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Decoding Dracula’s Castle

Exterior of Dracula’s Castle in 2005. Photo: B. Miskin

When entering Terroride and Dracula’s Castle guests are confronted with a collection of bizarre and mysterious images. Both rides were originally designed by Bill Tracy, who created haunted attractions across the country and knew the importance of making the outside of the building as impressive as what was inside.

“The façade was the marketing and advertisement for the ride and hopefully lured a person to use some of their precious ride tickets on that particular attraction. This design strategy was definitely apparent as no other dark ride designer of the era developed such decorative and complex façades as Bill.”

The Bill Tracy Project

First, Terroride was introduced in 1967 with a large mural in the loading area depicting a weird mix of creatures in an exotic setting. Seven years later, the larger Dracula’s Castle was added with towers, turrets and eerie relief sculptures scattered all over the building.

Many of the images were inspired by ancient artwork and symbols from Egypt, Greece, Assyria and other cultures. By digging a little deeper, it’s possible to see how the inclusion these images may have been more intentional than haphazard. Could there be an undiscovered backstory that somehow ties them all together?

Photo: B. Miskin

Going down this rabbit hole probably won’t lead to an adventure like in an Indiana Jones or National Treasure movie (…will it?), but it can be entertaining while waiting in the queue to consider these cryptic connections and how they relate to Dracula.

To assist the curious, here is a brief background on the artwork and symbols decorating Dracula’s abode.

EYE OF HORUS

Egyptian hieroglyph

Horus was the Egyptian sky god and son of Osiris. This hieroglyph, found above the exit, symbolizes protection or action. The markings around the eye are meant to resemble those found on a falcon, which is how Horus was often depicted.

MEDUSA

LEFT: Medusa by Arnold Böcklin, ca. 1878. RIGHT: Medusa above entrance at Lagoon. Photo: B. Miskin

Flanked by two snakes above the entrance is Medusa – a monster from Greek mythology with poisonous snakes for hair. Anyone who looked at her face would turn to stone. She was beheaded by Perseus who kept her head in a bag and used it as a weapon against his enemies. From the Archaic Period to the Hellenistic Period, her image was used in architecture and other ornamental uses to chase away evil.

APKALLU

LEFT: Assyrian relief panel of Apkallu, ca. 883-859 B.C. RIGHT: Apkallu on Dracula’s Castle. Photo: B. Miskin

Apkallu is an eagle-headed demigod believed to have brought civilization and culture to mankind. This particular image closely resembles a panel from the North West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II in present-day Iraq. Another relief from that palace is also included on the back wall of the loading area.

SKULL & SUN

LEFT: Disc of Mictlantecuhtli from Teotihuacan. Photo: Anagoria RIGHT: Mysterious symbol at Lagoon. Photo: B. Miskin

Between between the two towers, on the wall above the loading area, there are three round images that are harder to pin down. On the left is what looks like a skull with sun rays extending out from behind it. The Aztecs used skulls and suns a lot as symbolism in their ancient temples. This one has some very basic similarities to the Disc of Mictlantecuhtli, except for the tongue sticking out. Mictlantecuhtli was the Aztec God of Death and ruled the lowest level of the underworld.

THE DEVIL

LEFT: Tarot card RIGHT: Symbol at Lagoon. B. Miskin

The image in the center also doesn’t seem to be an exact copy of any particular piece of artwork. But it does share characteristics of the Devil tarot card, specifically in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (originating in 1910) which shows a goat-headed creature partially based on Eliphas Levi’s Baphomet. Both have a bearded creature with an inverted pentagram between his horns. The Devil tarot card represents physical pleasure, obsession with money, power and material possessions. Dracula can probably relate to at least a couple of those.

UNKNOWN WOMAN

LEFT: Vergina Sun on a vase in the Louvre Museum. RIGHT: Unknown woman inside a 16-point star at Lagoon. Photo: B. Miskin

The third round image on this wall shows a woman in front of what could be considered a sun or star with sixteen points. The Macedonians used a sixteen-point sun called the Vergina Sun as a symbol of the Argead Dynasty – the first family of Macedonian rulers which included Alexander the Great. Four rays represented earth, ocean, fire and air while the other twelve rays each represented one of the gods of Olympus. As a whole, the Vergina Sun was the symbol of the goddess Athena, who could be the woman depicted in the center. The Vergina Sun also symbolized virginity. Many stories of vampires say that the blood of a virgin is poisonous to vampires, others say the opposite. Or it could have no meaning at all.

