On June 26, 1927, exactly 88 years ago today, the third of Coney Island‘s most famous wooden roller coasters opened to visitors. It was called ‘The Cyclone.’ Seeking to capitalize on the soaring success of wooden coasters like ‘The Thunderbolt‘ and ‘The Tornado,’ brothers Jack and Irving Rosenthal bought land at the intersection of Coney Island’s Surf Avenue and West 10th Street, hired established designer Vernon Keenan to come up with a coaster to compete with the others, and spent a total of around $146,000 to $175,000 building what was then regarded as one of the largest and most buzz-worthy roller coasters of its time.
‘The Cyclone’ was around 800 meters long, featured an 85-foot drop at its highest point, is currently the park’s only remaining operational wooden coaster, outlasting both ‘The Thunderbolt’ which closed in the 80s and was demolished in 2000, and ‘The Tornado,’ damaged by arson in 1977 and demolished year later when it couldn’t be salvaged. When it opened back in the 20s, a ride cost only a quarter, or somewhere around $3.50 when adjusted for inflation. Today, a ride costs closer to $8.
From the 30s onward, after the Rosenthal Brothers moved across the river to New Jersey‘s Bergen County to manage the Palisades Park, ‘The Cyclone’ was the park’s most popular attraction. Employees at Astroland Park, which took formal ownership of the roller coaster in the 70s, used to tell an old park legend, that in 1948, a mute coal miner named Emilio Franco had screamed the words, “I feel sick,” while riding the roller coaster, and fainted after hearing himself speak for the first time in his life.
Like most old things, ‘The Cyclone’ was almost killed by the Counterculture in the 60s. Facing dwindling attendance and a far rowdier crowd than the docile 40s and 50s, park owners speculated about the park’s future. It was in 1967 that the city announced a plan to replace parts of the sprawling Coney Island Parks with extensions to the city aquarium, hoping to attract more wholesome audiences once more.
Despite opposition from the East Coaster Corporation, then-owners of the roller coaster, the plan went underway. New York City bought ‘The Cyclone’ for $1 million and prepared to demolish it until the early 70s, when a civilian campaign to ‘Save the Cyclone‘ proved successful. Astroland won the bid to buy the coaster back the city, its owners refurbished the roller coaster in the off-season of 1974, and ‘The Cyclone’ opened once again in the summer of 1975. When Astroland Park closed in 2008, the coaster remained open due to its status as a New York City landmark, awarded in 1988. It has been running, more or less, ever since.
As one of the oldest functional roller coasters in American history, ‘The Cyclone’ holds with it a piece of Coney Island’s former glory as the seat of summer vacation in New York. Before the rides were steel and rose half a mile into the air, ‘The Cyclone’ and its fellow coasters were beloved by families instead of only thrill-seeking 14-year olds. While much of Coney Island is no longer standing, ‘The Cyclone,’ once ridden by New Yorkers now in their 90s, doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
Next, see the vintage photos of the park that welcomed ‘The Cyclone’ almost 90s years ago. Get in touch with the author @jinwoochong.