Laffing Sal is one of several automated characters that were built primarily to attract carnival and amusement park patrons to funhouses and dark rides throughout the United States. Its movements were accompanied by a raucous laugh that sometimes frightened small children and annoyed adults.
Laffing Sal (sometimes incorrectly referred to as "Laughing Sal") was produced by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC) of Germantown, Pennsylvania during the 1920s and early 1930s. PTC subcontracted the figures's fabrication to the Old King Cole Papier Mache Company of Canton, Ohio.
The figure stood 6 feet, 10 inches high, including a 12-inch pedestal. It was made of papier mache, consisting of seven layers of pressed card stock with horse-hair strengthener, mounted over steel coils and frame. It wore an artificial wig and had a large gap between its front teeth. The head, arms, hands and legs were detachable and were held together with fabric, staples, pins, nails, nuts and bolts. When activated, the figure waved its arms and leaned forward and backward. A record player concealed in its pedestal played a stack of 78 RPM recordings of a woman laughing. When the records finished, an attraction operator re-stacked and restarted them.
PTC produced two other "ballyhoo" (attention-getting) figures, Laffing Sam and Blackie the Barker, which used similar construction. The Pike amusement park in Long Beach, California featured Sal, Sam and Blackie over the center of its Laff In The Dark dark ride.
Laffing Sal was a fixture at the Balboa Fun Zone in Newport Beach, California when it opened in 1936. Decades later, the park's management learned that Funni-Frite Inc. of Pickerington, Ohio still had the original molds of Laffing Sal's head and hands, and commissioned them to make an updated Sal to stand above the entrance of their Scary Dark Ride. An endless tape cartridge provided its audio. The figure was removed when the attraction was closed in 2005.
As one of the first animated amusement figures, Laffing Sal is considered a forerunner of the many animatronic figures seen at attractions around the world, including the Audio-Animatronic figures at Disney themeparks.
- A Laffing Sal is seen gazing down on stars Audrey Totter and Edmond O'Brien in the 1953 film Man in the Dark, which was filmed on the Ocean Park Pier.
- A Laffing Sal is briefly featured in the 2001 film The Princess Diaries.
- Laffing Sal's soundtrack was used in Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, as noted in the liner notes to their "Holland 1945" single.
- A Laffing Sal appears twice in the 1950 film Woman on the Run during the closing scenes filmed at the Playland amusement park at Ocean Beach, San Francisco.
- The 1954 Technicolor 3-D film Gorilla At Large features Laffing Sal and Laffing Sam at The Pike (then called Nu-Pike) in Long Beach, California.
- An episode of The Magician with Bill Bixby features the Laffing Sal at the Nu-Pike amusement park in Long Beach in the early 1970s.
- Sal was the subject of the cartoon strip "Zippy the Pinhead" on April 16, 1998.
- Sal appears in issue #5 of the DC Comics Series "Gotham City Sirens".
- Sal is mentioned several times in the song "Willie Mays Is Up At Bat" on the Chuck Prophet album Temple Beautiful (2012).
- Sal makes an appearance in the 1984 TV series, Partners in Crime which starred Lynda Carter and Loni Anderson. She is seen in the pilot episode.
- Allen Theater & Coffeehouse in Annville Township, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania
- Balboa Fun Zone Scary Dark Ride in Newport Beach, California (closed in 2005 to provide a site for the Newport Nautical Museum)
- Buckeye Lake Park in Ohio
- Crystal Beach Park in Ontario, Canada
- Erieview Park in Cleveland, Ohio
- Euclid Beach Park in Cleveland, Ohio (closed in 1969; the figure is now privately owned and still exhibited at local "home days")
- Hamid's Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey
- Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio
- Jantzen Beach Amusement Park in Portland, Oregon
- Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Lakeside Amusement Park in Denver, Colorado
- Loca Luna in Little Rock, Arkansas has the Laffing Sal that was once in War Memorial Amusement Park that closed in the early 1990s.
- Memory Lane Arcade in Frankenmuth, Michigan (Closed in 2004. Current whereabouts unknown.)
- Hunt's Pier in Wildwood, New Jersey
- Musée Mécanique (on Pier 45 at Fisherman's Wharf) (the second Laffing Sal from Playland at the Beach)
- Meyers Lake Park In Canton, Ohio (Closed in 1974, Laffing Sal is now at the McKinley History Museum in Canton, Ohio)
- Pacific Ocean Park Santa Monica, California, where it was known as Laffing Gertrude
- Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey
- Laff-in-the-Dark dark ride, The Pike, Long Beach, CA
- Playland at the Beach in San Francisco (closed in 1972; one figure went to the Musée Mécanique, and another eventually ended up at Santa Cruz)
- Playland-Not-At-The-Beach in El Cerrito, California has three Laughing Sals. The first is a traditional-looking one from an amusement park in Ohio. The second, known as Sinister Sal, was specially created by sculptor Chuck Jarman of Bump-in-The-Night Productions. The third, Psycho Sal, appears at Halloween season.
- Revere Beach in Revere, Massachusetts
- Riverview Park in Des Moines, Iowa (converted to Laffing Sam)
- Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in California (from Playland at the Beach)
- Seabreeze Park in Rochester, New York
- Ocean View Amusement Park, "Laff In The Dark", Norfolk, VA (closed 1979).
- Silver Beach Amusement Park and the new Silver Beach Carousel in St. Joseph, Michigan
- Luca, Bill (2003) My Gal Sal Laff In The Dark.com. Accessed 26 August 2010
- History of Laffing Sal, Musée Mécanique. Accessed 10 August 2007.
- Luca, Bill Saving Sal Laff In The Dark.com, page 3. Accessed 10 August 2007
- Luca, Bill (2003) My Gal Sal Laff In the Dark.com, p 5. Accessed 10 August 2007
- Luca, Bill (2003) My Gal Sal Laff In the Dark.com, p 8. Accessed 10 August 2007
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