Coney Island - Independent Rides

The material is copyrighted © 1997 by Jeffrey Stanton.

Throughout the decades Coney Island has offered the public innumerable rides and attractions to entertain them. While some of the first were just steam operated carousels and the forerunners of the roller coaster, mere primitive switchback railroads, soon clever inventors rented empty plots of sand along popular streets to install their latest creations. These rides, carried passengers high into the air, spun them around in moving tubs, carried them into dark scenic tunnels, scared them on roller coaster's steep drops, made them laugh in walk-thru fun houses, and bumped and jostled them in steerable Dodgem' cars. It was cheap fun and simple entertainment for people of all ages. The rides were everywhere and most charged only a nickel or a dime.

People, who have read articles about the establishment at the turn of the century of Coney Island's three great amusement parks, Steeplechase, Luna Park and Dreamland, assume that nearly all of the area's rides and attractions were located within. They are mistaken. The acreage that the three parks occupied in what was considered the amusement area between West 5th to West 18th Streets, and from the Beach to perhaps a block north of Surf Avenue, was at the most about 20-25% of the land; much less after Dreamland burned in 1911. Granted many of the lots were occupied by bathhouses, small hotels, beer halls, restaurants and other assorted businesses, but there was plenty of room for more than a half dozen roller coasters and the numerous other rides that were clustered along Surf Avenue, the Bowery and side streets leading to the beach. These smaller rides are hard to chronicle because except for the carousels and Skooter rides, they didn't need a permanent structure. Most were transitory and often owned by different people from season to season. Operators erected them on a rented lot in the spring and dismantled them at the end of the season. Sometimes they remained in the same location for years, but when they lost their popularity they were replaced by a newer more exciting and novel rides.

Perhaps the biggest reason for their success outside of the three enclosed established parks was the sheer number of potential customers that came to the seashore on a busy summer weekend. Two hundred thousand people came to Coney on weekends in 1905; 600,000 by 1915, and over a million after the subway arrived in 1920. Most renting a bathing suit at a bathhouse went to the beach part of the day, then afterwards tried their favorite roller coaster or other ride. Others frequented the amusement parks which each attracted a different clientele.

Luna Park had the most to offer and was more than twice as large as its competition. While it only cost a dime to enter the park and enjoy the free shows, rides were extra. Its managers always tried to obtain the best and most innovative rides with lots of variety and thrills. Dreamland too, charged for individual rides, but most of its attractions were shows or scenic boat rides within buildings. Only its Chutes, Aerial Circle Swing, L.A. Thompson Scenic Railroad, and perhaps Coasting Through Switzerland could be considered thrill rides. Steeplechase was different because it offered a one-price combination ticket for all its attractions. But except for its Ferris Wheel, Steeplechase Horses, one roller coaster, a Racing Derby and later a Bobsled coaster and a Parachute ride, most of its attractions were of the fun house variety and housed in a huge weather proof glass and steel Fun Pavilion.


During the period from 1875 to 1900 when life was more genteel than after the turn of the century, carousels were the dominant form of amusement ride. William Vandeveer, who owned several flourishing bathhouses, bought Charles Looff's first carousel in 1875 for his Balmer's Bathing Pavilion located on the beach at the foot of Ocean Parkway. Five years later when Charles Feltman's restaurant business began to flourish, he built a cupolaed octagonal building adjacent to his Pavilion and installed Looff's second menagerie machine at Coney Island. Both of the Looff machines had stationary horses. Then sometime in the 1890's F.E. Bostock imported a Fredrick Savage English carousel. It featured jumping horses and it rotated clockwise, English style.

Many of the carousels installed after the turn of the century were supplied by the Mangels and Illions partnership. They worked from a nearby factory where Illions carved the animals and Mangels built the mechanical framework and power train. Their first endeavor, sold to Charles Feltman in 1903, was lavish. The carved horses had stately, powerful poses, and rich, bejeweled trappings gleaming with gold leaf and intense colors. The collaborated again for a machine at Kister's Restaurant on Surf Avenue and another in 1908 for the lobby of the Hotel Eleanor at Stubbman's Beer Garden. A year later, to celebrate his independence from Mangels, Illions refurbished the later carousel's outer row of horses with ones featuring explosive flying manes and powerful straining bodies.

