Ocean City Today

Boardwalk Haunted House kept running by Hudsons

By Brian Gilliland | Aug 03, 2017
Photo by: Brian Gilliland Scott Hudson and friend.

(Aug. 4, 2017) As long as there’s been a haunted house on the Boardwalk, and it’s been there since 1964, there’s been a Hudson running it.

When the attraction opened, it was Clifford Hudson who was in charge. He retired in 1999 leaving his son, Scott, at the helm. While he said he isn’t retiring anytime soon, his 17-year-old son, Jason, is already following in dad’s footsteps maintaining rides for Trimper’s Amusements and hopes, one day, to watch over the haunted house.

Which isn’t as easy as it sounds, but things have been getting easier as time goes by. Mostly gone are the analog switches that control the ride’s features — jump scares and zombie attacks among others. The old switches have been replaced with digital equipment that is more reliable, adjustable and features fewer moving parts that would been to be replaced and maintained.

Not that everything always goes to plan either.

For example, one of the last features on the five-minute ride is a waterfall that is intended to melt away at the last second, but it doesn’t always work out that way. If the cutoffs, which are still analog, get out of alignment then the shutoff isn’t triggered and the guests are in for an impromptu soaking.

It’s all in good fun, Hudson said, and the instances unintended drenchings are becoming much rarer than they used to be. In fact, he said, the ride pretty much takes care of itself in a lot of ways, until Hudson tries to take a day off.

“They tell me she knows I’m not here and she is not happy about it,” he said. “I get a list when I come back.”

He refers to the 53-year-old ride as a lady, much like the captain of any ship, and has about the same relationship with the house as does any maritime officer with a vessel.

“She has her own personality, and I can’t always tell what kind of mood she’s in. I walk through every 30 minutes or so while we’re open to make sure everything is how I want it,” he said. “If it’s not, I work on it until it’s right.”

After 50 years, everything has broken and procedures have been established to settle every hiccup and mend every scratch.

Sometimes, back in the day, the cure was raw manpower.

In the 1990s, a transformer blew out, which was part of the system to push the cars uphill to the second story. Having no other option, Hudson and crew had to push each car up manually.

“The cars weigh 1,500 pounds empty and fit three people,” Hudson said. “It can get to 2,500 pounds easily.”

Aided by backstops that didn’t allow the cars to move backward, it was nonetheless a long night for the crew. The same thing happened once on the downhill ramps, and people had to manually slow the cars to keep them on track.

Such instances are rare though, with the most common issue these days being flat tires.

The guests, in for a scare already at a haunted house, tend to get excited when they think the ride has broken down — no matter the underlying issue.

“We come in, explain it’s a flat tire of all things, and that usually gets people back into the right mood,” he said.

People often enter the ride in the mood for things other than scares, though.

“As a haunted house, you think of it as scary, but this ride has seen a lot of romance,” Chris Trimper, who has also worked on the ride, said. “When my grandfather, Granville Trimper, redesigned the ride in 1988, he said he wanted it to be six minutes long, because people want six minutes in the dark.”

When asked to characterize the kinds of guests that prefer the time in the dark to the mix of vintage and new scares in the house, Trimper said, with a wry grin, “everybody.”

The haunted house is a half-and-half mix of old and new, with plenty of newer features joining those that were present on the day it opened. Over time, the popularity of the attraction grew and continues to grow.

“We get 2,000 riders a day or better,” Hudson said.

“We have a constant line at night, more if there’s a drizzle or it’s cloudy,” Trimper said.

Hudson said the best parts of his job are the people who come down every year as a tradition — a tradition that includes him, and his family, as the caretakers of the ride. Hudson said he remembers riding the haunted house as a child, and his son Jason had the same experience growing up in and around the attraction, which has certain benefits.

“I can tell each car apart in the dark by the way the black lights hit it, or by the sounds it makes alone,” Hudson said.

Which aren’t the only sounds he hears in the house when he’s alone.

“Oh yeah, it’s haunted. I’m here alone with no one else around and I’ll hear voices but no movement — no doors opening and closing,” he said.

Inside the ride, there are swinging doors every 30 feet or so cordoning off sections and making ramshackle noises as the carts pass through. A living person wouldn’t get very far inside without making some other kind of sound.

Apart from that, the ride manages itself, most of the time, but when things do end up going wrong, there’s always a member of the Hudson clan nearby to fix what’s broken.

The attraction also has a following online, with a fan site at www.ochh.net and a Facebook page that details the history, layout and changes over the years.

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