Rest, relaxation, romance - maybe a ghost or two?
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
Camera acts strange while filming the haunted resort
Video Tour of the Haunted Resort
A classic look at old time resorts
Sister Jean Kettell on July 10, 2019:
So sad I took many classes there and I also vacation there..loved it..meals were grand!!
Joe on September 10, 2016:
I worked at the resort from 1975 to 1983, I loved working and living there. Mrs and Mr Davis, the Johnsons, Joe Judge, Chef Morris, Kaye, Snookie and Mark Condon they all were very good to me. I have some great memories; Walley, Liz, David, Cathy, Bob, Mindy, Greg, Matt, Hogan, Julie and many staff from the pool and dining room. Later Gary and Monica. What a time it was, great summers.
Andrew Cola on November 01, 2015:
I remember Coo Coo driving me in the Amphibacar and being in the wake up band. Also the room with the underwater glass to look in the pool.
peanutroaster (author) from New England on August 05, 2014:
It has been bulldozed.
Lauren Vincent on July 29, 2014:
I loved the Frank Davis resort, it saddens me to see that it is a ghost town..my family vacationed there every summer for years n years.I wish someone would open this place up again.
Ruth on December 20, 2013:
My husband was a chef during the summer on the Frank Davis Resort during the winter months he baked eclairs and double sometimes as the security guard. We lived across the Salmon River from the resort for a short time.
Charles on January 14, 2013:
I was able to find a newspaper article that briefly states that Ted Hilton did kill himself, but there was not too much details.
rfb171 on October 16, 2012:
I was so very saddened to read this article and watch the videos. We took our children to Frank Davis resort for many summers when they were young . It was always a gathering of many friends and relatives who all visited at the same time.
Ironically, my son who is now 35 years old, resides in Moodus CT. (We are from NYC).
Bernie Whitmore on August 05, 2012:
Starting in the late 60s I worked at Frank Davis resort for several summers. Although I worked mostly in the kitchen, I also had the job of turning on the outside lights at each of the cabins each evening. Therefore I have the layout of the entire complex etched into my memory. After reading of its fate I revisited the place. If i was haunted, it was by the memories of the friends I made in those summers.
karen riccitelli on July 21, 2012:
Went to Ted Hiltons and the Frank Davis..from 1963-1968..anyone there then? I was 10-15
peanutroaster (author) from New England on July 29, 2011:
The problem now seems that the state wants someone else to pay for the demo of the buildings. Get those State of Transportation workers over there and git 'er done already.
stephanie on July 24, 2011:
I vacationed there with my family during the summer of my 8th grade year. It would have been around 1964. It was a wonderful place and so much fun. I was sorry it went under
fashionf on July 16, 2011:
Very informative hub.I love this.
TrayBayNY on July 15, 2011:
This is so sad! I loved that place
I had been to Sunrise 5 times from thee late 90's to the early 2000's.
My favorite vacations ever!
Yes, the place was haunted. I felt it then, and watching the video now I feel the same thing.
peanutroaster on July 10, 2011:
When I was at Klar Crest the two brothers who owned the place were not even on speaking terms. One day after brother David bought out Saul, David - who ran the dining room went to open up the table clothes for dinner and they were one of them had a big "F U" written across it.
Mayakins on July 06, 2011:
My mother and father were close friends with the Klars- we went every single summer from about 1970 - 1978....I know that my dad had a huge argument with Dave Klar and then we started going to what was then known as Frank Davis (AKA Sunrise...LOL) I remember Coo Coo and Jocko, and I remember how easy it was as a teenager to just meet kids your own age and hang out with them....so many fun times- I want to go to Sunrise before the summer is over and take a walk down memory lane..:( If its haunted, well- I hope they'll be friendly ghosts. :)
peanutroaster (author) from New England on July 05, 2011:
My first job was life-guarding at Klar Crest. I think I got $60 a week, rainy days off. 1982?
Mayakins on July 05, 2011:
My family spent many summers in Moodus in the 70's when I was a little girl- Klar Crest, and later on Frank Davis later known as Sunrise. :( It makes me horribly sad that this beautiful resort has been allowed to get to this state, Moodus was a beautiful area, I remember everything as if it were yesterday. :(
peanutroaster (author) from New England on June 08, 2011:
I guess the deal isn't set in stone - the state is trying to swap the Sunrise land for land on the CT river. See the links.
peanutroaster (author) from New England on June 02, 2011:
It is sad. Eventually it will work out. Its better than the 86 homes they wanted to build on the property. A few plans have been floated around - state campground (which would be nice) and a water park which doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.
lobonorth on June 02, 2011:
Enjoyable article - it all seems rather sad particularly seeing how useful facilities have been allowed to decay to the point that everything will eventually have to go. Perhaps if more took vacations at home rather than abroad it would keep US dollars in the US in addition to creating employment. What a waste!
peanutroaster (author) from New England on June 02, 2011:
gogogo - I added video. You have to see it to believe it. Not too many ghost towns in CT.
gogogo on June 02, 2011:
Enjoyed your article, never heard of it, but it was interesting