Thursday, July 31, 2014

Boardwalk Tales: The Specters of Neptune's Kingdom

It was the summer of 1910 when the Plunge Natatorium had its first death. It occurred suddenly and unexpectedly. An twelve-year-old boy climbed to the third story of the Plunge building and settled himself into the three-story slide. The slide was not meant for such a small child but the lifeguards were still inexperienced and no one was paying attention. The boy pushed off, but immediately leaned to the left and plummeted into the cement side of the ladies' pool. His death was instant but significant. Within a year, the slide was removed and the lifeguard corps were founded. But the boy never found peace.

Two decades later, during a 1936 practice of the Water Carnival, a second tragedy struck the Plunge. A male performer in his early twenties, swinging on the high trapeze above the current site of the Buccaneer Bay Clubhouse, fell two stories and crashed into the pool bottom. Although he was pulled out after only two minutes, he was unconscious and had inhaled too much water. He died and the Carnivals continued, like nothing happened. Safety was not improved, and it took a court order to halt the use of children  as performers five years later in conjunction with the start of World War II to put a halt to the Carnivals. Again, the man was never given proper rest. The pool was emptied, his body removed, but his soul remains disturbed.

Finally, in the dog days of summer in September 1963, a woman with her family went to the Plunge for a relaxing afternoon. The days of slides and carnivals were over, but risks were always present in large pools. After diving from the board on the second story, her toe got stuck in the outtake piping that lined the bottom of the pool. None of the lifeguards saw her struggling in the crowds of children hanging out in the pool. Her body was discovered nearly an hour later, when another adult swimmer brushed against her and screamed. Lifeguards removed the body and the pool was closed indefinitely. It never reopened and became a miniature golf course the next spring. The days of the Plunge were over, but the spirits of those who died in the building will never forget.

Today, the trio of haunts populate the three accessible stories of the building. The boy, who died so tragically in 1910, passes his time around Hole #15 of the golf course, messing with the wiring on the security camera, and causing Guests to miss their holes-in-one even when they putt perfectly. Sometimes, he can be heard giggling on quiet evenings. The performer who fell from the trapeze in 1936 generally hangs out in Smugglers Arcade, moving the "no food or drinks" signs around and casually flipping the "course closed" sign over. Those performers were always clowns, and its no surprise that this one loves to stop balls at the top of the hump on Hole #18 or right before they go in the center hole. The woman who died in 1963 generally is in the basement, floating around the Arcade Tech Shop, Games Maintenance & Stock shops, and Technical Services, though sometimes people have seen her messing with the lights in the employee restrooms or in the breakroom. But when she's bored, she will swim up to the first floor and pass through the golf course as a cold breeze on a warm night, sending chills down the spines of golfers and employees alike. Even though the Plunge left us in 1963, these three swimmers will continue swimming until they find peace in safer pools...

Boardwalk Tales: The Tale of the FrightWalk Operator

October 31st, 2005 — FrightWalk
There was once a tradition that on Halloween, FrightWalk was open to the public, regardless of which day of the week the holiday landed on. In 2005, Halloween fell on a Monday, which was fine with me.

With so many employees afraid of the little haunted house, I agreed to work it that night without hesitation. FrightWalk never really scared me. I remembered the place from when it was the 3D FunHouse, and that attraction seemed much scarier. FrightWalk was just a dark path with a bunch of loud noises. Or so I thought.

That Halloween, I dressed up in a very simple cloak with dark clothes underneath. I pretended I was some Sith lord from Star Wars, but I really was just lazy. The outfit worked for the location, though, as I seemed more like some grim reaper without a mask or scythe. The evening progressed as it always did for FrightWalk. Most of the guests were teenagers or middle schoolers out for a scare. Many were dressed in costumes. Frankly, I was bored.

FrightWalk was supposed to close at 7:00 that night and it was nearing six o’clock when the first sign of trouble arrived. Watching the cameras, I noticed a pair of teenagers making out in the tunnel. In a sense, it was surprising that it took that long for trouble to arise, but it was inevitable. In any case, I had to break them up. 

I headed into the employee access corridor, opening the door beside the second trigger gag, and popped out at the end of the tunnel. I glared menacingly at the two, who didn’t notice me at first since I was wearing all black. I coughed, and they looked at me, startled. The two scurried past down the ramp, setting off the gag as they departed. I returned to my station mildly annoyed. The two teens ran out the exit shouting, not turning to look at me for a moment. The night wore on...

At a quarter to closing, another group of four teenagers entered. The team was made up of two guys and two girls. The guys were not dressed in any costumes while the girls wore skimpy princess outfits. The two guys opened the door and entered, with the girls hanging off their arms. 

Two minutes after they entered, I heard the first scream. It was not the usual excited shout nor the typical frightened wail, it was the primal guttural scream of someone in peril. As I checked the camera, I realized that they were not visible anywhere. That meant the guests were in the hall of mirrors somewhere, probably on the other side of the drop gag, though I hadn’t noticed the four pass by it.

I grabbed the nearest flashlight and logged out of my register, heading down the employee corridor in a rush. I reached the door to the hall of mirrors and darted inside, forgetting to keep the door opened behind me. It clunked shut, locking itself.

Running around the corners, I passed the drop gag which shouted at me belatedly. In the next corridor, I found the four teenagers. One of the girls had collapsed on the ground and was breathing extremely hard, terror reflected on her face. I squatted down beside her and calmly asked what happened. She didn’t speak.

Her friend answered in a deadpan voice behind me, “She said she saw a ghost.”

“You just saw the eyes behind the mirror,” I calmly replied. “These are all one-way mirrors with props behind them. The eyes glow. That’s it.”

The girl on the ground turned her gaze upon me, but her eyes were shallow and cold. Her lips moved robotically: “She was on fire...” 

Standing back up, I turned toward the other three teens. “Did any of you guys see anything strange?”

A guy wearing a dark-green hoodie to my left responded: “Nothing. We walked around the corner and she just stopped and began screaming. Then she fell backward against the mirror and hasn’t said anything except what she told you.”

Confused, I contemplated returning to the front counter and calling security for help. But I didn’t want to leave the guests in the hall of mirrors. I asked, “Do you want me to escort all of you back to the entrance?”

