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Inside the Industry

By: Derek Rochelle

Find this and many other interesting Inside the Industry articles inside of our quarterly Barrel O' Fun™ publication - one of the many benefits that a DAFE member receives.

Mark Cline

In this issue Derek interviews Mark Cline.  Mark has created and operates numerous attractions in Virginia.  And in addition to being a talented artist, designer, and businessman, Mark is a hilarious entertainer, as this interview clearly demonstrates.
Derek Rochelle:  First of all, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself?
Mark Cline:  I was born in Waynesboro, Virginia in 1961. As a young boy, I struggled through school, so I learned how to divert the attentions of my teachers and classmates by becoming the class clown. I learned to imitate several of the characters that were on daytime TV at the time when I pretended to be sick and stay home from school. When I did attend school, I allowed more of Barney Fife, Mr. Haney, Jed Clampett, and various other TV characters to take the place of the struggling student Mark Cline. After all, those characters got big laughs. I figured I could do the same. And I did.  Before long, teachers would ask me to go up to the blackboard just to see how I would get out of working out a problem by acting like Mr. Kimble.  The truth was, I really didn’t know how to solve the problem anyway. Part of the challenge of being an entertainer at such a young age was obtaining props. I couldn’t afford a derby to act like Stan Laurel so I started observing everyday objects. My mom’s round mixing bowl with a cardboard rim taped on and spray painted black guaranteed another fine mess my creativity got me into; especially with my mom.

DR:  How did you get your start in the amusement attraction industry?
MC:  After barely graduating from Waynesboro High School in 1979 wearing the Groucho Marx nose and glasses, I found myself without the built-in audience I became comfortable with over the past 12 years in school. I was hardly college or military material, but had no problem becoming a construction worker, janitor, and factory worker in my industrial hometown. I had become a citizen of the real world. Mark ClineAs fate would have it, I found myself between jobs one summer. As I was living as a bum in Gypsy Hill Park in Staunton, Virginia, I kept a daily journal. Writing in it was a form of soul searching for me. I wanted to discover what it was I really wanted out of life. The answer is actually quite fundamental. I wanted what every living creature wants; happiness. Then I asked myself, “What is it that truly generates happiness in a soul?” The answer became very clear to me as if a neon billboard was flashing it right in front of my eyes. The road to true self happiness is in the ability to spread happiness to others. Realizing a bum could do very little to actually spread happiness, I concluded in my journal that I needed to find a job. Within an hour, I’d walked into the Waynesboro employment office to fill out an application. They said there was nothing available. I was on my way out the door, with my hand on the doorknob and a lady on the phone said, “Wait, we have something!” I said, “I’ll take it.” It was at a local plant called Red Mill Manufacturing, where they made figurines out of resin and fiberglass. Fate had just opened my door to an incredible future. It all started with the thought of making others happy.

DR:  I understand that you have designed several themed attractions.  What have been your favorite projects and why?  DAFE is looking forward to visiting some of your attractions in Virginia this spring.  Tell us about your properties in Natural Bridge and Virginia Beach.
MC:  My first attraction was the original Monster Museum at Natural Bridge built in 1982. It was an incredible leap of faith considering the country was suffering a severe recession at the time, but I was too bullheaded or naïve to notice. Luckily, the World’s Exhibition in Knoxville, Tennessee was going on that very year and I benefited from a lot of excess traffic detouring to Natural Bridge. Natural Bridge is a natural attraction which was 3 miles down the road from me. It is a 215 foot stone arch which tourists have been visiting since before Thomas Jefferson purchased it in the 1700s. I would have to say my favorite attraction was Professor Cline’s Time Machine at Virginia Beach. I can’t remember exactly when we built it, but I think it existed 1997-2004.
Jim Johnson had taken over the old wax museum on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and 16th Street and had run it for many years before asking me if I had any ideas in converting the former movie theater into something new. I’d given it much thought, and when the inspiration finally came, I was sitting at home on the toilet taking a crap. The whole vision of the time machine came to my mind as I was doing my business. I was so excited, I called Jim right then and there and explained it all to him. He listened diligently as we discussed the idea for about thirty minutes. By the time we were done, the toilet seat had left a red ring around my buttocks and I’m not exactly sure if I remembered to wipe. There was nothing like the Time Machine, which Jim named after me. Thus, “Professor Cline” was born.  Professor Cline’s Time Machine was reworked as the current Cap’n Cline’s Pirate Adventure Ride, which is in operation today.

