“From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!”
INSPIRED LAST SUMMER by that traditional Scottish poem, I asked archivist Ron Edge to send me his scariest photo for a Halloween column. What he forwarded triggered a small avalanche of memories.
In the late 1960s, I and thousands of other student volunteer crossing guards were bused to Seattle Center’s Fun Forest, the then-flourishing amusement park, for a day of unlimited free rides as a reward for our service to local school districts. Arriving on a typically gray morning, my friends and I made a beeline for what we agreed was the best — and most chill-filled — ride: the Flight to Mars.
Leering, gaptoothed gargoyles from space covered the exterior walls, portending further spine tingles and terrors within. As 11-year olds, we were in the Goldilocks zone: too old for trauma, too young to scoff. The beetle-shaped cars were two-seaters — my best friend Alan and I could scarcely conceive of their future romantic uses — and we clutched the restraining bar as the car lurched forward and clattered through swinging doors into darkness visible.
Lit by black light, sudden, lurid tableaux flared up. Enacted by jerkily primitive animatronics, scenes of murder and mayhem scattered retinal imprints ’round every twist and turn in the tracks. Echoing along the dark corridors, the delighted shouts and screams of otherwise-sober members of the junior safety patrol were punctuated with expletives that would have appalled our elders in broad daylight. Mere minutes later, we emerged, pulses still pounding with adrenal fizz.
The Flight to Mars that we experienced was a second installment of the ride in this week’s “Then” photo, from the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962. When the fair ended, the ride was put into storage for several years, until it was rebuilt on the same spot, where it remained a Fun Forest staple for nearly three decades.
Today, the campus of Paul Allen’s Museum of Pop Culture (originally the EMP Museum, designed by Frank Gehry and completed in 2000) encompasses the entire footprint of the Flight to Mars.
In spooky synchronicity, the spirit of the ride might be said to haunt the lower levels of MoPOP. Its current dungeonesque exhibition, “Scared to Death: The Thrill of Horror Film,” sports a labyrinth of scenes that echo and amplify the anxieties of the season.