Friday, June 22, 2012

King of the Coasters

Coney Island holds a special place in my heart. Some of my fondest childhood memories stem from the carefree days and nights spent there as a 'yout' as we say in Brooklyn. Steeplechase Park was the fun epicenter of Coney Island as anyone who went there in its heyday will attest. It was the prototype theme park at a time when Disneyworld was just a dream. You paid one price to get in and they punched your round ticket for every ride you went on...some 15 in all. While the rides in the park were great, the best ride of all was outside the park boundaries; that was the terrifying Cyclone roller coaster. A rite of passage  in my circle was to prove your manhood by not only riding the Cyclone, but doing it standing up in the last car, a truly lame brained stunt.

From the 'Brooklyn Tourism' website: "The Coney Island Cyclone is one of the most famous attractions in New York City. The first rides of the historic roller coaster began on June 26, 1927. Over 85 years later, the Cyclone is still thrilling thousands of riders each year. Every roller coaster enthusiast around the world has heard of, has ridden or hopes to ride The Cyclone. This historic roller coaster graces virtually every "top roller coaster" list and publication. Roller coasters may have gotten bigger and faster, but they have not gotten any better than The Cyclone. Time Magazine quoted Charles Lindbergh as saying that a ride on the Cyclone was more thrilling than his historic first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. An official New York City Landmark since July 12, 1988, the Cyclone is the heart and soul of Coney Island, birthplace of the American amusement industry."

The Cyclone was primitive compared to the space age coasters they are constructing these days. Built on a rickety wooden framework, the Cyclone emitted loud groaning sounds as it made its thrilling loop de loops. The ride was bought by the City of New York in 1965; four years later a lack of customers hurt profits and the ride was condemned.  In 1972 the nearby New York Aquarium announced that the coaster would be destroyed to make room for an expansion. A large “Save the Cyclone” campaign ensued and the ride, leased to Astroland Park in 1975 and amazingly refurbished, reopened on July 3, 1975. The coaster made $125,000 its first weekend. The Cyclone benefited from the roller coaster boom of the 1970′s and 80′s. Rides like the Racer and The Great American Scream Machine made the roller coaster an American icon again, and people from all over the country came to ride the Cyclone.

When we went to Coney Island, the Cyclone and Nathan's Hot Dog stand were mandatory stops, preferably in that order. Chowing down at Nathan's first and then riding the Cyclone is not recommended. It was great fun when we went in a group to "initiate" a new member into the Cyclone tradition. They could not pass muster unless we witnessed them standing up in the last car with hands in the air. The bravado they felt before their ride was gone as they exited, green-faced, after the Cyclone had its way with them. The Cyclone may be old, but it is world renowned. It is not uncommon to go there today and hear ten different languages spoken by the people waiting in line. It has withstood the test of time and the roller coaster fortunes (pun intended) of Coney Island itself. 

When I see film and read about some of the coasters being built today, I cringe. I know I wouldn't have the nerve to go on for fear of my life. I used up all my roller coaster courage 55 years ago while standing up, hands in the air, in the last car of the greatest roller coaster of the all, The Cyclone.


Children's Craniofacial Association

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