The Truth About The Deadly Six Flags Haunted Castle Disaster

Haunted Castle facade

On the evening of May 11, 1984, tragedy struck at the Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in Jackson, New Jersey. The park's Haunted Castle horror attraction was consumed by flames and left eight people dead — all teenagers — and seven more injured. What was supposed to be a fun event for a group of teens quickly turned into a nightmare.

The Haunted Castle was supposed to be a temporary attraction, but at the time of the incident, it had been in the park for five years. Per Queen's Chronicle , the attraction was made of aluminum trailers that were connected to form the Haunted Castle, which had a left and right side that mirrored each other. In the attraction, visitors went through narrow corridors and made their way to the end while being frightened by costumed workers. Lights, sounds, and other special effects enhanced the haunted atmosphere.

The fire started at about 6:35 p.m. inside the Haunted Castle. Firefighters immediately responded to the scene, and the fire was under control by 7:45 p.m. Initially, it was thought that all those inside the attraction had escaped and seven people were brought to a hospital for smoke inhalation, per The New York Times . Upon inspection of the debris, however, firemen discovered eight bodies that were so burned that they were unrecognizable.

What caused the fire?

Based on experts' investigation, the fire started when a visitor in the Haunted Castle used a lighter to illuminate his surroundings. The lighter caught a foam padding on the wall, and the fire quickly spread throughout the structure, per NFPA Journal . The Haunted Castle's interior was constructed with wood partitions and plywood, as well as foam padding on the walls. Furthermore, fabric and paper were used for the decorations — all highly flammable materials.

At the time of the incident, there were approximately 30 people inside the Haunted Castle. Most who saw the smoke immediately made their way out, but some passed it off as part of the attraction's theatrics. Just a few minutes after the initial spark, the structure was engulfed in flames. The eight teens found dead inside ranged in age from 15 to 19 years old, and all of them died from carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation. Out of the eight, seven victims were discovered in a corridor near the exit.

No safety precautions

It's necessary for amusement parks to provide safety measures and undergo regular safety checks to avoid untoward accidents from happening. However, the Haunted Castle attraction was supposedly a temporary structure, and because of that, it wasn't required to follow the strict building codes mandatory for permanent buildings (via New Jersey 101.5 ). In fact, the Haunted Castle did not have smoke alarms or a sprinkler system at the time of the accident.

Although the owners of Six Flags were seemingly the ones to blame for the catastrophic fire, they followed all the rules when the Haunted Castle was constructed. They obtained the necessary permits and even opened the attraction for inspection, per the The New York Times . Officials at the Jackson Township — where the amusement park is located — said a building permit wasn't necessary and the amusement park wasn't told to install sprinklers in the Haunted Castle . During the construction, the attraction wasn't required to have a permit as it was just made of trailers and would not be erected on a permanent foundation.

New Jersey sues Six Flags

Months after the fire, New Jersey sued Six Flags and two of the amusement park's managers for aggravated manslaughter. In court, the jury heard testimonies from the two parties as well as some visitors who witnessed the blaze, The New York Times  reported. After 13 hours of deliberation, the jury decided that Six Flags was not guilty of manslaughter and chose to acquit the company. Per one jury member, the decision was made because the amusement park did not operate with the knowledge that possible deaths that could occur. Additionally, the Haunted Castle was constructed following all the necessary procedures and did not violate safety protocols based on Jackson Township's building code at the time.

The Six Flags Haunted Castle fire prompted a change in the National Fire Protection Association's NFPA 101 Life Safety Code. A new section to the guidebook was added — Special Provisions for Special Amusement Buildings — which consists of the new requirements for buildings such as the Haunted Castle (via NFPA ). The new requirements included properly installed and maintained sprinkler systems and smoke detection systems.

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Back Stories: Tragedy At Six Flags Great Adventure

May 11, 2017 / 12:01 AM EDT / CBS New York

NEW YORK (WCBS 880)  -- It was a terrible tragedy when eight teenagers died in a fire at Six Flags Great Adventure's Haunted Castle attraction in 1984.

Find more 50th anniversary Back Stories and other special features here , and be sure to follow the station on Facebook and Twitter . 

As Wayne Cabot says in today's Back Story, the investigation led to national changes.

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Six Flags Great Adventure: Assaults, deaths marred Jackson park in 1980s

six flags haunted castle disaster victims

When the Haunted Castle burned down at Six Flags Great Adventure, it came during a time where safety wasn't always guaranteed at the park. 

During the 1980s, a string of incidents put the park on the brink of closure less than a decade after it opened in Jackson . Families were scared off after deaths on rides and assaults on patrons.

Metal detectors weren't installed at the front gates until a series of assaults. 

Here are some of the most infamous incidents in the early history of the park: 

Aug. 16, 1977:  A mechanic was killed while he was repairing a mechanism on the Skyride cable car and it suddenly began to revolve. The 24-year-old Barnegat resident was knocked off his feet and caught in the drive-wheel.

Aug. 16, 1981:  A 20-year-old employee was killed after falling from the Rolling Thunder roller coaster during a test run. The state and park later concluded that the employee "assumed an unauthorized riding position that did not make use of safety restraints." 

Aug. 29, 1981: Less than two weeks later, a woman choked to death while on Rolling Thunder due to "aspiration of gastric contents." The medical examiner said: "It's not impossible that she may have had a gastritis or gastric upset before she went on the ride." 

Dec. 3, 1981:  While the park was closed for the season, a gaming pavilion and storage building caught fire, causing an estimated $1 million in damage. "It's a washout," the park's marketing director said at the time.