“She was on fire...” the girl on the floor repeated, her eyes searching the room for something no one else could see.

“Maybe that’d be best,” the guy in the hoodie replied. The two boys reached down to pick up their friend, but without any warning at all, she screamed again, causing everyone else to take a step back away from her. She stopped just as suddenly.

“She was on fire...” the girl said to no one in particular.

As I gazed down at the disturbed girl, I heard the gag behind me go off again. Figuring some guest came into the attraction while the front desk was unattended, I turned to confront the people. Two eyes the color of fire glared back at me. And then all the lights in FrightWalk turned off.

Flicking my flashlight on, I turned back to the teens and stated, “I saw something behind us just before the lights went out.”

“What’d you mean?” asked the girl who was squatting beside her friend.

“I don’t know, eyes or something! They...looked at me,” I sputtered in reply.

“Let’s get out of here,” the guy in the hoodie said.

“Yeah...” The two guys tried to help their friend up again, and this time she let herself be lifted without resistance. I decided that heading further into the maze would actually be the easiest way out because of the emergency exit out back. I planned to let the guests out there and then make my way back to the front desk via the employee corridor. But plans change.

As we made the last two turns toward the emergency exit, we came to the gyrating zombie gag. With the power off, he stood silent, no music motivating him to jiggle. Yet as we walked by, I couldn’t help noticing how bright his eyes glowed. Almost as if they were on fire. They didn’t follow us as we passed by, but the heads dangling above us rotated slowly even though no breeze permeated this area.

At the emergency exit, I was depressed to find the door wouldn’t open. Perhaps it was due to some electric fault—the door was accessible with a card reader so maybe power was required to run it. Pounding my fist on the door, I turned to the four teens and let them know that we’d have to go out the front. Resigned, I headed toward the employee access door down the hallway.

I was dismayed to find that door also blocked. Since a ladder was often stored nearby on the opposite side of the door, it had probably fallen across the path. I pushed the door, but it wouldn’t budge. Sighing, I resigned myself to finishing the FrightWalk with my four teenage guests using only my flashlight. A moment later, the flashlight flickered out, plunging us into total darkness.

FrightWalk was never designed to be long-lasting and had no emergency backup lights in case of a power outage. It was always assumed that the employee would just collect all of the confused guests and escort them out of the attraction. In practice, this concept worked. In actuality, it left both the guests and the employee scared beyond belief.

As I stood with the four teenagers in FrightWalk, I returned to the many times I’d walked through the attraction in the past, hoping beyond hope that through memory and groping along walls, I could find the way back to the entrance. I turned to my left, and informed the four huddled youth that we’d have to continue without light. They had no choice in the matter and scuffled behind me down the hallway.

We rounded the turn toward the beast’s lair and passed the dungeon. Groping along the walls, I noticed faint lights flickering around us. I looked to my left to find eyes again staring back at me, dimly illuminating the prop of a possessed girl climbing a wall in her nightgown. Our eyes locked, and I fell backward into the opposite wall. The teens could see it too, I discovered, as they stepped away from the girl. The eyes burned brighter, and then...she moved.

Very slightly at first, but then with determined steps, the little girl moved, her head twisting unnaturally toward us with eyes glowing with a constant fire. All at once, her nightgown flared up, and the prop fell to the floor enflamed, the head continuing to move. We scrambled into the beast’s lair, not looking back at the demonic child.

I ran headlong into the side of the wall even as I heard grunts from the others who had hit corners or smacked their heads on the low ceiling. Beastial noises emanated from the walls. I realized belatedly that the power was off; the sound effects were non-functional. These sounds were coming from elsewhere. Above us through the wooden slats, the fiery demon child was scurrying along the roof, marking our footsteps. We continued our mad dash up the ramp and out of the lair, toward the tunnel.

Around the corner, the screaming resumed. The girl who had first seen the eyes was facing the child on the ceiling, screaming for no particular reason at her. The sound was ear-splitting, destructive, horrifying, and the three of us fled down the tunnel, abandoning the girl.

But the child was already there, waiting for us at the end. The tunnel glowed faintly from her enflamed body, reflecting off of black canvas walls and blacklight paint droplets. She crawled along the canvas, and her weight caused the tunnel to spin very slowly as she neared us.

With her no longer overhead, the four of us took the opportunity to dart through the exit of the tunnel into the blackness beyond. The room returned to its pitch, and I grabbed the sleeve of the nearest guy and turned us down the ramp and around the jump gag. The girl in the other room continued to scream. As we rounded the corner at the bottom of the gag, it jumped out unexpectedly, but instead of a mundane, poorly-painted prop head, the demon child appeared, flying between our group and into the mirror, laughing hysterically all the while.

We ran around the next bend, into the drop gag room, where faces glowed orange all around us, reflecting off the light of the cursed being who possessed this hell on earth and glared at us menacingly from the top of the bust of Graves. The wailing from the other room continued ceaselessly, adding a panicked note to all our movements. We sprinted into the next room, the last before the exit, with renewed fury.

She was there, awaiting our arrival, the ghost of fires past. Blocking our way from salvation. The teenage girl, now half-way back into FrightWalk, finally stopped screaming. The demonic cherub smiled down at us from a low-hanging limb that decorated the last gag before the exit.

She was on fire. Every part of her body was charred black except her eyes, which glowed like furnaces. She cocked her head slightly to assess us. All four of us were sweating heavily; fear consumed our us, and adrenaline drove us. But we were spent. 

As if she were content with our condition, she smiled with a childish grin and vanished. 
The power turned on and the large swamp monster rose out of the water, growling heavily at us. We ignored it and collapsed in a pile beside the picket fence. A supervisor appeared around the corner, looking at me with a quizzical expression.

“Why are you still open?” she asked. “It’s 7:15! I said you can close at 7:00. And what did we say about hanging out with friends at your workstation? If I find out that you let them in for free, you’ll be in major trouble.” She hurried us out of the exit and closed the door halfway, leaving me in the half-light of the front counter to cash out.

I suddenly remembered that there was still a girl from the group who was inside FrightWalk. I shouted into the back, but no answer came. Cursing myself, I grabbed the other flashlight, the one that still worked, and walked the entire length of the course again, leaving all the white lights on and keeping all the black lights off. When I came out at the end, I couldn’t find any guest left inside.

