Saturday, April 30, 2011

San Francisco's Playland, Laffing Sal and Musee Mecanique

WOW! We just visited the Musee Mecanique on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. What a great place! Nostalgic, energetic, fun, and admission is free! This is an arcade of old games and stereoviewers, mechanical dioramas and oddities, including several well-known attractions including "Laffing Sal", "Susie the Can-Can Dancer" and the "Carnival". The collection was created by Edward Galland Zelinsky, whose son, Dan Zelinsky, operates and maintains the collection.

The whole thing brings back memories of Playland at the Beach, a grand old amusement park at the foot of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park on Ocean Beach. This beachside park was like so many across America with the tunnel of love, the fun house, the hall of mirrors, as well as arcades and rides. It's roots were planted in the late 1800s with a few separate attractions along the beach. By 1926 it had officially become on big park, Playland-at-the-Beach. It was a sad day when the park was closed after Labor Day weekend in 1972.
Playland 1955 (Photo: WNP collection from
The end of the Rita Hayworth & Orsen Welles classic, The Lady from Shanghai.
Probably the best remembered thing about Playland was Laffing Sal. Her laugh, which went on and on, was contagious, hilarious, and frightening to some. But once you saw her, you would never forget her. Musee Mecanique is now her home.
Laffing Sal from Playland at the Musee Mechanique (Photo: Wikipedia)
Musee Mecanique is not like the arcades that kids (and adults)  play today. The games and contraptions are all old, some dating back a century or more. There are some early 1980s digital games, like Pong and Pac-Man, but for the most part these are mechanical games and automatons. Some are so sophisticated that they would qualify as early robots.
Mechanical Baseball Game from 1937 World Series (Photo:
Mechanical Boxing Match (Photo:
Monkey Band patterned after Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (Photo:
Barber Shop Quartet (Photo:
Collage Gallery of the Musee Mecanique (Photos:

Old Wurlitzer Player Piano (Photo:
Here are a couple of videos to give you a flavor of this fantastic arcade. This one is energetic, like the arcade. Musee Mecanique video.

This video is a bit macabre, but is a well done production incorporating some of the more unusual exhibits (like the English Execution, the French Guillotine, and the Opium Den). Requiem for Fat Ernie

If you are in the City (that's local speak for "San Francisco") take some time to ride down Lombard Street, have a cracked crab or bowl of cioppino on the Wharf and visit the Musee Mecanique. You will not be disappointed.

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