In Memoriam

William Franklin “Bill” Cassidy
1914 - 2008

     This is the article we didn't want to write.

     It's about a very dear friend who's left us - Bill Cassidy, who was born into and later ran Pretzel, the first dark ride manufacturer. He was a friend to all devoted fans of dark rides and amusement parks. He probably couldn't have counted the number of friends he had, all over Bridgeton, NJ and far beyond.

     In 1946, Mr. Cassidy assumed ownership of Pretzel from his father, Leon Cassidy, who along with Marvin Rempfer had pioneered the concept of the single-rail dark ride in 1928 and developed it into a highly successful enterprise. Bill advanced the company into the postwar era, expanding production with a line of kiddie rides including the popular Thunderbird Jr. and Toonerville Trolley. Pretzel ended business in 1979, even if Bill Cassidy never quite got the hang of retirement. He sold the Pretzel name to Joe Davis of Shiloh, NJ and liquidated the company's factory, manufacturing equipment and tooling, save for one golden Pretzel car decoration that he hung on the garage door behind his Bridgeton home. The story of Pretzel and Mr. Cassidy's experiences as its president is told in our article "Send 'Em Out Laffing".

     Bill Cassidy was born in Ocean City, NJ and eventually settled in Bridgeton. He was the longest serving public official in Hopewell Township history. In 1943, during World War II, he was named the township's Civil Defense director. He served as the township¹s tax assessor for more than 25 years, and almost 35 years as the registrar of vital statistics. Mr. Cassidy spent 37 years as the Hopewell Township zoning officer, and also served on the planning board. He also was the township health officer, secretary to the Board of Health, a volunteer with the former Mary Elmer Fire Department, and the township constable. He was also responsible for the naming of most of the streets and roads in the township. He was honored many times by Cumberland County and Hopewell Township for his dedication as a public servant. To those numerous awards, we added our own - the first to bear the name of his father, Leon S. Cassidy, founder of Pretzel.

     Nothing in our years of researching dark rides and operating Laff In The Dark will hold so much depth and affection for us as the memories of our times spent visiting with Mr. Cassidy, sitting in his home office, chatting about the early days of the dark ride business and strolling with him around the old Pretzel factory grounds. He was our historian and tour guide as we cruised through Bridgeton and walked the lake shore as he pointed out the spot where Tumbling Dam Park - home of the very first Pretzel ride - once stood.

     Bill seemed never to tire of regaling us with lore and anecdotes, dredged from his uncanny memory, about his many decades with Pretzel in the halcyon days of American amusement parks - about the way things were, and how times had changed. Every question would lead to another story, to another chapter of a rich and rewarding career. The mornings of reminiscences would stretch into the afternoon, then the evening until he would finally send us out - "laffing". He was modestly bemused at our reverent regard for the Pretzel Company and its rides, and at how much we admired him for his legacy of a life well-lived, of strong values, integrity and dedication to community. None of this was of monumental significance to him. It was just who he was.

     Bill Cassidy always welcomed us graciously, always finding time to fit us into his still-busy schedule, sharing his vast store of recollections and allowing us to be an anxious and grateful audience to one of the last, great figures of the golden age of the American amusement ride industry.

Good-bye, Bill. You will remain forever in our minds and hearts, for your lifetime association with the company that originated our favorite category of amusement ride, and as a person who loved people, his family and his community.

Right: Mr. Bill Cassidy at his home office, explaining the details in a photo of Thunderbird Jr. cars at a trade show.


Below: At the old Pretzel factory.

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