I grabbed my money and my lunch bag and closed the door behind me. Outside, I ran into the three teenagers from the group: two guys and a girl. I asked them if they had seen their friend come out, the other girl that went in with them. All three of the teenagers looked back at me confused, admitting that only three of them had entered the attraction.

I stared at them dumbfounded, confused, angry. “But,” I began to stutter, “she entered with us, and she was the one who saw...”

“Saw what?” the guy in the green hoodie asked. The three teenagers looked at me with strange expressions and walked away.

I watched them go, muttering to their shadows, “She was on fire...”

Boardwalk Tales: The Tale of the Laser Tag Operator

January 13th, 2009 at 8:45 p.m. — Laser Tag Arena, Casino Arcade
Winter was upon us. With token madness, the stream of guests had continued through the autumn after the Boardwalk had mostly closed for the season. Rains had come and periodically thundered on the roof of the hundred-year-old edifice that was the 1907 Casino Arcade. As usual, I worked at Laser Tag that cold January evening, hoping for even a small group to arrive and want to play just to pass the time.

At around eight o'clock, such a group arrived. Three teenagers—two guys and a girl—and one of their little brothers. They were garbed in the usual style of the time: dark-colored clothing with bright colors flaring through intentional tears in the fabric. They paid their fares and I waited the prescribed time before we all entered for a ten-minute game.

As we entered, I took their tickets and directed them to the briefing room as I had done hundreds of times before. The video started and the guests talked over it, as they always tended to do. I walked into the vesting room and pulled out my cell phone, texting a friend that I would be off in a couple of hours. A creak upstairs forced me to turn my head toward the ceiling. I waited a moment but didn't hear anything more. The sound of the video ending returned me to my duties and I quickly went back to the briefing room, told the guests the rules, and brought them into the vesting room.

Things remained as usual. The four guests vested up and we all went upstairs to the Laser Tag arena to play a typical ten-minute off-season game. That is when things got weird.

It was said that in the 1906 fire, three people died in the Casino building: a woman trapped in the staircase, her son crushed by an onion dome in the upstairs dining room, and his father killed by falling debris in a downstairs bathroom. Laser Tag was, therefore, not unknown to possess ghosts, though in most cases they were benevolent beings wandering aimlessly. Tonight, they were something else.

I was acting as marshal, wearing a red vest more for effect than for authority. About a minute into the game, as I walked around a corner, I spotted a small boy running down the corridor near the stairs. I shouted after him and then grabbed the microphone and repeated the "no running in the arena" rule. A few seconds later, the same kid ran by me on the opposite side. It was at that moment that I realized he wasn't wearing a vest.

Great! I thought to myself. The kid dropped off his vest somewhere in here and now I've got to find it. I began retracing the steps of the little boy in the hope that he dropped off his vest near the Cocoanut Grove access door. I reached the end of the hallway and turned right to find a woman in a white floral dress staring up the old roof access stairway. Like the boy, she wasn't wearing a vest and hadn't joined the game.

I stopped dead in my tracks. A prickle of fear ran down my spine as I followed her gaze. Ahead up the stairs, the boy was hanging from his neck from the metal cage, a blinking green vest dangling from his feet. He rotated slowly in circles. I fell back into the wall, staring eyes fixed at the specter. I shot a glance left at the woman, but she was gone. Returning to the boy, he too was gone. A player jumped past me, the teenage girl following, shooting each other with their lasers like nothing strange hajust happened.

Two minutes had passed.

Catching my breath, I resumed my pacing of the arena. The air, which usually smelled of a musty sweat mixed with dry powdery talc from the fog machine, reeked of smoke. But it was an old smoke, like the smoke from embers lingering from a fire long extinguished. The smell permeated my sinuses and followed me as I walked. I entered the large arena room and bumped into a half-wall, not paying attention to where I was going. Turning left, I circled the sentry pod to stare directly into the eyes of a man. He was middle aged and wearing a business suit. He looked down at me with mustached grin. His sports coat was torn in various places and his hands dripped blood where there should have been fingers. The sight was terrifying.

The man broke our locked gaze and turned to walk away, disappearing into the wall behind him as he turned. I hesitated a minute, and then ran around the corner to confront the spirit, but no one was there. The ghost had vanished into the surroundings. The teenagers continued their game.

Three minutes had passed.

Cautiously continuing my walk, a cold chill passed through me and lingered around me. The building seemed to creak as I walked, which was normal for the arena but seemed suspicious now. The loud Goldeneye music gave way to a generic techno beat, and I continued, casting furtive looks at every shadow and corner.

As I entered the red-lit room of one of the old bases, I couldn't help remember the recent report of a man—a man in a suit—appearing in this very room a month before. But no visage appeared, only I, the frightened operator of a fearsomely haunted attraction. The other players knew nothing of this location's history; they only wanted to play the game. But I knew. I knew with every walking step that three people died here, and they were following me.

Four minutes had passed.

I stood upright and reasserted myself as I walked around the corner, and then my brain went on vacation. Instead of entering the open crossfire room that acted as the center of the Laser Tag arena, I was teleported back in time to the balcony of a different place—a different Casino—a different time entirely.

A boy walked hand-in-hand with his mother and father. He wore a sailor's outfit with a small blue and white tie. His father was dressed in a business suit while his mother wore a white floral dress. They slowly walked along the promenade overlooking the ocean, which was much nearer than it is now. The boy talked but I could not hear what he said. The arena's music still dominated my hearing. The boy suddenly darted away toward a bridge that crossed over to another outdoor patio. A soft breeze wafted across my face, but I couldn't smell the lovely salty air—all I could smell was ash. The boy turned around and circled his parents and myself. I followed at a distance, observing, confused.

The scene faded away into flames. Fire surrounded me and ate away at the building, though I felt no pain. The floor beneath me collapsed and I fell with it, falling into a heap on the arena's black light floor. One of the players, a teenage boy, stopped and knelt down beside me. He looked at me and I at him. Something about his expression told me that my recent horrors were transparent. The teen asked if I was alright, to which I answered with a simple "yes." I took his hand and he ran off, leaving me in my delirium.

Five minutes had passed.

