An interview with Ocean City’s biggest Haunted House fan

An interview with Ocean City’s biggest Haunted House fan

The Trimper’s Haunted House at the south end of the Boardwalk is as iconic as the teeth-barring bat that adorns the ride’s second story. 

For over five decades, kids and adults alike have fallen in love with the Ocean City Haunted House (OCHH)’s neon-painted walls, kitschy stunts and decapitated Count Wolf Von Vinderstein who guards the ride’s entry. Brandon Seidl was one of those kids who looked forward to riding through the Haunted House every summer. But his love for the ride developed into a lifelong passion. 

(Unfortunately, Seidl and his wife did not marry on the Haunted House roof.)

Seidl’s passion inspired a book, “Trimper’s Rides,” where he wrote the section on OCHH. It also inspired OCHH.net, a virtual encyclopedia for all things related to the Haunted House (the site celebrated its 10-year anniversary last month), and when the widely-accepted history of the Haunted House stated that the ride was built in 1962, Seidl’s research proved it to have been built in ’64. As a kid, he built a walk-through model of the haunted house in his backyard. When he got married, his wedding cake depicted–you guessed it–the Haunted House, and photos of his wedding party were taken inside the ride.  (More on that here.) 

Today, Seidl says that taking care of his family has taken priority “in contrast to a time when all I had to worry about was when the HH was going to break down next.” However, he still keeps up with the ride’s progress, which he documents on Facebook, and keeps in touch with the friends he’s made at the park.

“I’m excited to take my children on the ride some day and can only hope they’re as amazed as I was,” he said.

The following is a Q&A with Seidl about his passion for OCHH, the ride’s designer Bill Tracy and other Trimper’s rides throughout the years. 

What initially sparked your passion for the Haunted House? 

As a Marylander, I spent ample time in Ocean City vacationing during the summer with my family when I was young. As with most families, certain things became traditions, and it was no different for us. I was always drawn to iconic things that made places visually unique, like the giant “Tony” statue on top of the entrance of “Tony’s Pizza,” the giant green dome on top of Plim Plaza, the Giant Bull in front of what was then Captain Bob’s, and of course, the giant bat on the facade of Trimper’s Haunted House.  

I was fortunate enough to first ride Trimper’s Haunted House when I was about four, and I have very faint memories of the ride as a one-story attraction before it was expanded to two stories in the winter of ’88-89. It wasn’t until elementary school when I realized that Trimper’s Haunted House, and the entire amusement park, was beginning to grow more and more special to me with every year that passed. By middle school I very much looked forward to spending my free time exploring around the park, and in particular Trimper’s Haunted House.

At first, the mere grandeur of the ride and the feeling it gave me struck the biggest nerve, but it wasn’t until later in middle school when I started making friends with some Trimper family members and employees of the park that I became interested in the operation of the ride from a technical standpoint. I started growing curious about how the cars worked, how they were worked on, the motors that made the effects inside operate. From there, I also grew curious about select other rides in the park in terms of how they were set up, taken down and maintained, but since Trimper’s Haunted House was a permanent feature of the OC boardwalk, it drew me in the most.

In all, I’d say my interest in the ride initially was a pretty even split between the actual ride experience (what was inside, the effects, the illusions) and how the ride operated. Today, my interest remains but is a nice combination of the two and I think my website, which I started in September 2007, reflects that.

When did you start documenting OCHH?

By late middle school, I found myself beginning to document the ride in its entirety, not really sure at the time what I was going to do with the information. But it was important to me. I took pictures with disposable cameras I would buy on the boardwalk. I used my dad’s video camera to take video in and around the ride, and I took notes about what I learned. A few folks I met at the time, Clifford Hudson (the HH manager until 1999) Scott Hudson (current manager, son of Clifford) and Chris Trimper (grandson of the late Granville Trimper and current manager of Marty’s Playland) were instrumental in teaching me about the ride and putting up with my childish annoyances. I’m still very close with Scott and Chris to this day, along with select other Trimper family members and Trimper employees. Little did I know at the time that I’d be able to start friendships with people who today I’ve known well over 20 years. It’s a really great family full of really awesome, hardworking people that work together to make the operation possible each and every summer.  

