|OK, so it's
not as elaborate as the "Twister" attraction at Florida's Universal
Studios. And maybe it's lost some luster since it premiered in New
York City almost 39 years ago. But the Tornado, at the Great Escape
Fun Park near Lake George, upstate New York, retains the nostalgic charm
of the classic dark ride. And later, if you're in the mood for the
in-your-face walk-through house of horror experience, you'll find it at
The House of Frankenstein, just a few miles north of The Great Escape
on Route 9.
Tornado debuted in 1960 at New York's City's now defunct Freedomland
theme park, then spent a few years at Pittsburgh's Kennywood Park, before
the ride was acquired in 1967 by The Great Escape. In Tornado,
you ride an antique car on a Pretzel-type track through early-century
farmland being ravaged by a twister. It's located in the park's
Ghost Town area under the guise of the J.R. Sweeny insurance building.
The antique cars, in pristine condition, seat four people. When my family
and I arrived at The Great Escape one Sunday afternoon in early June,
there were about 40 people in line. Some of the New Yorkers I
spoke to in line said they had ridden it at both Freedomland and The
Great Escape. Others only remembered it at The Great Escape, but
told me it is a local tradition to ride it every year. "I rode
it the first year it was here and every year since," one woman
told me. "I think it's great."
So did my four-year-old son -- he begged to ride again. So the next
day we arrived when the park opened. We beat the crowd and rode four
straight times. Later, I spoke to the middle-aged operator on duty,
who said the park staff is well aware of the historical significance
of Tornado and do their best to maintain it.
the Earthquake ride, formerly at Freedomland and Cedar Point Park,
and the Wreck of the Hesperus, at the defunct Pleasure Island in Wakefield,
Massachusetts, the Tornado tells a story. Upon entering, you're
in the tranquillity of farm country, then it gets darker and you hear
the swirling winds of an approaching tornado. To your left is
a farm family nervously looking ahead to the menacing twister that's
spinning in the foreground. None of these sets are behind chicken
wire and the car brings you close enough to study them in detail. Next,
you're headed for the "eye" of the tornado - a rotating disk
painted in day glow colors. But before you drive into ground zero,
your car weaves down a country road towards some angry-faced trees.
It's here that hidden fans provide the feel of strong winds and the
sound effects are much louder. Next, you approach a stack of moonshine
that looks like it's ready to collapse on you. My guess is that
it did at one time. Then, you're driving towards a farmhouse where
you see an elderly lady holding on for dear life to a fragment of her
porch and a terrified husband and wife whose bedroom is being swept
up by the tornado. To your left is a twirling outhouse, and if
you look closely, you'll see someone inside it. Overhead is a
still, life-sized cow and some chickens, all suspended by wires. You then find yourself in a chicken coup, but the chickens are motionless.
Finally, you witness the aftermath of the storm: shattered debris along
the roadside. And just before you exit, there's a horse in a stable.
The horse's jaw has hinges, indicative that it used to speak - perhaps
a conclusive statement. But it's silent now, giving you a somewhat
anti-climatic ride ending. (At the very end of Wreck of the Hesperus,
King Neptune ordered you to leave his underwater "kingdom").
My synopsis of the Tornado: given its age, the fact that it's been moved
twice, and the anti-dark ride attitude of many other parks; we should
all be thankful it's still there. Having walked through and inspected
an aging dark ride years ago, I know how brittle these papier mache
and foam stunts become, especially those constantly in motion. So maybe the stack of moonshine was animated at one time as was the
cow, the chickens, and the horse. The Great Escape could replace these
with new stunts, but ask yourself this - would it lose its historical
integrity in the process?
I recall a 1960s-circa Bill Tracy dark ride that was completely renovated
in the mid-1980s. All but one of Tracy's stunts were removed
in favor of the shark from "Jaws" and an array of slasher
film figures. Trust me, it wasn't the same ride after that.
That park is now defunct. Perhaps The Great Escape could add some more
sound effects to Tornado and make use of strobe lights to give its stagnant
stunts the illusion of movement. But other than that, I wouldn't
criticize The Great Escape just because the Tornado doesn't deliver
like it did during its Freedomland years. When you ride Tornado,
praise the park staff for maintaining it and encourage them to keep
it running like I did. And just enjoy the ride. . . while it lasts.
you're looking for the ultimate fun house experience, check out the
House of Frankenstein, just north up the road from The Great Escape. Located among gift shops and restaurants in the heart of Lake George,
the "House" is billed as a wax museum although it has all
the elements of a classic walk-through -- sound effects, lighting: the
whole nine yards. It has more than 50 stunts, some of which are
interactive. Push a button and you'll see Frankenstein's monster
rise from the table and Dracula transform into a bat. The stunts,
located behind Plexiglas, include all the Universal movie monsters,
scenes of torture and execution, and a rambling Edgar Allan Poe.
My favorite stunt was entitled the "Perils of Infidelity."
Press a button and you'll see a horrified man lift a plate cover on
the dinner table to discover his wife's head as the main course, much
to the delight of his smiling maid. According to a panel at the
stunt, the man is having an affair with his maid.
Toward the end of the walk-through, there's a stunt called "Tourist
Trap" in which figures of tourist-types are snagged to the ceiling
by half-sacks on chains. Then there's a very tricky mirror maze, "The
Twilight Zone," and the "Black Hole" which makes alternative
use of an old Barrel of Bun, similar to Kennywood Park's Noah's Ark.
The House of Frankenstein is well worth its $5.00 adult admission, but
I wouldn't recommend it for younger children.
there's one more walk-though on Route 9, the Haunted Castle, located
next to a mini-golf course. The clerk at my motel told me the
Haunted Castle is shorter but scarier than the House of Frankenstein.
It was closed on the Monday I discovered it; only open on spring weekends
until school vacation.