While there were other independent carousels at Coney Island, perhaps the most beautiful and spectacular was the El Dorado, a German manufactured machine installed in the old Johnstown Flood Building at Surf Avenue and West 5th near Dreamland's entrance. It was build by Hugo Hasse of Leipzig Germany and imported by John Jurgens in 1910 at a cost of $150,000. He had to pay more than $30,000 in customs fees. It was installed in a Pavilion with 6000 lamps and a gigantic band organ. The menagerie machine contained three platforms, arranged in ascending tiers, each revolving at different speeds. Its crown-like canopy rose to a height of 42 feet. It featured horses, pigs and other barnyard animals. It barely survived the 1911 Dreamland fire where the heat was so intense that the animal's paint blistered. George Tilyou salvaged it and placed it within his glass enclosed Pavilion of Fun the following year.

The El Dorado Carousel was a three-tiered machine. Each platform rotated at different speeds.

Carousels soon became prolific around Coney Island. George Carmel built a few but Illions built the most, more than a dozen of them, in the 1920's alone. One was located in the Bobs Amusement Department Store on the Bowery at Stillwell. Others were at the Prospect Hotel and on Surf Avenue at W 5th and on Surf Avenue across from Steeplechase. After the Depression began and operators could afford new machines, Illions went bankrupt and closed his factory. Still during the Depression, when rides were a nickel, thirteen were operating at Coney Island. Today only one carousel remains at Coney Island, the B & B merry-go-round. The George Carmel / Murphy & Nunnally machine has been operating on Surf Avenue and W. 10th Street since it was moved there in 1932.

Roller Coasters - 1884 - 1907

The world's first roller coaster, an invention of La Marcus Thompson, debuted at Coney Island on June 13, 1884. Passengers rode a train on undulating tracks over a wooden structure 600 feet long. The train started at a height of 50 feet on one end and ran downhill by gravity until its momentum died. Passengers then left the train and attendants pushed the car over a switch to a higher level. The passengers returned to their sideways facing seats and rode back to the original starting point. Admission on the tame Thompson Switchback Railway was five cents and Thompson grossed an average of $600 / day.

Improvements to the roller coaster came rapidly. The following year Alcoke tied the track together at the ends to enable passengers to return to their starting point without the need to disembark while the car was placed on the return track. Alcoke's Serpentine Railroad was slow and took several minutes to complete its circuit.

Another important advance was made at Coney Island in 1885 by Philip Hinkle. He was the first to use a hoist to pull the cars to the top of a precipitous hill. The higher hill meant faster speeds. It was the first to offer forward facing passengers thrills with mild undulations instead of a tour of the countryside.

La Marcus Thompson returned to Coney Island in 1887 after perfecting his Scenic Railroad at Atlantic City, New Jersey. He added tunnels, caves and a grotto which featured illuminated scenes. Steam powered his lift hill. The ride was especially popular with young couples could sneak a quick embrace and sometimes a kiss in the darkened tunnels.

The LA Thompson Switchback Railway

Thompson built other scenic railways, one for George Tilyou at Steeplechase Park, and another in 1901 on Surf Avenue near what would become Luna Park's entrance. His Oriental Scenic Railway featured exotic Asian scenery in its tunnels. Although the ride was considered old fashioned, it achieved renewed popularity after 1924 due to its proximity to Luna's more thrilling Mile Sky Chaser which always had long lines.

Looping roller coasters, considered a daredevil ride to the throngs of spectators, debuted at Coney Island in 1895. Lina Beecher's wooden Flip Flap at Sea Lion Park was the first, but the most dangerous. Two passenger cars, descending from a high lift hill, flipped passengers upside down through a small 25 foot diameter circular loop. Its flaw was that its high G-forces sometimes whiplashed, even snapped passenger's necks. Besides it never made much money since park visitors were too timid to ride the contraption. By 1901 when the rival Loop the Loop steel coaster opened on Surf Avenue at West 10th Street, inventor Edward Prescott solved the problem. His use of an elliptical loop eliminated the strains on passengers's necks. However, despite charging admission to watch, it too wasn't successful in generating much revenue because it could only carry four passengers every five minutes.

