All-American Diner Tour: Shorty’s Place in Watertown, New York

Located at 1280 Coffeen Street, just off Interstate 81, in Watertown, New York, Shorty’s Place is a great 1950s-themed diner and a favorite of both locals and soldiers from nearby Fort Drum. It’s worth going for the decor alone. The owner must have spent a long time tracking down so much Coca-Cola-themed bric-a-brac. The diner is clean and nostalgia palpable. Seating includes a long counter, tables, and booths. Each booth contains a working jukebox.

Shorty’s food is diverse and above average. Menu choices include charbroiled pork chops, fried scallops, black & blue charbroiled chicken breast, pulled pork BBQ sandwich (Wednesdays), a breakfast lasagna, and more. They even have a limited beer and wine selection and make old-fashioned milkshakes with hard milk flavoring. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner is served all day, except for soup, which is only served in the afternoon and evening. Prices are reasonable: expect to pay between $10 and $13 per person, including a drink. The most expensive item on the menu is the friend seafood platter for $11.89.

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Rewind the Clock at Sylvan Beach Amusement Park

Visitors report strange encounters with unseen entities under the glittering lights of this a lakeside resort town in central New York.

  • The first Sylvan Beach amusement park opened on Oneida Lake in 1886.
  • A Lady in White is seen and felt in the abandoned Yesterday’s Royal Hotel.
  • Sylvan Beach appeared in an episode of Ghost Hunters in 2013.
  • Zoltar the wise gypsy will tell your fortune at Carello’s Carousel Arcade.

Carnival rides, roller coasters, fun houses, arcades, sparkling lights on warm summer nights reflecting off the lake, these are the sights and sounds of Sylvan Beach on Oneida Lake in central New York. For over a century, vacationers flocked to Verona and Sylvan Beaches in the summer, leading the area to called the “Coney Island of Central New York.”

Today, visiting the local amusement park and beachfront is like stepping back in time. After the lights go down, many visitors and employees have reported encountering the unseen among the old buildings, leading the Sylvan Beach Amusement Park to be featured on the SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters in 2013.

Prior to European settlement, the Oneidas and the Onondagas, both members of the Iroquois Confederacy, lived in the Oneida Lake region. They called the lake Tsioqui, which means “white water.” Remnants of their fishing villages are still occasionally uncovered around the lake. During the early 1800s, Yankees from New England poured into the area, looking for more fertile land.

James D. Spencer and his sons began real estate speculation on the eastern shore of Oneida Lake in the 1850s. They recognized it as a prime vacation spot, and hotels and amusement parks soon sprung up. Carello’s Carousel Arcade (independently owned) opened in 1896, and children can still ride their original wooden carousel. Unfortunately, the original fun house at the park burnt down. The oddly named Laffland was installed in 1954. Its deceptively cheerful clowns have been terrifying children for decades.

Sylvan Beach Amusement Park features many rides and games, including Kiddieland, Laffland, the Bomber, Tilt-A-Whirl, Bumper Cars, Rock-O-Plane, Bumper Boats, arcade, Treasureland, Bonanza Shooting Gallery, and the Galaxi Coaster. Other well-known Sylvan Beach businesses include Yesterday’s Royal, Harpoon Eddie’s, and Eddie’s Restaurant. Yesterday’s Royal is closed down and currently sits empty, alongside several other amusements and local bars. Hopefully they will reopen in the near future.

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Suburban Gothic in The X-Files and Eerie, Indiana

the-x-files-t-1920x1080_v2Suburban Gothic is a form of Dark Romantic storytelling set in a suburban environment. Traditionally associated with aging Victorian mansions, crypts, and other macabre settings, the neat rows of white picket fences, manicured lawns, and modern tract housing of the suburbs may seem like an unusual home for Gothic tales. The suburbs, however, are a logical place for writers and filmmakers to express American Gothic sentiment, and episodes from two television shows in particular, The X-Files (1993-2002) and Eerie, Indiana (1991-1992), help us understand why.

American Gothic is our unique expression of Dark Romanticism, a broader nineteenth century literary and artistic movement. In early nineteenth century America, Romanticism gave rise to two opposing artistic and intellectual movements: Transcendentalism and Dark Romanticism. Transcendentalists believed in the inherent goodness of both people and nature, and that humanity is perfectible. In contrast, Dark Romantics like Edgar Allen Poe (who described Transcendentalism as a disease) believed humans were inherently fallible and prone to sin and self destruction. The modern Suburban Gothic tale is essentially a Dark Romantic argument against Transcendentalism.

In the nineteenth century, some Transcendentalists tried to put their ideas into practice by building utopian communities away from what they considered to be the corrupting influence of modern society. The idea that a carefully planned community could create a new, happier, and more productive life lived on into the twentieth century. As cities become overcrowded, the growing middle class sought refuge from high crime rates, congestion, and unsanitary conditions in nearby planned communities. These housing developments were designed to alleviate  inner city problems through strict zoning laws and community standards. Economic growth after World War 2 made it possible for millions of people to buy mass-produced homes and seek out the “American dream” in the suburbs.

