[Dark in the Park Writing Contest]




A Memorable Life Experience by Eoin Koepfinger


            The event Iím going to write about is odd, because Iíve experienced it more than once in almost the exact same way each time!  No, itís not de ja vu.  I guess I should start by telling you that since I was 4-years-old, my family and I have made an annual vacation to Wildwood, NJ.  Each time Iíve gone, Iíve made it to the same attraction.  Itís hard to believe that a simple boardwalk attraction has meant so much to me, but itís something thatís excited me since I was only half my current size.  And Iíve done it every year up until now.  The attraction Iím talking about was called Castle Dracula.  It was located on one of the piers.  I was disappointed the year since it had been burned down by arson and now all thatís left of it are memories.  Of course, this didnít ruin my entire vacation, but I did feel that something was missing.

            Basically, Castle Dracula was a walk-through haunted house.  In each room, actors would perform certain skits.  Because last year was the last time I visited Castle Dracula, this story will take place then, when I was 12-years-old.  My Aunt Peg and little brother Sean accompanied me, and of course there were other guests as well.  The experience began right outside at the castle gates.  Though only a fraction of the size of an actual castle, the outside had an ominous presence.  The walkway leading up to the gate was guarded by two stone lions with torches on their heads.  Once I passed through the gates, there was a stairway leading up to two large wooden doors.  The guests had to wait here until we were escorted in.  Probably the most noticeable thing was the music emanating from the castle.  The music was none other than the ďToccata and Fugue in D MinorĒ by Johann Sebastian Bach played on an organ.  Though you probably donít recognize the name, the tune itself is commonly used in horror movies, haunted house and the like.  The tune helped very much to set the gothic mood of the castle.  Looking up, I saw the empty suits of armor, skeletons hanging from gibbets, and other dark figures on the top of the castle.  Looking down, I saw a walkway leading to the Dungeon Boat ride, which was below the castle.  This ride was very similar to the Old Mill at Kennywood except with a Dark Ages theme.  Iíll get back to that later.

            Once we were escorted into the castle, the first room we entered was a common area with a fireplace.  There were portraits of vampires along the wall.  The one above the fireplace was most likely supposed to be Dracula.  By looking closely, I noticed there was a crack around the painting.  Thatís because this was really a secret compartment where an actor was hiding.  Eventually all the lights went out, except for the light from the fake fire in the fireplace.  In this pitch-blackness, there was a thump sound, and when the lights went back on there was an actor standing on the mantel over the fireplace.  He went through a scary spiel and then dismissed us to the rest of the castle.  Throughout the tour, actors dressed up as vampires escorted us to each room.

            In the rest of the castle, we went through different rooms, each with its own skit.  As we went through the dark corridors between the rooms, actors jumped out at us and made us jump.  The other rooms in the castle included the following: a prison room where we witnessed a realist-looking dummy being electrocuted in an electric chair; a laboratory where a mad scientist continually slapped the table with a club threatening to crack open our heads to obtain more blood for his master; and a guillotine room with heads nailed all over the wall where we witnessed the illusion of an actor being decapitated.  There were several other less important rooms that had gory-looking mannequins as well as the occasional actor jumping out at us.  The final room was a small room with blood all over the walls.  The actors left all the guests alone in here.  Suddenly, a strobe light went on and I noticed that the walls were slowly closing in on us.  No, we didnít get smooshed into pulp.  Instead, a hidden door at the other end of the room opened up at the last minute and everyone walked outside onto the top of the castle and exited down a stairway.

            Now Iíll get back to the boat ride.  When we walked down the walkway to the ride, my family wand I came to a small dock where one of the scary-looking actors assigned us to a boat.  Our boat then entered the dark, watery dungeon.  This place, like the castle, smelled very musty and the air was stale, adding to the effect of an ancient dungeon.  Mostly, we passed by animatronics and dummies depicting people being tortured, but occasionally an actors might jump out at us from a hiding place.  Some corridors were pitch black.  Probably the most gruesome displace of the boat ride was the one with dummies of people being impaled on wooden stakes.  Also disturbing was the scene depicting a prisoner being stretched on a track by masked torturers.  Nearby was a scene where a dummy was pushing a cart full of body parts.  Finally, before the boat left the dark tunnels we passed under a ledge where a mannequin of the devil was reaching down at us.  When I finally came out, and this applies to both parts of the attraction, the first thing I noticed was how fresh the air felt.  Next, I probably went on doing more boardwalk attractions while my family trailed behind me.

            As I said earlier, itís odd that this one attraction meant so much to me.  My only guess to this is because I was an impressionable youngster when I first went there.  I had always liked scary things from the time I was little, so it wasnít necessarily a bad impression.  This attraction is also the reason why I became enthused with the novel Dracula and its inspiration, the acts of the 15th century Romanian ruler, Prince Vlad Dracula.  And if that doesnít explain why I like it so much, then Iím not sure what will.










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