The spot where the Niagara river, carved by glaciers, drops a sudden, spectacular 167 feet was first reported 400 years ago by Samuel de Champlain, the explorer and founder of La Nouvelle France. In the early 1800s, daredevils were already leaping in or walking tightropes across the scenic Falls, well before tourists started showing up. The first barrel rider was a 63-year old schoolteacher who survived her perilous descent in 1901.
Nowadays, thousands of visitors don plastic ponchos to experience the spray from Horseshoe Falls aboard The Maid of the Mist. It's not quite as thrilling as going over the precipice in a steel drum, but you won’t get your neck broken and, if you’re still looking for an adrenaline rush, you can head over to Clifton Hill, right there in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and submit your nerves to The House of Frankenstein.
The Clifton Hill strip is packed with wax museums, arcades, souvenir stores, mini-golf, thrill rides (including a Ferris Wheel), Ripley and Guinness attractions and theme restaurants, all done in Early Midway architecture. The House of Frankenstein is one of the area’s oldest tenants, first established 40-some years ago. It has shed most of its cheesier displays over the years, but it remains a traditional Haunted House attraction with dark rooms, creepy music, and a labyrinth populated with monster-masked performers lying in wait.
The vintage flyer seen here comes from the collection of Frankensteinia friend Brian Horrorwitz, monster fan, pop culture connoisseur and headbanging headman of the punkrocking Ubangis. “I went to this place in the early 1970s and it was awesome!” Brian writes. “My parents had to lie about my age so they'd let me in because I was too young. God bless 'em!”
Foolish Mortals Beware! The brochure copy is pure carny pitch. Here, we are told, are Over 50 Scenes… Each One a Thrill in Action. You could visit The Twilight Zone, The Echo Cave and The Amazing Room of Rats! To get to a caged Frankenstein Monster, you had to climb 13 Haunted Steps dodging flickering candles, glowing crystal balls, howling dogs and a floating table. Waxworks — some of them come alive — included a Hunchback, a Body Snatcher and Torture Victims.
For those unimpressed with spookshow tricks, “Crime & Punishment” scenes provided voyeuristic tabloid thrills such as The Room of Death (How many ways can a man die? See with your own eyes!), and encounters with Bonnie and Clyde, The Boston Strangler and Charles Manson… All Caught in the Act of Murder!
The attractions in Niagara Falls have Disneyed up over the years. The cut-rate Curiosity Museums with their Fiji Mermaids are out of fashion and, compared to earlier incarnations, The House of Frankenstein has gone mainstream. There’s now a Burger King franchise on the block, with a giant, weather-beaten Frankenstein Monster on the roof.
This House of Frankenstein is still a fun ride, no doubt, but I, for one, would have loved to see it when it was new, in its papier mache heydays, with its simple gotcha scares and a giveaway flyer you could wrap around your face — Use tape or string to hold in place — and become your own Frankenstein Monster.
A fun visit to the Clifton Hills attractions, including the current House of Frankenstein.