Hales tours (on the left)
Hales Tours were the invention of George Consider Hale, a retired fire chief and inventor (He was the one responsible for putting together the “Fighting the Flames” show at the 1904 St. Louis exposition). Hales Tours was a franchised attraction — a sort of “virtual reality” ride. The inside of the attraction was built to look like a Pullman railroad car. Many were outfitted so that they could shake, and have smoke and wind blown in, giving the impression of actually being in a train car, even though the ride didn’t move.
Rides like this were called “Phantom rides”. Revere Beach already had a “phantom” submarine ride, built by Herbert Ridgway. What made Hale’s tour different was that the entire front wall of the “railroad car” was actually a motion picture screen, and they projected on it films taken from the front of a railroad train or streetcar. In fact, by changing film reels they could give patrons “tours” of different cities — hence the name of the ride.
I don’t have an image of the interior of the Wonderland Hale’s tour, but here are two from other parks:
Many Hales tours films exist and can be found online. Here is one from Vancouver from 1907
People apparently didn’t mind the lack of color (the sounds could be generated by operators using apparatus).
The Hales Tours building on the Wonderland map is marked “Biograph”, the common term for motion picture theater in those early days of cinema
Rocky Mountain Holdup
Although the contract with Hales Tours recorded in the Wonderland Ledger for 1906 indicates that it was to be there for several years, the name “Hales Tours” was gone by Wonderland’s second season in 1907. It’s not clear why. Many amusement parks defaulted on their relationship with Hales Tours once they were established — once you had the reputation and the building and projectors, why keep paying royalties to the Hales organization just to use the name? We don’t know if Wonderland or Hales broke the agreement.
But Wonderland kept showing the The Great Rocky Mountain Holdup, which was filmed for Hales Tours.
The name “Hales Tours” is gone from the building.
“The Rocky Mountain Holdup” is mostly a classic “Point-of-View Hales Tour. It was filmed in Phoenicia, in the Catskill Mountains of New York, rather than in the Rockies. But at a few points the film changes from a view down the tracks ahead to a view of the bandits holding up the passengers in the car. The film still exists, and has been restored recently. It can be found in several places on the internet.
The train starts out from the station
The Train moves out of town. I suspect the patrons in the theater leaned as the train turned, much as people did in the early 1950s watching the film This is Cinerama that introduced widescreen movies.
The train moves into the country
What we would today call an “establishing shot” showing the passengers in the car. How did the patrons at the show react when this image appeared, breaking the “spell” of the illusion of being in a moving railroad car?
The bandits have placed a railroad tie on the track, forcing the train to stop and two engineers to get out of the locomotive to remove the obstruction. This lets the bandirs board the train.
One of the bandits accosts the paseengers.
Most of the rest of the film returns to the Point of View shots looking out the front of the train. You see the bandits, some escaping on horseback, others on a pump cart, being pursued and captured.
With the illusion of being on a railroad car being shattered, in 1907 they also showed movies of a Mexican bullfight.
The World in Motion and Humanovo
By 1908 the theater no longer presented the illusion of being a “Phantom” Railway car ride, but became a straightforward cinema. The name was changed to The World in Motion, a common name for motion picture theaters at the time. To give the Wonderland attraction an edge, they advertised that they had “Humanovo”, a nebulous system that provided sound for motion pictures.
Attempts to join sound recording technology with motion pictures date back to the early 1890s. The Dickson Experimental Sound Film still exists, and is the earliest surviving sound movie (it’s only 17 seconds long). But these attempts were plagued by numerous problems, the main one being the lack of a good amplifier that would allow everyone in the theater to hear the recording.
“Humanovo”, the creation of Adolph Zukor (who went on to found Paramount Pictures), was really nothing but a team of actors standing behind the screen and shouting out the lines.
Above — advertisement for “Humanovo”
We don’t know which films were shown at Wonderland, but one film that received the “Humanovo” treatment was College Chums, a few frames of which are shown below.
The hero proposes to his fiance …
… but he goes walking in the park with another woman …
… and is seen by his fiancee.
He calls her on the telephone, and they have words.
In the film, the letters are animated, and their motion conveys the mood. This would have been a perfect opportunity for “Humanovo” to make those words heard.
The theater seems to have continued in use for the rest of Wonderland’s life, but there are no indications of which films were shown, or if any further gimmicks were employed. Probably, since operating expenses had been cut severely after 1908, they simply showed straight short films.