The Teddy Roosevelt-Inspired Roller Coaster That Killed 7 People at Coney Island

Brooklyn Museum, Wikimedia Commons
Brooklyn Museum, Wikimedia Commons

The rides at Coney Island aren't the tallest or fastest in the world, but they have a way of reminding riders of their mortality. The Cyclone shows its age as it vibrates over its wooden track, the Wonder Wheel creaks loud enough to be heard from the line below, and regulations throughout the park seem looser than they do in Disneyland. But none of the rides at Coney Island today are as perilous as Rough Riders, the Spanish-American War-themed roller coaster that killed seven people in the early 1900s.

At the turn of the 19th century, Coney Island was the largest amusement area in the United States. Tourists flocked to the Brooklyn shore to travel along the boardwalk, see the sideshows, and experience the groundbreaking thrill rides. Coney Island was home to several roller coasters at this time, many of which offered more thrills than riders could handle. The Flip Flap Railway, the world’s first looping coaster, was infamous for knocking people out, and many paid to be spectators instead of riders. Other early Coney Island coasters featured cars shaped like horses that guests had to straddle and cars that cleared (or didn’t clear) gaps in the track.

Coney Island debuted its Rough Riders coaster in 1907. Less than a decade earlier, Theodore Roosevelt had resigned from his post as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy and led the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry—nicknamed the Rough Riders—into the Spanish-American War. Roosevelt was president in 1907, and the Rough Riders still loomed large enough in American culture to get their own roller coaster. The ride’s operators dressed in military uniforms, and cars passed by scenes depicting the war before ascending the hill. Beyond the creative theme, the ride also offered guests an exciting format. Unlike most other Coney Island coasters, which were propelled by gravity, this one ran on an electric third rail—much like a subway car. “Conductors” were assigned to each train, and they had control over how fast the cars moved over inclines and around curves.

As it turned out, technology invented to safely transport the public wasn’t the best fit for an amusement park. Because the cars had to be operated manually by park employees, there was no way to regulate how fast they went. Many operators pushed the ride vehicles to their limits; instead of slowing down on drops and sharp turns, they often went ahead at full speed.

In 1910, Rough Riders’s lack of safeguards proved disastrous. During one ride, the coaster turned too quickly, and 16 riders were flung from their seats. Four of them perished in the accident. Surprisingly, this tragedy wasn’t enough to get the attraction shut down, and on July 27, 1915, history repeated itself. That day, six passengers boarded the ride, and when the driver sped down an incline and into a curve, the car tipped onto its side. The operator and four riders flew out of the vehicle, crashing into the cheap iron railing enclosing the track. The fence broke and three of the victims fell 30 feet to their deaths onto the concrete below. The conductor’s body hit an onlooker on the way down and sent her to the hospital.

Two of the riders that were tossed from the coaster survived: Clara Moles and her 4-year-old son Edward. When the car flipped, Clara gripped the handrail with one hand and used her other arm to hold her son. She stayed dangling above the pavement until two detectives who had witnessed the event climbed up the coaster’s framework and pulled the pair onto the track.

Thomas Ward, the ride’s manager, was arrested following the incident and charged with homicide. A jury ultimately exonerated him after deciding that the accident was “unavoidable,” but the roller coaster itself didn’t get off as easy. It ceased operations for good in 1916, apparently proving too dangerous even for Coney Island’s risk-seekers.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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How 'Rumor Clinics' Fought Fake News 80 Years Ago

Fake news spread fast in 1940s America.
Fake news spread fast in 1940s America.
GraphicaArtis/Getty Images

Strange tales circulated around 1940s America. There was one about a lady whose head exploded at a beauty salon after her perm ignited residue from her job at the munitions factory. Others claimed Japan was planning to spike America's water supply with arsenic, and that a Massachusetts couple reported picking up a hitchhiker who claimed Hitler was on the verge defeat, before vanishing like a ghost from the back of their car.

All of those stories were lies—but that didn't stop people from spreading the rumors. As the United States plunged into the Second World War, newspapers fought fake news amid fears of Nazi propaganda efforts.

The Rumor Clinics

About three months after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the first rumor clinic was created in Boston on March 1, 1942, under the leadership of Harvard Professors Gordon Allport and Robert Knapp and the Eastern Psychological Association. The Boston Herald worked with the Massachusetts Committee on Public Safety's Division of Propaganda Research and a network of volunteers who hunted down rumors and their origins to dispel misinformation the publishers believed could harm the war effort, civilian defense, or the general morale of the country. A council that included the Boston police commissioner, the state’s attorney general, representatives of local unions, and the chamber of commerce vetted each edition of the column.

The Boston Herald’s weekly rumor clinic column was duplicated across the country, with as many as 40 different newspapers running their own versions, according to a January 24, 1943 New York Times feature. At the time, there was fear that Germany’s propaganda prowess would sow dissent among the U.S. population. “The United States was convinced that the moment war broke out they would be completely bombarded by rumors planted by the Germans. In order to head off these rumors, people who wanted to defend the United States decided to track these down,” Nick Cull, a University of Southern California professor and expert in war time propaganda, tells Mental Floss.

Rumors undercut rationing and industrial war efforts, such as the rumor about a woman whose head exploded at the hair salon. Other tales re-enforced racism and other prejudices already present in the country. Some of those rumors included that Jewish people were not required to serve in the military, or that white soldiers were having Black children after receiving Red Cross blood donations from Black civilians.

“It was stories that Americans told each other,” Cull says. “The rumors were so colorful that you could never forget them once you heard them.”

Nailing a Local Lie

About three months after the first column ran, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Office of War Information through executive order on June 13, 1942. As Sidney Shalett wrote in The New York Times, the OWI looked to local communities as “the best place to nail a local lie.” The OWI began working with the rumor clinics and soon found that despite the assumptions German saboteurs were wreaking havoc on America’s psyche, most of the rumors were race-based lies spread by other Americans, according to Cull.

By the end of the war, the rumor clinics started disbanding, as the OWI adopted a new strategy of spreading facts without repeating rumors. Instead of directly challenging racist rumor mongering, the OWI released materials and information promoting the idea that all Americans were in the fight together against the Axis.

According to Julie Smith, a Webster University instructor and media literacy expert, while debunking rumors can be effective, the repetition of the debunked rumors can also re-enforce them. This became a concern for the OWI, leading it to grow wary of printing rumors just for the sake of denying them. “Misinformation has been around forever," Smith says, "and we have not gotten any smarter."