Today in My History

2001:  Family Ties
2002:  Death Rewrites Your Address book
2003:  Busman's Holiday
2004:  A Hum-Dinger
2005 Tossing the Diaper Rash Water

2006:  Kill Me, Kill Me Not
2007: A Senior Pajama Party
2008:  How I Spent My Day
2009:  Blogging the Oscars
2010:  Trying Not to Think of Haiti
2011:  Dodging a Bullet
One from My Bucket List
2013: Nothing Whatever to Grumble At
What I Did for Love
I Hate My Body
Ponderous Pachyderms
Mickey and Benny and Gasper
Mental Clutter
2019: Saturday 9

2020: Sunday Stealing

Theater Reviews
Updated 12/6
A Christmas Carol: the
Radio Broadcast

Books Read in 2020
 Updated 1/13
Murder on the Orpheum Circuit
by Jim Brochu

Personal Home Page

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Books Read in 2019
Books Read in 2018

Books Read in 2017
Books Read in 2016
Books Read in 2015
Books Read in 2014
Books Read in 2013

Books Read in 2012
Books Read in 2011
Books Read in 2010

Cast (updated 7/16)

(you know how to fix it)

Some Background Links:
The Philosophy of Juice & Crackers
The story of Delicate Pooh
The story of the Piñata Group
Pumpkin pies
Who IS this Gilbert person anyway?

mail to Walt / mail to Bev  


23 February 2021

My plan today was to write about San Francisco.  I love the city and am proud of being a 3rd generation San Franciscan.

One thing I wanted to talk about was Playland at the Beach, and the Cliff House.  I grew up on the bridge side of San Francisco and Playland was on the opposite of the city so I didn't visit it often as a child, until I was old enough to take the bus to meet friends there, but enough to have good memories of the rides and food and the beach with that bone-chilling water.

(When we had visitors visit us from Brasil, they all wanted to go swimming in the beach and scoffed when I told them it was too cold because of the cold water coming in from Japan.  It only took them a couple of minutes to realize that they would not be doing any surfing in San Francisco!)

When you approached the beach, you came around a corner by the Cliff House restaurant...

...and you looked down at the ocean beach and Playland at the beach, a 10 acre amusement park.

I've never been much of a one to enjoy rides more scary than the merry-go-round, so I didn't spend time on the roller coaster or any of the other rides, but I remember most strongly spending time in the Fun House.

The Fun House was filled with things like slides and turntables and all sorts of things you could ride on or squeeze through (and if you were a girl, try to avoid those holes in the floor that would blow your skirt up if you walked over them).  But the thing I most remember about the Fun House was Laffing Sal, the mechanical statue that terrified me for most of my life.

I googled her and found a fascinating history.  Interesting that the article starts out with "you'll know her by the trail of sobbing children."  Apparently I was not the only one terrified by Laffing Sal!

Follow the line of confused faces, and you’ll find the 6-foot-tall, freckled, curly-haired, gap-toothed animatronic monstrosity. As an antique that’s still in use, there’s something both dated and timeless about her. Her outsides are papier-mâché, her insides are carefully-set springs and gears, and she moves with the confidence of an alien spy testing their human body disguise, and laughs in a pitch that conjures visions of demons or the final thing you see before you die.

She actually grew out of a figure of Santa Claus that was made to be on display in stores at Christmas time.

One day, someone had the clever idea the latter may have more value if not relegated to seasonal employment. As Bill Luca, creator director for the dark carnival ride fansite “Laff in the Dark,” described in his history of Sal, the Santa modification involved “substituting a woman’s head and legs, making some anatomical enhancements and dressing the figure in a frumpy dress, jacket and hat.”

Her torso moved back and forth while her head bounced and she gave a belly laugh.   (Originally, the laugh came from a stack of 78 rpm records that needed to be changed periodically by a technician, before tape cartridges automated that job.)  She was so popular that when amusement parks began to be built, Sal was included in many of them.  Nobody knows exactly how many were made -- numbers range from 250 to 500 -- but they sold for $350 in 1940, nearly $6,200 today.

When Playland was sold to condominium developers, Sal disappeared and I was shocked to be driving up Grant Avenue one day and there was Sal in the window of somebody's house.  There are apparently several Sals in the San Francisco Bay Area, two at El Cerrito's "Playland Not-at-the-Beach," but the most visited was near the entrance of Musée Mechanique in Fisherman's Wharf.

Now, Sal’s back where she belongs, greeting new visitors who either chortle with delight or pant with terror, mostly the latter.

“Kids are scared to death of that thing,” Zelinsky says, a certain glee in his voice. “Their parents bring them in because they grew up going to Playland, so they start it up, and their kids hide. They’re like, ‘Mom, are you sure this is supposed to be fun?’”


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