Friday, October 28, 2011

Coney Island's Cyclone, the fastest of all New York City Landmarks

This is the view from the front seat of the most terrifying roller coaster in the world, The Cyclone. Opening in 1927 at a cost of $175,000, the ride known as a "compact twister chain lift launch" roller coaster reaches a top speed of 60 miles per hour and lasts just under 2 minutes.  The picture shows what you would see if you kept your eyes open as you approached the first drop, an 85 foot 60 degree drop at that. As the train moves up the hill, an overwhelming sense of doom and awareness of this ride's age over takes you. If you are in first car, as you start to go over the top of the hill, the back of the train is still connected to the chain. This gives you a feeling of just hanging there 85 feet above the ground; This is why I have only one picture of this; the need to hold on to something outweighed the need to take pictures. I took this with a disposable camera on Friday August 1, 1997 (I just happen to remember that date as an article about Movie Place appeared that day on the front page of the New York Times). Not the first roller coaster in the world, not even the oldest. It is however, one of the greatest roller coasters ever built and it is fitting that it is in Brooklyn - the birthplace of the "Switchback Railway" which is the grandfather of all roller coasters.

All though there were earlier experiment with gravity powered rides in 15th century Russia called "Russian Mountains" and built under the orders of Russia's very own Catherine the Great in the Gardens of Oranienbaum in Saint Petersburg, a primitive roller coaster opened in 1784.  Some believe that the roller coaster was given to the world by the French. The Les Montagnes Russes à Belleville (The Russian Mountains of Belleville) constructed in Paris in 1812.

 Thompson's Switch Back Railway, Coney Island Brooklyn, 1884


In 1827, a mining company in Pennsylvania constructed what became known as a "gravity railroad", an 8.7 mile downhill track used to deliver coal. By the 1850s, the "Gravity Road" (as it became known) was providing rides to thrill-seekers for the outrageous price of 50 cents a ride. Using this idea as a basis, LaMarcus Adna Thompson began work on a gravity powered "Switch Back Railway" that opened at Coney Island, New York in 1884.  Riders had to climb to the top of a platform and rode a bench-like car down the 600 ft track up to the top of another tower where the vehicle was switched to a return track and the passengers took the return trip.  This track design was soon replaced with an oval complete circuit.  In 1885, another coaster pioneer Phillip Hinkle came along and introduced the closed-circuit coaster with a what is called in the industry a "lift Hill", called the Gravity Pleasure Road, which was soon the most popular attraction at Coney Island.  Not to be outdone, in 1886 LaMarcus Adna Thompson patented his design of roller coaster that included dark tunnels with painted scenery.  Called"Scenic Railways", these rides were to be found in amusement parks across the county from then on.

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