May 11, 1984:  Eight teenagers were killed when fire breaks out at the Haunted Castle . Subscribers can read our look back at the Haunted Castle fire, 35 years later, and the impacts still being felt today. 

March 31, 1986: Three parkgoers were stabbed in two separate incidents, including an attempted robbery on Easter Sunday.

April 19, 1987:  For the second consecutive Easter Sunday, patrons were assaulted. Two parkgoers were stabbed and another was shot in three separate incidents. As a result, Six Flags Great Adventure installed metal detectors at the park entrance.

June 17, 1987:  A 19-year-old woman was killed when she fell from the Lightnin' Loops roller coaster. The state ruled that the incident was due to a ride operator who started the ride without checking passengers' restraints. 

July 22, 1987: A ride operator started the Sarajevo Bobsled ride as a New York man was still boarding it. His leg was broken when the ride operator stopped the car. 

Want to keep up-to-date with Jackson news? Download our app.

Mike Davis has spent the last decade covering New Jersey local news, marijuana legalization, transportation and basically whatever else is happening. Contact him at 732-643-4223,  [email protected]  or  @byMikeDavis  on Twitter.

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8 PEOPLE KILLED, 7 HURT IN BLAZE AT THEME PARK

By Douglas C. McGill

  • May 12, 1984

8 PEOPLE KILLED, 7 HURT IN BLAZE AT THEME PARK

Eight people were killed and seven others were injured last night in a fire at a haunted house attraction at an amusement park in Jackson, N.J., according to authorities.

The identities and ages of the dead were not immediately known. The victims were believed to be teen-age visitors at the park - Six Flags Great Adventure - according to the Jackson Police Commissioner, Richard Borys. He said that as of midnight the bodies still had not been removed from the rubble of the building, which was destroyed.

The fire, which began at 6:35 P.M. in an attraction called the Haunted Castle, was brought under control at 7:45 P.M. Seven people were treated for smoke inhalation and released from the Freehold Area Hospital, a hospital spokesmen said.

Smoke Pours From Building

''I saw security guards running, and parents running and an incredible amount of smoke rising toward the sky,'' said Peter Berkery, a 22-year-old law student who saw the blaze. ''At first the smoke was coming out of the top, and then it began to pour out of the haunted house front door.''

Throughout the evening there was confusion about the fire's toll. Shortly after the fire began, park officials said all the injured and other park visitors had been evacuated safely from the building. But when the fire was out, firemen combing through the rubble found eight bodies. Park officials then tried to identify the bodies and did not announce the deaths until about 10:45 P.M.

Four of the injured were identified as Patricia Lynch, 18 years old, of Yorktown Heights, N.Y.; Joan Minter, 20, of Brooklyn; Stephanie Peterson, 20, of Brooklyn, and Keith Berkery, 18, of Whippany, N.J., Peter Berkery's brother, who was overcome by smoke in a parking lot next to the Haunted Castle. The other three were under 18 years of age, according to a hospital spokesman

David Van Arsdale, a fire inspector at the scene, said the eight bodies were found in the rear of the building - a long, corridor-like maze. He said seven of the dead were in one group about 25 feet from a fire exit.

Another of the dead was a few dozen feet away from the group, and also within 25 feet of a fire exit. Mr. Van Arsdale said he did not know why the group was not able to escape. He said that the cause of the blaze was being investigated by the Ocean County Arson Squad and the New Jersey State Police Arson Squad, and that they would probably not have preliminary findings before Monday.

Hotline Set Up

A hotline number - (201) 928-2000 - was set up at the popular amusement park to answer questions about the blaze and the victims. The park is about 60 miles southwest of New York City in central New Jersey.

According to park officials, the Haunted Castle is about 70 feet by 100 feet. ,Actors dressed as witches and monsters jump out to frighten visitors. Peter Berkery said the building ''had spires and turrets and arches and walls that looked like they were made of yellow stucco.''

The attraction consisted of 14 aluminum trailers with a facade that gave it the haunted-house appearance. Last night, visitors to the scene said that the aluminum was melted, seared and blackened by the blaze.

The smoke from the Haunted Castle billlowed over an adjacent parking lot, enveloping people walking to and from their cars, Peter Berkery said. He added that some of the youths at the park had come to hear a concert by the rock and roll group Golden Earring.

Mr. Berkery's father, who is also named Peter, said: ''There was a lot of smoke and it did not smell like a wood fire. It was acrid, black and heavy and it stunk.''

''There were eight of us at the park,'' he said. ''I just thank God we all made it home.''

Terrifying theme park disasters - from haunted house inferno to river rapids horror

WARNING: UPSETTING CONTENT. Passengers' nerve-wracking 213ft climb down from Blackpool's The Big One pales in comparison to these dangerous - and deadly - incidents

The Haunted Castle at Six Flags as it goes up in flames

  • 15:43, 26 Apr 2021
  • Updated 12:28, 28 Apr 2021

There's no thrill quite like taking the plunge on a big dipper - but on rare occasions theme park rides can be truly terrifying.

Over the weekend, adrenaline junkies braving the UK's tallest rollercoaster were forced to climb down 213ft after it creaked to a halt near the top .

Spooked onlookers joked "you'd have to get me out with a crane" as staff escorted passengers to safety on The Big One at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

However, the nerve-wracking descent pales in comparison to some horrific incidents that have marred theme parks over the decades.

From a haunted house inferno that burned victims beyond recognition to a tragic 100ft fall from a water coaster, these are some of the world's most terrifying park disasters.

World's worst coaster disaster

Shockingly, the world's deadliest ever rollercoaster crash happened in London in 1972, on a ride described as 'the London Eye of its day'.