My wanderings continued, as I was no longer even paying attention to the players or the game. All my thoughts were to exiting the arena as quickly as possible. I walked over to the phone and called downstairs to the cashier, but no one picked up. I let the phone ring for nearly a minute, but with no one answering, I gave up my quest. They must have been sent home early. I decided I needed some fresh air and crossed the arena to the small hatch window, unlocking it in one quick flick of my wrist.

The cool night air flowed in, and for the first time since I saw the boy, I could smell clearly. I opened my eyes to look through the narrow slats of the window, only to see the woman in white falling off the edge of the building into the sands below.

Six minutes had passed.

I leaned against the barrel beside me, and again the walls fell away in my mind, being replaced with a long balcony. The father and son looked over the edge at the woman, and then each followed her in turn. I shouted to them and ran to the ledge, thrusting my arm out, but they lay in heaps on the sands, no longer bodies but burned corpses. I screamed in terror, and awakened from my reverie.

Above me, the teenage girl stared terrified. I had a large bump growing on my forehead from hitting the wall. She stared for a moment longer, then turned to shoot a friend with her laser rifle.

Seven minutes had passed.

The music faded to the idle song of astronauts taking off in their Saturn V rocket, recorded back in the 1970s. I forced myself upwards and leaned against the wall. Surely, I was hallucinating. None of this was real. But with my waking eyes, I saw the boy run by again, more alive than any person I had ever seen before. He even wore a laser tag vest. I chased after him, no longer thinking about rules. I wanted to catch him to prove I wasn't crazy. As I rounded a corner, I found the boy. I grabbed his vest and got down to his level, looking him squarely in the eyes. He stared back at me fearfully. A teen ran around the corner and stopped.

"What the hell is going on here?" he shouted at me.

"He…wait…um…" I mumbled in reply.

"Let go of my brother!" he demanded. I obligingly released the boy. He turned then ran down the corridor beside the roof access stairs. The teen shoved me against the wall as he followed his brother, muttering an expletive as he left. Above him, the boy in the sailor outfit swayed softly from the ceiling with a noose around his neck.

Eight minutes had passed.

Terror took me and I ripped open the roof access gate and turned the light on. The light in the upstairs room turned on, illuminating blood stains across the painted window. They formed a message directed at me: "We can never leave."

I sprinted up the stairs, past the phantom of the hanging boy, and shoved open the door. It was stuck on something. I shouldered it open anyway, and it finally gave. Large tubes of plastic fell on me, as well as something squishy and cold. I fell backwards and hit my head on the wall, sliding to the ground. A pair of empty eyes gazed up at me, and I screamed.

Nine minutes had passed.

I kicked all the debris off of me, and the body thumped hard on the ground. I stepped back outside toward the stairs and slipped, riding my butt every step of the way to the bottom. My rear was sore but my drive to get out of the arena was more pressing. The boy no longer hanged from the ceiling, but his father was standing in the corner as I sprinted down the corridor to the top of the stairwell. I checked the spare vest and there were only 20 seconds left in the game. I stood by the stairs for the rest of the game until the vest told me that the game was over.

The sounds of four vests deactivating across the arena was the most wonderful sound I had heard in the past ten minutes. I called everyone to the stairwell over the PA system with a panicked tone to my voice. The four players came quickly, assessing me with questioning expressions.

I took them downstairs and was happy to see them exit the vesting room quickly. I walked over to the computer and reset all the vests, just for good measure. Upstairs, I could hear footsteps again in the arena, as well as a pair walking down the stairs above me. Shivering, I began to turn toward the door, when all of the vests activated without provocation. I twirled as they lit up, every one of them red…except one. I hesitantly looked back at the Laser Tag computer's monitor to see what had happened. A new game had been started using a rarely-used mode:


Boardwalk Tales: General History with Ted Whiting

Ted Whiting, the Seaside Company Vice President of General Services, and I have been emailing over the past few months regarding questions I've had about the Boardwalk's history, specifically buildings that are currently on the 'Walk. Here are the questions and his answers, cleaned up a bit to provide better context and clarity:

Photos of the Plunge, 1907. (Courtesy SC Seaside Co.)
Q: Where were the Plunge changing rooms?
A: They were located at either end of the Plunge itself at Boardwalk level. The women's changing rooms where at the present location of SunShops while the men's were at the other end (presumably inside O'Neil's). (6/7/2013)

Q: Early photos of the Plunge building from the beach show doors on either side of the beach stairs, at beach level, with people walking in and out of them. What were these doors used for? They seemed to exist until sometime in the 1940s or 1950s. 
A: I don't recall noticing two doors.  My personal recollection goes back to the 1950's when there was a single entry to the plunge from the Boardwalk. (7/18/2013)

Q: Are there still Cottage City cottages in the Boardwalk's Beach Parking Lot?
Tent City photos, c. 1905. (Courtesy SC Seaside Co.)
A: Yes, the cottages now known as the Riverside Avenue units got back to around 1904. The originaly Tent City cottages were first built in 1903 and removed when the Casa del Rey was built in 1911. (6/7/2013)

Q: What is the history of the Skee-roll Arcade building?
A: The arcade is built on the site of the 1868 Dolphin Baths. In 1902, the Hanly Baths were opened there and included a massage center, podiatry services, and a general First Aid station which lasted into the early 1930s. An Aquarium House was also somewhere in this area in 1904, though I don't know what it was or how long it was here. The boilers for the Plunge were located in this building until the Plunge closed down in the 1960s, after which they were removed. (6/7/2013)

Hanly Bath beside Entrance 2
in Skee-roll building, 1910s.
(Courtesy Images of America:
Santa Cruz, California
Q: You state that parts of the Dolphin Baths still survive in the Skee-roll building. Would the oldest part be the side closest to the Undertow Deck on the back—basically that blue wall where Whitings' Games is located? 
A: Any remnants of the Dolphin Baths are buried in sand and not in the old operations building itself.  It's hard to say what the oldest part of this building is since so much remodeling occurred over the decades. (7/18/2013)

