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BRIGANTINE - Joggers and passers-by couldn’t help but stop at the seawall walkway by Brigantine Avenue and 14th Street in Brigantine.
Three men were standing in black, ghoulish garb with their faces painted a deathly white. One man had fake vampire teeth put in while the other was banging a bat wrapped in duct tape against the ground.
The three men were standing at the same location where they used to get paid to scare adults and children - the former spot of the Seahorse Pier and the Brigantine Castle.
The castle, constructed as a dark and dreary haunted house, first opened in 1976 as an interesting juxtaposition to the lively Brigantine Beach. While it was visited by millions of tourists, the castle lived a short life after it was hit by heavy storm damage in 1982 and, five years later, burned down along with the pier.
Now, on a recent Thursday in Brigantine, a couple of the workers were dressed up and reliving the old days.
The guys are part of a Facebook page dedicated to its memory. The page includes more than 2,000 members.
Paul Spatola, 52, of Somers Point, told The Press of Atlantic City that a group of workers get together every year after Labor Day in Brigantine to head to a restaurant or bar to grab drinks, reminisce and tell stories from their summer days working at the castle.
“We would rent a house and pay a couple bucks a week and all stay together,” Spatola said as he pushed the black hair from his wig out of his eyes. “It would be going to work, go to dinner, go back to work and then just go home and party.”
Jim Croft, who worked at the castle for one season when he was 23, recalled one night when he tossed a blood capsule into his mouth and targeted a girl who was quivering in the corner. He approached her, bit down on the casing and stared at her with blood dripping down his chin. He said she dry heaved before running out of the room.
Now, Croft was standing on Brigantine Avenue with his old makeup.
“I haven’t had this makeup on at this location in 36 years. It’s kind of surreal and kind of cool at the same time,” said Croft, 59, of Tabernacle.
Tim Riess is standing close by Croft, with a big beard and bat in hand. He recalls one time he thought he scared a girl to death during a shift at the castle. A 12-year-old was approaching the exit when Riess decided to get one last scare in.
“The whole idea was to get people to run out into the lobby so people waiting in the lobby would see everyone coming out scared,” said Riess, 55, of Galloway. As the girls sprinted towards the lobby, Riess through a rubber mallet at the door as it shut.
A few years later, Riess was working at a Staples when a younger female employee told him a story of a man who nearly hit her with a mallet at the castle.
But that was the perks of the job, he said. He recalled one time he jumped out to scare a girl only to be met with a fist to the chest from her boyfriend. Another time he scared a group so bad that they ripped a velvet rope off the wall to escape.
While some rooms, like the “sacrifice room” could reach close to 110 degrees on a summer day, the fun was in entertaining a crowd.
“Kids, grownups and grandparents - we scared them all. It was wonderful,” Riess said.
Now, as the men stood around Brigantine Avenue, they were reminiscing once again. Croft now had his own natural wrinkles to go with the ones he painted on his face. Spatola and Riess now have grey in their beards which compliment their ghostly complexion. For an hour, the three men got to relive the glory days.
“I’ve had 20 or 30 jobs and that was by far the best job I ever had,” Spatola said.
“It was like a family. We worked together, played together and partied together and had a great time,” Croft said.