During the next half dozen years small roller coasters began to spring up on numerous vacant lots along Surf Avenue and The Bowery. Rocky Road to Dublin on Surf Avenue between W. 5th & 8th Streets and Rough Riders on the Bowery at Jones Walk were both 3rd Rail electric powered coasters. A motorman could apply power both uphill and downhill but had to be careful when rounding turns. One reckless operator in 1910 drove the Rough Rider's coaster train too fast on a turn one night and pitched 16 people in two cars from the top of a 60 foot peak. Incredibly only four of them died.

Thompson in 1906 built a scenic railroad on Surf Avenue east of Dreamland called Pikes Peak Railroad. It burned in the Dreamland fire. Another scenic railroad, but entirely indoors, was the Deep Rift Coal Mine Scenic Railroad located next to Luna's entrance on Surf Avenue. Passengers rode in coal mine cars and slowly descended from the lift hill in this gravity ride. The cars passed illuminated life size figures of miners, work animals and machinery that showed the operation of the mine. It debuted in 1906 but was removed the following year when Luna's Surf Avenue entrance was enlarged.

Probably the Cannon Coaster built in 1902 at Henderson's Walk and the Boardwalk was the most steeped in legend. Its designers originally attempted to have the cars leap over a gap in the tracks. At its apex it entered the breech of a large wooden cannon and as it passed through its bore, it accelerated downward. As the train shot out of the cannon's mouth it was supposed to leap a gap in the tracks. They tested the idea with sandbags instead of people, but it didn't work because variations in the passenger's weight or uneven loads sometimes caused crashes. They filled in the gap in this boring ride, but it still drew crowds because stories still circulated of innumerable casualties during its gap-in-the-track test runs.

Towers & Ferris Wheels

Attractions that offered visitors panoramic views of Coney Island were popular at or before the turn of the century. Andrew Culver in 1877 bought the 300 foot tall Iron Tower from the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and erected in at Coney Island inland from his Iron Pier. It had two steam elevators to whisk tourists to the top where they could use a telescope to see 40 miles out to sea.

In 1893 when George Tilyou gazed at the newly invented 250 foot diameter Ferris Wheel at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, he knew he had to purchase it. He watched visitors jaws drop and eyes pop as they stared at the enormous wheel with its 36 cars, each accommodating 60 passengers. The huge wheel, and invention of a mechanical engineering graduate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, offered people high panoramic views of the fair as it slowly rotated. Unfortunately this money maker had already been sold to the promoter of the St Louis World's Fair to be held in 1904.

George borrowed money and purchased a smaller half sized 125 foot diameter wheel from the Pennsylvania Steel Company, with 12 cars each holding 18 passengers. When he returned from Chicago he leased a plot of land at the Bowery and W. 5th?? Street near the Iron Tower and erected a sign that read "On This Site Will Be Erected the World's Largest Ferris Wheel." On the strength of this "whopper", George was able to sell enough concession space around the wheel to pay for its delivery during the spring of 1884. Once it was erected and covered with hundreds of incandescent lights, it immediately became the biggest attraction at Coney Island.

The Wonder Wheel was unique because the cars slid from the inner wheel to the outer wheel and back. - 1930's

While Ferris Wheels have always been popular, one of the most innovative was the Wonder Wheel invented by Charles Herman and erected by Herman Garms in 1920. Its unusual design incorporated sections of curved tracks connecting the 135 feet diameter outer wheel and a smaller inner wheel. When the wheel revolved, the tracks inclined and the 16 suspended cars, each seating four people, rolled back and forth between the two wheels. There were also eight stationary cars. The ride length was two revolutions, and counting the loading and unloading of passengers it took seven minutes. After the elder Herman died in 1935, his son Fred operated it until 1983 when it was sold to Denos Vourderis. It still operates today just off the boardwalk at Astroland.

Water Rides

The second biggest attraction at Coney Island at the turn of the century was Sea Lion's Shoot-the-Chutes toboggan water slide that debuted in 1895. A carefully contoured curved lip at the bottom of the slide shoot the down rushing craft high into the air so that it performed a series of skips and hops across the lagoon. It was a thrilling climax since the boat's impacts heaved passengers from their seats and immediately thumped them down again. Its success inspired other rides. S.E. Jackman built a ride called Shooting the Rapids which he installed behind the Iron Tower in 1898. It was a combination of coaster and chute that after rolling through dips and curves, slid into a small pool. It was never popular because it lacked any thrill.