On the afternoon of May 30, 31 visitors boarded a carriage train on the Big Dipper in Battersea Park Fun Fair.

At the top of the first incline, the train momentarily detached from the drive train, sending it hurtling backwards before derailing and crushing those in the lower carriage.

“As soon as we started shooting backwards everything went into slow motion,” Carolyn Adamczyk, a survivor of the crash, told the Independent .

“I turned around and saw the brake man desperately trying to put the brake on, but it wasn’t working.

"Most of the carriages didn’t go around the bend, one detached and went off the side through a wooden hoarding. People were groaning and hanging over the edge. It was awful.”

Two teenage boys and an eight-year-old girl died at the scene, while two more children died later.

Deadly haunted house blaze

The deadliest theme park disaster ever, however, came not on a rollercoaster, but inside a US haunted house.

Eight teenagers were killed after a blaze broke out at the Haunted Castle at Six Flags in Jackson, New Jersey, on May 11, 1984.

Spreading rapidly due to the attraction's air conditioning, the fire melted through metal walls and quickly engulfed the building.

The group died of smoke inhalation, but were left burned beyond recognition.

Frank McDonnell, who at the time was a 22-year-old volunteer for Jackson Fire Company, recalled how when responding to the blaze he couldn't tell the difference between the prop skeletons and the bodies.

"I assisted with the removal of bodies and will never forget the smell of burning tires and plastic," he said.

Shock Smiler crash

The Smiler crash at Alton Towers sent shockwaves around the UK in June 2015 as 16 people were injured at one of the nation's most popular theme parks.

Two girls lost their legs after a carriage on the flagship £18million ride hurtled towards another cart stranded on the tracks.

Merlin, the park's operator, was fined £5million over the disaster and the victims received millions in compensation.

Vicky Balch, 25, last year revealed she was funding her wedding with her payout after losing her right leg in the crash.

She said: "I had to face that this was going to be something I was going to have to live with for the rest of my life. What normal 24-year-old has to think about any of that?

"I don’t think I’m ever going to get real closure. I need to go to the same physio my entire life, the same appointments my entire life. But at least now I can live my life."

Rocket ride loses control

A rocket simulator went horribly wrong in 2010 when one of its cars plunged 35ft to the ground.

The Space Journey ride in Shenzhen, south-eastern China, had a multi-car centrifuge that whirled inside a domed screen, showing movies about space.

However, on June 29, one of the cars came loose and lost all power, with more than 44 people inside.

Six people were killed and 10 more were taken to hospital unconscious. Reports say the tragedy was caused by a faulty, loose screw.

River rapids horror

Four adults were killed when a river rapids ride flipped over at Australia's biggest amusement resort in 2016 - becoming the nation's worst theme park accident in 40 years.

Cindy Low, Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett and Roozi Araghi all lost their lives at the Dreamworld theme park on the Thunder River Rapids ride on October 25.

After their raft turned over following a collision, the passengers were tossed on to a conveyor belt before being crushed by the ride's mechanism.

Miraculously, Low's six-year-old son and Goodchild's 12-year-old daughter survived, but were heartbreakingly forced to watch as their mothers died before them.

Queensland Police's Assistant Commissioner Brian Codd said: "In terms of how they escaped, maybe through the providence of God.

"From what I have seen, it's almost a miracle that anybody came out of that."

Tragic 100ft plunge

Sunday school teacher Hayley Williams, 16, plunged 100ft to her death after the safety restraints of a water rollercoaster in Wales failed.

The incident, which is the only fatality on a modern steel rollercoaster in the UK, occurred at the Oakwood theme park, near Narberth, in April 2004.

The park was later fined £250,000 for failing to adhere to basic safety procedures.

Mum Beverley Williams, who has since called for tighter theme park regulations, told the BBC that "never in a million years did I think I was never going to see my child again".

"You just think they [the rides] are foolproof, the ride was only 18 months old, it cost £1.8million to have it put in," she said.

"You're spending a lot of money to go into these parks, you want to know they are maintained."

Horrific death after jumping fence

Teenager Asia Leeshawn Ferguson was horrifically decapitated on a Batman ride in 2008 after hopping two fences and entering a restricted area.

Witnesses claimed the 17-year-old was trying to retrieve his hat on the roller coaster at Six Flags, Georgia, when the train collided with him.

Ferris wheel turns over

Three girls were left seriously injured by a ferris wheel in Tennessee when the carriage suddenly flipped over in 2016.

Private inspectors believe a mechanical failure at the county fair caused the gondola to turn, reportedly dropping its occupants up to 40ft.

A six-year-old girl suffered a traumatic brain injury, while her 10-year-old sister broke her arm.

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six flags haunted castle disaster victims

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Top 13 places in Russia where you may face a ghost

six flags haunted castle disaster victims

1. Kusovnikov House in Moscow

six flags haunted castle disaster victims

In the 19 th   century house № 17 on Myasnitskaya street in central Moscow was inhabited by a rich, but very greedy couple – Pyotr and Sofya Kusovnikov, who scrimped on almost everything. Extremely suspicious, they used to hide money from their servants in different places. Once they hid some in the fireplace, but the janitor accidentally burned it when lighting the fire. When she found out, Sofya died instantly of a broken heart, her husband passed away a little later. Since then, the ghost of a hunched old man in a coat has routinely appeared on the street near the house – this is Pyotr Kusovnikov mourning his lost money.

2. Sokol metro station

six flags haunted castle disaster victims

During WWI, not far from the modern Sokol station of the Moscow metro, a cemetery for fallen soldiers was located. In 1918, mass executions of White officers and priests by the Reds were held there. All this led to the appearance of ghosts in the dark tunnels of the station. Early in the morning diaphanous figures with festering wounds can be seen there.  

