One of the strangest vintage items from those old time amusement parks were those strange coin operated fortune telling machines. They always had a creepy feel to them, and their dark and mysterious nature seemed to make them very appealing to many persons. Today, these are very high priced collectors items, sometimes worth thousands of dollars for excellent condition and vintage older versions with wood cabinets, especially from the 1940’s and 50’s. Although, not really part of the genuine occult arts because these items were a mere novelty that simply dispensed generic “fortunes” at random, the strangeness of these machines seems to have forever a mysterious nature surrounding them, always seeming like a strange journey into some dark corner of the unknown.
Some of the most popular of these vintage fortune telling machines are now so valuable, that one story is that magician David Copperfield once offered $2 million dollars for just one classic machine. In some cases, a Gypsy woman would appear to breathe in and out, in some early automated machines, and hands may appear to crudely shuffle some cards, before a fortune drops down the slot to the person who inserted a nickel into the machine. Part of the marvel of these machines was that they were some of the first examples of an animatronic device, that attempted to appear human, although most of the machines were very crude, but interesting early uses of technology long before Disneyland and other amusement parks carried animatronics to a whole higher level of perfection.
Zoltar, Zoltan and Esmeralda were some of the more popular machines that were once in circulation. Many early machines only charged a mere penny, hence the term, penny arcade. But, with inflation, that steadily grew to five cents, a dime and then a quarter dollar in more recent times. Some vintage machines still exist as a novelty. One old time amusement park in North Portland, Oregon, Jantzen Beach, was torn down to make way for a shopping center years ago. But, the old time fortune telling machine and the merry go round carousal were saved in one area to keep the historic feeling in the shopping mall. At one time, the park once featured a very good roller coaster as well. But, with age, and likely increased safety concerns for some of the older rides, which probably only needed increased repairs as they aged, Jantzen Beach was torn down. Only Oaks Park continues as an active amusement park in Portland, Oregon, weathering many years of a tough financial climate as amusement parks grew out of favor with many persons, replaced by other entertainment distractions.
The dark and creepy nature of these unusual entertainment devices will forever make a classic item, even though it was only a machine, meant for pure amusement, there always seemed to be something very mysterious about these old penny arcade devices.