The Coney Island Cyclone—inarguably the most famous wooden roller coaster in the world—will turn 85 years old on Saturday, June 30th. A big birthday bash is planned with live music and fireworks on the beach. For the first 85 minutes after the opening at noon, the ride's price will roll back to 25 cents, the same amount it cost when it first opened in 1927. (A single ride now costs $8.)
For many New Yorkers, riding the Cyclone is a rite of passage. Marvin Dubin was twelve the first time he got the chance to ride the Cyclone. He recalls that he and a friend also went on two other wooden Coney Island roller coasters that day, the Thunderbolt and the Tornado, both of which were subsequently demolished.
Dubin returned many times in his teens and even into his 20s. Then he took a short hiatus until his oldest child reached the minimum height requirement. Now the dentist from New Rochelle, New York, returns with his own family every Father's Day. "Each time I start going up the first incline, being pulled by and hearing the noise of the clangy chain, I ask myself why I'm doing this," he says. "I'm still scared just like when I was a kid."
The ride is beloved not only by New Yorkers but by visitors from around the globe, with approximately 250,000 people riding on the coaster each year. Here are six interesting historical facts about this iconic New York treasure:
- The Cyclone sits on the same spot that once housed the first modern roller coaster. The Switchback Railway, built by entrepreneur and investor La Marcus Adna Thompson, opened there in 1884. Charging a nickel a ride, Thompson is reported to have made hundreds of dollars a day. He has been dubbed both, "The Father of the Roller Coaster" and "The Father of Gravity."
- The Cyclone that sits there today was originally built in 1927. It was created by two brothers, Jack and Irving Rosenthal, who had emigrated from Russia to the Bronx. Their initial investment was $146,000.
- Designed by Vernon Keenan in a twisted figure-8, the Cyclone has six turns and eight 60-degree drops; it is 85 feet-high and 2640 feet long and still races along on its rickety tracks at a top speed of 60 miles per hour. The Cyclone's two cars carry 24 passengers each.
- Roller coasters are often called "scream machines" because of the excitement and fear they evoke. In the summer of 1948, A West Virginia coal miner named Emilio Franco came to Coney Island on vacation with his parents. He had been mute but on his second plunge on the Cyclone, he is reported to have exclaimed, "I'm feeling sick". Those were the first words Franco had uttered in six years.
- Time Magazine once quoted Charles Lindbergh as saying that a ride on the Cyclone was more exciting than his first solo flight across the Atlantic.
- The Coney Island Cyclone was declared a New York City Landmark on July 12, 1988 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 26, 1991.
During these 85 years, several generations have been thrilled by the twists, turns and plunges the ride takes on its noisy tracks. The Cyclone continues to rank at the top of many lists of the most popular roller coaster rides and amusement attractions.
According to Dubin, the ride is ageless. "What it lacks in high-tech is made up for by how low-tech it is," he says. "The peeling paint, and clanging, bumping and shaking on the old wooden tracks still give me a thrill."
IF YOU GO:
100 Surf Avenue
Brooklyn New York 11224
Open each year between Palm Sunday and Halloween
See the website for hours, prices and directions
- To learn more about the Birthday Party, see the Coney Island Fun Guide.
- Visit the Facebook Page for the Birthday Party.
- Enjoy the Cyclone vicariously on Pinterest.
- While you are there, visit the new public exhibition center of the Coney Island History Project on West 12th Street, just off the Boardwalk. Admission is free.