3. St. Michael’s Castle in St. Petersburg

six flags haunted castle disaster victims

This castle was a royal residence built by order of Tsar  Paul I. On March 21, 1801, he was killed there by a group of conspirators. It is considered that the restless spirit of the tsar was unable to leave the castle. It appears there in the corridors with a burning candle in its hand.

4.   Znamenskaya Tower in Yaroslavl

six flags haunted castle disaster victims

During the Civil War in Russia (1917-1922), a group of White troops held positions in the Volkovsky theater in Yaroslavl. The Red commissar in command of the siege promised to spare their lives. However, he lied and all the Whites were executed at the Znamenskaya Tower. Since then, the ghost of the commissar who didn’t keep his promise has been seen at the place of his crime.

5. Igumnov House in Moscow

six flags haunted castle disaster victims

The house at 43 Bolshaya Yakimanka Street in Moscow, also known as “Igumnov House,” serves today as the residence of the French ambassador. It was built at the request of the industrialist Nikolay Igumnov in the late 19 th   century. He settled his young mistress here, but one day caught her with a lover. The lover was kicked out, but the girl was never seen again. It is believed that the outraged Igumnov bricked her up in a wall. During Soviet times, people often saw the ghost of a young girl walking through the walls with deep, plaintive sighs.     

6. House of Rasputin in St. Petersburg

six flags haunted castle disaster victims

The flat on the second floor at 64 Gorokhovaya street in St. Petersburg is today a usual residential apartment. However, in the early 20th century it was home to one of the most mystical figures in Russian history – Grigory Rasputin. His ghost sometimes appears here, scaring inhabitants with its clunking steps and grunting in dark corners.

7. House on the Embankment

six flags haunted castle disaster victims

This house at 2 Serafimovicha Street, simply known as “House on Embankment,” is among the most famous in the Russian capital, known as the place of residence for the Soviet   crème de la crème : writers, artists, actors, generals, athletes. However, it also has a dark history. During the Great Purge, a campaign of political repressions in the USSR, dozens of the house’s inhabitants were arrested and executed. Today, the house is full of the ghosts of those victims, who sometimes appear in their old dwelling place. 

8. Tower of the old hospital in Ryazan

six flags haunted castle disaster victims

Among the high-rise modern buildings at 15 Gorky Street in Ryazan is an old tower – all that remains of the old hospital. At night, a lonely dark figure can be seen walking in this tower. This is the ghost of Alexander Smitten, who administered the hospital more than a century ago.

9. Griboyedov Canal in St. Petersburg

six flags haunted castle disaster victims

During a misty night in March, one can see the ghost of a young girl near the Griboyedov Canal in St. Petersburg. Her face is blue because of asphyxiation, and there is a big red mark on her neck caused by a rope. This is famous revolutionary Sophia Perovskaya, who assassinated Tsar Alexander II and was hanged for her deed. To meet this ghost is a bad omen, and can cost nocturnal pedestrians their lives.

10. Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin

six flags haunted castle disaster victims

There is a legend that when the Kremlin in Nizhny Novgorod was being built, the constructors were unable to finish one of the towers. It kept falling down. In the end, they decided to make a sacrifice and to build the tower on the blood of the first person who passed by. It happened to be a pregnant woman hurrying to the river for water. She was seized and bricked up in the tower alive. The ghost of a pale woman holding a baby has appeared near this place ever since.

11. Oldenburg Palace near Voronezh

six flags haunted castle disaster victims

Built in the late 19th century, the palace belonged to Princess Eugenia of Leuchtenberg. Today her ghost rises from the deep casemates of the palace to wander through its rooms and corridors. There is also another ghost there, much older — the ghost of a young peasant girl. It is even said that Princess Eugenia saw it when she was alive.

12. Stalin’s country house near Sochi

six flags haunted castle disaster victims

Stalin’s ghost can be seen at his country house, located today within the Green Groove hotel near Sochi. The “father of the nations” walks in his white jacket, smoking his trademark pipe.

13. Psychiatric hospital near Nizhny Novgorod

six flags haunted castle disaster victims

Near the modern psychiatric hospital in the village of Lyakhovo near Nizhny Novgorod, one can see an abandoned old building. Several dozen years ago a young girl hanged herself there because of unrequited love. At night it is possible to see a white silhouette and hear the moaning and cries of the “love-stricken schoolgirl” as the locals call her.

And if you want to see a UFO, here are several places in Russia where you will have a chance.

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.

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Six Flags Wiki

  • 1978 openings
  • 1984 closures

Haunted Castle

  • View history

The Haunted Castle was a haunted attraction at Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in Jackson Township, New Jersey . The original Haunted House was built prior to the fall "shoulder season" [1] of 1978 to boost attendance and as a test for building a larger facility the following year. While it was intended that it be open only at night, the popularity of the attraction caused management to open it at the beginning of the day and keep it open until the park closed. At the end of the 1978 season, the attraction was disassembled and sent to Six Flags Over Mid-America , where it would continue to run from 1979 through 1982 . The old façade was torn down and Botanical Gardens took its place. A medieval-styled façade was built for the Haunted Castle on the site of the Alpen Blitz across from the Muzik Express.

