DEEP DIVE / Leisure in America


From Coal to Coney

     Chapter 3: A Bumpy Ride

CHAPTERS:     1     2     3     4

The various newspaper articles from 1884-1885 indicate that the roller coaster fad was widespread.

In the middle of the country where it started, there were circular coasters in Indianapolis, and Evanston, and Lafayette, Indiana; Cleveland, Cincinnati Cuyahoga Falls, Chippeau Lake, and Canton (Myers Lake), Ohio; Milwaukee, Eau Claire, and Silurian Springs, Wisconsin; Davenport, Iowa, Houston and Galveston Texas; and Kansas City, Missouri. In the west there were coasters in San Francisco, Stockton, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles, California, and in Denver, Colorado. And in the east there were coasters at Philadelphia's Fairmont Park, and Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Maryland, Camden, New Jersey, Toronto and Windsor, and London Ontario [Canada], Chautauqua, and Bronx, New York, Nantasket Beach, Salem and Revere Beach, Massachusetts. There were likely many more, but newspapers in cities like Pittsburgh and St. Louis haven't been digitized.

Roller coasters in several cities weren't successful either because the public didn't patronize them, or the builder failed to pay for his bills for lumber and other materials. Those were often sold at Sheriff's sales to the highest bidder. Several were moved to alternate locations to increase business.

Homeowners of other communities who lived nearby in otherwise quiet neighborhoods, complained of noise and often successfully campaigned to have them removed as a nuisance. This occurred in Cincinnati, Ohio, Salem, Massachusetts, and Denver, Colorado. Usually relocating them from quiet neighborhoods to commercial districts sufficed.

Roller coaster accidents often had a perverse effect of increasing the popularity of early roller coasters. While the adverse publicity scared off the timid, daring riders liked the sense of danger. Since most of the accidents were the fault of a rider standing up or otherwise riding incorrectly, it didn't lead to the authorities closing the coaster. However, there were several incompetent builders who didn't reinforce the structure properly, or understand the dangers of high centrifugal force on a circular ride at high speeds.

In Kansas City, a car with 16 people aboard jumped the track, crashed through the structure and luckily landed in a pond ten feet below. Others jumped the track at Eau Claire, Wisconsin, breaking several passengers' limbs, and in Toronto, Ontario where the passengers were hurled into a barbed-wire fence. And in Toledo, Ohio, 25 school children waiting to board a train on the upper platform, fell to the ground 20 feet below when the newly-built coaster's floor collapsed. Three boys were seriously injured, and one wasn't expected to recover.