The building that was to host the Ghost Ship originated just prior to 1900 with a less ghastly venue. It was the park’s Dance Hall. The dance floor was an impressive piece of craftsmanship, made from maple 2x12s turned on edge. A number of famous big bands performed at the hall throughout the decades, helping Kennywood survive the Great Depression. But by 1953, the culture had changed and Kennywood decided to utilize the building for another attraction, a walk-through for children called the Enchanted Forest. The Kennywood
staff covered the entire floor with a heavy tarp to protect the pristine hardwood. The “forest” consisted of artificial trees and various dioramas. In the early 1960s, the Enchanted Forest received a slightly more sinister upgrade, and was reborn the Enchanted Castle. The façade was changed to resemble a castle, and a few spooky dioramas, such as dungeons, were added inside. When New York City’s ill-fated Freedomland U.S.A theme park closed following the 1964 season, Kennywood jumped in and acquired its Tornado dark ride to replace the Enchanted Castle. At this time, Kennywood management felt that dancing would never return to the hall, hence track was lagged to the
flooring and a part of the floor was scalloped out to allow a barrel to rotate around the track. The ride, built by the former Arrow Development Company, had a storyline revolving around a Midwestern town ravaged by a tornado. 1920 circa automobiles took riders on a twisting ride through high winds (supplied by high-powered fans), collapsing fencing and underneath airborne livestock. Park superintendent Andy Vettel Sr. constructed a new façade resembling a barn. However, the Tornado was soon to blow out of town.  

Top photo: Aerial view shows former dance hall building converted to Ghost Ship ride near top.
Bottom right: Dance hall looms behind boaters on Kennywood Lagoon.


After the 1966 season, all but a few of the Tornado contents were packed up and shipped off to Great Escape theme park in Lake George, New York. Kennywood hired Bill Tracy of Cape May, New Jersey’s Amusement Display Company to design its replacement, the Ghost Ship. It was the collaborative ideas of both Tracy and the park management that gave birth to the Ghost Ship. Over Tracy’s illustrious career he created a few other Ghost Ship attractions for various parks, but even though they shared names, each one was unique. Kennywood’s was installed at a time when Tracy’s career as a dark ride specialist was in full stride. For the façade, Tracy chose the look of an old wrecked pirate sailing ship. A larger than life skull that morphed into a boney crab with huge claws, haunted guard over the broken hulk. The outside corrugated sheeting was colored in a pale greenish-blue to mimic Davey Jones’ locker.

Upper left: Photo from Tracy's Amusement Display Associates catalog, described as the fibreglass facade for Kennywood's Ghost Ship but which was probably built for a similar attraction elsewhere.

Above: Actual Kennywood Ghost Ship facade, remarkably faithful to Tracy's pre-construction illustration shown at left. The spider crab with human skull motif was one frequently used by Tracy for both interior and exterior decoration.

The former dance hall’s promenade became the loading platform. Under the platform’s canopy it was shady and cooler, even on a sunny day, which helped add a foreshadowing of what lay ahead. The queue line weaved back and forth a few times between steel pipe handrails until you eventually ended up on the left side of the ride platform. The backdrop of the queue area resembled stone and the ceiling was adorned with old netting and human skulls. About once a minute, a terrified-looking skeleton in a small boat would come out of the “stone” wall on the left and ride down a small section of track alongside the queue line, then re-enter the wall on the right.

Off to the far right platform near the exit double-doors was an old-west bordello piano player, hammering away at the keys. This stunt was similar to one once used in a Tracy walk-through installation, Boot Hill, at the former, nearby West View Park. However, Ghost Ship’s piano player was retained from the old Tornado ride. Although it didn’t fit the current theme, it enhanced the apprehension of would-be riders. One of the Tornado’s rotating barrels was also retained, complementing another barrel installed by Tracy.
As for the Tornado’s former piano player, it sometimes made for some comic relief on a sinister-looking loading area, especially when the mechanical pianist was in the shop for repair. “One time I turned on the tape machine and I sat down at the piano like I was playing it,” recalled former Ghost Ship ride manager David Procupp. “A lady came up to me and said, ‘You’re really good!”
Above: A spectacular watercolor rendering by Tracy of the Dorney Park Pirates Cove architecture proposed by his earlier Outdoor Dimensional Display Co. The Nautical-Pirate ride theme was heavily traded by Tracy.
Right: Finished Dorney Park project