On May 11, 1984 , a fire destroyed the attraction, trapping and killing eight teenagers. Six Flags Great Adventure and its parent company Six Flags were indicted for aggravated manslaughter and accused of recklessly causing the deaths by taking inadequate precautions against a fire. In the trial, the prosecution argued that repeated warnings by safety consultants to install sprinklers or smoke/fire alarms had been ignored. The defendants denied any culpability. They contended that the fire was arson , and that no amount of precautions would have saved lives. The trial jury found the defendants not guilty of criminal charges. [2] However, Six Flags paid millions in civil damages to victims' families. [3]

  • 1 Operation
  • 2.1 Construction as Haunted House
  • 2.2 Construction as Haunted Castle
  • 2.3 Reception
  • 2.4 1984 fire
  • 2.5 Investigation
  • 2.6.1 Verdict
  • 3.1 Legal consequences
  • 3.2 Effect on the industry
  • 3.3 Documentary coverage
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links

Operation [ ]

The purpose of the Haunted Castle walkthrough dark ride was to entertain its customers by frightening them. Exterior decorations included plastic monsters, skulls and other features meant to create a frightening atmosphere. A facade of false turrets and towers lent the illusion of height to the one-story structure, completing the look of a forbidding medieval castle . After crossing a drawbridge over the surrounding moat , visitors entered the castle and felt their way along a 450-foot-long convoluted path of dim corridors, occasionally being startled when employee actors dressed as mummies, vampires and other creatures jumped from hiding. Various theatrical props and exhibits were in view, including coffins, ghoulish mannequins , hanging spider webs and skeletons. Alcoves along the route were used to present vignettes of famous and infamous characters and events from movies, horror and ghost stories, and sometimes real life, with live actors portraying the stars of the scene. Count Dracula , Frankenstein's monster , the Wolf Man and Lizzie Borden were frequent guest stars. Strobe lights and eerie sounds completed the scene. [4]

The layout of the Haunted Castle was two sets of eight semi-trailers lined up in a mirror configuration. [4] A single trailer was placed in the middle of the configuration for use as a control room, [5] [6] from which the lights, sounds, and other effects were managed; and for changing rooms for the young men and women who acted the parts of the monsters and ghouls present on the tour. During slow times only one side of the attraction would be used. Peak attendance would cause the park to open both sides, allowing thousands of visitors to enjoy the attraction. [4] Guests would enter the Castle via the typical switchback guide rails used at amusement parks which led to a gate. From there, the guests would enter through the drawbridge main portal where a doorman would direct them to the entrance of the actual walkthrough. [6] At peak times, the doorman would alternate sides to keep a gap between groups to allow for greater effect and to keep the leaders from warning the following group of upcoming surprises. [ source? ]

History [ ]

Construction as haunted house [ ].

Haunted House SFGAd 1978-GAH

The original Haunted House in 1978 .

Originally known as the Haunted House, the attraction was constructed of four aluminum semi-trailers when it opened in 1978 . It was intended as a test for a more substantial attraction that was to be built the following year. The four trailers came from the Toms River Haunted House Company, owned by George Mahana, with scenes preinstalled. [4] The lessee was responsible for the construction of a façade that would create the illusion of a haunted house. The park built a wooden front that resembled a white, two-story house with forest green shingles and shutters, contained by a wrought-iron fence and gates, and accentuated with stucco planters. The guide rails for the waiting lines were left over from the previous ride that had been on the site, Alpen Blitz. To help create the right mood, creepy music was played over exterior speakers. [ source? ]

The Haunted House attraction had a gatekeeper stationed outside with a doorkeeper admitting visitors, while three or four monsters inside occupied various scenes or wandered around surprising and frightening groups of visitors. The staffing requirements for the haunted house were drawn from other areas of the park; they were clowns and street performers when they were not acting as vampires or serial killers . [ source? ]

At the end of the 1978 season, the four trailers were taken away by the manufacturer and sent to Six Flags Over Mid-America (now known as Six Flags St. Louis ) in Eureka, Missouri . The trailers were reassembled and continued to run as the Haunted House there from 1979 through 1982 . The site in Jackson Township was cleared to make way for the Botanical Gardens. [ source? ]

Construction as Haunted Castle [ ]

Having passed the test, the Haunted Castle was assembled on a new site in 1979 , consisting of seventeen interconnected aluminum trailers leased from same manufacturer [5] —eight to a side mirroring each other—with separate corridors and a common control room in the center. [6] [7] The castle's trailers were linked by plywood partitions to create a complex maze. The interiors were built of plywood walls and ceilings with wooden studs for support. The materials used on the walls included foam rubber , various fabrics and plastics, plywood and tar paper . Wax mannequins were used as props. Attached to its exterior were painted turrets and towers of plywood on wooden frames intended to emulate a medieval façade. [4] [8] [9]

Reception [ ]

The management of Great Adventure had not expected the success of the attraction and did not pay it much attention. Despite this, the Haunted Castle became the park’s largest single-show attraction since its construction. During peak attendance times both sides of the attraction would be in use, and thousands of visitors would come to the Haunted Castle throughout the normal hours of operation. The original planning had been to treat the attraction as seasonal and disassemble the trailers and send them back at the end of the season. Because of its unexpected success, it was decided instead to extend the lease and add it to the list of permanent attractions. [4]

1984 fire [ ]

A fire began in the attraction at 6:35 p.m. on May 11 , 1984 . Fanned by the building's air conditioning, it spread rapidly due to the use of flammable building materials. [4] [10] Approximately 29 guests were in the attraction at the time. Fourteen, including four park employees, managed to escape. Seven who survived were treated for smoke inhalation . Those killed included eight teenagers from a group of nine that entered together. [11] The lone survivor of the group was carried to safety by a park employee. [12]

One witness, whose group entered several minutes after the group who fell victim, later testified that she saw flames coming from around the bend of the attraction's Hunchback display. She originally thought it was part of the show but realized the flames were real after smelling smoke. Her group yelled "Fire!" and ran back to the entrance, bumping into walls. [13]