Q: I don't think I've ever heard of the Hanly Baths. Do you have any more information concerning them? Are they the part of the Skee-roll building between the old Operations Office (previously the Plunge boiler room) that used to be the Food Service Offices?
A: I can't give you specifics as to location of the Hanly Baths other than to say the enterprise was where the operations building is today.  I don't know how much space that activity took up.  A 1912 map shows "turkish baths" in the west section of the space and "billiard and pool" 
Skee-roll building, 2000. (Courtesy SC Seaside Co.)
in the east section.  The woman who operated the baths established a hospital in later years in the Dream Inn parking lot (across the street from the hotel).  It opened as the Hanly Hospital and I believe in the 1940's was taken over by the Adrian Dominican Sisters and the name changed to Sisters Hospital. (7/18/2013)

Q: What is the history of the Water Race building?
A: It was probably built sometime after the Giant Dipper was built since it was not present when the Thompson Scenic Railway was around in 1911. Thus it probably dates to the late 1920s or early 1930s. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the building contained a live shooting gallery, the Greyhound Races, Walking Charlie, and one or two other games. (6/7/2013)

Charles Canfield with Walking Charlie, 1973. (Courtesy SC Seaside Co.)
Q: Regarding the Water Race Building, there appears to be an old false-front peaked roof behind the Break-A-Plate game. I suspect this is the oldest part of the structure. Is it possible that this was moved from somewhere else after the Giant Dipper was built? Also, do any old blueprints of this building exist?
A: I am not aware of blueprints for this building.  The Break-A-Plate location was formally a shooting gallery where live .22 caliber ammunition was used.  I believe the whole building was constructed in place at one time. (7/18/2013)

Boardwalk Tales: The Santa Cruz Beach in the 1890s

When the Santa Cruz Railroad first passed through the Main Beach in the mid-1870s, this was roughly the scene at the eastern end of the beach beside the San Lorenzo River. The trestle was narrow-gauged, long, and exposed. The Southern Pacific broad-guaged it soon after its acquisition of the company in 1881 but the trestle remained exposed. It was finally destroyed in a major flood some years later and replaced with the steel prefabricated double-trestle now there.

The photograph above was probably taken in the late 1890s since the Miller-Leibbrandt Bath House is already present on the beach, visible in the distance. Beyond the Bath House can be seen the magnificent Victorian-style Sea Beach Hotel standing on the hill beside Main Street. The Railroad Wharf can be barely seen just beyond that, but the earlier Gharky-Powder Works-Steamship Wharf is no longer there.

On the rough site of today's Entrance 5 sits a small group of shanties on the beach beside the tracks. A homestead is just opposite the tracks from these. These homes will be removed over the next decades as the Boardwalk develops into a major amusement park. Other homesteads can be seen littered around Beach Flats in an age before the subdivision has been organized.

This photo was taken around the same time but from the opposite angle, probably from outside the Sea Beach Hotel. The Miller-Leibbrandt Plunge sits just right of center while an earlier bath house, also owned by the Leibbrandt family, is in the foreground with an attached restaurant. This building is the Neptune Baths and will soon be moved across the street and serve as the Santa Cruz Beach Tent & Cottage City Corporation's restaurant. The Moorish Neptune Casino will be erected in its place in 1904. All three of these buildings perished in the  Great Casino Fire of 1906.

Further inspection of the beach here shows no Electric Pier, as of yet, though what may be a pipe seems to head into the ocean mid-way down the beach. The Pier was probably built in 1903 to accompany the remodeling and expansion of the Plunge. Strange posts and other items line the beach, and the water line itself is much closer to the buildings than in later years due to the lack of dredging operations in the Santa Cruz Small-Craft Harbor and elsewhere around the Monterey Bay. On the cliffs in the distance, houses stand much as they do today. In fact, a few of them are the same homes.

Two sets of railroad tracks, a broad-gauged and narrow-gauged set, snake behind the bath houses alongside power and telephone cables. The tracks closer to the buildings are the Southern Pacific's main line. The narrower tracks are that of the local trolly line whose route terminates at the Main Beach.  Also beside the tracks is the original boardwalk, which stretched between Pacific Avenue and the Railroad Wharf to the bath houses. Unmaintained, the sand beside the walkway is covered in thin-rooted grasses and stones. A railing runs the length of the walkway.

A view of the beach from the bay in 1893 shows a daring female swimmer out from the shore. Although swimming attire for women was usually large baggy wool dresses, this female is likely wearing something smaller and lighter to allow her to be out so far. Other male swimmers and boaters are out in the water behind her with a large party on the beach at left. On the shore, the towering Miller-Leibbrandt Plunge sits beside the older Leibbrandt Neptune Baths, at left. Smaller buildings connected the two bath houses and included boilers that can be seen directly to the left of the larger building. These were eventually moved to the right of the Plunge in 1903 when Fred Swanton upgraded the facility and moved the Neptune Baths across the street where it became the Tent City Restaurant. All of these buildings burned down, however, in 1906 in the Great Casino Fire.

This photograph at left shows a family on the beach beside the Miller-Leibbrandt Plunge enjoying a day in the sun and sand. Their dress was typical for the 1890s and if they wanted to go swimming, very modest swimwear could be obtained at the bath houses or from small booths that the Leibbrandt Brothers set out beside the water each summer.

The Plunge was two stories, with a dance hall upstairs. It included a heated salt water pool and a long patio on the beach side for people to sit or stroll under, visible at left. It also included a restaurant, a store, and other amenities such as massage parlors and extensive changing rooms. It was begun as a partnership between the Miller and Leibbrandt families, but the Leibbrandts bought the entire operation by 1900. Fred Wilder Swanton then bought all the Leibbrandt facilities from the family in 1903 for his new company.

Boardwalk Tales: The Sea Beach Hotel

Since it was rebuilt in the style of the San Diego Coronado Hotel in the late 1890s, the Sea Beach Hotel had become a staple of the Santa Cruz coast line. It began life in 1875 as the Ocean View House, a modest beach-side hotel constructed by S.A. Hall. In 1882, a third floor was added by its second owner, expanding the capacity of the hotel by 32 rooms. The new owner was a Chicago artist and he filled the hotel with paintings of California and renamed it the Douglas House. D.K. Abeel purchased the hotel from the artist in 1886 and then leased it to John T. Sullivan who remodeled the building and moved it back to Second Street. Once this remodeling was completed in 1890, Sullivan rechristened the Ocean View House the Sea Beach Hotel, a name that stuck until the end. Sullivan himself pulled out of the operation in 1898 and the hotel almost died, but Fred Swanton helped bring J.J.C. Leonard, manager of the St. George Hotel, on to keep the hotel afloat. The growth of the adjacent Esplanade and Boardwalk returned profit to the hotel and it expanded again, with a ballroom and banquet hall added beside Second Street..