DR:  I have been exploring your Web site,, and I am very impressed and intrigued by the diversity of your talent.  You seem like an all-around entertainer.  I noticed that you enjoy  portraying various characters.  Tell us a little about that.
MC:  As far as the characters I portray, they were born out of the desperation I chatted about earlier. At first my characters needed props. My characters now are the props. I’ve gotten so good at it; I can create the illusion of just about anyone I want you to see. It takes confidence, the power of suggestion, studying the mannerisms of each character, and in some cases, proper lighting (a little bit of alcohol in the customer and doesn’t hurt either). By the way, if it sounds like I’m bragging, Will Rogers once said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.”

DR:  I noticed that you also have quite a "healthy" sense of humor.  Tell us about some of the wild April Fools pranks you've played.
MC:  April Fool’s Day provides any entertainer who’s worth his weight in humor a glorious opportunity to exercise his talents. First off, it’s about making people laugh, presenting a sense of awe, and hopefully, stirring up a little bit of inspiration. My April Fool’s pranks can be quite elaborate and costly, like building a full size replica of Stonehenge out of foam (Foamhenge) or filling a small town full of life-sized dinosaurs and calling it “The Town Time Forgot”. Or it can be as cheaply done as taking my Batman and Spiderman statues out of storage, and strategically placing them on tall buildings overlooking a town. Also a cheap and effective April Fool’s joke was taking several of the 8-foot satellite dishes, placing one on top the other, adding legs on the bottom and a sphere on top, and turning them into flying saucers. By placing them throughout fields of rolling hills, I created an instant alien invasion. That was the year 2001. I tied that into my title and called it “2001; A Space Oddity”. Not only is creating April Fool’s pranks fun, it is also an excellent way to publicize your business by keeping your name floating out there. It’s always good to have your work on the tip of everyone’s tongue, especially when smiles follow.

DR:  I read about your awesome Ghost Tours.  Tell us a little about them.  What sets them apart from other tours?
MC:  I started the Ghost Tour of Lexington about 13 or 14 years ago. Lexington, Virginia is the perfect Victorian town for such a tour. It’s very rich in Civil War history. We retrace many of the steps of Robert E. Lee plus go directly to the burial place of Stonewall Jackson in the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery. I try to employ entertainers rather than guides. Most other tours have guides. We are a different kind of ghost tour because as far as I know, we’re the only ones who create certain illusions that make you feel as if spirits are on the tour with you. This is done through the power of suggestion, the willingness to believe, and confidence of our “guides” to pull it off. It is my intention to have everyone who does my tour leave with a sense of wonder and perhaps, a lesson about he value of life. We present a psychological lesson, but don’t want our customers to be aware of it.
DR:  I heard that you are quite a talented fiberglass artisan.  What have been your favorite projects?  I hear you might have some Bill Tracy molds?
MC:  I’m not in possession of any Bill Tracey molds; however, I did acquire hundreds of George Mahannah’s old molds. George is long considered the father of the modern haunted house attractions. I met him in 1982 when he and his brother stopped in my original Monster Museum in Natural Bridge on their way back from doing an installation in Tennessee. He really wanted me to go to work for him back then, but I had my own adventure to create. Years later, after the tragic Six Flags Great Adventure fire in New Jersey, investigators decided to blame George for the deaths of all those people. I came to understand that he all but walked away from the business and fell into a great depression. He’d left all his molds in some small storage buildings just outside the theme park. After designing Six Flags’ haunted hay ride in ’97 and ’98, I stumbled upon the owners of the storage buildings who said they had kept the molds all those years. Many times they were tempted to throw them out, but decided they were probably worth something to someone, and decided to hold onto them. They said I could have them all if I cleaned out the buildings. I had an empty trailer which I promptly loaded and returned to Virginia. Some of the molds were destroyed in a fire in 2001, but miraculously, most of them survived. I’ve poured several of them and mainly used them as the décor on my haunted monster museum. I could’ve easily have done my own but George’s style is so unique and extraordinary, I found it to be a perfect accent to my already perfectly dilapidated stone mansion, not to mention, a way of keeping the work alive.
DR:  When you aren't "at the office", what do you like to do?
MC:  When I’m not at the office (my office is just about everywhere I go because it mainly exists between the walls of my skull), I’m a family man. I have two daughters, one 14 and one 9, and they’re the loves of my life. My wife Sherry is a good mom and wife, though I have to constantly remind her that she is. When we catch a break, we like to go to exotic or romantic places, and get as far away from the daily routine as possible. Don’t get me wrong, my daily routine of building dragons, gingerbread houses, two-headed pirates, etc. never gets old or dull, but sometimes I find it necessary to distance myself from that world. That’s just to make sure I have some sense of regulating may sanity. Balance is good.

