NORTH WILDWOOD — An old icon at Morey’s Surfside Pier will be reborn this winter.
Kong, one of the first original rides on the North Wildwood pier, is set to be reincarnated — with a few new twists, thanks to the input of 6,200 people.
“Some things die and we let them rest in peace, but some things are worthy of reincarnation,” Jack Morey, who owns Morey’s Piers with his brother, Will, said Thursday.
The new $1.3 million ride will be unveiled for Memorial Day weekend of the 2015 season, and will feature flying biplanes riders sit in that will navigate around a giant lighthouse. That lighthouse will be climbed by a massive King Kong, who will sport a touristy “I Love WW” T-shirt and clutch one of Wildwood’s infamous tram cars.
While owners Jack and Will Morey and their panel of ride enthusiasts pinned down the overall theme of the ride, they left the details to the masses. Over 6,000 people took an online survey in October to determine how menacing, or cartoonish, the new Kong should appear, as well as what he should hold in his paws or if he should don flip-flops.
“They were all over this place, from love to hate,” Jack Morey said of the responses. “That’s what public art is. Some love it, some hate it. Some look at it and don’t understand it. But because it’s in public view, it’s really a big, old public art project.”
Tim Samson, a spokesman for Morey’s, said that the company decided to bring in the public’s opinion after its employees couldn’t agree on the new ride’s nuances. At first, the design had featured Kong wearing an “I Love NJ” T-shirt, and he held a miniature Statue of Liberty, but many of the survey takers didn’t get the implied pun (The Statue of Liberty is actually in New Jersey) and some said that the design was too reminiscent of Sept. 11.
“We wanted to reincarnate a classic attraction and put a spin on it so that it was updated,” he said, adding that he too was surprised by the passionate responses from Morey’s fans.
“We know that people really have a sense of ownership in the Boardwalk, which is great,” Samson said. The new amusement will serve as the centerpiece at Surfside Pier, which has been without one since the old Condor ride was removed in 2011. Since then, a Kang-A-Bounce children’s ride has sat in its place temporarily, but was too small for the empty space.
Al Alven, a Philadelphia native and Wildwood ride historian, said that the old Kong ride had once served as Surfside Pier’s icon. It was designed by Fred Mahana, who designed other “dark” rides in Wildwood, like the long gone Castle Dracula, which have developed somewhat of a cult following, Alven said. Mahana had a penchant for old horror movies, and details. The original Kong was first unveiled in 1972, and stood at 75-feet tall and weighed about 3 tons, and even had a blonde “damsel in distress” in his clutches. At first, the old Kong featured a loud, shrieking soundtrack of a lion’s roar played backwards — but North Wildwood residents quickly petitioned to have the caterwaul silenced.
“I think it was part of the larger than life experience of Wildwood back in the ‘70s,” Alven said of the old Kong. “It either freaked people out or it captured their imagination.”
But, Kong’s reign in Wildwood was short-lived. According to Alven, the planes that amusement-goers could ride around Kong were removed in 1975, and the giant ape was moved to the top of the roof of Bonanza Shooting Gallery at Surfside Pier. There, Kong spent just four seasons. In 1980, when Morey’s Piers went to rehab Kong, the fiberglass structure crumbled when workers tried to remove it.
When visitors came back the next year and found Kong was gone, Alven said that myths about its disappearance helped to add to its appeal.
“There’s just something that grabs you about a giant ape,” Alven said.
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