Firefighters from eleven surrounding communities responded, and the fire was declared under control by 7:45 p.m. The park remained open during this time but closed shortly after. [4] [14] No one realized that lives were lost until later that evening, when the bodies of the teenagers were discovered in one of the attraction's trailers. The bodies were burnt beyond recognition and were originally thought to be mannequins. [10]

Only one side of the structure, utilizing 9 of the 17 trailers, was occupied at the time of the fire. [7] During the subsequent criminal trial , the Jackson Township fire inspector testified that he had never inspected the castle. [15] The township considered the castle a "temporary structure", even after it had been at the park for five years, based on the fact that the trailers were still on wheels. [4] The castle lacked a building permit, a certificate of occupancy, fire and smoke detectors, and sprinklers despite repeated recommendations by the park's own safety consultants. [16]

Investigation [ ]

The fire highlighted a complex collection of local, state and federal laws. New Jersey's Department of Labor and Industries inspects the safety of rides, such as roller coasters and ferris wheels . Locally, municipalities enforce state and local building codes governing fire safety and electrical wiring. In turn, the state's Department of Community Affairs is responsible for ensuring that municipalities enforce the codes. Finally, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for monitoring employee safety. A state panel investigating the fire said that the regulatory system had failed at almost every level, and that the Haunted Castle had been in violation of a dozen state fire codes. [17] [18]

The panel said the state's Uniform Construction Code [19] required the owners to install smoke detectors and several other common safety devices before the castle opened. A spokesman for the local volunteer fire department said it had not enforced the state requirement for smoke detectors because the township's building inspector said that the code did not apply: the inspector had determined that the Castle was a temporary structure. [17]

Eight days after the fire, a statement by the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office said a thirteen-year-old boy had called the police after hearing radio reports that investigators were looking for witnesses. The boy told the police that he had been befriended by a fourteen-year-old boy at the castle's entrance. He said the older youth, who appeared to be familiar with the castle, offered to guide him through. He said the older youth used a cigarette lighter to find his way down a long corridor that was dark because of a malfunctioning strobe light, and he eventually bumped into and ignited a foam-rubber wall pad. The prosecutor exonerated the older youth, who has never been identified, of any criminal wrongdoing. [11]

Legal proceedings [ ]

On September 14 , 1984 , a grand jury in Toms River, New Jersey , indicted Six Flags Great Adventure and its parent company, Six Flags , on a charge of aggravated manslaughter , for "recklessly causing the deaths under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life". The indictment also charged two park executives, the general manager at the time of the fire and his predecessor, with manslaughter for reckless conduct in ignoring repeated warnings of safety violations. [20]

The criminal trial began in New Jersey Superior Court in Toms River on May 29 , 1985 . The prosecution argued that repeated warnings by safety consultants to install sprinklers or smoke alarms had been ignored. The defendants denied any culpability, and contended that the fire was arson and that no precautions would have saved lives.

The prosecution called as witnesses fire-prevention consultants who had inspected the castle, and who had recommended the installation of sprinklers or smoke alarms. They told the jury that after five years of semiannual inspections, the devices were not in place when the attraction burned down. [21] Shift managers called to testify stated that "none of the exit lights were working, bulbs were missing from other lights and there were no fire alarms, despite a history of patrons using matches and cigarette lighters in the dark corridors". They further testified that their pleas for safety precautions had been rejected by management as too expensive. They also testified that a ripped "crash pad" [22] in the corridor had exposed foam rubber padding. [21] [23] [24]

The boy who had come forward as a witness during the initial investigation repeated what he had told investigators earlier, testifying for the prosecution that he had seen another boy his age—a boy he did not know—accidentally set the fire with a cigarette lighter by brushing its flame against a foam wall pad. According to news reports of the trial, no such boy was ever found, and no other witness testified to seeing such a boy. Under cross-examination by the defense, the boy denied starting the fire himself. [25]

The defense denied any culpability, saying that company executives had carefully considered all safety recommendations, acting on some and rejecting others, and contending that the fire was arson and that no precautions would have saved lives in a fire where an accelerant was used. [26] A defense forensic pathologist said arson might be the cause, saying that "high levels" of benzene in the victims' blood "could indicate some sinister reason for the fire". However, another defense witness said there were no burn patterns or other evidence of an accelerant. [25]

Park officials testified that smoke alarms had been installed, but the park was unable to control vandalism to them and decided not to reinstall them after 1979 . A park official testified that having an employee assigned to walk continually through the attraction was a good alternative to the smoke alarms. [27] A top fire-safety official testifying for the defense said that sprinklers and smoke detectors might have saved part of the structure, but would not have saved lives because by then "you would have had lethal combustion products throughout the facility" suffocating the victims. [28] His testimony was later criticised by other fire-safety experts as undermining efforts to advance sprinkler legislation. [29]

Verdict [ ]

The jury , after an eight-week trial and thirteen hours of deliberation, found the two companies not guilty of the charges. Interviewed after the trial, the jury foreman blamed Jackson Township officials for repeatedly allowing the Castle to exploit flaws in the fire code. A second juror disagreed, saying that township officials were not derelict. Both jurors held the two companies blameless because they had been told by township officials that they needed no permit or sprinklers. [4] [30] [31]

Aftermath [ ]

Legal consequences [ ].