This early painted lithograph shows the Douglas House at the top of Main Street, a road that, at the bottom, became the Steamship Wharf (the wharf on the far right). The building is large and blocky and rather rectangular, though it already appears to be three stories.

This photograph is roughly contemporaneous with the previous and shows the Douglas House on top of Main Street overlooking the three wharves.

Another early photograph from the 1880s shows the Douglas House towering above its neighbors. The Steamship and Connecting Wharves have been removed leaving only the Southern Pacific Railroad Wharf. The brief glint of tracks in the immediate foreground leads between the Cowell warehouse at left with their cliff-side "potato chute" wharf at right which gave the name "Steamer Lane" to the adjacent surfer spot.

This photograph is perhaps the earliest of the Sea Beach Hotel after its expansion and rechristening. It probably dates to the early 1890s and shows the building without its rear annex or, indeed, much of its gardens. This view looks up toward the hotel from roughly Cliff Street, and other buildings are visible in the background. As the years would go on, tennis and croquet courts would be added, as well as a new wing.

With the enhancements to the Douglas House, the Sea Beach Hotel included a long and narrow palatial wing that mimicked the popular Victorian stylings of the day. While it failed to rival the Del Monte Hotel in Monterey, it gave it a good run for its money and was able to draw numerous celebrities over the years. This photograph shows the Sea Beach Hotel before it was painted in lighter tones sometime in the late 1890s or early 1900s. The new annex building is visible in the background, built from 50,000 board feet of lumber that was left at the nearby California Powder Works warehouse.

The ornate stylings of the Sea Beach were designed for the wealthy and the up-and-coming celebrities of the day. Andrew Carnegie, William Randolph Hearst, and the military officers of the Great White Fleet all spent nights in the sprawling Victorian palace. Gardens dominated the south-east quarter of the property where this wooden walkway lead guests to the beach Esplanade and the nearby bath houses.

Ships still called at the Port of Santa Cruz across from the Sea Beach into the 1960s, as shown in this photograph taken from near the end of the patio walkway in the late 1890s. The patio garden was designed by Rudolph Ulrich, a local who had organized the landscaping of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Clippings from some of those plants were used with seeds from a New York company to plant 40 varieties of roses in addition to the many other beautiful plants that were grown there.

The Sea Beach Hotel was a popular source of profit for post card companies, and the majority of the remaining photographs are direct copies of postcards. The Victorian frontage of the hotel brought it directly onto Beach Street causing it to stand out among its small neighbors to the west. It also was located directly on the Southern Pacific Railroad right-of-way which gave it extra presence and frequent gawking, most to its benefit. The Victorian wing of the building included redwood floors and elevators, while each of the 170 new rooms included bedrooms, bathrooms, fireplaces, electrical lights, and telephones. The open second floor included the dining hall and hotel lobby.

When the street car business picked up in Santa Cruz during the 1880s, the Sea Beach Hotel made certain that it had service. For a while, two separate street car companies ran on parallel tracks in front of the hotel, as evidenced above in 1903. The cars would be packed in the summer with tourists wishing to visit the beach, and the Sea Beach was sure to be filled to capacity on many days. The Sea Beach Hotel also offered nightly dances and dance lessons throughout the year, with most Santa Cruzans learning their skills here.

A curious mystery surrounds some photographs of the Sea Beach Hotel, however. Both presidents Benjamin Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt stayed at the Sea Beach Hotel while on state visits to Santa Cruz. The two photographs above, as well as the two below this aside, are said by at least one aspiring researcher to be of Teddy Roosevelt visiting the Santa Cruz Beach with his wife, children, and dog, possibly during his state visit in 1903. The president would be the gentleman with the umbrella sitting beside the sea wall. Beside him is a child and above and slightly to the right of him, beside one of the men, is a terrier, which he owned. The children, printed in yellow, blue, and red across from him are not unattended but actually accompanied by a woman, who is simply to difficult to discern. She is directly behind the boy at left.

The conspiracy deepens, though. This photograph is undoubtedly the most popular photo of the Sea Beach Hotel. It was used in stationary and on music book covers and remains popular today when the hotel is referenced. Yet there is another photograph that accompanies it that is rarely seen because the hotel is cut off midway through it.

Shown here, though, both the three children and the wide, Edith, are quite clear. Yet what is stranger is that this photograph was originally marketed as the "Santa Cruz PD and Secret Service". A composite of the two images is thus:

The author of this theory points out that Teddy Roosevelt was the first president surrounded with constant Secret Service operatives due to the assassination of McKinley. The men standing directly behind him along the railing, as well as some of those posing at left, therefore, are all members of his Secret Service. While some would argue that it couldn't be Roosevelt for various reasons, the theory certainly holds up. The theorist further argues that the reason the importance of this photograph has never come up is because the trip may not have been publicized or the Secret Service may have banned the use of this image in Sea Beach Hotel publicity if the president is mentioned. In any case, it makes for a quite interesting theory and provides for some fun photographs of the hotel.

Clearly some people thought that the photograph was altogether overrated and simply removed the children and Edith from it entirely, as with above. Also, the roof of the hotel has changed from red to gray, though the actual color is not entirely known. It was popularly highlighted in red but that could easily have been for marketing purposes and the true color of the hotel's shingles may never be known.

One last, and rather odd, version of the photograph displays the fire that apparently destroyed the building in 1912, though oddly no one seems very concerned over the matter, including the three couples and one random individual who have been added to the photograph, strolling on the beach.

The Sea Beach Hotel outlived the Neptune Casino without so much as a flinch, watching as Fred Swanton's new creation rose from the ashes. Shown here in 1907, the Sea Beach sits proudly in the distance beside the new Casino and Plunge buildings, hardly out of place despite its seventeen-year age difference.