While Luna Park found success with its more exciting Mountain Torrent it wasn't until 1920 that an independent operator would try again with a water flume ride called Riding the Rapids. It was located on the Bowery at Stratton's Walk. A more successful and popular ride in the mid-1930's was the Chutes (Mill Chutes??) on Surf Avenue adjoining the Wildcat roller coaster. Passengers enjoyed a two minute ride in the dark before their boat went up a ramp. It then plunged down a short 20 foot high slide.

Old Mill boat rides at the turn of the century were very popular especially with young couples. While a slow boat ride through a tunnel past exotic scenery on a simulated river flowing at 1-2 MPH sounds boring, it was one of the few places in those uptight post Victorian times where a couple riding in a two passenger boat, could experience intimacy and sneak a quick kiss away from their parent's or chaperons's prying eyes. The Old Mill, invented by George W. Schofield in 1902, was a vast improvement upon earlier rides with its use of a large paddle wheel, instead of banks of propellers along the course to keep the water flowing. Schofield also added dark tunnels with weird scenery calculated to startle the riders in the boats as they slowly drifted by. The ride later became known as Tunnels of Love.

Occasionally the Coney Island entrepreneurs appealed too directly to the spooning (petting) instinct of their customers. One such case involved a gravity cart ride through a darkened tunnel. To stimulate interest, the owner named the ride the Love Nest and installed a rather graphic yet heroic paper-mache sculpture called the Fallen Angel at its entrance. It depicted three nude girls, tinted pink in the Raphael manner. One girl lay on the ground, indicating her fall from grace, while her companions gazed down with pity. The ride did fantastic business until the police, who had rather parochial taste in art, insisted that the angels be clothed. Business quickly dwindled for this rather boring dark ride.

Dreamland Site - After 1911 fire

After Dreamland burned in 1911, Samuel Gumpertz attempted to lease the land to rebuild. The owners were intent on selling most of the property to the city so Gumpertz only managed to lease a strip 300 feet deep along Surf Avenue. There he set up his Dreamland Circus Sideshow, Karlo's Wild West Show, and Omar Sami's Seven-in-one freak show. Captain Ferarri and Jack Bonavita ran a Wild Animal show featuring their surviving seven lions and their newly born three cubs. They also showcased a stable of performing ponies. In 1916 Gumpertz would add the Eden Musee wax show and still later in 1920, a wax exhibit featuring the New York Underworld.

The large area also accommodated a number of independent rides. Johnson, who lost his carousel in the fire, bought a new carousel built by E.C. Smith and set it up there. A Tickler, Turkey Trot, and Phantom Cascade also were set up during the 1912 season. The later was a variation of the Old Mill ride.

Roller Coasters - Middle Years 1907-1921

Roller coaster design progressed rapidly as designers patented safety innovations that would enable cars to survive steep drops and subsequent higher speeds without jumping the track or ejecting passengers from their seats to their early deaths. The lap bar prevented passengers from falling out of the cars, the under-wheel prevented the trains from leaving the tracks during periods of negative G's as they rounded tops of hills, and the ratchet chain prevented cars from slipping backwards while going up the lift hill if power failed.

When Chris Feucht built his Drop the Dips coaster on the Bowery at W. 15th Street in 1907, it created a sensation. It had four passenger toboggan like cars and some of the steepest drops of a coaster to that date. It opened on June 6, 1907 but only lasted 31 days when it burned when the Steeplechase fire consumed part of the Bowery. Since Feucht felt that his first design was too conservative, he added scarier features when he rebuilt the ride. The result was long lines of paying customers and many requesting re-rides. It was considered the first modern high-speed roller coaster and Feucht invented the lap bar to keep passengers from flying out of his cars. It was best remembered for its savage hills and turns.

It may be hard to believe, but Feucht in 1915 within a 24 hour period moved his ride across the street to avoid a rent raise. The coaster was moved again in January 1924 by Jarvis and 100 workers to make way for the widening of the Bowery to improve fire fighting access there.

