Strange-but-true coaster factoids
If you thought modern coasters were a bit strange, check out their history. It's downright bizarre.
- Roller coasters descended from icy ramps used in Russia in 1610. Naturally enough, they only worked in winter. Credit Empress Catherine the Great for wheeled coasters -- she wanted to go coasting in summer, and her courtiers wanted nothing more than to oblige.
We aren't afraid of anything as long as we're sitting behind our computers...
- The first powered ride was built in an abandoned coal mine in a town now called Jim Thorpe, Pa. The miners had been making their lives easy (relatively speaking) by riding down the mountain in coal cars, so there was a ready-made 18-mile excursion ride, complete with hills and valleys, available when the mine closed in 1873. The car reached 60 mph, and despite the absence of lap bars or seat belts, no one was injured (or so they claim) by the time the ride closed in 1938.
- In 1884, the first "modern" coaster was built at Coney Island, N.Y. Track connected two wooden towers, 45 feet tall and 450 feet apart, and a single 10-passenger car rolled between them.
- Some of the popularity of roller coasters owes to trolley-car companies, which, to boost weekend ridership, built amusement parks like Coney Island at the end of their lines.
- The Crystal Beach (Ontario) Cyclone, built in 1927, is considered the most terrifying coaster ever built. "As riders shot down the first 97-foot drop of the Cyclone, the track veered 85 degrees to the right, causing riders to lose hats, purses, and false teeth." (That's according to a wonderful history of coasters: see "Designing the ultimate..." in the bibliography).
- Back in the '20s, a reputation as a killer coaster didn't hurt at the ticket booth. But these days, you certainly don't want your ride to be called a deathtrap (see "Killer Rides" in the bibliography).
- If you're into flood damage, a Japanese theme park in Nagasaki has recreated a Dutch town being inundated by the North Sea -- all in good fun, presumably. Two million visitors a year get to see a faux lightning storm and a phony flood, courtesy of major electric circuits and some jumbo plumbing. What's next? A re-play of the 1993 flood on the Mississippi River? (OK, it's not a roller coaster, but it's still an amusement park, and it seemed too strange to ignore -- see "Input/Output: Lights. Camera. Deluge" in the bibliography!).
(Glossary | Bibliography)