Z and I have decided to cancel (or rather, postpone once again) our 2008 road trip. The plan was two weeks in the Southwest – Arizona, New Mexico, Grand Canyon, Four Corners, Meteor Crater, etc. Instead we’ll be visiting Astroland at New York’s Coney Island for a week (or so). The trip to New York is too expensive in terms of both gas and time to make it a road trip in 2008. With two full years of anticipation for this grand two week road trip why would we up and cancel it? One word: history.
Here’s a bit of that history, courtesy of Wikipedia-
The original Switchback Railway at Coney Island was the first roller coaster designed as an amusement ride in America. It was designed by LaMarcus Adna Thompson in 1881 and constructed in 1884. It appears that Thompson based his design, at least in part, on the Mauch Chunk Switchback Gravity Railroad which was a coal-mining train that had started carrying passengers as a thrill ride in 1827.
For five cents, riders would climb a tower to board the large bench-like car and were pushed off to coast 600 ft down the track to another tower. The car went just over 6 mph. At the to of the other tower the vehicle was switched to a return track or “switched back” (hence the name.)
This track design was soon replaced with a oval closed-circuit ride designed by Charles Alcoke and called the Serpentine Railway. In 1885 Phillip Hinkle developed a lift system which appeared in his ride called Gravity Pleasure. The Gravity Pleasure also featured cars in which the passengers could face forward instead of in the awkward bench-like seats of the first two roller coasters.
Not to be outdone, in 1886 LaMarcus Adna Thompson patented his design of coasters that included dark tunnels with painted scenery. Thompson built many more roller coasters across the country which were called “The L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway.” Some of these operated until 1954
Fast forward to 1926 and switching sources to The Cyclone page at Astroland’s website we find-
Brothers Jack and Irving Rosenthal commissioned Vernan Keenan to design, and Harry C. Baker to construct, a monumental wooden-tracked twister, which was forced to be exceptionally tight and steep because of the small ground space that was available to them. Construction then began on a site historically significant in the world of roller coasters — the Cyclone occupies the space, which contained the world’s very first roller coaster, LaMarcus A. Thompson’s Switchback Railway, as well as the world’s first successful looping roller coaster, Loop The Loop. With power supplied by the Eisenberg Brothers of Brooklyn, signs from Menheimer and Weiss of New York City, steel from the National Bridge Company, also of New York City, and lumber from Cross, Austin & Ireland, located in Long Island City, the Cyclone quickly became Coney Island’s number one attraction, a status it maintains to this day.
Why the rush to make a pilgrimage to Coney Island,the Cyclone, and the space of the first roller coaster? Because Astroland has been sold to a developer and, the way things look right now, not only will the Cyclone be torn down, but the land that held the first coaster will soon hold condos and or businesses instead. All that will remain is a plaque indicating this historical spot. Z and I are both fans of such plaques, but this will be her first opportunity to have experienced the commemorated item before it’s gone forever.