Amusement parks exist to show lots of people a good time and separate them from their money. There’s nothing like a roller coaster ride and something deep fried on a stick to make one sleep well at night. But no matter how much one may regret a day at the carnival, circus, or tourist attraction, things were much worse in centuries past, in several ways. Let’s start with the thrill rides.
Consider the infamous Coney Island Rough Riders roller coaster, which killed seven people in a five-year span from 1910 to 1915 before it was shut down. The coaster was an homage to Theodore Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders,” the soldiers who fought in the Spanish-American War. But the coaster was almost as dangerous as Battle of San Juan Hill: According to PBS, in one accident, the speeding coaster jettisoned 16 people, killing four. In another accident, the coaster jumped the track and caused three fatalities. One woman survived the ordeal dangling from a rail with one hand, holding her child with the other hand.
Coney Island featured another coaster that wasn’t fatal, but it was certainly unpleasant. The Flip Flap Railway coaster of the 1890s was one of the first roller coasters to feature a loop-de-loop. But unlike modern loops, which are oval-shaped to lessen forces on the rider, the Flip Flap was circular. This put intense pressure on riders, knocking them unconscious and giving them whiplash. One source estimates that riders experienced a G-force of 12. For comparison, fighter pilots typically experience a G-force of 7. One newspaper declared the Flip Flap and another coaster called the Loop the Loop “the unholy terrors of the beach.”
That’s just the beginning. Read the disturbing ways amusement parks of the past were dangerous, offensive, cruel, and depressing at Mental Floss.
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