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A short history of the ghost train

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Ghost -trainWith Halloween almost upon us it didn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to decide to talk about Ghost Trains this week (since you don’t really get Ghost Gardens!).

Modes of transport have often cropped up in ghost stories down the centuries - ghost ships, horses and carriages even aeroplanes - so it should be no surprise that trains also have their fair share.

The first Ghost Train Ride

The type of Ghost Train we’re all probably most familiar with (depending on where you spend your nights) is the type found in fairgrounds and amusement parks.

The first physical manifestation of a Ghost Train ride appeared in 1930, designed by Joseph Emberton.  As it is today, It was essentially a box car on a single rail travelling on a winding route with things to look at along the way.

The box car ride was nothing new - The idea was taken from American ‘Pretzel Rides’ ) the Pretzel being the winding route taken by the boxcar) - but Emberton’s use of a horror theme and spooky imagery made excellent use of the rides limitations of space and light (i.e. it was dark and claustrophobic!)

The ride must have created a big impression because the idea soon cropped up in fairgrounds all over the country shortly after!

A strange link to Dad’s Army

Researching this post - quite coincidentally - it turns out the development of Ghost Trains is doubly relevant to Bressingham Steam & Gardens.  There is an unexpected link to our Dad’s Army collection!

At the time that Joseph Emberton designed his first Ghost Train a play of the same name, “Ghost Train”, was enjoying great success at UK theatres - the play was written by Arnold Ridley, who later on became better known as the sweet and rather bumbling Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army!

The play’s unlikely plot could have easily come from an Enid Blyton Famous Five Novel (or the other way round) involving a legend of a ghost train being used as a ruse to distract attention from an arms smuggling operation (no doubt some “meddling kids” were instrumental too!)

Elaborate special effects were used to create atmospheric noises, which proved an effective pull for the audiences.

Reviewing the premiere in The Manchester Guardian, Ivor Brown wrote;

"the gentleman in charge of 'Noises off' becomes at times the protagonist ... he can make a noise so like a train that he might impose on the station master of a terminus; meanwhile, he can throw in a hurricane, as it were, with the other hand."

Many Film, TV and Radio adaptations of the play followed - the first being a silent German-British co-production in 1927, and Arnold Ridley went on to write more than 30 other plays - quite a career!

Is there anything we should’ve mentioned?

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By Alastair Baker at 19 Oct 2015, 00:00 AM