I have fond memories of Indiana Beach, and especially of this classic pretzel dark ride: Mystery Mansion. There is very little footage or images of this ride, but I managed to put this together from the only known video from the ride.
So far, this is the only known online footage of Mystery Mansion at Indiana Beach (thanks to foch41). Skip along to 1:57 for footage of the ride.
Tom Spackman, Chief Executive Officer of Indiana Beach, designed and developed the Mystery Mansion ride in 1969, and it ran until 1998 when it was re-themed into the Den of Lost Thieves by Sally Rides.
You can also read a lot about pretzel dark rides here.
General Layout and Ride Elements
The ride was completely contained inside a 2 story building – except for a small covered loading area in the front on the first floor and a covered balcony on the second floor.
The waiting area was made to resemble the front of a classic haunted house with white, vertical weatherboard siding, dirty windows, a red gnarled tree, and barn-like entrance and exit doors. The waiting line was a series of Victorian style area railings common to haunted house attractions. Visitors would load into the carts at the front of the building on the ground floor and then be sent on their way by the ride operator. Carts progressed individually through the ride separated from the next cart by enough distance and time that riders could not see nor hear each other. The ride progressed through 2 different floors of the building. Slightly more than halfway through the ride, visitors would exit the interior of the building to travel along a covered upper deck before re-entering the building for the rest of the ride.
Like many dark rides, the interiors were painted complete black, utilized a winding Pretzel like track, double-doors, and partition walls to block off light from the outside and between different ride sections. The ride made extensive use of black lit paintings and painted sets. Frantic, classical pipe organ music played constantly during the ride to heighten the experience.
A notable feature that was advertised on the side of the building was its use of air conditioning. Being one of the very few rides at Indiana Beach with air conditioning, it was a popular way to cool off during hot, humid Indiana summers.
As the track layout and space was not modified during it’s redesign, the information from the original redesign is still accurate:
- Facility size: 4,500 sq. ft., 418 sq. m.
- Track length: 295 ft., 90 m.
- Ride Cars: 8, two-four passenger 24VDC electric drive
- Capacity: 2 passenger/360 pph
- Capacity: 4 passenger/720 pph
The ride carts were similar to many other Pretzel ride carts. Made of molded fiberglass that could hold 2-4 persons, the wheels were configured in a tricycle-like configuration with the front point of contact on a metal rail that powered and guided the cart. The rear of the cart had two small rubber drive wheels that pushed the cart. The carts had rubber bumpers that surrounded the cart and were instrumental in softening the impact with doors used to separate different areas within the ride. These carts are visible today as the Den of Lost Thieves re-design simply re-used the original carts and adding the light gun feature.
Like many dark rides, carts move through a number of different major scenes in the dark. A frantic organ music track played during the entire ride from speakers scattered around the ride’s path.
- Black lit spooky characters and eyes – the ride would enter the building on the first floor through 2 sets of double doors that cut outside light off completely. After entering the darkness and traveling a short way to ensure complete darkness, the cart would turn round a corner to the left, turn right, and then ascend a long ramp to the second floor. Riders would travel below a large, orange, black lit skeletal face that was in a recessed alcove so it was only visible for a short time. Riders would then proceed further with similar black lit faces, glowing eyes, and paintings appearing to the left and right while the cart weaved through the darkness. Most of the faces were only visible for a short time due to being placing in recessed alcoves or using partitions to quickly block the rider’s view as their car passed them.
- Rotating Tunnel Illusion – Carts would enter a rotating tunnel illusion in complete darkness – making the riders completely unaware of entering the illusion. Around 1/3 of the way through the tunnel, black lights under the track would illuminate the rotating walls. The illusion was enhanced by the fact there were rotating caps at both ends of the tunnel that matched the rotation of the main barrel. This made it look as if you were completely trapped in the rotating tunnel. As you reached the 3/4 point through the tunnel, the lights would go out so you could not see the exit point between the end of the tunnel and the rotating end cap. You would make a sharp left turn as you left the rotating barrel portion in darkness. This prevented riders from realizing how the illusion was accomplished.
- Graveyard/Ghoul Mural – Before exiting to the second floor upper balcony, the ride would progress by a long black lit mural to the left with various ghouls and spirits painted on them. The mural was protected by a barrier of chicken wire.
- Upper Outdoor Balcony – Common to many pretzel rides, there was a brief outdoor section on the second floor. The cart would turn left and push through 2 sets of double doors to exit the building and travel along an overhanging upper balcony outside. The balcony traversed the entire length of the building’s front – right above the loading area and overlooked the main promenade. This section provided a little break from the darkness and scares of the ride before re-entering the darkness. The effect was often (likely intentionally) disorienting due to the transition from a pitch black environment to bright daylight – as well as exiting the very cool air conditioned interior to the hot summer exterior. This effect is also use in Dr. Frankenstein’s Haunted Castle when visitors exit the dark portions of the experience onto an outside 2nd floor balcony where they get a break from the scares and darkness before returning inside.
- Underwater Themed Area – After re-entering the building from the upper balcony, the cart would quickly descend back to the first floor and make a few sharp turns before passing by an underwater themed black lit scene. There were various large painted coral set pieces and spooky underwater elements to make riders feel as if they were at the bottom of the sea.
- Honking Truck – One of the most memorable parts of the ride occurred next at the very end of the ride. During the final tight turns of the ride, your cart would push through a set of double doors that warned of extreme danger ahead in giant lettering. As your cart turned to the right in complete darkness, the front of a very large delivery truck would be brightly illuminated just a foot or two away on your left while a deafening air horn would blare. The cart would immediately exit the building into the loading area where waiting patrons would see the shocked reactions of the riders. It was not uncommon for carts to appear to be empty, only to see scared passengers rise up from the floor of the cart where they had hid. The honking vehicle trick was later used by the creators of the Haunted Mansion ride at Knoebel’s Amusement Resort
Running for 29 years and having elements that were used by dark rides in other parks, Mystery Mansion was generally considered very well executed, innovative, and popular. There have been recent calls by fans to revert the theming of Den of Lost Thieves back to it’s original Mystery Manion dark ride origins
If you have memories, pictures, or video, PLEASE link them or upload them somewhere and drop a link in the comments. If you were a ride operator, maintenance, remember any of the scenes or interior, please comment on those too!
- “Den of Lost Thieves Dark Ride | Sally Dark Rides”. www.sallydarkrides.com. Retrieved 2021-04-11.
- ^ “Thomas Spackman Obituary (2013) – Monticello, IN – Journal & Courier”. www.legacy.com. Retrieved 2021-04-11.
- ^ “Den of Lost Thieves Dark Ride | Sally Dark Rides”. www.sallydarkrides.com. Retrieved 2021-04-17.
- ^ “Knoebel’s Haunted Mansion”. www.dafe.org. Retrieved 2021-04-11.
- ^ We look at den of the Lost Thieves and how it could covert back to a dark ride, retrieved 2021-04-11