We met our friend Peggy Vincent in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the Western Neighborhoods Project had just gotten started. Peggy was toiling against the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the National Park Service to make sure the Giant Camera and Musée Mecanique survived the plan to renovate the Cliff House. She succeeded on the first, with the Giant Camera being place on the National Register of Historic Places, but partly lost on the second, as the Musée was forced to relocate to Fisherman’s Wharf (visit it at Pier 45—it’s still fun). Peggy had launched one of the first Web sites featuring photos of Sutro Baths and Playland, and she would often attend GGNRA public meetings wearing a red-and-white striped shirt and sweater in the style of Playland’s famed cackling automaton, Laffing Sal.
Peggy now lives in Hot Springs, Arkansas, but she’s discovered that she can’t escape Laffing Sal, having stumbled upon a “sister” at the Loco Luna restaurant in Little Rock.
Based on her wardrobe, this Sal is obviously vacationing in Arkansas.
The Philadelphia Toboggan Company created lots of Laffing Sals (and Laffing Sams) for amusement parks across the United States, and Wikipedia has at least 20 known locations where one of the 6’10″ robotic women scared generations of children with her laugh and odd rocking motion.
You can see the Musée’s Laffing Sal in action in one of our SF West History Minutes.
Here’s a great article by Bill Luca at Laff in the Dark on the history of Laffing Sals: My Gal Sal. I should warn you that there are some photos of Sal in a state of undress, exposing some camshafts!
If you know where there are other Laffing Sals (definitely one at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk) let us know!