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5 Facts about the Whacky Shack at Waldameer Park (Erie, Pennsylvania)

Updated: Jun 20, 2022

How old is the Whacky Shack? Who designed the Whacky Shack? Find out here.

Click here to learn about the children's book series about Waldameer


1. The Whacky Shack is a type of amusement park attraction called a "dark ride".

The very first dark rides appeared in the late 1800s, nearly 150 years before the Whacky Shack was built. These first dark rides often toured riders in small boats through canals and were called "tunnels of love" or "old mills". Then in 1928, the first single-rail electric dark ride was patented by the Pretzel Amusement Ride Company, and dark rides evolved to something more similar to what you'd experience today.

By definition, dark rides are traditionally indoor ride-through attractions that utilize darkness, florescent elements, and black lights. Dark rides are often designed as several small rooms and a track that twists and turns to add to the illusion that riders are covering a large area as well as concealing the next room. Riders often suddenly change directions and go up or down inclines to further disorient and surprise them.

The Whacky Shack employs these classic dark ride techniques: the forced perspective tricks, the florescent scenes of the bridge over shark-invested waters, the brief exit outside at the halfway point, and descent back inside to the sound of a heart beating.

The original concept design of the Whacky Shack by Bill Tracy.

2. The Whacky Shack was imagined by famous dark ride designer Bill Tracy.

After hearing good things about Bill Tracy from other amusement park owners, Waldameer owner Paul Nelson hired Tracy to build the Whacky Shack at Waldameer. The Whacky Shack made its debut at Waldameer in 1970. Nelson says that he and Tracy got along well, and he respected Tracy's artistic ability.

"Bill Tracy was quite the character. He was a kooky, one of a kind guy with a lot of talent and good ideas," Paul Nelson, Waldameer's owner, says.

But Bill Tracy hadn't always designed dark rides. In fact, Tracy's career trajectory was as unique as him. He served as the art director for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, then was hired by Macy's to design floats in their famous Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. He eventually transitioned to the amusement park industry, where he began designing attractions.

Bill Tracy found his calling in dark rides, and he was known to push the boundaries of the industry with his creepy, provocative horror displays. These displays were tame compared to today's standards of course, but for the 1960s, some of Tracy's macabre dark ride elements were controversial (like a depiction of a woman being sawed in half).

Throughout his career, Bill Tracy completed 82 projects, including 54 dark rides, and he remains one of the dark ride industry's most famous designers.

Click here to learn about the children's book series about Waldameer

Bill Tracy on the cover of a 1962 Outdoor Dimensional Display catalog.

3. The Whacky Shack has the park's most memorable safety instructions.

The Whacky Shack is a popular ride at Waldameer, so you've likely spent some time in the queue waiting to ride. A recording plays that goes over safety instructions, like staying seated and keeping hands and feet inside the car.

Of course, there is a distinct Whacky Shack flair, as the voice is the owner of the house, or maybe a ghost residing inside, or the Whacky Shack itself? Who knows, but it makes for a fun and memorable earworm to practice reciting on the car ride home.

Hello earthlings...I have some instructions that you must obey when coming into my house. You must keep your arms and legs inside your car. Remain seated throughout the ride with both feet flat on the floor. Never throw things at me, or I'll see that you lose your wristband...maybe with your arm still attached. I'll be watching to see that you behave yourself...(laughter).

There are several other recordings that play safety instructions in the park and waterpark (some of which were recorded by previous employees), but none compare to the Whacky Shack's creepy voice warning you about the consequences of misbehaving.

4. Other Whacky Shacks existed, but Waldameer's is the last one standing.

Bill Tracy had several dark ride designs that he built in amusement parks all over the country, but the Whacky Shack was one of his top selling attractions. Though he installed several Whacky Shacks at different parks, no two Whacky Shacks were ever the same. The outdoor façade might look similar--an old haunted house with slanted, off kilter architecture--but the inside had entirely different scenes and elements.

Click here to see what the Whacky Shack at Hunt's Pier in Wildwood, NJ looked like.

Waldameer's Whacky Shack is the only remaining Whacky Shack still operating today. The rest of Bill Tracy's Whacky Shacks have been torn down. Many parks that had Bill Tracy's dark rides have closed.

In fact, there are only 8 remaining Bill Tracy rides still in operation today, and 2 of them are at Waldameer: the Whacky Shack and Pirate's Cove. Both dark rides have remained largely unchanged since they were built in 1970 and 1972.

The Pirate's Cove was also designed by Bill Tracy.

5. The Whacky Shack is featured in a Waldameer children's book.

The Whacky Shack is at the center of The Sneaky Sabotage, a children's mystery book penned by David Gorman, who certainly knows his way around Waldameer. Gorman is the grandson of Waldameer owner Paul Nelson and son of Waldameer president Steve Gorman. He uses his intimate knowledge of the park to write his Waldameer Mystery Files series. That knowledge includes the Whacky Shack.

"The Whacky Shack is such a beloved ride by so many in Erie and beyond," Gorman says. "Plus it's one of my favorite rides at the park, so I knew I had to include it in my children's book series. The Sneaky Sabotage has been a big hit with kids and dark ride enthusiasts alike."

In each Waldameer Mystery Files book series, a group of children solve mysteries at the park. In The Sneaky Sabotage, someone--possibly an angry ghost--is causing trouble in the Whacky Shack. The kid detectives set out to identify and stop the culprit before the Whacky Shack award ceremony.

The Sneaky Sabotage is available online and locally at Waldameer, Werner Books, Pressed Books & Coffee, and the Tom Ridge Environmental Center.

Learn more about the children's book series here.

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Montgomery Gabrys
Montgomery Gabrys
Jun 20, 2022

Um - typo in the first line - the headline in fact. It's "Whack(y) Shack" Not Whack Shack. That's an altogether 'different' kind of ride I'd imagine. Still a great historical overview of the man behind it and his career. Not a lot of parks give people that kind of historical background in their rides (or keep vintage pieces in tip-top shape). Your park still occupies my bucket-list. For this ride alone (I visited the last 'Shack' he built in 1974 - the year it opened).

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