14 Antique Roller Coasters You Can Still Ride

Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

What could be more terrifying than ascending the rails on a roller coaster? Try riding one that was in service before the Wright Brothers' first airplane flight.

As one of the nation’s greatest amusement park pastimes, the coaster—introduced to the U.S. in 1884 by LaMarcus Thompson—has evolved from rickety wooden terror trains to high-tech steel diversions. But that doesn’t mean you can’t catch a ride on a classic. Check out these 14 old-school coasters that that are still accepting new passengers.

1. The Cyclone

A popular destination among thrill-seeking tourists in New York City, Coney Island’s famous—or infamous—Cyclone debuted in June 1927 and has outlasted many of its peers in the park over the years. When the nearby aquarium tried to get it demolished, supporters stepped in to preserve it; it was later named to the National Register of Historic Places. The Cyclone’s 2640 feet of track and pre-Depression-era framework didn’t always hold up: The ride stalled out several times, requiring riders to make a dizzying descent from the track on foot. The ride’s track has recently been replaced.

2. Giant Dipper

At 95 years young, the Santa Cruz-based Giant Dipper isn’t ready to retire just yet. The Dipper cost just 15 cents a ride when it debuted in 1924, and builder Arthur Looff said he wanted riders to experience a combination “earthquake, balloon ascension, and aeroplane drop.” Passengers first enter a dark tunnel before being lifted seven stories above ground.

Repainting the 327,000 board feet of lumber used in its construction cost $300,000 in 2013. A “sister” coaster, also named the Giant Dipper, was erected in San Diego in 1925.

3. Lagoon Roller Coaster

Farmington, Utah’s Lagoon Amusement Park rates its antique coaster’s thrill level as “very high,” a biased but probably accurate summation. Built in 1921, the coaster can hit speeds of 45mph across more than 2500 feet of track, its wooden planks visibly rattling as the train speeds by. Inspectors do a walkthrough every day, frequently replacing any worn out parts.

4. Rutschebanen

Located in Tivoli Gardens in Denmark, Rutschebanen (Danish for “roller coaster”) is unique among classic amusement rides. Built in 1914, it has a driver—specifically, a “brake man”—who sits in the train and can control the speed manually, creating a unique experience for each set of passengers. Rutschebanen was originally designed to be a simulation trip through the mountains, with artificial peaks seen at the top of the ride (which have recently been restored).

5. The Wild One

Originally designed and built for Paragon Park near Boston in 1917, the 98-foot-tall Wild One moved to what is now Six Flags America in Maryland (although it’s considered unlikely that much survives of the original roller coaster). Fans of the coaster are said to be thrilled with “ejector air,” the feeling of being launched from your seat. It’s rumored that the Kennedys took regular rides before it was relocated.

6. Jack Rabbit

Designer John Miller made an important tweak to roller coaster blueprints with the Jack Rabbit in 1920. It was one of the first to use an under-friction wheel approach, which kept the train seated firmly on the tracks as a safety measure. Located in Seabreeze Amusement Park in Rochester, New York, the Jack Rabbit has a sister coaster at Kennywood in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, with the same name.

7. The Racer

The 1927 Racer, which is also located in that same Kennywood Park, takes a (nearly) singular approach to coasters: There are twin passenger trains that launch at the same time, “racing” one another to get to the end of the ride. Curiously, it’s still a single track—just one that’s looped for two-lane excitement. If you leave on the right, you’ll return on the left side.

8. Great Scenic Railway

While many antique coasters have had to close temporarily for one reason or another, the Great Scenic Railway in Melbourne, Australia’s Luna Park claims to be the oldest continually operating ride in the world. Opening in 1912, the Railway was joined by an eclectic group of attractions at Luna Park, including the “world’s fattest boy” (who weighed 350 pounds at age 12) and a woman who would set herself on fire before diving into a pool that was also burning. The 107-year-old ride is accessible via the Aussie Luna Park’s “Mr. Moon” mouth entrance portal.

9. The Legend

Arnolds Park in Iowa has a towering tourist attraction: the 63-foot Legend, on park grounds since 1930. The appeal, according to purists, is a bumpy ride akin to the spin cycle of a dryer. By 2013, the coaster was tossing passengers around so freely that it underwent renovations to make for a smoother ride. In August 2015, Des Moines-area retiree Les Menke took it for a spin; 85 years previously, the 96-year-old and a friend had been the first on board following a bunch of test sandbags.

10. Thunderbolt

Roller coaster design legend John Miller crafted this Kennywood Park attraction, which debuted in 1924. The ride got a redesign in 1968 and a naming contest was held; Thunderbolt was the winning entry. The revamp was seemingly successful—in 1974 it was described as the “ultimate coaster” by The New York Times.

11. Wildcat

Bristol, Connecticut’s most famous human agitator is located at Lake Compounce and opened in 1927. It made major local headlines in 1975, when Noel Aube hopped on and rode it 2001 consecutive times, logging more than 79 hours and around 1022.5 miles on the coaster. Aube would eat and sleep on the track; business of a personal nature could be handled during the five-minute breaks he’d take every hour.

12. Thunderhawk

Originally referred to as simply “The Coaster,” Dorney Park’s Thunderhawk debuted in 1923. For a while, passengers would sit in the train and go underneath a separate station housing bumper cars before being spit out on the main track. While that was all removed in later renovations, Thunderhawk continues to appeal to classic coaster fans.

13. Kiddie Coaster

While you usually need to be of a certain height to hop on amusement rides, the 1928 Kiddie Coaster is one of the few to penalize visitors for being too tall. Running for just 300 feet, the Playland Park attraction in Rye, New York, is intended for children only.

14. Leap the Dips

Opening in 1902, Altoona, Pennsylvania’s Leap the Dips is the world’s oldest surviving roller coaster. It might also be the most tame: Topping out at 10 to 18mph, the drops are a fairly serene nine feet. But being on board is another story—passengers experience an undulating series of dips that feels like being in a car without shocks (or seat belts, or lap bars, or head rests, according to Lehigh Valley Live). If you need a relaxed introduction to roller coasters, this is probably the ride you've been looking for.

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

Florida to Open Its First-Ever Snow Park

Zuberka/iStock via Getty Images
Zuberka/iStock via Getty Images

Millions of tourists flock to Florida each year to ride roller coasters, meet their favorite cartoon characters, and lounge on the beach. The state isn't famous for its winter activities, but that could soon change. As WESH 2 reports, Florida's first-ever snow park is coming to Dade City in 2020.

At Snowcat Ridge, guests will be able to take part in the same snowy fun that's up North. The main attraction of the park will be a 60-foot-tall, 400-foot-long slope packed with snow. A lift will transport visitors to the top of the hill, and from there, they'll use inner tubes to slide back down to ground level. Single, double, and six-person family tubes will be provided to riders.

Guests can also check out the 10,000-square-foot play dome, where they'll use real snow to build snow castles and snow men. The area will even feature a small hill for young visitors who aren't ready for more serious snow-tubing. And because the best part of playing in the snow all day is warming up afterwards, Snowcat Ridge will be home to an Alpine Village, where guests can nibble on snacks and sip cocoa in front of a bonfire.

Dade City is located in Central Florida, an area that hasn't seen snow in nearly 43 years. The arrival of the new park will mark the first time many locals can get a full winter experience close to home.

Snowcat Ridge is expected to open in November 2020.

[h/t WESH 2]

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