Dangerous amusement parks from the past

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Len Rome's Daily Feature of Little Known Facts

(WYTV) – There’s still plenty of time to visit an amusement park this summer, from Kennywood to Cedar point.

But what were they like way back when? You wouldn’t want to go there… at least, you’d want to stay off the rides.

Early roller coasters and other rides could be both uncomfortable and dangerous. In the 19th century, the French had the first coaster on wheels rolling down a wooden incline. The wheels would often come off and the cars wouldn’t stop at the bottom of the hill.

In the 1890’s, Coney Island featured the Flip Flap Railway coaster, the first with a Loop the Loop. Modern loops are oval shaped so riders don’t feel too much stress, but the Flip Flap was circular, putting intense pressure and G-forces on passengers, who would fall unconscious and suffer whiplash.

The Coney Island Rough Riders roller coaster killed seven people between 1910-1915 before it was shut down. In one accident, the speeding coaster threw out 16 passengers and four died. It often jumped the tracks. One woman survived her ordeal, dangling from a rail with one hand and holding her child with the other hand.

More recently, New Jersey’s Action Park did its damage between 1978-1996 before closing. One man was electrocuted when he stepped on a live wire on the kayak ride. Others drowned in the very rough wave pool.
The Alpine Slide would regularly jump the tracks.

Those old parks were had exhibits rooted in racist and discriminatory practices. Coney Island had a park with small men dressed as clowns who were greeters and armed with electrically-charged pokers, happy to zap you.

These parks were also cruel to animals. In 1900, several parks forced horses to dive from 40-foot-high platforms into tanks of water. Topsy the Elephant would wander through Luna Park, and once stepped on a guest, killing him – but that’s only because he tried burning Topsy with his cigar.

Coney island’s Dreamland Park offered Hell Gate in 1905 – a twisted version of Disney’s It’s a Small World.

Hell Gate passengers floated by sinners as demons tortured them. It lived up to its name by burning to the ground in 1911.

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