Other less thrilling roller coasters that opened during the 1907 and 1908 seasons were the Ben Hur Race, a third rail electric?? on Surf Avenue, the Red Devil Rider on the Bowery and Ziz Mile Minute at Feltman's. The Ziz ran through a grove of trees on the Feltman property, but with few drops it wasn't very exciting nor popular.

View looking west from Dreamland towards Steeplechase shows many of Coney Island's roller coasters. - 1910

Jackman built his Great Whirlwind ride on Surf Avenue opposite the Culver Depot in 1910. After it burned during the Dreamland fire, he built a better one called Jackman's Thriller on the Bowery south of Thompson's Walk.

During the spring of 1911 Jarvis was busy constructing the Giant Racer, a steel racing coaster, on Surf Avenue and W. End Street when the adjacent Dreamland fire consumed the park. Fortunately his coaster was unfinished and mostly steel so that its only damage was to railroad ties placed to anchor the track. The 900 foot long, two tracked marvel cost $180,000 to build. Since it didn't quite front on Surf Avenue, the owner decided to move it in 1915. It was placed on rollers and its entrance was moved 70 feet closer to Surf Avenue. Revenue increased $3,700 the year after the move. The coaster lasted until 1926 with only one major accident. That occurred the first summer when the train left the tracks on a curve 50 feet above Surf Avenue. Two woman were killed.

One final roller coaster was built in 1921 prior to the Golden Age of Coasters. It was the Big Dipper and it stood on the site of Thompson's Switchback Railroad just east of the Giant Racer. New owners renamed it the Wildcat in 1934 and the christened it the Comet the following year.

Automobile, Water Skooter & Horse Racing Style Rides

During the dawn of the automobile age everyone had an intense desire to ride in one, even drive one if they could. Since it was an expensive rich man's toy during the century's first decade, inventors sought to fulfill the demand with ingenious amusement rides. One of the first attractions in 1906 was Neville's Automobile Railroad at Henderson Walk and the Bowery. It was a roller coaster in which passengers rode in imitation automobiles along an undulating track. Like a roller coaster it was a gravity ride and the cars were automatically steered by a central guide rail.

While automobiles were too expensive to chance collisions with novice drivers, other entrepreneurs sought to thrill automobile riders by offering them the experience of narrow escapes from accidents. One of the most ambitious attempt was by A.G Reynolds who first experimented with his Auto Maze ride at Ocean Park, California in 1912. After his ride burned during Fraser's Million Dollar Pier fire, he built a duplicate ride at Coney Island the following year.

It was set up in a covered space 175 feet long by 50 feet wide. Two tracks were laid out so that they crisscrossed repeatedly. Twenty full size automobiles, ten on each track, each without motors accommodated the passengers. The cars, which traveled at a speed of five miles per hour, were propelled along the tracks by two moving chains in the slotted conduits. Using an ingenious mechanism, the moving chains caused one car to cross in front of another every ten seconds. When everything went right, the cars missed each other by mere inches. To heighten the excitement Reynolds' enclosed the area with large plate glass mirrors, eight feet high to reflect the moving automobiles from hundreds of different angles. Riders became bewildered and confused as automobiles, both real and reflected, came at them from many different directions.

Reynolds, however, couldn't get the ride to work quite right. The complicated chain mechanism frequently failed to function properly and real collisions took place. Low speeds, however, prevented any serious injuries. Reynolds fine tuned it for weeks, then shut it down for long periods while he overhauled and experimented. He finally abandoned it when he failed to perfect the mechanism.

Would be drivers really wanted to experience the thrill of steering their own vehicles. One of the most popular rides at Luna was the Witching Waves beginning in 1907. It was invented by Theophilius Van Kennel and installed on the Bowery in 1910. It consisted of a large oval course with a flexible metal floor whose hidden reciprocating levers could induce a moving wave-like motion. While the actual floor didn't move, the continuously moving wave propelled two seated small scooter-like cars forward while patrons steered.

The Witching Waves along the Bowery.

