Classic horror ride finds new life in Oxford

By Dixon Hayes

OXFORD, AL (WBRC) - Amid the corpses, vampires and killer maniacs in an Oxford haunted house attraction is a piece of baby boomer nostalgia familiar to a lot of Southerners.

The Terror House in Oxford boasts a one of a kind feature: the carted ride that was once the centerpiece of the Haunted Castle at the old Miracle Strip Amusement Park in Panama City, Florida.

Jeremy Cruse, who now owns the ride, and David Smith, who sold the ride to Cruse and who bought it at auction, run the ride out of an old warehouse behind the Oxford Senior Citizen Center.

"Well, I grew up going to Panama City, and probably for I would say 22 seasons, I rode this ride twice a summer, Cruse recalls.  "My parents would take me once and then my grandparents would take me."

Smith was so obsessed with the ride he would even draw pictures of it at school.  He says his partnership with Cruse is a natural fit.

"I think we had the same kind of concept, keep it close to the original, but you know, spin off a little bit, put our own original elements on it, and just create something that families would really appreciate," says Smith.

Among features familiar to beach-goers: the headless man, the colorful "vertigo" tunnel, even the "window" where riders go by in front of others waiting in line.  And of course, the cars themselves are the same ones used for some 40 years.

Author and baby boomer historian Tim Hollis says the original Haunted Castle opened in 1964, one year after the Miracle Strip Amusement Park opened.  Its facade changed in the 1970s, and the ride closed with the rest of the park in the summer of 2004.  Smith bought the ride at auction, and except for a brief party at the Birmingham Zoo, kept it in storage.

Jakaia Samuel of Anniston isn't old enough to remember the ride's history.  When she previewed it, the breathless eight year old just knew it was "awesome."

"It felt so amazing!  I mean it was like, it was all crazy and then in one part it was like pitch black!"  she told us.

The attraction opened during Oxfordfest Saturday as a preview, but the house opens for good (including the scarier, older-geared walkthrough portion) Thursday night, October 7.  Admission is $7 for the ride, $13 for the walkthrough portion, and $17 for both.  The Terror House is located just off Main Street in Oxford, behind the Oxford Senior Center.

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