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Renovations to Bushkill Park’s ‘Barl of Fun’ reveal new clues about its past

This spring, employees at Bushkill Park spent weeks scraping layers of paint from the facade of the park’s “Barl of Fun.”What they found is that the funhouse, believed to be among the oldest in the country, could be even older than previously thought.“I can’t even describe it. It was like unwrapping a present,” said Kelly Feathers, the park’s historian, as she explained the process of scraping and using a heat gun to melt away an estimated 100 years of paint, revealing the funhouse was once known as “Hilarity Hall.” The work melted away paint from later years, but the lead-based paint of the early 1900s remained.Employees found the faint outline of a 20-foot-tall woman dressed in a red circus costume as she balances on a giant ball next to the Hilarity Hall sign, which has round socket holes in the letters where lights were once fastened.The funhouse, which has been featured on the Discovery Channel, was believed to be built between 1932-1935. But based on the type of paint used, a newspaper article and an old fire insurance map, Feathers thinks the funhouse could have been built as early as 1914.People line up for “The Barl of Fun” funhouse on Saturday May 27, 2006. (Michael Kubel / TMC/)Started by the Northampton Traction trolley company in 1902, Bushkill Park, along the banks of the Bushkill Creek in Forks Township, was once known for its antique rides, including bumper cars, the Whip and a haunted house. But since a series of devastating floods forced him to close the doors in 2006, owner Sammy Baurkot has been struggling to reopen the park.Most of the park is still inaccessible to visitors, through the roller rink reopened three years ago and operates every weekend.Now when Bushkill Park opens for the season on Saturday, employees and volunteers hope to have some of the kiddie rides up and running. They’ll have a grand opening celebration to mark the park’s 117th anniversary on July 3.Later this year, they hope to reopen the historic funhouse under its original name with a new facade closer to what visitors would have seen more than 100 years ago, said Jeremy Carrington, the park’s director of operations.The park will also continue without Baurkot’s longtime business partner, Neal Fehnel.“There’s no bad blood. At this point I’m getting older. … My other businesses are growing,” said Fehnel, who will turn 60 later this year and wants to focus on Fun Affairs, his entertainment rental company.Carrington and Baurkot brought in “dark ride artist” Chuck Burnham to oversee renovations on the funhouse and to eventually bring back the haunted house ride known as the “Dark Pretzel,” a nod to the Pretzel Amusement Ride Company that built it.Old artwork is shown Thursday in the old funhouse at Bushkill Park in Easton. The images were found after mirrors were removed. The long-shuttered funhouse at Bushkill Park is getting an update from artist Chuck Burnham, formerly of Connecticut. Burnham says he believes the funhouse could be one of the oldest in the country. (Rick Kintzel/)Burnham moved from Connecticut in September to start working at the park. Over the course of his career, he’s painted dozens of “dark rides” — indoor amusements where passengers board guided cars that take them past artistic scenes.“There was this piece of tin above the entrance, and I thought ‘What is that covering?’” Burnham said of the funhouse. “I looked behind it and saw socket holes through the center,” which turned out to be the sign for Hilarity Hall.The restored funhouse will still include its walk-through spinning barrel, tilted stairs, mirrors and a floor where guests can test their balance by running across a set a rollers, Burnham said.He will also restore some of the exterior and interior paintings. He’s already added a new character outside ― a monkey hanging from the roof of the funhouse ― to pay homage to the previous owners, Tom Long and Mabel Long.Tom Long started operating the park in 1932, said Feathers, who is also working on a history book about Bushkill Park.He officially purchased the park in 1940 for $20,000, according to real estate records, she said. Tom died in 1965, and Mabel continued operating the park through 1989.Bushkill Park in 1953. (HANDOUT / COURTESY OF BUSHKILL PARK/)Mabel loved monkeys and would display them in cages throughout the park over the summer. At the end of the season, they would be shipped back to an animal dealer in upstate New York, Feathers said.Work inside the funhouse also revealed more clues about its past.Workers removed several feet of mud from underneath the walk-through spinning barrel — the namesake attraction near the entrance of Barl of Fun — and found a large concrete disk and other mechanical elements.An article published in the April 12, 1914, edition of the Easton Express talked about a new “human roulette table,” an attraction similar to Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park that had been installed in 1908.Riders, often emboldened by alcohol, would pile onto the wheel ― which would start to spin wildly ― flinging them off in all directions, Burnham explained.“It is claimed for this amusement that it gives one a sensation that is a cross between ecstasy and dizziness,” said the Express story.Back then, the funhouse would have most likely been a wide-open room with seats around the perimeter so visitors could watch those brave enough to take on attractions like the roulette wheel.Later on, management added elements like a maze, tilted floors and a hall of mirrors to encourage patrons to keep moving through the attraction, Feathers said.Carrington hopes the newspaper article and a Sandborn fire insurance map from 1927 that shows the funhouse will help park officials get the structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places.Doing so could help the park qualify for grants to make repairs.Carrington wouldn’t comment on how much it cost to rebuild the park. “It’s a labor of love. A cash-in-your-401(k) kind of project,” he joked.It also takes a lot of volunteers, but nostalgia has drawn them in, Carrington said.Feathers worked as an operator at the funhouse in 1992, and Carrington also worked at the park after getting out of high school in the 1990s.Bushkill park co-owners Neal Fehnel (left), and Sammy Baurkot (right), seated in the center of the park with the “Barl of Fun” funhouse in the background. (MORNING CALL FILE PHOTO /)“I think it’s neat we were all here as children,” Carrington said, adding that old-timers like Sammy Baurkot can watch their grandkids ride the same rides they did.Carrington acknowledged the challenge of being in a flood plain, but park officials have been working on their response should another event happen.They’ve been in contact with management at Knoebels Amusement Park in Northumberland County, where floodwaters frequently breech the banks of the creeks that run through the property. Bushkill employees have learned how to set up rides for quick disassembly and storage.When Bushkill Park’s midway was flooded with three feet of water last summer, a group of more than a dozen volunteers was on hand to quickly sweep away the mud and debris, Carrington said.Ironically, the floodwaters that forced Bushkill Park to close have also helped preserve it, Feathers said.“No one could sell the land for redevelopment since it’s in a flood zone,” she said.Bushkill Park 2019 seasonThe park will reopen from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday.Hours will be 4 to 8 p.m. Fridays, and noon to 8 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.For more information visit the park’s Facebook page: Call reporter Christina Tatu can be reached at 610-820-6583 or
Source: Morningcall

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