Growing up, my family and I would always go to Cape May for the summer. And while in Cape May, we'd always take the short ride over to Wildwood for the boardwalk.
And every year, there stood Dracula's Castle.
It was a huge haunted amusement attraction. I was obsessed with horror movies as a kid (as I am now), and the old Universal films were always my favorite. So a chance to venture into Dracula's castle was like a dream come true to a kid like me.
Except I was terrified.
I remember as we drove towards the boardwalk I could see the shape of the castle jutting into the sky as the sun was setting slowly into the ocean. We always got there around sunset. And the castle was the first place we'd go to. I'd go and stand in front of the building, gazing up at it, my eyes drawn to a rubber skeleton dangling inside a cage hung from one of the towers.
Every now and then a robotic Dracula would appear on a balcony and beckon people inside. Boardwalk goers would line up for either the walk-through portion, or for the boat ride, which went through a tunnel beneath the castle. The water was dyed red like blood, and the boats had accompanying statues of the grim reaper.
Every year it would be the same thing. My parents would take me to the boardwalk. We'd go right to Dracula's Castle. We'd stand there, looking at the imposing building. My parents would ask "Are you going to go in?" And I would always say no. There was something about that towering castle that filled me with a nameless dread. This wasn't some rinky-dink haunted house; this was a huge fucking CASTLE. It looked endless; it looked like you could get lost within the stone walls.
One year, my cousins came with us to the shore. We all went to Wildwood. My uncle and one of my cousins went on the boat portion of the castle. They chided me to go along. I refused, steadfast in my belief that if I entered any portion of that place I would be killed.
I waited anxiously for their return. When they finally emerged from the other end, they both pretended to be sleeping--to mock me. They said it wasn't scary at all. They said they'd go through it again if I wanted to finally go.
No fucking way.
Year after year this continued. And eventually we stopped going down the shore. I grew older, and more jaded. Horror movies and life desensitized me to the point where nothing really scared me anymore. By the time I was in my late teens I was determined to go to Dracula's Castle once and for all.
But it was too late.
The castle had burned down in 2002, the victim of arson. There was talk of rebuilding, but it never came to pass. I'll never know what it was like inside. There's a video on youtube that appears to be a walk-through of the castle, from 1991. I'm not going to watch it. It just wouldn't be the same.
When I look at photos from the place, I am amused at how corny and un-terrifying they all look. I'm always going to regret never having gone into Dracula's Castle, but maybe it's better this way. Maybe it's best to remember it as a house of unending terror, rather than to have gone through only to come out the other side saying, disheartened, "THAT'S IT??"
For more about Dracula's Castle, as well as the location of the images I used, go here: Dark in the Park