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The Laffing Sal: A creepy animatronic character that was every child’s worst nightmare

David Goran

The 6-foot-tall Laffing Sal is an automated character that was built primarily to attract carnival and amusement park patrons to fun houses and dark rides in 1930’s and 40’s. She was a part of almost every funhouse across the United States.

Laffing Sal was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company of Germantown, PA and was made out of paper mache, consisting of seven layers of pressed card stock with hore-hair strengthener, mounted over steel coils and frame.

The head, arms, hands and legs were detachable and were held together with fabric, staples, pins, nails, nuts and bolts. She has freckles, curly-hear, and a large gap between her front teeth.

The figure stood 6 feet, 10 onches high, including a 12-inch pedestal. Image by - Justin Ennis.Flickr. CC BY 2.0

The figure stood 6 feet, 10 inches high, including a 12-inch pedestal. Photo credit

As an antique that’s still in use, there’s something both dated and timeless about her. Her laugh is etched in the mind of every child who saw her.

People who are visiting the parks where she stands, after 30 or 40 years, are still afraid of this animatronic monstrosity. Sals’ famous laugh emanated from a repeating record player hidden in the base of the figure.

Its movements were accompained by a raucous laugh that sometimes frightened small children and annoyed adults. Image by - Piotrus. CC BY-SA 3.0

Its movements were accompanied by a raucous laugh that sometimes frightened small children and annoyed adults. Photo credit 

 

When the records finished, an attraction operator re-stacked and restarted them. Images by- Kathryn Greenhill.Flickr.CC BY-SA 2.0, John W. Schulze.Flickr.CC BY 2.0

When the records finished, an attraction operator re-stacked and restarted them. Photo credit 

When Sal was activated, she waved her arms and leaned forward and backward. Her torso shifted with a belly-laugh causing her head to bounce in awkward nods.

She debuted at Euclid Beach amusement park in the 1930s. Image by- Graham C99.Flickr. CC BY 2.0

She debuted at Euclid Beach amusement park in the 1930s. Photo credit  

Laffing Sal is considered a forerunner of the many animatronic figures seen at attractions around the world, including the Audio-Animatronic figures at Disney theme parks. No one knows how many Sals were made; some say 250, others 500.

Laffing Sal at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Images by - cifraser1.Flickr.CC BY 2.0, mk97007.Flickr,CC BY 2.0

Laffing Sal at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Photo credit 

 

Laugh with Jolly Jack. Image by- Ronald Saunders. CC BY-SA 2.0

Laugh with Jolly Jack.. Photo credit  

Sal was so popular at the time that the PTC commissioned male counterparts as well as offshoot characters that had similar looks. These counterparts were Laffing Sam and Laffing Farmer, Jolly Jack and Giggling Gertie.