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New York Does it Right with Haunted History Trail

While popular haunted places in the Midwest struggle to gain recognition and help from local governments and mainstream business/tourism organizations, one state is getting it right. When I began researching legends in Upstate New York, I came across this website, and I was surprised to discover that the website was the result of cooperation across more than a dozen local tourism bureaus. This year, they released a full-color, 24-page guidebook to dozens of allegedly haunted places you can visit around New York, with phone numbers, addresses, and websites divided by region and type of experience.

Whenever the subject of haunted places or tours is discussed with community leaders in my home state of Illinois, it is usually in hushed tones, as if they are speaking of porno theaters or international crime rings. Despite the benefits of paranormal tourism, for example, a number of years ago local church leaders in my hometown petitioned the public library board to shut down a friend’s ghost tour, which she had ran successfully in cooperation with the library for years, because it was allegedly “occult” related.

Haunted History Tour of New York State is an effort by dozens of public and private organizations, including the Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp., Livingston County Office of Tourism & Marketing, Syracuse Convention & Visitors Bureau, Oneida County Tourism, New York State Tourism (creator of the popular “I Love New York” campaign), and many others. Their website and brochure offers a guide to over 30 different locations across the state, many of which have appeared on paranormal-themed television shows. The website also has an audio tour, haunted road trips, and a calendar of events.

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Dr. Morbid’s Haunted House and Frankenstein Wax Museum

Located on the strip in central Lake George, New York, Dr. Morbid’s Haunted House and House of Frankenstein Wax Museum are fun, campy throwbacks to the haunted attractions of yore. Dr. Morbid’s operates from July 1 through October 31 and the wax museum is open roughly from the second weekend in April to the fourth weekend in October, so if you want to get your scare on, you don’t have to wait for Halloween. This is a rare treat. When it comes to commercial horror, I can’t think of another example in the northeastern United States.

Dr. Morbid’s Haunted House is located at 115 Canada Street. It features some animatronics and macabre scenes, but relies heavily on its story for chills. “Recently, during attempted renovations to Morbid Mansion, workers discovered a secret passageway leading to the ruins of an old abandoned waxworks,” the story goes. “Dr. Willy S. Morbid, the proprietor of Morbid Mansion, and known to locals as the Mad Waxmaker, is said to have used bizarre methods when filling his wax-works with statues.” Dr. Morbid also had two daughters, one of whom he locked away in a secret room. Look for Morbid’s preserved corpse to also make an appearance.

A woman of mysterious beauty dressed in black guides you through Dr. Morbid’s lair. My guide seemed immersed in the role, her voice adding to the macabre atmosphere. On entering, she asks you to stand against the wall, where you wait in near complete darkness. Seconds seemed like minutes as I waited for the inevitable scream. The only question was how close she would get.

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All American Diner Tour

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved diners, especially 1950s-themed diners or old, out of the way places that haven’t changed their decor in forty years. Greasy spoons that wouldn’t pass a health inspection. Unfortunately, there aren’t many classic diners in Illinois. No, Denny’s doesn’t count. When I moved to New York, I discovered the East Coast loves diners too. I decided to start posting travelogues/reviews of some of the diners I’ve visited over the years. The following is a list of some of the ones I’ll be writing about.

  • Mother’s Cupboard in Syracuse, NY
  • Doo-Wah Ditty’s Diner in Kimball, SD
  • Prospect Mountain Diner in Lake George, NY
  • Knotty Pine Diner in Wampsville, NY
  • Flo’s Diner in Canastota, NY
  • Suburban Diner in Paramus, NJ
  • And many more~!

Keep a lookout for my All-American Diner Tour, coming soon!

Paper Towns: An Existential Mystery

Released in July 2015 and based on the novel by John Green, Paper Towns (2015) is a coming of age story centered on Quentin “Q” Jacobsen and Margo Roth Spiegelman, childhood friends who drift apart while growing up in a nondescript Orlando, Florida subdivision. I enjoyed this film. It weaves urban exploration, road tripping, and geography/cartography around deeper themes involving free will, expectations vs. reality, friendship, and how we confront our own mortality.

The title of the film, Paper Towns, comes from a type of fictitious entry that cartographers sometimes use to discourage plagiarism or copyright infringement. This becomes important when Margo Roth Spiegelman refers to Orlando as a “paper town” before she mysteriously disappears. Her friends attempt to track her down near a famous fictitious entry, Agloe, New York.

To briefly summarize the plot, as a young boy Quentin Jacobsen, played by Nat Wolff, is immediately smitten with Margo Roth Spiegelman, played by Cara Delevingne (a discount Emma Watson), after her family moves into the house across the street. They become inseparable, until one day they discover the body of a man who committed suicide in a park. Margo wants to investigate the man’s death, but Quentin chickens out. After that, the two drift apart. Quentin becomes a band geek who always follows the rules, while Margo constantly lives in the moment and falls in with the popular crowd.

One night, in their senior year of high school, Margo asks Quentin to help get revenge on her boyfriend and her friends, who betrayed her. After sharing this moment together, Margo mysteriously vanishes. Quentin begins to break out of his shell, and enlists the aid of his friends in a lengthy search for his missing soulmate.

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