Special Section - Celebrate the Past - November 2018


Celebrate the Past, Build the Future—Together

Introduction by Scott Fais

A CELEBRATION STRETCHING ONLY 365 DAYS in duration pales in comparison to a history spanning a century.

Moments in time, like the gatherings from decades ago, became highlights of signature events around the world in 2018. Kicking off IAAPA’s yearlong centennial in January was a toast to the organization by members at IAAPA FEC Summit 2018 in Laguna Beach, California. Similar toasts followed in Japan, China, and the Netherlands. Participants at IAAPA Leadership Conference 2018 marked the anniversary at Tokyo Disneyland in grand style, while Chimelong Group presented IAAPA with an intricately woven Chinese tapestry of the 100th anniversary logo at Asian Attractions Expo in June. A towering multilayered cake surprised attendees at Euro Attractions Show 2018 in Amsterdam.

The celebration of our accomplishments and the global contributions of IAAPA members are too vast for one ride or attraction to represent an industry in these limited pages. Yet, one structure has continually inspired us to stretch beyond our greatest imagination.Through wood and steel, the laws of physics were tested again and again as we strived to safely climb higher and go faster. Millions of families have created memories challenging roller coasters around the globe. 

In addition, one park has evolved, innovated, inspired, and captured the hearts of generations, regardless of national borders. A living time capsule, this reflection of our industry shares parallels with attractions worldwide. Coney Island in New York City is the fusion of the people and products, who together wrote history by scripting joy.

As IAAPA continues to build the future, we honor the past—a celebration of history we share—as we wrap up this incredible year of observance.



Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters’ “Thunderhawk” (above) at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom and “Comet” (below) at Hersheypark are still in operation today. (Credit: Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters)(Credit: Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters)

The Signature Attraction’s Colorful History

by Keith Miller

As IAAPA celebrates its centennial, there’s one icon forever in the hearts of riders that continues to dominate skylines across the globe. Celebrated for more than 100 years, roller coasters and their legacies are forever intertwined with the history of the attractions industry. Like the new generation of inversions found on these machines, Funworld takes a look at a few elements that have shaped the history of the roller coaster.


Leading the Way

In the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters (PTC) in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, created more than 70 roller coasters for amusement parks and other attractions, an impressive number considering these time spans included the Great Depression and World War II. Four of those coasters are still in operation today, with three scream machines in Pennsylvania: “Thunderhawk” at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom in Allentown, Pennsylvania; “Rollo Coaster” at Idlewild and SoakZone in Ligonier, Pennsylvania; “Comet” at Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania; and “Yankee Cannonball” at Canobie Lake Park in Salem, New Hampshire.

Manufacturer PTC is still in business, and hearteningly, the company continues to provide service to all four of these coasters when needed. 

“We recently built two brand-new trains for Dorney Park’s ‘Thunderhawk,’ and we just sent them back [to Dorney in late March] after doing winter maintenance,” says Thomas Rebbie, president of PTC. “It’s been really nice that this is the third time in my 40 years here we’ve built trains for them.” 

Rebbie adds that a decade ago, Canobie contacted PTC wanting to order new trains for “Yankee Cannonball,” and more recently, Idlewild approached him at IAAPA Attractions Expo wanting to discuss new trains for “Rollo Coaster.” A PTC engineer visited the park and did some reverse engineering for modifications. The trains were shipped to the park in March 2018. Rebbie says PTC has twice built two new trains for Hersheypark’s “Comet” and notes the park is very accommodating and is frequently working with him on new ideas.

As we are now deep into the 2010s, the current volume leader in new coaster production is Wiegand in Rasdorf, Hesse, Germany, which has produced more than 100 coasters thus far. Wiegand installs alpine coasters all over the world. Andrea Bohl, a project management assistant, says there’s a correlation between growth and Wiegand’s team.

“The main pillars of our success are our qualified employees—who perform excellently not only in Germany, but also at our branches in the U.S. and China—and also the permanent development of the alpine coaster in terms of comfort and safety.”


