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Coney Island

A season at Coney Island—Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day—drew millions. Many of them were there to ride the park's famed high-speed roller coasters.

Flip FlapFlip Flap
Flip Flap
Flip Flap
The Flip-Flap Railroad

The Flip-Flap Railroad, which opened in 1895, was the world's first looping roller coaster. The only thing that held riders in their seats was centrifugal force. The dangerous whiplash that many riders experienced on this ride forced Coney Island to shut it down. But improved looping coasters became a mainstay of amusement parks.

Why was Coney Island a special place for turn-of-the-century Americans?
Early bumper carsConey Island was home to three giant amusement parks: Steeplechase Park, Luna Park, and Dreamland. Teachers, secretaries, and shop clerks; immigrants, children, and factory workers—saved up their pennies during the year for an outing to Coney Island.

By buying a combination ticket—25 attractions for 25 cents—visitors to Steeplechase Park could live out many fantasies. Due to the popularity of horse-racing, one ride put visitors in a jockey's seat. On eight parallel tracks, riders sat on mechanical horses and sped up or slowed down, vying to be the first to pass the judge's stand at the end of the course. Visitors could then imagine themselves on Italian gondolas along the canals of Venice. One of the memorable experiences was "A Trip to the Moon." Sixty people could ride a simulated spaceship and view imaginary moonscapes through the windows.

Luna ParkFor the price of a ferry ticket, working people could imagine themselves on distant shores. Luna Park attracted visitors with its 250,000 lights, exotic buildings, and costumed people. Visitors could take in a mock Eskimo village (complete with sled dogs), a Japanese garden, or street scene from New Delhi. The India exhibit featured chariots, trained elephants, soldiers, and dancers.

The Shoot the Chutes ride at Luna ParkVisitors also came to Luna Park for its rides. Among the most successful was "Shoot the Chutes." For ten cents, riders would climb aboard a boat which was pulled to the top of a hill and then splashed down into a lagoon. One of the park's builders, Frederick Thompson, captured the essence of the ideal amusement park experience when he proclaimed, "Everything must be different from ordinary experience. What is presented to them must have life, action, motion, sensation, surprise, shock, swiftness, or else comedy."

Writer William Sydney Porter, known as O. HenryIn writer O. Henry's story "The Lickpenny Lover," a millionaire proposes to a clerk. "Marry me," the wealthy suitor pleads. "After the European cities we will visit India and the ancient cities there, and ride on elephants and see the wonderful temples...and the camel trains and chariot races in Persia." The indignant clerk refuses him. The next day she explains to her co-worker that her suitor was cheap, "He wanted me to marry him and go down to Coney Island for a wedding tour!"

Credits: Cy Young © Bettmann/Corbis; Roller Coaster © Culver Pictures; Bumper cars © Getty Images; Luna Park at night © Bettmann/Corbis; Shoot the chutes ride © Getty Images; O. Henry © Bettmann/Corbis.

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Other Topics
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Mass Entertainment
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These topics correspond to chapters in the Patterns of Interaction series (McDougal Littell, 2005).