WILDWOOD, N.J. — The huge crowds are gone from the boardwalk, and so, too, are the screams of children reveling on thrill rides.
But one Jersey shore boardwalk is bringing back the screams this fall, as part of a plan to keep the tourist dollars flowing as late into the year as possible.
Morey's Piers in Wildwood is adapting some of its boardwalk rides into a Halloween horror theme, temporarily nicknaming itself "Morey's Fears" as it presents "Terror On The Boardwalk." Attractions including "Terror Trench," which is a fright-filled walk through the empty channels of its water park; a corn maze on the beach, and a ghost ship with zombies that jump out from every conceivable nook, cranny and corner.
"This town in general tries to find events to extend the season, things like monster trucks, car shows, firemen's conventions," said Tim Samson, Morey's brand manager. "But that all dwindles off around the end of September. We saw an opening, and we tried to take advantage of a Halloween theme."
Shore towns have long tried to extend the summer season as long as they could; the Miss America pageant began as an attempt to keep the post-Labor Day crowds coming to the Atlantic City Boardwalk that continued until six years ago, when it left town.
And plenty of other boardwalk towns stage fall events to bring back the tourists. Ocean City is having an Indian Summer weekend Oct. 6-8 with seafood vendors and boardwalk shopping tables; a doggie Halloween contest Oct. 20, and hayrides on the boardwalk Oct. 20-21. Seaside Heights is having an Italian street festival Oct. 5-7, and Point Pleasant beach will hold trick-or-treating on the boardwalk for kids.
But Wildwood is going all in on its Halloween offerings. Samson won't say how much it costs, but did say it would cost several million dollars had Morey's not been able to draw heavily on its existing employees.
One of them is Scott Robart, the assistant manager of the Ghost Ship, a summer thrill ride being retrofitted for a spooky Halloween walk-through. He's one of the zombies who will perform in the nine October shows. During a rehearsal Thursday, he sat still as makeup artist Jason Morton applied ghastly-looking fake blood and flesh wounds to his face and neck.
"It feels like someone has their hands around your throat," Robart said. "But that's just me; I don't normally put wounds on my neck. Other people put slashes and cuts on their throats and seem not to notice it."
As the temperature in the dressing room rose, the fake, oozing gore Morton was dabbing on Robart's neck was starting to melt — which delighted the artist even more.
"Cool! It's melting a little bit," he exclaimed. "So that's really cool, dude!"
In the past, Wildwood's boardwalk shut down its rides after Columbus Day weekend.
This will be the second year Morey's is having its boardwalk spook show, but two new attractions are being added: the "Terror Trench," and "The Other Side," a paranormal adaptation of the Pirates of the Wildwoods ride. Other features include the Ghost Ship, and "Carnevil," a demented clown experience.
Even the boardwalk funnel cakes are getting a Halloween twist: they'll come in pumpkin flavor as well as regular during the fall.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC