Modern Day Ghost Town - A former "Dirty Dancing" type resort is now haunted by its past?
Rest, relaxation, romance - maybe a ghost or two?Click thumbnail to view full-size
Larry Johnson's Sunrise TV Spot
Dirty Dancing Ghosts?
There was something incredibly eerie about visiting the home of my old summer job. Twenty years ago I life-guarded at the Frank Davis Resort which became Sunrise Resort under the Johnson Family now its an abandoned modern day ghost town.
Back in the 1930s enterprising Hartford taxi driver Ted Hilton decided after driving customers to the sticks each summer that he could start his own resort in the Moodus area. For 92 years this resort was run (under a Ted Hilton's and later as Frank Davis resort and finally as Sunrise Resort). It featured the old time classic resort fare like you'd see in the movie Dirty Dancing - dancing, dining, vaudeville style shows from resort clowns like Coo Coo and Jocko.
Coo Coo the Clown (Roy J. Duka) was sort of the Julie McCoy (Love Boat) of the resort, a master of ceremonies, social director and all around tireless entertainer who basically became the spirit of the resort. He was famous for his off color jokes (often repeated) and blowing cigar smoke filled bubbles. Coo Coo also never seemed to need sleep. He closed down the BYOB nightclub every night with his standup act only to get up early each morning to lead the "wake the dead" band to make sure no one slept through another fun filled day at the resort.
When I was a lifeguard I often performed his canoe safety course with another lifeguard in the pool the night before the big Champagne breakfast on the island trip. Coo Coo from time to time told a cautionary tale from his youth about being in line for the Clarabelle the Clown job on the Howdy Dowdy TV show. Unfortunately after an all night bender he missed the audition. He never drank again. Story goes he stroked out while playing the slot machines at one of the Indian casinos.
Jocko was a newer addition to the clown force and was mainly around to corral the kids and teenagers. He was a former NY fireman and resort goer before he found his calling as a clown. He used to sleep off the champagne breakfasts inside the first aid station at the pool. I'd be assigned the important duty of waking him up before his next event.
This type of resort has been in steady decline with vacationers wanting more sophisticated vacation experiences. Back in the heyday Moodus, CT home of the famous "Moodus Noises", the strange moaning sounds that are heard from time to time, had a handful of resorts catering city slickers looking to escape the heat of the city for a little R & R. Banner Lodge, Cave Hill Camp, Klar Crest and more dotted the rural country side of East Haddam (home of the Goodspeed Opera House) and Moodus Ct. Today only the smaller more manageable sized Cave Hill Resort still operates.
Current plans from the state include a 143 acre state park, named "Sunrise State Park" and maybe a future campground. Back in 1998 Connecticut created the Machimoodus State Park next to the Sunrise Resort. It includes 306 acres and is a nice place to picnic, horseback ride or hike. Here is a map of the parks.
Since purchasing the Sunrise Resort the state has done nothing to the resort area. Grass is knee high, all the doors to all the cabins and buildings are open. The pool sits there full of leaves. The ball field has been invaded by the lawn. Smashed windows in the office and snack bar show evidence of vandals.
Walking around the resort is creepy. The asphalt road and parking area are slowly being reclaimed by nature. Chairs, beds, cups, ping pong tables are exactly where they were left back in 2008, well except for some "poltergeist" activity down on the waterfront where local kids must feel the safest in creating mischief. Dining room chairs are displayed on the roof of the old dining hall and strange things hang from the flagpole.
While touring the place I had spent four summers life guarding, I got the feeling that maybe some zombies or ghouls were peering out at me from the abandoned cabins and motel rooms. I have expected a homeless crack head to burst out of the premium pool side cabana rooms or a ghost to start putting a ball around in the old miniature golf course. The wind kicked up and one of the swings on the playground started to move - creepy!
With no one watching over the resort except for some dog walkers, the potential for arson is great. Already the beautiful Bavarian barn at the front of the property was burned to the ground. This was probably the most significant feature at the resort and it's a shame that some stupid kids burned it. There are three historic buildings on the property near the front of the resort that hopefully have some security cameras on them. The rest of the property is rather dated and in poor shape and needs to be bulldozed before someone gets hurt or starts a fire.
Ed was a lifeguard at the resort for four summers back in the early 80s and hefted enough cushions, cleaned enough toliets and picked up enough cigarette butts to last a lifetime. But what a tan!
The Ghost of Ted Hilton
When I life guarded at Frank Davis/Sunrise there were always rumors circulating among the waitstaff, who changed at the poolside dressing rooms, of the previous owner Ted Hilton and how he committed suicide.
One story has it that he killed himself in the building known as "The Folly"- and that he has been known to walk the grounds of the resort. Others say was that he hung himself in a cabin called "Campbell Hall."
If anyone has a newspaper clipping of the actual story I'd love to see it.
What will happen to the Haddam Land Now?
- Moodus resort: Moodus resort in disrepair after state purchase - Hartford Courant
For decades, the Sunrise Resort was a place where families spent their summer vacations, schoolchildren attended class picnics and locals bought chocolate clairs. Then the state of Connecticut
- Lawmakers Prod Esty, DEP TO Speak Up On Haddam Swap - Courant.com
- Building Key - includes lists of buildings to be demoed and those to be saved
- Site Map of Sunrise
- DEP: Sunrise State Park Seeking Proposals for use of Sunrise
- Roy J "Coo Coo" Duka (1918 - 2003) - Find A Grave Memorial
- The now ghost town of Former Sunrise resort - Hartford Haunted Places | Examiner.com
If you are seeking an experience straight out of the Twilight Zone, head down Route 2 to Moodus Connecticut. Enter the Machimoodus State Park and walk to the
- Fire at fmr. Sunrise Resort ruled arson | wtnh.com
- Remembering Ted Hilton's Hideaway Facebook Page
- Sunrise Closing
- History of Ted Hilton's Hideaway
- Former Sunrise Resort Losing Ground To Forest - Hartford Courant