The hotel survived the second Casino but changed little over the years. This photograph, probably from the late 1900s, shows a single street car passing in front of the hotel. A railroad crossing sign at the bottom of Main Street is the only note that time has passed. But its life was coming to an end. By 1911, Fred Swanton's Santa Cruz Beach Company had built a rival hotel two blocks away on Cliff Street called the Casa del Rey Hotel. It had all modern facilities with in-room toilets and sinks and two courtyards. It also had more rooms. This may have spelled disaster for the Sea Beach Hotel except fate intervened to overshadow it.

The Sea Beach Hotel disappeared in a fiery inferno on June 12, 1912. Of the structures associated with the hotel, only the new ballroom, which was disjointed from the main structure, survived. It would be many years before another structure would be built on the site. In the meantime, the Casa del Rey Hotel would grow and capture the majority of tourists in its neoclassical/modern-styled structure. An annex of the Casa del Rey would be built directly adjacent to the old hotel site in the 1920s, but both paled in comparison to the grandeur that was once the magnificent Sea Beach Hotel. The brief life of the Sea Beach Hotel is remembered in photographs alone now, but it was so popular and so well marketed during its short existence that its memory will continue to live on for many more years.

Credwell Chronicles – Chapter 12: Cops and Cronies

June 22nd at 8:30 a.m. — Outside Neptune Casino
Within five minutes of the Casino catching fire, the Santa Cruz Fire Department was notified of the affair. Within ten minutes, a wheel hose had been hitched to the wagon outside the fire house. After twenty minutes, the fire crews had arrived outside the Casino and Plunge looking on in horror at the impossible task in front of them. At approximately thirty minutes after the blaze had flared up, two other fire crews from Capitola and Soquel had arrived.

Fred Swanton was waiting for them outside the Casino when the first crews arrived. Beside him, the shaky Plunge attendant Ben looked worried, repeatedly glancing back at the pool’s building. “Welcome to my new light show,” Swanton said with a sarcastic tone in his voice to the fire captain.

The captain gazed up at the towering inferno then back at Swanton. “How exactly did this happen?” he asked.

“I presume something went wrong with the electrical since the power went out immediately before the fire. My men had been working on wires in the kitchen last night. Perhaps they left something exposed. Fools!” Swanton turned to the attendant. “Ben, my boy, let’s go across the street and get ourselves a drink. I don’t think there’s much more we can do here.” The two of them crossed the street, leaving the fire captain and his crew confused. 

Setting his eyes on the two other fire crews, the captain looked back at the burning building, and then turned to follow Swanton across the street. The rest of his crew followed, as did the firefighters from Capitola and Soquel. All thirty-two men settled in on the patio of the Tent City Restaurant and ordered coffee as they watched the buildings burn to the ground.

Locals watching the fire from the safety of the nearby Sea Beach Hotel, June 22, 1906 *
It took flying embers igniting the roof of the restaurant to call the fire crews back to action. Another fifteen minutes had passed and much of the buildings were in ruins by now, the fire seeming to peter out east of the Casino. As they exited the feigned safety of the restaurant, the crews realized that many of the tents were burning around the restaurant. Fleeing back to the street, it was all they could do to avoid being caught in another fire that consumed the restaurant in a matter of minutes.

The two-story building had once served as the original Neptune Bath House in the 1880s before being moved and converted to a restaurant. Now it was yet another inferno adding to the mayhem of the morning. With Swanton, Ben, and the fire crews, the displaced restaurant staff joined the motley assortment of confused individuals. Other people were coming out of their houses to watch, while those staying at the Sea Beach Hotel had front-row seats to the affair. The fire had become a spectacle that would not quickly be forgotten by the people of Santa Cruz.

Finding resolve, the chief of the Santa Cruz fire department ordered his men to split into two brigades. One he charged with protecting the remaining tents from further harm, while the other headed to the Plunge pump house where a small blaze was threatening to spread to the neighboring skating rink.

When the crews crossed the street, they realized that the pump house was already partially burning from the inside, though the outside, which was mostly cement, was largely unharmed. The fire was quickly suppressed and the flames emanating from the Plunge were subdued. The large building had collapsed a few minutes earlier while the fire crews looked on.

Two members of the crew were brave enough to move down the remains of the passageway between the buildings to the primary entrance door for the pump house. They cautiously entered, holding their axes close for comfort as much as for a purpose.  The floors inside were littered with bits of cast iron and water. All four boilers were torn to pieces, with the basins shredded at about mid-height and the top collapsed into the bottom. Cement floors and asbestos walls had protected the building from extensive damage despite the violence of the fire within the building.

As the men walked toward the opposite side of the room, one man’s boot found something that easily shattered. Looking down, the man discovered the blackened bone outline of a human youth. The two men looked at each other in horror, and ran back out from where they came from, shouting for their captain as soon as they emerged from the building.

– – – – –

Fred Swanton was waiting at the end of the passage when they came running out. The director-general was wearing a new light grey suit and he had a wry expression on his face. Behind him, the Santa Cruz city chief of police looked on menacingly while beside him The Santa Cruz Sentinel’s editor-in-chief looked sheepish.

“Gentlemen,” Swanton addressed the two fire fighters. “I must thank you for taking care of this problem so efficiently. A fully destroyed entertainment complex is so difficult to rebuild.” Swanton’s expression had turned to a slightly humored grin as he spoke. To the fire fighters, it was eerie considering Swanton had just lost two buildings valued in the millions of dollars. “I presume that you will find the buildings empty of any casualties as they were closed at the time when the fire started.”

“Actually, director-general, we have found evidence that...” the first crewman began to reply.

The smoldering wreckage of the Neptune Casino, June 22, 1906
Swanton quickly waved him off. “I believe you were going to inform me that the buildings are clear of any fatalities.” Swanton turned slightly to look on the other two buildings which were slowly being surveyed by fire crews. The large Casino had apparently finally collapsed and much of the fire extinguished itself at that point. The restaurant across the street was a pile of timbers, with little streams of smoke emanating from some surrounding tents. “You must understand gentlemen,” he continued, “that the future success of Santa Cruz as a tourist resort is linked to the understanding that there were no fatalities in this fire. Do you catch my meaning, sirs?” The smile on Swanton’s face disappeared suddenly.

The two crewmen looked at each other, then one spoke up. “We understand your meaning, director-general, but won’t the press...”

“The press will not be an issue, will it, Mr. Howard?” Swanton said as he turned to The Sentinel’s editor.