The two park executives charged separately with manslaughter avoided trial and possible imprisonment by entering a pretrial intervention program that allowed them to perform community service . [32]

The families of four of the victims filed civil suits against Bally Manufacturing , the owner of Six Flags at the time; Six Flags Great Adventure; and the Castle's builder, George Mahana, the owner of Toms River Haunted House Company, charging manslaughter and aggravated manslaughter. New York City Board of Education, the State of New Jersey, Ocean County and Jackson Township were also included in the various suits. [33] Seven of the eight families later settled out of court for $2.5 million each; the eighth family chose to go to trial and was awarded $750,000. [34] [35] [36] [37]

Effect on the industry [ ]

Immediately after the fire, several other New Jersey haunted house attractions were closed pending fire inspections, including the multi-trailer "Doorway to Hell" on Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, New Jersey , also built by Toms River Haunted House Company. [4] [38] [39] New Jersey and other states passed new fire-safety laws for dark rides and "any structure that intentionally disorients ". [4] [40] The Magic Pagoda , a dark maze-like fun house at Six Flags Magic Mountain in California , was closed at the end of the 1984 season to due similar concerns over fire safety. [41]

Park attendance at Six Flags Great Adventure fell sharply for the rest of the year, finishing fifteen percent below the $3.3 million for the year preceding. Park officials said pre-fire attendance levels were restored the next year after they reassured the public that the park was made safer by the addition of $5.2 million worth of sprinklers and computerized smoke and heat detectors. However, industry sources were reporting that ensuing poor attendance almost caused the park to close in 1987 . [4] [42]

Documentary coverage [ ]

An independent film titled Doorway to Hell? The Mystery and Controversy Surrounding the Fire at the Haunted Castle [43] was produced in 2003 by Peter James Smith, a long-time patron of the Haunted Castle. Smith's documentary, which won a "Best Research" award at the 2004 New York International Independent Film and Video Festival, documents the fire, investigation and trial, and questions the official report's finding that the fire was accidental. Smith speaks of an "emotionally disturbed" youth with a history of setting fires who "kept playing with a lighter in his pocket" and resembled the boy that was said to have started the fire. He says the youth was seen exiting the attraction as the fire broke out and was later questioned by police but not charged due to lack of evidence. [44] [45]

The film says that two earlier visitors on the day of the fire reported finding an exit door chained shut, but they were not called as witnesses. (Ocean County authorities reported no physical evidence of chained doors and dismissed such claims.) Some visitors and employees Smith interviewed thought doors were blocked at times for the security of the actors and to keep people from going outside to smoke cigarettes or marijuana. [44]

Smith also says that diagrams [6] of the castle and its exits used in the trial were inaccurate, and did not show a metal fence erected to protect actors from hostile guests, something that would have made escape more difficult, and was found at the scene. Great Adventure officials declined to comment on the film. [45]

The Theme Park History of Haunted Castle (Six Flags Great Adventure)

See also [ ]

  • Incidents at Six Flags parks

References [ ]

