Laffing Sal, San Francisco’s Creepiest Tourist Attraction

I moved to San Francisco, way out near the ocean, in 1972. Just a short walk from my house was a rubble strewn, abandoned theme park called Playland at the Beach. I wandered through just before the wrecking ball smashed it to smithereens. Playland had a roller coaster, a fun house, a replica of Noah’s Ark, a diving bell. Its creepy ambience costarred in Orson Welles’ “Lady From Shanghai,” “The Princess Diaries,” and many others, some of dubious distinction such Roger Corman’s “X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes.”

The Big Dipper - Playland at the Beach, San Francisco

Playland may be gone, but one attraction remains undead, a wire, fabric and paper mache’ mechanical action figure, a woman the size of a horse with a horse-like laugh, a recurring childhood nightmare named Laffing Sal.

When Playland was torn down, someone ripped off Sal’s head, but the man who developed the condos that replaced Playland commissioned a new one. There were probably dozens of Sals and variations herof around the country. They were produced by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company during the 20s and 30s. Sal’s voice was originally provided by a stack of 78 RPM records played on a turntable concealed in her base. That was replaced by a cartridge tape and now, like everything else, she’s gone digital.

One Sal was purchased by the Santa Cruz Boardwalk for $50 thousand dollars. Sal also still lives at a museum of Playland artifacts in El Cerrito, California called Playland Not at the Beach. Playland’s carousel was restored and is operating at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center.

One Sal is still creeping out children and adults alike at the Musée Mécanique, an historic collection of carnival games, player pianos, automaton fortune tellers and the like at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. We bribed her to “laff” by inserting some quarters.

So give the old girl a watch…and sweet dreams.

Sniff a waterfall: It’s Earth Day and it will do you good (Video)

Sniff away those winter and post-election blues. Take a hike along a stream, inhale a snootful of those negative ions and fill your lungs with biochemical bliss.

Its science, folks.

Today we celebrate Earth Day as thousands march around the world in support of science and against the corrupt politicians and religious fanatics who deny science.

They should all take a walk in nature and sniff some negative ions.

Ions are air molecules that break apart in moving water. Negative ones chill out to a negative state. Once they reach our bloodstream, they increase oxygen and the mood-upping hormone serotonin, relieving stress, boosting energy and helping to alleviate depression.

No big marches in the semi-rural area where we live, but lots of small events…hikes and volunteer work days and such in places such as Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, where we filmed this mood-enhancing stream and waterfall.

 

A note to science-denying politicians: If it is not possible for you take a hike next to a waterfall this weekend, a cold shower can have a lesser but similar effect.

A Stroll From Minnehaha Falls to the Mississippi – Video

It is a sacred ritual, a religious experience. If you grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota as I did, you probably make the pilgrimage to Minnehaha Falls time and time again. Your parents took you there when you were a child. You had picnics there. You found a hiding place to steal a kiss with your first date, you crawled through the caves on the nearby Mississippi riverbank. Long after I left Minnesota for California, I went there to present my wife with her engagement ring. Now I’m back on our anniversary.

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Video: California’s Redwood Forests

A short video to music of the majestic Redwoods of California’s northern coast, some of the tallest trees and lushest forests on earth.

Also, check out our story: Looking for the World’s Tallest Tree: Humboldt County, California

Paul Bunyan has an axe to grind. He and his ilk don’t rule the far north of California anymore. Like Read More

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