You know I love dark rides. So when Theme Park Review's Larry Meisel started a thread there called "Dark Ride Paradise" late last year, that got my attention. Over the months following, he gradually unveiled plans for an amusement park of sorts that is in the works at Wild Bill's Nostalgia Store, in Middletown, CT.
I'd never heard of Wild Bill's Nostalgia Store, and the more we learned about it, and what Dark Ride Paradise is intended to be, the more I realized that this was a place I needed to get to as soon as humanly possible, even though DRP is very much an early work-in-progress.
In a nutshell: Wild Bill Ziegler and a creative team led by Chuck "The Dark Ride Artist" Burnham want to build a vintage amusement midway-styled environment filled with restored classic dark rides, fun houses, kiddie rides, games, and maybe – just maybe – even a relocated wooden roller coaster on a 40-acre property behind the retail store.
But there will be more than just restored rides; the first attraction to open - partially - will be the "Haunted House," a walk-through fun house that, when fully completed, should be a 15+ minute experience, making it the longest permanent walk-through in the world. (Yeah, OMFG, exactly.) And Chuck is working on an original dark ride attraction that is aiming to far surpass the much-heralded Knoebels' Haunted Mansion as America's greatest traditional ride-through spook fest. Based only on the very few details he was willing to share when we spoke, I'd say he's got a strong shot at doing just that. Very strong.
Again, for a thorough and accurate explanation of all the amazing things going on at Wild Bill's, I do urge you to read through Larry's epic TPR thread in its entirety. It rules.
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In anticipation of this week-long trip to New York, I sent an email to the store, letting them know I was planning to visit and hoping to perhaps meet Wild Bill, and speak with him briefly about all these doings. I got a prompt reply, and it turned out that Wild Bill would be returning from Comic-Con the morning of the day I had hoped to stop by. Perfect. The plan was to shake the man's hand, thank him profusely for underwriting this effort, enjoy his mega-cool repository of wacky artifacts, take some pictures, and then be on our way.
The day after Matt and I ventured out to Coney, I rented a car and he joined me again for this trip. (We stopped for a late lunch at "World Famous" Ted's Restaurant, in Cromwell, just minutes away from Wild Bill's, and tried their steamed cheeseburgers. Those burgers are pretty damned good, just FYI.)
All the drool-worthiness of the Dark Ride Paradise aside, you should still check out this one-of-a-kind establishment if you haven't already. It's a fun house in and of itself.
"Eye-popping" does not begin to describe the artwork that covers the entire outer surface of the store. And that is Wild Bill himself, in all his groovy glory, rendered as the world's largest bobble-head.
Some detail from the front mural, a 420-friendly tribute to Bob Marley.
The whole scene is just far out, man.