  • ↑ shoulder season . Dictionary.com. "shoulder season: a travel season between peak and off-peak seasons, especially spring and fall, when fares tend to be relatively low."
  • ↑ Jury Acquits Companies In Great Adventure Fires (en) . AP NEWS.
  • ↑ Settlement Reached In Suit By Great Adventure Victim's Family (en) . AP NEWS.
  • ↑ 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 Costal, Joe. " Fire at the Haunted Castle (excerpted from Amusement Park Crisis Management ) ", Haunted Attraction Magazine.  
  • ↑ 5.0 5.1 Janson, Donald. " GREAT ADVENTURE'S SISTER PARK INSTALLED SPRINKLERS ", The New York Times , 21 June 1985.  
  • ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 The Haunted Castle Fire pp. 49–59, 85. National Fire Protection Association (2014).
  • ↑ 7.0 7.1 Janson, Donald. " SPRINKLERS NOT SOUGHT, ATTRACTION BUILDER SAYS ", The New York Times , 1 June 1985.  
  • ↑ Janson, Donald. " OFFICIAL RECALLS CODE VIOLATIONS AT THEME PARK ", The New York Times , 1985-06-16.  
  • ↑ " State Fire Marshall's Advisory ", Massachusetts Department of Fire Services, 1999-06-03.  
  • ↑ 10.0 10.1 McFadden, Robert D.. " CAUSE SOUGHT IN BLAZE FATAL TO 8 AT JERSEY PARK'S HAUNTED CASTLE ", The New York Times , 13 May 1984.  
  • ↑ 11.0 11.1 Gruson, Lindsey. " BLAZE FATAL TO 8 LINKED TO LIGHTER ", The New York Times , 19 May 1984.  
  • ↑ Janson, Donald. " WORKER AT GREAT ADVENTURE CITES DELAY IN REPORTING FIRE ", The New York Times , 6 June 1985.  
  • ↑ Janson, Donald. " GIRL TELLS COURT ABOUT ESCAPING FUN HOUSE FIRE ", The New York Times , 13 June 1985.  
  • ↑ McGill, Douglas C.. " 8 PEOPLE KILLED, 7 HURT IN BLAZE AT THEME PARK ", The New York Times , 12 May 1984.  
  • ↑ Janson, Donald. " FUN HOUSE NEVER INSPECTED, TOWN FIRE INSPECTOR TESTIFIES ", The New York Times , 16 July 1984.  
  • ↑ Janson, Donald. " FIRE SAFETY WAS WEAK AT 6 FLAGS, EXPERT SAYS ", The New York Times , 13 July 1985.  
  • ↑ 17.0 17.1 " PARK-FIRE INQUIRY FINDS THE SYSTEM FELL SHORT ", The New York Times , 1984-05-19.  
  • ↑ Narvaez, Alfonso A.. " REPORT IN JERSEY FINDS PARK FIRE WAS AVOIDABLE ", The New York Times , 1984-09-27.  
  • ↑ The Uniform Construction Code (NJAC 5:23) . State of New Jersey: Department of Community Affairs.
  • ↑ " AMUSEMENT PARK OWNERS GO ON TRIAL FOR FIRE THAT KILLED 8 ", The New York Times , 17 May 1985.  
  • ↑ 21.0 21.1 Janson, Donald. " PARK FIRE AN ACCIDENT, BOY TESTIFIES ", The New York Times , 12 June 1985.  
  • ↑ crash pad . Dictionary.com. "padding inside cars, tanks, or the like, for protecting passengers in the event of an accident, sudden stop, etc."
  • ↑ Janson, Donald. " HAUNTED CASTLE MANAGER SAYS HE REPORTED PERILS ", The New York Times , 7 June 1985.  
  • ↑ Janson, Donald. " 3 EX-PARK AIDES SAY SAFETY PLEAS WENT UNHEEDED ", The New York Times , 4 June 1985.  
  • ↑ 25.0 25.1 Janson, Donald. " BADEN CRITICIZES INQUIRY BY JERSEY INTO PARK FIRE ", The New York Times , 12 July 1985.  
  • ↑ Janson, Donald. " CLOSING STATEMENTS TO JURORS ARE MADE IN PARK FIRE TRIAL ", The New York Times , 19 July 1985.  
  • ↑ Janson, Donald. " FUN HOUSE PATROL CALLED A SUBSTITUTE FOR ALARMS ", The New York Times , 27 June 1985.  
  • ↑ Janson, Donald. " VALUE OF SPRINKLERS DISPUTED ", The New York Times , 10 July 1985.  
  • ↑ Knudson, Thomas J.. " FIRE SAFETY OFFICIAL CRITICIZED FOR TESTIMONY ON FATAL JERSEY BLAZE ", The New York Times , 23 February 1986.  
  • ↑ Janson, Donald. " FOREMAN OF JURY BLAMES TOWN FOR SIX FLAGS FIRE ", The New York Times , 23 July 1985.  
  • ↑ Janson, Donald. " GREAT ADVENTURE JUROR ABSOLVES TOWNSHIP IN FIRE ", The New York Times , 28 July 1985.  
  • ↑ " CHARGES DROPPED IN SIX FLAGS CASE ", The New York Times , 8 March 1985.  
  • ↑ Chambers, Marcia. " PARENTS SEEK $2.6 BILLION IN SUITS OVER DEATHS OF 4 IN BLAZE AT PARK ", The New York Times , 13 June 1984.  
  • ↑ Joe Costal. Amusement Park Crisis Management .
  • ↑ " FIRE VICTIM'S FAMILY GETS $2.5 MILLION ", The Philadelphia Inquirer , 21 December 1985.  
  • ↑ " FAMILY SETTLES FOR $750,000 IN GREAT ADVENTURE FIRE ", The Philadelphia Inquirer , 1987-02-07.  
  • ↑ " Settlement in Fire At Park in Jersey ", The New York Times , 21 December 1985.  
  • ↑ " Doorway to Hell, Seaside Heights ", Ocean County Observer, 14 May 1984.  
  • ↑ Parisi, Albert J.. " 'HAUNTED HOUSES' INSPECTED ", The New York Times , 20 May 1984.  
  • ↑ " JERSEY FIRE PANEL TO SUGGEST AMUSEMENT-PARK IMPROVEMENTS ", The New York Times , 23 September 1984.  
  • ↑ Valencia, California: Magic Pagoda (Gone) by Kathy, Roadside America. 2004-07-04.
  • ↑ Janson, Donald. " PROSECUTOR FACING LEGAL TEAM IN TRIAL ON PARK FIRE ", The New York Times , 15 July 1985.  
  • ↑ Smith, Peter Jamesyes.. Haunted Castle Clip .
  • ↑ 44.0 44.1 Moore, Kirk. " New video recounts story of '84 Great Adventure fire ".  
  • ↑ 45.0 45.1 " ...video recounts... PAGE 2 ", Asbury Park Press , May 2004.  

External links [ ]

  • Haunted House at GreatAventureHistory.com
  • 1984 Great Adventures Haunted House Fire at Find a Grave
  • Haunted by Fire by Kathleen Robinson at National Fire Protection Association (2014-05-02)
  • Six Flags Great Adventure Haunted Castle Fire by Peter James Smith at YouTube (2006-10-14)
  • Haunted Castle (Six Flags Great Adventure) at Wikipedia
  • 1 Six Flags Power Plant
  • 2 Six Flags Great America
  • 3 Six Flags Worlds of Adventure

IMAGES

  1. The Disaster That Changed Theme Parks Forever: Haunted Castle at Six

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  2. The Six Flags Haunted Castle Disaster

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  3. Six Flags Great Adventure Haunted Castle fire changed safety forever

    six flags haunted castle disaster victims

  4. Six Flags Great Adventure Haunted Castle fire changed safety forever

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  5. Six Flags Great Adventure Haunted Castle fire changed safety forever

    six flags haunted castle disaster victims

  6. The Truth About The Deadly Six Flags Haunted Castle Disaster

    six flags haunted castle disaster victims

COMMENTS

  1. The Truth About The Deadly Six Flags Haunted Castle Disaster

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  2. Haunted Castle (Six Flags Great Adventure)

    Six Flags Great Adventure and its parent company Six Flags were indicted for aggravated manslaughter and accused of recklessly causing the deaths by taking inadequate precautions against a fire. In the trial, the prosecution argued that repeated warnings by safety consultants to install sprinklers or smoke/fire alarms had been ignored.

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