DR:  What are your favorite amusement parks, and why?  And what other rides and attractions out there have impressed you, and why?  Do you have any favorite darkrides or funhouses?
MC:  We all have fond memories at being at the theme park when we were kids, and I’m no exception. However, the most scared I have ever been at one was not on a thrill ride, but the day in the early 80’s when I found myself in Williamsburg near Busch Gardens. I had no money to get in, but that proved to be no obstacle. After observing the perimeter I noticed a low spot that I could sneak in over the fence where no one would see me. Once clearing the fence I followed the creek hoping it would lead me into the park. In the distance I saw the Loch Ness Monster, knowing it crossed the creek several times, so I figured I was on the right track. That’s about the time I saw the “guard dogs.” I thought they were German Shepherds at first, so I hauled ass back to the fence and damn-near jumped over it like the 6 Million Dollar Man. Not to be deterred, I found another way into the park, near the train track. I waited until the train went by and ran up to the back of it and boarded it. I pretended I was a train robber in front of the real park patrons whom were also on the train. They all thought it was part of the act and I rode my way back to the station. I spent the rest of the day taking advantage of all the park had to offer on my “free” ticket. As I was leaving the park, I walked across a bridge, I looked down and saw the same dogs, but the sign reading “Timber wolves” caught my attention and made me realize those weren’t German Shepherds at all. In 1979, I was filming an 8 millimeter movie called Superboy. We filmed a lot up in Pennsylvania near Three Mile Island. My brother and I snuck into Hersheypark to film some flying sequences. We boarded a sky lift where I proceeded to remove my shirt, revealing the top section of my Superboy outfit. I leaned halfway out the car and my brother positioned the camera to make it appear as if I was flying over the treetops. One of these days I should send Busch Gardens and Hersheypark restitution. These days I enjoy theme parks with my family just like a regular family man. When I’m with my family, I try hard not to blend it with business or puke them. As much as I’d like it, I can’t take the rides like I used to. As far as the attractions I really enjoy, I would have to say I prefer the smaller ones. The ones you know were heavy on imagination and low on money. I have a great appreciation for what can be accomplished through ingenuity and passion. A great example of this is my friend Jim Moorefield’s place in Mount Carrole, Illinois called Raven Grin Inn. His place is so wacky it inspired the Chevy Chase, Dan Ackroyd movie Nothin’ But Trouble. My biggest inspiration as far as the Darkride/Funhouse business had to have been Hersheypark’s Golden Nugget, Dark Ride, the Millchute water ride, and the old style funhouse. The funhouse was complete with moving floors, spinning bowls, saucers, and tunnels, which today would be considered an insurance nightmare. Hey, but what are a few cracked ribs when you’re having so much fun? The Golden Nugget was the classic old style haunted ride. The Indian holding a knife popped up by an air cylinder at the end of the ride nearly caused me to leave with a load in my pants almost every time. At one point during the ride, the cars burst through some doors to the outside and ran along a straight stretch on a balcony before taking a sharp right and going back through another set of doors back into the building. Once as I was in one of the cars by myself on the balcony, I jumped out and slid down the pole to the pavement below. I can only imagine how freaked out the ride operator was when the empty car returned. I distinctly remember the Millchute (which was a prelude to very popular log flume rides that came years later) had a display of a cannibal dunking two white missionaries into separate vats. My, how times have changed. On both rides, the bad guys were either black or American Indians.

DR:  And finally, what scares Mark Cline?
MC:  As far as what scares me, I would have to say, besides big government, and religion, getting a real job absolutely terrifies me.

DR:  Thanks, Mark!