This scale model in Seidl’s OCHH collection was created by a dollhouse designer in Gettysburg, PA. He also has original ride drawings in his office, handmade props from the ’60s, letters by Tracy and more (see the picture at the bottom).

When you were younger, you had an entire model of the Haunted House in your backyard. How’d that come about?

In middle school I took my passion to the next level and my grandfather, dad and I built a miniature Trimper’s Amusement Park in my parents’ backyard (thanks mom and dad!) complete with a walk-thru version of the Haunted House and multiple carnival games. Kids from around the neighborhood would come play the games, walk through the Haunted House and get a class of lemonade. When I was in 7th grade, Chris Trimper recorded the Haunted House interior sound for me, and a longtime Trimper employee named Dan Lewis recorded the HH lobby music for me. So it very much felt like you were at Trimper’s when you were in my backyard. It was a ton of fun and I learned a lot from my dad and grandfather. My own mini amusement park, which I called “Zoomer Amusements” at the time, was in the backyard from 1996-2002. I didn’t use it much in high school and tore it all down one Saturday afternoon. I was happy to give my parents their patio back, and I’m sure they were just as thrilled! 

When I graduated high school in 2002, I went to live in OC and worked at Trimper’s for most of the summer. Along with the HH, I operated rides like the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Avalanche and the Sling Shot.  But working that up-close and personal with the HH that summer really allowed me to satisfy many of my curiosities about the ride and how it operated.  To be honest, most days were downright tiring, between the ride breaking down, etc. But it was fun, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

The mini Haunted House, in Seidl’s old backyard.

You’re also really interested in dark ride designer Bill Tracy, who created the Haunted House in 1964. When did that start?

I didn’t really know who Bill Tracy was until high school. I always heard that “Tracy built the ride,” but I didn’t have a clue who he was or the extent of his role. By college I had become more aware of Bill Tracy and his work, not only in Ocean City at Trimper’s, but at other select locations around the country, too. I remember finding it interesting to look at photos of other dark rides he had built and comparing them to his Trimper designs. It wasn’t until 2008 when I co-founded The Bill Tracy Project that my curiosity about Tracy, echoed by my website partner Wayne Bahur of Pittsburgh, PA, took a huge turn. We began uncovering many details about Tracy’s personal and professional life, and were floored to learn that he and his companies were responsible for over 80 known projects around the world, the two rides at Trimper’s (the Haunted House and the Pirates Cove fun house) being only a small fraction.

It turns out that Tracy was a pretty interesting character who at the time was a true innovator in the industry.  After we learned about how he lived his life and conducted his business, it became clear that a lot of his feelings were translated into his work, whether it be the design of a ride front, a stunt or an illusion inside the ride. Bill Tracy wasn’t just a businessman, he was an artist. And, as with any artist, his expression was, and still is, evident in a lot of his dark ride and fun house work.

Today, we’ve pretty much taken a break with the Bill Tracy Project because we feel we’ve exhausted a lot of the avenues. There just comes a time when you have to put your hands up and be thankful for what you’ve learned. But for all that we’ve published on our project’s website, I know there’s still a ton to learn out there. Fans will send a rare photo every now and then and it’s fun to meet other people who know who the illusive Bill Tracy is and respect his contributions to the amusement industry.   

Is there anything specific about the Haunted House that you’d want OCHH riders of today to know? 

Trimper’s Haunted House is one of only eight surviving Bill Tracy attractions left in the world. As the ride enters in to its 54th year it’s important not to lose sight of what’s involved with maintaining a ride of this magnitude and keeping it relevant not only for fans who enjoy the papier-mâché and blacklight stunts of yesteryear, but the more modern, scary stunts of today.  The care of such a titanic ride with so many moving parts paired with the ongoing maintenance of the rest of the park is what I find interesting today in my older age.

‘Til death do us part: this coffin carriage is one of many pieces of OCHH memorabilia in Seidl’s personal collection.

*Trimper’s Haunted House is open on select weekends off-season. For exact hours of operation, contact Trimper’s Rides at 410-289-8617. 

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