Other inventors felt that they could improve upon this concept if they could provide internal power to these small cars and prevent injuries by surrounding them with rubber bumpers. Two men, John Stock and Max Stoehrer, each developed nearly identical rides using electric propelled circular shaped cars. Each operated on a metal floor and received power through contact with an electrically charged mesh ceiling via a long contact trolley pole. Stock's Gadabout debuted at Coney in 1919 while Stoehrer's Dodge'em rides became initially popular at both Luna and Steeplechase. Eventually other operators would install Dodge'em rides on the Bowery in the late 20's and Stock's improved Skooter bumper car ride at Jones Walk. The fun was in the ability to steer the car and deliberately collide safely with other driver's cars.

The same electrical power principal was applied to boats. These rides, often called water skooters, obtained power for their propellers via contact with an electrically charged overhead mesh and the boat's spring loaded trolley pole. Despite what you might think, the ride was perfectly safe, although it was hard to get the customers to steer their boats to the side when their time was up. A Skoota boat ride was installed on the Bowery near the Wonder Wheel in 1934. A Dodge'em Boat Ride was installed in the Lido Pool along the Boardwalk at 15th Street in 1936.

Illions, the carousel manufacturer, in 1927 attempted to improve on Prior and Church's Racing Derby, a carousel style horse racing ride that merely went in circles. He designed a $25,000 ride for the old Prospect Hotel site where galloping horses raced around a 1200 foot long odd shaped track. The horses rode on wheels powered by electric motors along a guided track. Their speed was controlled by an operator's rheostat who was hidden from view. The horses raced at 15 MPH along open stretches, around banked turns and through tunnels.

Miniature automobiles running along a fixed guided courses became popular once inventors figured out how to power them. Custer developed his battery powered Custer Cars in 1925. While they became popular at Luna Park where they had a large area to operate, independent operators didn't install these style rides until after Mangel's Coney Car eliminated the need for batteries by providing 3rd rail power. Later small gasoline engines installed in the miniature autos made it much more feasible for operators. There was a Race Track ride on Surf Avenue in 1930 and Motor Races located on the Bowery and W. 16th in 1940.

Roller Coasters - Golden Age 1920's

The golden age of roller coaster design was in the mid-1920's. Many of Coney's old side friction out and back roller coasters were replaced by coasters with tight twisting layouts. While it was often expensive to replace a money-making roller coaster, the widening of Coney's streets during the winter of 1923-24 hastened the choice as many owners with rides on small lots were forced to either move them or tear them down. Jackman's Thriller and the Ben Hur Race on Surf Avenue were demolished. The legendary Drop the Dips was jacked up on rollers and moved by one hundred workers in January 1924. The Bowery's Red Devil somehow survived for at least two more summer seasons.

Change was inevitable as designers went higher and faster. The challenge at Coney was designing a coaster for its small lots. Perhaps the biggest challenge was for a narrow lot at Henderson Walk and the Bowery that was only 70 feet at its widest and tapered to 50 feet. Roller coaster designer Fred Church had experience designing tight twisting, narrow layouts for amusement piers in California. Still the lot was too narrow on one end, but luckily he was able to design a five foot overhang on Henderson Walk. The 71 foot high ride cost $250,000 when it opened on Memorial Day 1926. Fortunately it earned $300 / hour at least until the Depression. It was a spectacular thriller with an exciting opening 55 foot spiral drop, tight turns and crossovers followed by additional drops that only Prior and Church's articulated cars with their three point suspension could negotiate.

The Bobs / Tornado roller coaster with the Harum Scarum attraction inside its Amusement Department Store. - 1926

The builder incorporated an Amusement Park Department Store into the Bob's little used ground floor space. Its opening season attractions included a Illions Carousel. a bathhouse for 500 bathers, a shooting gallery, a glass and wax house, a Bug House, and Charles Browning's laughing mirror show. And to make an architectural statement, they built a 100 feet high tower that was covered with 25,000 four-inch diameter glass jewels. The jewels sparkled when they were lit up by powerful searchlights at night and could be seen for miles.

The second of the new generation of roller coasters was the 86 foot high Miller designed Thunderbolt located on the Bowery at Stillwell Avenue. The owner George Moran asked Miller to incorporate part of the existing two story Kensington Hotel in its design. The top story of the hotel was removed and the coaster's beams became part of the house's structure. The house became famous in the movie Annie Hall. The Woody Allen character lived there and there would be periodic shaking of the furniture and china when the coaster passed overhead on the track.