“Certainly not, sir. After everything your company has done for Santa Cruz, we do not want to jeopardize that relationship,” Howard sputtered reluctantly with a false sense of loyalty.

“So again, gentlemen,” Swanton resumed, “will there be any problem?”

“No, director-general. However, we do ask what will become of the...refuse?” the crewman said with a strong air of resentment.

“We will take any unusable materials and add them to the foundation of the new building I am planning to start construction on tomorrow,” Swanton replied matter-of-factly.

“So you mean to rebuild?” Howard jumped in excitedly, happy to have some subject to report on.

“Certainly!” Swanton returned with a broad smile. “There is always something doin’ in Santa Cruz, and I want that ‘doin’ to be here! The summer is upon us and we must build, build, build! Investors from San Francisco are already on their way. I called them first thing this morning to discuss the plans.”

“Very good, director-general!” Howard praised. “We are glad that this tragedy is already in the past. I’m sure something new and equally magical will rise out of the ashes of these buildings.”

“Indeed, Mr. Howard. There can never be a dull moment in Santa Cruz.” The three men turned and walked away, leaving the two crewmen alone, pondering a lifetime of shameful silence.

This story is a work of fiction. All reference to historical incidences and individuals is purely for plot purposes and may not represent true events or real-life personalities and attitudes. This story is designed for an adult audience with moments of violence, terror, and the painful deaths of minors and adults throughout. Please direct all comments to the section below. Thank you and enjoy!

* Descriptions of photographs with "*" are fictional and do not actually depict their description. Actual historical photographs and illustrations do not have an asterisk.

Credwell Chronicles – Chapter 11: Bolts and Boilers

June 22nd at 8:50 a.m. — The Neptune Plunge Pump House
Behind her, the Plunge collapsed, shaking the pump house violently as parts of the wall fell against the concrete side of the building. Mary breathed in heavily, nearly exhausted from smoke inhalation and sheer exertion. The boiler room that she ran into glowed ominously. Vents and grills revealed red hot embers simmering silently, heating heavy-duty boilers of water that stood twelve feet high above her. Thousands of gallons of water pumped through this building each day, heating the vast Plunge next door.

Mary groped along the wall, looking for a light switch, lamp, candle, anything better to illuminate her path. She found nothing. Dim incandescent lightbulbs hung overhead, but they did little to light her path. The smell of oil was strong in the air, probably used to augment the standard wood and charcoal that warmed the boilers. Swanton always did like to experiment with new technologies. Outside, she could still hear the continuous cracking of beams and rafters, steel stretching as it buckled superheated.

On the opposite side of the room, the thin outline of a door could just be made out. Two double rows of boilers flanked the path to the door. Behind her, more wood cracked and something thumped hard against the door she had just entered from. Fearing the worst, Mary cautiously began walking for the door across the room.

Neptune Plunge Pump House (left) and Harley Davidson's Skating Rink (right). Taken from the Electric Pier, c. 1907
The large boilers made a cacophony of noises as she passed by the first set. They seemed to be under increased pressure from blocked pipes in the Plunge. The boiler to her left creaked suspiciously, steaming water overflowing from the top and splattering Mary on her legs, burning through her tights. Without warning, a two-inch bolt shot out from the boiler. Superheated water spouting out from the hole and the the boiler suddenly sounded like a massive teapot ready to explode. The stream of water blocked her path, but with no other choice, Mary jumped over it anyway, scalding her right foot as she made the leap.

As soon as she landed, another bolt loosed from the boiler, striking her in her right leg. Mary stumbled to the ground in a heap. As she nursed her wound, the boilers around her began to chime louder. The two boilers ahead of her both made a loud cracking noise simultaneously and then went silent for a moment. The two boilers beside her continued to sing with their tea pot rhythm. Then, the silent boilers exploded in a flash of shrapnel and boiling water, sending two-inch bolts flying in all directions and knocking down large canisters of petroleum. Scalding hot water flooded the cement floor, mixing with the oil and burning charcoal.

A worker standing in a corner of the Neptune
Plunge pump house, c. 1905 *
Mary avoided the majority of the blast, though bits of metal grazed her across her body. But the flood tide of scalding water and oil were unavoidable. As the concoction hit her in a wave, Mary writhed on the ground, bodily control lost to the agony of her torment. Her right leg was utterly useless, bleeding from the gaping wound caused by the bolt. Any chance of saving the leg was hopeless with the water cauterizing it and oil infecting it. She screamed, but no one could hear her over the sound of escaping steam. The building smelled of sulfur and vented steam like a geyser. Inside, the air was thick with humid wet gases, the smell of acid water all around her.

Mary forced herself up, her skin burned to the bone in parts. She limped back toward the door through which she entered. Fumbling, she grasped for the small knob, yanking the door. It didn’t budge. In a panic, she frantically yanked harder, seeing the exit as her only means of escape. At last, the door opened with a blast of superheated air that took her breath away.

A fireball roared into the pump house, causing the remaining two boilers to erupt into balls of metal and steam. More scorching water rained down on Mary, who had by now collapsed into a ball just beside the unhinged door. She no longer noticed the pain, and the water did little to extinguish the fire that had caught hold of her flesh. The flames surrounded her, consumed her, even as it suffocated her. The air escaped the room from the pressure of the firestorm, leaving Mary unable to draw even a breath. She twitched for many long seconds before she went unconscious, her body a human candle burning her to nothingness.

– – – – –

Outside, billows of black smoke rose high into the air before raining across the city of Santa Cruz. The Plunge was no more, a basin of water without a ceiling, little more than a pile of rubble. The small pump house simmered, no longer burning, beside it, the bones of a twelve-year-old girl mixed with shards of cast iron and burning charcoal. On the other side, Neptune Casino blazed like the Lighthouse of Alexandria, a monument to Fred Swanton’s fame and glory.

This story is a work of fiction. All reference to historical incidences and individuals is purely for plot purposes and may not represent true events or real-life personalities and attitudes. This story is designed for an adult audience with moments of violence, terror, and the painful deaths of minors and adults throughout. Please direct all comments to the section below. Thank you and enjoy!

* Descriptions of photographs with "*" are fictional and do not actually depict their description. Actual historical photographs and illustrations do not have an asterisk.