ASHURNASIRPAL II HUNTING LIONS

LEFT: Relief panel in The British Museum RIGHT: Replica in the loading area of Dracula’s Castle. Photo: B. Miskin

King of Assyria from 883 to 859 BC, Ashurnasirpal II conquered Asia Minor and many other nations uninhibited until he reached the Mediterranean Sea. The relief panel above was found in the same palace as the one showing Apkallu mentioned earlier. This image may have also served as inspiration for the lone lion standing on his hind legs on the upper wall of Dracula’s Castle.

NEKHBET

LEFT: Nekhbet in the Great Hypostyle Hall, Egypt. Photo: University of Memphis RIGHT: Similar image in the loading area of Dracula’s Castle. Photo: B. Miskin

Nekhbet was one of the earliest Egyptian goddesses who sometimes appeared in the form of a vulture. In this image, Nekhbet is clutching a Shen Ring, a symbol of eternity. It was often seen above the king and was a sign of protection.

THE OTHERS…

Photos: B. Miskin

There’s still many more images strewn across the front of the ride including bats, snakes, birds, monsters and other indiscernible objects. There’s one more larger image that’s hard to get a good look at because it’s visible only after you begin the ride. Just before going through the first set of doors, there’s an image of someone holding a knife in one hand and another hand holding the head of a snake which is wrapped around them. One possible source of inspiration for this image is Durga, the dark side of the Hindu Mother Goddess, Devi. Those who worship Durga offer blood sacrifices to draw upon her dark powers.

CONNECTIONS TO DRACULA

Photo: B. Miskin

The Dracula that most people think about today is the fictional character created in the 1890s by Irish author Bram Stoker. He loosely based his character on a real person, Vlad III, who ruled what is now part of Romania beginning in 1456. Vlad’s father was instrumental in the creation of the Order of the Dragon and took the surname Dracul, meaning “dragon”. Vlad III was known as Dracula or “son of the dragon”. The Order of the Dragon is believed to have origins involving the Grand Assembly of the Annunaki in ancient Mesopotamia.

Horrific stories of his battle tactics spread throughout Europe. Since his death, the real Dracula has proven to be just as mysterious as Stoker’s Count Dracula. The location of his burial place has been disputed for ages. Some have reported finding his grave empty while others claim to have found his grave with a decapitated body inside.

The symbols found on Dracula’s Castle come from a variety of cultures, many of which were known to share stories of vampires or vampire-like creatures. There are symbols from Assyria and Egypt where impaling was practiced .Vlad Dracul also used this form of torture, earning him the nickname Vlad the Impaler.

The stories of Vlad Dracul were probably exaggerated as they were passed along in medieval times. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a huge departure from the real Dracula. Movies and books based on Stoker’s vampire have, in turn, taken many liberties with the character. So it seems there’s room for anyone to develop their own connections and interpretations of Lagoon’s representation of Dracula’s Castle as well.

Maybe Bill Tracy included these symbols with vague connections for that very purpose. Or they were simply meant to disorient and mystify guests before experiencing the weird collection of scenes inside. The answer has probably gone to the grave with Bill Tracy.

What connections have you made? Leave a reply at the bottom of the page to discuss what you’ve found.

MORE FROM LHP
SOURCES

The Dragon Court – Assembly of the Annunaki’s solution. BibliotecaPleyades.net, Jul 2003.

Sun of Vergina – A Greek Symbol. History Of Macedonia, 10 Apr 2008.

Cartwright, Mark. Mictlantecuhtli. Ancient History Encylcopedia, 22 Sep 2013.

Cartwright, Mark. Devi. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 5 Dec 2015.

Amin, Osama S. M. Assyrian Lion-Hunting at the British Museum. Ancient History Et Cetera, 15 Mar 2016.

Glennon, Madeleine. Medusa In Ancient Greek Art. The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, March 2017.

About the Reliefs and Inscriptions. The Karnak Great Hypostyle Hall Project. The University of Memphis, accessed 28 May 2017.

Bill Tracy’s Personal Life. The Bill Tracy Project, accessed 28 May 2017.

Preskar, Peter. Vlad III “the Impaler” was The Real Dracula. Medium.com, 8 May 2020.

Vlad the Impaler. Dracula’s Homepage, accessed 15 Oct 2020.

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