In early 1927 Jack and Irving Rosenthal acquired a 19 year lease on the 75 x 500 foot site where the Giant Racer stood at Surf Avenue and W. End Street. They tore down the old coaster and hired Vernon Keenan to design the finest roller coaster in the world at a cost of $100,000. It would require 233,000 feet of lumber, 240 tons of steel and 96,000 rivets. Harry C. Baker was in charge of construction, but ran into trouble when a series of windstorms lashed the island that spring. It was a heroic effort and although they were six weeks behind schedule, the coaster opened on June 26, 1927. It was a fast twisting 85 feet tall roller coaster with a first drop of 53 degrees that accelerated the train through its 2640 feet of steeply banked figure eight style turns. The ride was a masterpiece of sustained terrifying fun. It was so successful at 25 cents / ride that it returned its initial investment within several weeks.

The ride remained successful until the Rosenthal Brothers took over management of New Jersey's Palisades Park in 1934. Afterwards, through lack of maintenance, the coaster became rougher and produced more and more customer bruises. Attendance was down and the structure needed prompt repair when Chris Feucht was induced out of retirement in 1937.

Feucht redesigned many of the Cyclone's feature's, but was nearly killed during early repairs. While working on the chain lift of the first hill, he was caught from behind by an empty train and dragged up the tracks under the first car. He hung on as best he could while his head kept bumping against the wooden cleats of the catwalk. He was only eight seconds from going over the top and down the 80 foot drop when the man at the brake levers on the ground realized that something was wrong and shut off the power. When Feucht felt the train stop and realized he was saved, he passed out cold.

Coney's new coasters, the Thunderbolt, Tornado (Bobs) and the Cyclone became so popular with Coney's enormous summer weekend crowds that lines reached three to five hours long. With rerides permissible, lines barely moved. During July heat waves, tempers flared, and when the foolish dared cut in line, several murders were recorded.

Fun Houses

On the opposite end of the excitement spectrum were Coney Island's numerous fun houses and dark rides. The earliest was Katzenjammer's Castle located on the Bowery in 1906. It was the standard walk-thru fun house with slides, a mirror maze, rotating barrels, moving floors and mirrors that distorted one's appearance. Another described in 1920 (location??) had a lobby that lead to a Mystic Tunnel with its moving floor, hot air blowers and other fun devices. Patrons exited the building via a novel down and out slide. Another popular mechanical fun house was Over the Falls on Surf Avenue next to Luna Park in 1924. Sometimes a slide became a ride itself. At Jack and Jill in 1927, customers sitting on mats were automatically taken to the top of the tall slide by conveyor and dumped into the mouth of the spiral slide. At the bottom a belt caught the passengers and slowed them down to a gentle stop.

Jack & Jill Slide. - 1928

One operator combined the successful concept of a wax museum with the tracked dark ride. The Slums of Paris was located in the Gordon Building on Surf Avenue in 1929. It featured a replica Paris bar with underworld wax figures. Patrons rode in tracked cars that encircled the setting.

After Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs movie debuted, the Gold Mine dark ride on Surf Avenue in 1939 featured a front panorama depicting the characters from the movie. Sixteen cars were electrically driven through a 600 foot long tunnel.

During the 1940's there was a Fun in the Dark and Tunnel of Fun dark rides. Others operated the Laff-Laff, a fun house style maze on Surf Avenue and a Crazy Castle and Goofy House, both walk-thru style fun houses.

Kiddie Rides

As Coney's attractions became more thrilling, ride operators saw an increasing demand for kiddie rides to entertain youngsters. One of the first to devote an entire area to children's rides was Mooney's Kiddie Playground in 1925. It was located on W. 8th Street and it featured a see-saw, Ferris wheel, swan, coaster, whirlover, whip, carousel, railroad, and aeroplane, all miniature. He also had three clowns and offered a 35 cent combo ticket.

McCullough operated a pony track directly across from Luna Park and the L.A. Thompson Company installed a kiddie coaster. By 1930 even the Rosenthal Brothers set up a kiddie park next to their Cyclone roller coaster.

Feltman's devoted considerable space to kiddie rides after World War II. There was a Pinto Brothers' designed Fire Engine and Aeroplane, an Allan Herschel Little Dipper coaster, Horse and Buggy, and a water boat ride manufactured by Marcraft.

