Laughing Sal

Description

Laughing Sal evokes a number of different reactions from those who encounter her. Her larger than life presence, mechanical gyrations, and raucous cackle cause delight in some and fear in others. Some deep thinkers have even speculated about the meaning of Laughing Sal. Is she the incarnation of modern wo(man) in an industrial age? A soulless, machine-powered being with an empty laugh and an empty mind?

Love her or hate her, there is no doubting the fact that Sal creates a lasting impression on all who lay eyes on her. She debuted at Euclid Beach amusement park in the 1930s, placed in a glass case at the entrance to the Surprise House, a traditional fun house with moving floors, slanted rooms, and distorting mirrors. That is where she stayed until 1969, when Euclid Beach closed. A Euclid Beach enthusiast purchased Sal in the years following the closing, and she has since appeared at events across Northeast Ohio, becoming a prominent symbol of the park. Now those too young to have visited Euclid Beach themselves can be amused or terrified, delighted or repulsed, by Laughing Sal.

Laughing Sal, however, was not unique to Euclid Beach Park and Cleveland. In fact, in the 1930s the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC) mass-produced Laughing Sals (as well as 'Laughing Sams') and sold them to amusement parks across the United States. The Old King Cole Papier Mache Company of Canton, Ohio got the contract from PTC to actually build the Sals, tweaking their laughing, papier mache Santa Claus model for the job. Sal's gyrations were created by two rotating cams (or discs) attached to a single motor in her hips. Springs in her arms, head, and chest provided even more movement. Sal's famous laugh emanated from a repeating record player hidden in the base of the figure. The combined effect of Sal's evocative appearance, constant motion, and endless laughter proved to be a hit with amusement park goers, and Laughing Sals became a fixture in fun houses during the 1930s. It appears that no more Sals were built by PTC and Old King Cole after the production of amusement park equipment temporarily ceased during World War II, however.

Audio Show

Laughing Sal Recording

A record player hidden inside the pedestal on which Laughing Sal stood played this recording on an endless loop, providing the sound for Sal's infamous laugh.

Photos Show

Center Stage

For a time in the mid-1990s, Laughing Sal was prominently displayed at a Euclid Beach-themed restaurant and bar in suburban Kirtland, Ohio.

Image courtesy of Cindy May

Sal's New Owners

John Tomaro (left) and John Frato pose with Laughing Sal in 2009. Frato and Tomaro are co-founders of the Euclid Beach Boys, a preservation society dedicated to remembering Euclid Beach. They purchased Euclid Beach's Laughing Sal at auction in 1997 and now take her to various events around Northeast Ohio to continue the traditions of Euclid Beach.

Image courtesy of Euclid Beach Park Now

The Surprise House

The Surprise House opened at Euclid Beach in 1935. Inside was a funhouse featuring moving floors, distorting mirrors, and other mechanical features designed to amuse and unnerve visitors. In this early view of the surprise house, Laughing Sal had not yet been installed, but soon after it opened, Sal was positioned in a glass enclosure on the right side of the building to 'greet' visitors as they approached. For a time, a 'Laughing Sam' was installed in a similar space on the left facade of the building, though Sam was removed in the 1950s.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection.

Sal on Display, 1989

Laughing Sal continued to be a big draw in Cleveland even after the amusement park closed in 1969. This July 1989 newspaper ad makes sure to highlight Laughing Sal's appearance at a summer festival at the Cleveland Health Museum.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection.

A DIY Sal, 1978

Unable to get a hold of the real Laughing Sal for their Euclid Beach-themed event at Euclid Mall, these youths made their own version of the famous lady.

Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection.

Laughing Sal Ad, 1945

This advertisement was published by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1945. It announces that the company will once again be manufacturing rides and mechanical figures for amusement parks, despite the fact that "essential materials required to manufacture all of our normal products are very difficult to obtain at present." Though the ad does not state it directly, it would seem that the company's factory had been converted to produce war materials during World War II.

Sal in San Francisco

Laughing Sal was mass-produced by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in the 1930s and shipped to amusement parks across the country. This Laughing Sal now sits in the Musee Mecanique at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. It was previously located in the fun house at the Playland amusement park in San Francisco.

Subjects

Cite this Page

Michael Rotman, “Laughing Sal,” Cleveland Historical, accessed October 23, 2014, http:/​/​clevelandhistorical.​org/​items/​show/​559.​
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