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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cover Photo by Bob Hoffman