Laffing Sal wasn’t very pretty but she was certainly memorable, and very colorful. She had bright pink cheeks and fire-engine red lipstick. She wore a little green hat on short, red, curly hair, and her mouth was fixed open in laughter, showing a big gap between her two front teeth. Her boisterous laughter, a continuous cackle, was heard throughout the entire amusement park. And it was said that she frightened many small children and annoyed scores of adults.
Playland was set at the seaside, along the Great Highway; and just how many times our family made trips to this fun-fest theme park, “Playland at the Beach”, taking a couple of busses to get there, mind you, I cannot say. But we went countless times during my early childhood years, often stopping to play on the beach or taking a browse through The Cliff House. I also remember the roller-coaster, the Twister, the Scrambler, and the concession stands were aplenty: shooting galleries, hot dogs, and cotton candy.
Laffing Sal stood at the front, and most imposing, loudly cackling away, her arms at her side waving in small circles, as she bent, leaning forward and back, again and again. Once you got past staring at Laffing Sal, and had convinced yourself that she wasn't really menacing at all, you entered the fun house.
You first walked through a maze of mirrors, then entered to squeeze through “spin-dryers,” stepping off to fall on a colorful “joy wheel” (large disks that spun very, very quickly, and fast enough to throw you off a distance on the floor). Continuing beyond, you had more obstacles to overcome: rotating barrels, moving bridges, rocking staircases…until at last you reached the coveted indoor slide. At the time, the slide was said to be “the longest and bumpiest indoor slide in the world,” about 200 feet long, the equivalent of a three-story building.
This indoor slide had stairs to challenge any child’s age level. It was a heart-pumping and blood-rushing climb. Before climbing the stairs, the children were obligated to take their shoes off, however socks were to remain on. Now try to imagine the stench from all those sweaty little feet without shoes; the air was stale at the top, enough to feel claustrophobic. But the exhilaration of riding the slide was worth it all. Each child was given a burlap sack to sit on and slide. WEEEEEEE...! So rang the echo on the way down. And then they did it all over again.
“Playland at the Beach” was named so in 1926. And in 1972, it happened; Playland closed forever on Labor Day Weekend.