Miniature Railroads

Cagney Brothers, New York City manufacturers, were the biggest suppliers of miniature railroads to Coney Island. These ranged from tiny kid sized miniatures to larger models capable of carrying dozens of adults in its flatbed cars. While few lots outside Luna, Steeplechase and Dreamland could accommodate them, Feltman's installed one in their garden. Later they would appear in small versions at Coney's various kiddie parks. After World War II a Hollywood Super Chief operated at Feltman's.

Flat Rides

The ride operator's cheapest investment, a mere few thousand dollars, was the so called "flat ride." Generally they featured two seated cars or trains of cars that ran around a small circular or oval track and since they were very compact in size they could be accommodated on numerous small lots along Surf Avenue, the Bowery or along the numerous side streets that ran from the subway and trolley terminals to the boardwalk and beach.

One of the first of these innovative rides was the Whip, invented by William Mangels in 1914. The ride was mounted on an oblong platform with two large motor driven discs, mounted flush with the floor, on both ends. A dozen cars were attached by flexible arms to a moving cable that wrapped around and connected the two discs. When the cars reached the curved ends of the course, they swung out on the flexible arms and suddenly snapped back, giving the rider the thrilling sensation of being on the end of a snapped whip. Whips were installed both on the Bowery and along Surf Avenue at Kister's.

Inventor Maynes' Caterpillar flat ride debuted on the Bowery in 1925. A train of two-seated cars sped around a circular undulating track. It was popular among romantically inclined couples because when it reached its maximum speed, the canopy automatically closed to give privacy. When all the canopies were closed, the train looked like a rapidly moving green caterpillar.

Other flat rides operating that year included the Hey-dey, Joy Ride and Scrambler. The later was a fun adventuresome ride. A dozen or more cushioned tubs mounted on castors were placed into a revolving bowl. The opposing gravitational and centrifugal forces did the scrambling and left passengers dizzy.

An independent operator in 1928 bought Traver's newest creation, the Tumblebug and placed it on Surf Avenue where the Ben Hur once stood. It was an interesting family oriented ride. A train of five connected saucers, each holding half a dozen people moved around a circular but undulating track. Passengers held on to the central grip wheel to avoid being knocked into strangers seated next to them.

During the 1940's a new ride called the Cuddle-Up by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company debuted on W. 12th Street. Circular cars operated over a serpentine course and the movement was controlled by a series of revolving discs.

Aerial Rides

While aerial rides like the Traver and Uzzell Circle Swings had always been popular since Coney's earliest days, visitors during the 1930's expected and demanded greater thrills. In 1935 the Eyerly Aircraft Company debuted the Loop-o-plane. Two riders sat strapped in, back to back, in a pair of cars with an open canopy. A motor would set the cars attached at the end of a long rigid beam rocking back and forth until they eventually reached vertical and began rotating or looping continuously in one direction.

The Loop-O-Plane. - 1930's

Other aerial rides during the late 1930's and the 1940's included the Sky Diver, Hurricane, Air-o-bat, Lindy Loop, Roll-o-plane and Looper. The Hi-Ball, located on the Bowery, was novel in that while its eight two-seated cars rotated around the tower, the tower began extending upward 52 feet. A Rocket ride located on Surf Avenue at W. 8th revolved on a 45 degree incline at a thrilling 65 MPH.

To achieve a real sense of flying the rider wanted some sense of control. The Flying Scooter, owned by Krantz at Surf Avenue and W. 6th, featured nine flying craft with steerable sails that were suspended on cables. As the craft circled the tower, it could be controlled to rise quickly and then by shifting the sail, it would dive suddenly giving an exhilarating thrill as the cables made a snapping sound. Another exciting ride was the Spitfire. The planes traveled in a circle inclined at a 45 degree angle to the center pole. Passengers could with a control stick move the plane's ailerons to make the plane barrel-roll while flying in circular formation.

NOTE: This article is based on my incomplete and inaccurate ride list. While I skipped many rides, I choose to write about rides that I knew how they worked. I welcome any amusement park historians or Coney Island enthusiasts to add to or correct my errors. Please E-Mail or write to Jeffrey Stanton 12525 Allin St. Los Angeles, California 90066

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