the age of nine, I encountered fierce jungle natives glaring menacingly
down upon me from the façade of Palace Playland's "VooDoo Hut"
dark ride, an attraction I would eagerly anticipate on subsequent
family trips to Old Orchard Beach in Maine. Decades passed before
I learned that these were natives not of Maine, but of Florida,
being the products of a studio named Animated Display Creators
The company produced an incredible
array of fearsome characters that populated dark rides and funhouses
across America and beyond. But ADC wasn't merely a supplier of
spooks. Promotional displays of almost every imaginable kind were
fashioned for a broad range of businesses, such as ice cream shops,
circuses, department stores and restaurants, to name but a few.
Founder Van A. Olkon presided over
a universe of papier-mâché people, animals and an almost overwhelming
variety of fantastic creatures. Many were intended for use in
the amusement industry; most were mechanical ballyhoo figures
meant to attract attention and stimulate sales. During its peak
years of operation, the prolific output of Animated Display Creators
was equalled only by the variety of its creative scope. Yet in
addition to the bizarre and the grotesque, Olkon's factory of
dreams and nightmares also produced visions of beauty and innocence.
Mother Goose, Humpty Dumpty and Santa Claus abided peacefully
in the company of demons, gorillas and space monsters.
recounting the legacy of Van Olkon, we have partitioned this article
into three sections: History, Business and Art. Some of the vintage
images shown are "politically incorrect" by today's standards;
we include them as examples of the styles and attitudes of their
Finally, this is a story of imagination,
enterprise and resilience in an evolving America.
And it is the story of a man who conjured his own alchemy of art
and industry for over sixty
years amidst the challenges of a changing society, advancing technology
and a declining urban environment.
admiration and gratitude, Laff In The Dark presents this tribute
to Van A. Olkon,
Architect of Artifice, Fabricator of Fear...and Fantasy.
In The Dark