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 called "Laughing Sal") was produced by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC) of Germantown, Pennsylvania during the 1920s and early 1930s. PTC subcontracted fabrication of the figures to the Old King Cole Papier Mache Company of Canton, Ohio.
The figure stood 6 feet, 10 inches (2.0 m) high, including a 12-inch (30 cm) pedestal. It was made of papier-mâché, consisting of seven layers of pressed card stock with horse-hair strengthener, mounted over steel coils and frame. It did not come with a hat — hats were added by purchaser — but wore an artificial wig and was missing an upper incisor tooth. 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 phonograph records of a woman laughing. When the records finished, an attraction operator re-stacked and restarted them. A woman named Tanya Garth performed the laugh.
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 parks.
- 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 on the Ocean Park Pier.
- The opening scene of the 1951 version of M also shows the Laffing Sal at the Ocean Park Pier.
- 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.
- A 1963 episode of Perry Mason, The Case of the Two-Faced Turnabout, features the Laffing Sal and Laffing Sam at the Nu-Pike amusement park 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.
- Sal appeared in the maze around the Man at Burning Man 2015
- Sal appears in the 1963 Roger Corman film X: The Man with the X-ray Eyes.
- 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
- Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania
- Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio (This figure only comes out during "Halloweekends" as a part of the scary attractions. It is a remake dubbed "Laughing Sally".)
- Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio. It's strongly believed that this one (dubbed "Laffin' Lena" at Idora Park) was auctioned off to Playland-Not-at-the-Beach Museum. The recent auction in 2018 claimed that this was the same Laffin' Sal.
- 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 a Laffing Sal that some people claim was once in War Memorial Amusement Park that closed in the early 1990s. Other people claim that the one from the local amusement park was sold at auction to someone in Ohio and that the one at Loca Luna is a different Laffing Sal.
- 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 (a copy of Laffing Sal purchased at auction; San Francisco, California.)
- Meyers Lake Park In Canton, Ohio (Closed in 1974, Laffing Sal is now at the McKinley History Museum in Canton, Ohio.)
- Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum in Ocean City, Maryland
- 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, California
- Playland at the Beach in San Francisco (Closed in 1972 and Laffing Sal's head and hat were stolen. J Ets Hotkins commissioned a new head be created by local artists. One was purchased at auction in 1972 by Musée Mécanique, and the original Sal, without her original head and hat, was also sold in 1972, but had a succession of owners and was eventually purchased by Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk from auction in 2004.)
- 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, suspected to be Idora Park. 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. All three models have been purchased by individual bidders from the auction that took place after Playland-Not-At-The-Beach closed - current whereabouts unknown.)
- 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)
- Savin Rock in West Haven, Connecticut Featured outside the "Death Valley" dark ride. (closed 1966)
- Seabreeze Park in Rochester, New York
- Ocean View Amusement Park, "Laff In The Dark", Norfolk, Virginia (closed 1979).
- Silver Beach Amusement Park and the new Silver Beach Carousel in St. Joseph, Michigan (This figure is a modern replication of the Laffin' Sal that used to be at Silver Beach Park.)
- Baka Gaijin Play Room Known as Clowny Cate. location unverified
- Luca, Bill (2003) My Gal Sal Laff In The Dark.com. Accessed 26 August 2010
- History of Laffing Sal Archived 2007-08-14 at the Wayback Machine, Musée Mécanique. Accessed 10 August 2007.
- Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Accessed 10 August 2007.
- Big bucks for yuks / Defunct Playland's Laughing Sal could bring pretty penny Accessed 25 November 2018
- Luca, Bill (2003) My Gal Sal Laff In the Dark.com, p 5. 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 8. Accessed 10 August 2007
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