the "spinning barrel," a large rotating tube that the cars passed through.

The bridge through the spinning barrel (after the barrels removal). The steel grating on the floor in the distance was part of the water curtain trick.

The floor of the psychedelic room is one of the last things to go.

Here's a close-up of the floor. No telling who's DNA might be embedded in this piece.

One of the decorative barrels is emptied to reveal a time capsule of trash. All the vintage Pepsi logos indicate that there really was a Pepsi party going on, just like the sign on the Zingo promised.

The rat on its way to storage. The truck toured through the center of town to give Tulsans a last look until he reappears at the new Bell's location.

A lone car awaits transport to storage.

The spinning barrel sits in pieces alongside the graveyard skeleton (in the coffin on the left) in a storage building awaiting a new haunted home.

On a lighter note, lay your eyes on this wonderful set of 1973 media photographs (Courtesy of Kyle J. Wood, of course)

The first dip (the Grim Reaper is visible at the top.
Note the word "Tulsa" inscribed on his cloak.)

Another couple on the first dip

The psychedelic room (note the original spinning wheel and the tin foil walls)

The falling timbers in the mine shaft

The mirrored hallway

The spinning barrel
Note the factory painted cobblestone design on the interior.


Also note the wooden railings which were designed to keep riders away from the spinning walls. (These rails were eventually removed so that the interior could be more easily painted.)

The water curtain
This trick was selected by Bell's in favor of a "Pit of Rats" trick which was also offered by the manufacturers.

RELATED ARTICLES

The grim reaper looks down upon a papa werewolf and his cubs. (One dons a Casper the Friendly Ghost costume)




Thanks again Kyle for giving us all a new look at our favorite dark ride.




13 comments:

Todd Franklin said...

Wow, I didn't think you could top your last two Phantasmagoria posts, but you did with this one!

Travis said...

Amazing. Thank you , Kirk. I love your blog page- thanks for taking the time to keep it updated!

Scott said...

Incrediblay! I suppose one of the good things that have come out of this sad ending is your informative blogs.

The CDP. said...

Awesome as always. Secret Fun Spot needs to become a TV series; a full-color book, at the very least.

Reggaexx said...

First of all I want to compliment and thank you for such an entertaining and informative blog -I came across Secret Fun Spot last night and I think I've read everything you've written thus far. I can't get enough Phantasmagoria!

I have similiar fond memories of the Bill Tracy Haunted House on the boardwalk in Ocean City Maryland. Odd thing is there has been a rumour that Trimpers, who owns and maintains the dark ride as well as a ton of other vintage kiddee rides, are being forced out of business by increasing taxes and are threatening that they may have to shut down permanently at the end of this season.

I have so many memories of hopping into those coffin shaped cars in my flip-flopped feet, my hands and knees shaking and pretending that I wasn't scared in front of my little sister and cousins. But oddly enough, no matter how things always remained the same inside the Haunted House you still would got that apprehension when the line would part and your coffin would rattle up ready for you to hop onboard.

So many of Phantasmagoria's elements were so familiar that the rush of summer memories and immediate recognition was overwhelming. My family and I are making our yearly trip to the beach next week and the information you have related has really piqued my interest. I will definitely be documenting OC's Haunted House... thanks for the inspiration!

Kirk D. said...

Thanks so much fellas, I'm glad it tickled your enjoyment bone. (to coin a phrase).

raggaexx-
This definitely seems like the end of the golden age of dark rides and it sounds like yours is no exception.
Thanks for sharing your haunted memories. I know that feeling of dread and it still hasn't gone away for me. (I still squint and sometimes plug my ears once inside) I hope you're at the beach with your family right now taking dozens of photos of the Haunted House. If you do and you put them online then please let us know! Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Don't know if you know about this site , so I thought I'd post it

http://www.dafe.org/
(Dark Ride and Funhouse Enthusists)

MD Encolpius said...

amazing,hmm

sweetheartville said...

I was out at the fairgrounds several weeks ago, and man, it is ever a sad sight. Everything's demolished and destroyed. Thanks for keeping a little bit of Tulsa history alive with your blog.

Reggaexx said...

As promised... the pics of the Bill Tracy designed Haunted House in Ocean City Maryland...

http://www.flickr.com/photos/11941509@N02/sets/72157601602000814

...I put them in chronological order so you can experience the ride as it happens. I've only included pictures of the original decor since the ride seemed to have been updated in the last few years. And unless the elected officials in Maryland don't get their butts in gear and save Trimpers, the company that operates and maintains the haunted house and countless other classic amusements on the boardwalk and is being taxed out of business, pictures will be all that remains come next summer.

Kirk D. said...

thanks anonymous. Yes that's a great site. In fact this article will appear in an upcoming DAFE newsletter.

md- glad you think so. By the way, I like your art.

sweetheartville- You're quite welcome. I drove by there last Wednesday and it sure was strange to see just dirt. Sad indeed.


raggaexx, those are wonderful photos! I tried to reply to your email but my messages kept getting bounced back (said your address didn't exist!) Anyway, as you can see I just posted about them, I hope you don't mind.

RabidHummingbird said...

words cant express what these phantasmagoria posts do to me inside. this was the greatest dark ride ever!

thanks so much for keeping the memory alive!

Kirk D. said...

rabidhummingbird- You're certainly welcome! I'm so glad the posts captured some of the magic of the Phantaz for you.