Edwards Super Chariot Racer 1934. Cost £1,750
Remained in the family until 1991.
This working museum also records the history of the sideshows many of which would be deplored today, such as ‘The Lion-faced Man', whose real name was Stephan Bibrowski, (1890-1932) His body was covered with long hair and he displayed his gymnastic skills for those who paid to see him. Also popular were Billy Wood’s boxing matches from 1930’s, when he’d offer £1 to any member of the audience who was still standing after six rounds with one of his boxers. Amazingly, he always got plenty of volunteers.
|The Lion-faced Man, Stephen Bibrowski|
But what delighted me the most was seeing a ghost train among the collection of rides. It brought back childhood memories of sitting in a rattling carriage as mock cobwebs trailed across my face and doors swung open to reveal unconvincing cackling skeletons.
Ghost trains have their origins in the ‘dark rides’ which first appeared in 19th century and were known as scenic railways, old mill rides, or tunnels of love, in which people travelled through a dark tunnel on trains or in little boats in water-filled channels, passing illuminated scenes that used trick perspectives, doors and screens to make the scenes look bigger than they were. In 1901, the American public could take ‘A Trip to the Moon’ and in 1928, the Pretzel Amusement Ride Company patented the first electric-rail ‘dark ride’.
Rodeo Switchback built circa 1880, and
believed to be the only surviving
Photographer: Gillett's Crossing
But the first ride to be given the name ghost train, was built for Blackpool Pleasure Beach by Harry Kamiya in 1930. The ride was originally named the Pretzel. It didn’t attract much attention, because few in England had ever heard of either the snack or the company.
But back in 1923, the English actor and playwright, Arnold Ridley had written a play called The Ghost Train, about a group of railway passengers stranded in a rural station overnight. The play ran for over a year in London. It spawned a novel and many film versions, the earliest, in 1927, being a silent movie. The plot also appeared to inspire rash of thrillers based on the 'strangers trapped together on trains' scenario, such as Murder on the Orient Express, The Lady Vanishes, and Night Train to Munich.
|1888 - Nikolai Yaroshenko|
In 1931, skilfully capitalising on the fame of the play and films, as all good showmen know how to do, the Pretzel ride in Blackpool was renamed The Ghost Train and it proved so popular that ghost trains were soon in operation in show grounds throughout England.
Detail of the painting on the outside of Elizabeth Brett's
Ghost Train, built 1945, decorated in 1950's. Now on display
at the Dingles Fairground Heritage Centre.