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Ocean City Oddities: Morbid Manor

A Morbid Manor ad that appeared on the side of the pier building in 1976. Thanks to Gerald U.

OC’s original haunted walk-through

When visitors of Ocean City’s famous boardwalk think of memorable icons from the past, the Morbid Manor haunted house on the pier undoubtedly comes to mind.

Debuting in 1975 for its first season, the “Manor” was a two-and-a-half story walk-through attraction that was made famous for its live actors, demonizing appearance, sinister sounds and effects, and Victorian-style façade with neglected exterior gardens. In short, the attraction’s artistry and details made visitors believe that an actual abandoned house was uprooted from elsewhere and placed on the pier.

It towered over the pier and was recognizable from virtually any distance on the boardwalk. It was a rather supernatural experience and scared hundreds of thousands of brave patrons during its 20-year tenure on the boardwalk. Perhaps most memorable was the tail of an airplane sticking out of the building’s top floor window, and guests from the late 1980s may recall the attraction operating under the name “Year of the Vampire” for a brief time.

“Year of the Vampire” on the Manor’s facade in the mid-80s.

The Manor was designed and constructed by legendary dark ride designer Fred Mahana who is known for his legendary work in Wildwood, New Jersey on such attractions as Hitchcock Manor, Dracula’s Castle and Theater of Blood. Mahana had a knack for making any concept a reality, despite how far-fetched it may have seemed. At the start of the Morbid Manor’s lifespan, the pier was under the ownership and management of Ocean Amusements Inc.

View from the beach in 1983. Thanks to Gerald U.

One of the scariest elements to the attraction was the talented live actors that strategically hid in the Manor and chased customers with chainsaws. At times, the actors were theater majors from colleges and universities that came to work at the attraction for the summer. Their makeup and costumes altered their appearance just enough to leave even the bravest visitor screaming in terror.

Unknown to many, the Manor was a hip place off-hours. The management and workers of the ride would often hold band practices, and other activities, behind closed doors and sleep there throughout the nights despite a lack of air conditioning and uncomfortable 100-degree beach temperatures. To those who ran the attraction, it was more than a job; it was life. And, a lot of past employees of the attraction still share their stories and pride proudly for the attraction that was basically a second home for many years.

Article published in Ocean City Today, Nov. 10, 1995. (Click to enlarge)

A Living Nightmare

In early November of 1995, a real-life horror show transpired on the pier as Morbid Manor burned to the ground. Fire crews from Ocean City, Ocean Pines, and Berlin worked tirelessly to fight the fire but were unable to salvage the famous attraction. Ironically, the ride had just undergone a large renovation the year before and both the interior and exterior were completely revamped. Although the building had a complete sprinkler system, it was reportedly shut down for the winter to prevent the pipes from freezing.

Shortly after the devastating fire, rumors began to circulate regarding the cause of the fire. Some believe it was an electrical fire. Others believe the fire was caused by sparks due to the grinding and cutting of steel for the removal of a nearby waterslide during the same time period. Firefighters completed an investigation, and they concluded that the fire did not seem suspicious, although a final cause was never publicized.

Christy Whorton poses with a charred Morbid Manor in 1995

The Legend Lives

After the Manor was destroyed by fire, an effort was made to keep the dark ride tradition alive on the pier by adding a portable dark ride called “Ghost” in the late 1990s. “Ghost” was a Barbisan dark ride from Italy that included several animated stunts and a façade that resembled a castle. After several years of being in operation, “Ghost” was renamed “Ghost Pirates” and artists added pirate and nautical imagery to the façade before it was completely removed in 2006. The next season, a Zachinni portable dark ride was added, this time called “Morbid Manor II”. The ride featured mostly metal sculptures for effects, and included very few animatronics. In 2010, the ride was overhauled with a 3-D façade, new props were added, and the ride was retitled “Morbid Manor 3-D” in an effort to attract a broader audience. Today, the ride lives on as Morbid Manor Motel with a zombie twist.

Morbid Manor 3D as it looked in 2010.

Cover Photo by Bob Hoffman

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  1. […] One of the attraction’s scariest elements was the talented live actors that strategically hid in the Manor and chased customers with chainsaws. At times, the actors were theater majors from colleges and universities that came to work at the summer attraction. Their makeup and costumes altered their appearance just enough to leave even the bravest visitor screaming in terror. – https://www.oceancity.com/ocean-city-oddities-morbid-manor/ […]

  2. I still have sworn vengeance on the dark reaper that stood on the porch of morbid manor and scared the living screams right out of me when I was a child in my my mothers grasp, I invite him or whomever you are to my email address and to my haunted woods malindas haunted woods to meet my monster of creation, this goes out to the reaper of morbid manor way back from 1993 or 94 you know who you are ,email me at donley633@gmail.com

  3. The airplane tail outside and the cockpit inside were added in 1984. At the time George Mahana was running the Manor. We had driven up to Delaware to a airplane salvage yard and purchased it. By the looks of the plane I doubt the pilot survived. Said that fire got the place.

  4. I remember you would sit in this round room and a sayonce would be going on in the middle of the room, Then the chairs would start going up and down . Then we would be led to the walking area. I also remember a forest we would walk thru. This was in the mid 1970’s

  5. I worked there in the summer of 1978, wearing a black robe and makeup and scaring people every night. It was the most fun I ever had working. I used my robe very effectively to hide in dark corners, then scare people who had no idea that I was so close to them. Young girls used to like to smooch with the monsters. We would get in trouble when girls would walk off the ride with our makeup smeared on their face. I used to say that if it wasn’t a seasonal job, I’d still be working there. SC

  6. Nice. The top photograph of the old Morbid Manor is the one I took. Over the years, I’ve snapped many photographs of the boardwalk, a hobby I still do every year.


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