The following is an example of the regional history features often created for Jersey Shore Hurricane’s website, JSHN.org, and shared across social media. Above is an archived photograph I recreated into a pseudo-1980s videogame graphic to evoke the era.
Welcome to JSHN’s Waves from the Past, a browse through shore history’s dustbin of dog-eared and digitized postcards, snapshots, video clips and more.
Today we peek into the history of an instantly popular subject, a famous-to-infamous “dark ride” of the Jersey Shore that spooked and excited many before its untimely demise at the hand of “Lucifer’s flames” in 1987: the Haunted Mansion of the Long Branch Pier.
We preface this post with an important note: nowhere has anybody captured its history better than the website Dark in the Park, located at DarkInThePark.com and also featuring other coastal dark ride attractions of the past in New Jersey. If anything, this post is merely a dip of the undead toe into their waters, and we appreciate all their work and urge everyone to head there (the artsy-ed up image that leads this post is also from their archive).
Now, the Haunted Mansion. First, let’s begin with one of its quirky and renowned commercials of the time:
Here are the short facts (with the longer account at Dark at the Park – seriously, check them out): Pat Cicalese, partnering with Carmen and Thomas Ricci, opened the 10,000 square foot Haunted Mansion on the Long Branch Pier for the 1978 season (during the horror genre’s boom years), which benefited from heavy advertising in the New York market, bringing crowds up to 100,000 a week. In the handful of years that followed, the mansion expanded as the pier enjoyed ongoing success until June 8th, 1987 when a gas leak caused a fire that engulfed the pier in high west winds. A combination of the pier being underinsured and the refusal of banks to back rebuilding efforts, the entire redevelopment was shelved and by the late 1990s, Long Branch City owned the property, then sold it to condo developers. Today a new pier is proposed in Long Branch, but instead of thrills and chills, the pier will be used for commuter ferry traffic to New York City and will now feature sleepy office workers and lattes.
For the nine years the mansion operated, though, many thousands enjoyed its ghoulish delights while many dozens embodied its “blood-chilling creatures of every description”:
One such creature was Lori Bonfitto, author of the recent collection of short fiction stories, Asbury Dark:
I learned first-hand the simple joy of the shock scare when I worked at the Haunted Mansion in Long Branch, New Jersey. Being a high school thespian in the late ’70s, I wanted to work at the Haunted Mansion the moment I saw the TV commercial.
Finally, during the summer between high school graduation and my freshman year of college, I got my chance to don a black shroud and wear white grease paint.
Located on the Long Branch Amusement Pier, the Haunted Mansion was an event to savor slowly, or barrel through like a runaway freight train. Similar to Halloween attractions that now run seasonally, the Mansion was a walking tour through three stories of pitch black hallways while gothic organ music blasted overhead.
As a member of the cast, I would arrive at the beginning of my shift, get my character assignment and go right into make-up. During my two-month stint I got to play a variety of ghouls such as Lizzie Borden, “Morgue Doctor”, “Rat Professor” and “The Headless Woman”.
Last October, Atlantic Heights Herald writer Dennis “DJ” Mikolay posted an article of his own recalling the Haunted Mansion, where he spoke with Lillian Grauman, the mansion’s manager beginning in 1979, who said, “I remember people running out the backdoor missing clothing and, of course, shoes. Most people didn’t come back for them. We had quite a collection.”
So, dear reader, are you one of the frozen, frightened Haunted Mansion victims, or perhaps a member of its long ago tribe of ghouls? Do you, like many, cling lovingly to some past piece of Haunted Mansion history – a t-shirt, a bumper sticker, perhaps a family photo? Send us a note to JSHNPastWaves@gmail.com!