Wiegand is a leader in new coaster production, installing alpine coasters around the world. (Credit: Wiegand)

Rolling On

Many of the roller coasters currently operating around the world have stamps on their passports since relocations are common. Some have surprising stories behind moving on.

“Diabolik,” Movieland Park, Lago di Garda, Veneto, Italy

Good things come to those who wait. This Vekoma Invertigo in Lago di Garda, Veneto, Italy, operated for eight years as “Two Face: The Flip Side” at Six Flags America in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. It was removed and sat in storage until opening in Italy eight years later, sporting a new paint job.

“Goliath,” Six Flags Fiesta Texas, San Antonio, Texas, United States

Three times is a charm. This coaster ran as “Batman: The Ride” for three seasons at Six Flags New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina ravaged the southern United States in 2005. Three years later, it was relocated to Six Flags Fiesta Texas, where it was repainted and today operates as “Goliath.” Yet, the coaster first opened in 1995 as “Gambit” at Thrill Valley in Gotemba, Shizuoka, Japan, before closing in 2002. As a “Batman” model from Bolliger & Mabillard that first debuted at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Illinois, in 1992, this same footprint went on to inspire 11 reproductions using the same design at parks in Canada, Spain, and Kuwait.

“Phoenix,” Knoebels Amusement Resort, Elysburg, Pennsylvania, United States

From the ashes comes a legend. Although it’s well-known among coaster enthusiasts that “Phoenix” first opened in Texas under the name of “Rocket,” the ride is now so strongly identified with Knoebels, its origins are easy to forget.

Dick Knoebel, president and co-owner of the park, tells Funworld he was in the market for a wooden coaster when “Phoenix” swooped in.

“We learned that ‘Rocket’—which operated at Playland Park in San Antonio, Texas, from the late 1940s until the park closed in 1980—was for sale. In 1983, I traveled to Texas with team members to check the condition of the coaster and further explore the feasibility of relocating it,” Knoebel recalls.

By June 15, 1985, “Phoenix” was living up to its new name, thrilling guests in Pennsylvania.

“‘Phoenix’ helped put us on the map and elevated us to the level of a competitive park,” Knoebel says. “It also helped to show that a well-designed wooden roller coaster, coupled with meticulous maintenance, is truly timeless.”

“Rampage,” The Big Sheep, Abbotsham, Devon, England, United Kingdom

Baa! This steel coaster is a custom Tivoli, a coaster model from Zierer. “Rampage” was made for its original location at an indoor park in England within a shopping center, where it operated for 20 years. It then sat in storage for eight years before being purchased, installed, and opened in 2016 by a sheep racetrack.

Revolutionary Coaster Elements

Many popular features and elements on modern coasters made their debut on a single coaster. Here’s a look at some firsts:

  • 1884 – Two Trains: “Gravity Pleasure Switch Back Railway,” Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York, United States
  • 1896 – Tunnel: “Figure 8,” Rock Point Park, Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, United States
  • 1901 – Dueling Coaster: “Centrifugal Cycle Railway,” Pan-American Exposition, Buffalo, New York, United States
  • 1975 – Shoulder Restraint: “Corkscrew,” Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, California, United States
  • 1984 – Heartline Roll: “Ultra Twister,” Nagashima Spa Land, Kuwana, Mie, Japan
  • 1996 – Immelmann: “Montu,” Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Florida, United States. More than 50 coasters around the world now feature this element.
  • 2002 – Cliffhanger Lift/Drop: “Gravity Max,” Lihpao Land, Taichung, Taiwan. After ascending the 114-foot-tall lift hill, trains enter a vertical piece of track that then tilts from a horizontal position to a vertical position at 90 degrees.



“Matterhorn Bobsleds” was the first tubular steel roller coaster in the world, as well as the first roller-coaster-style attraction at Disneyland. (Credit: Disneyland Resort)

Landmark Coasters

These roller coasters, all still operating, are legendary because they possess a feature that launched a significant trend in the industry or an element unequaled anywhere in the world.

1959 – “Matterhorn Bobsleds,” Disneyland, Anaheim, California, United States

With the first tubular steel coaster track in the world, this ride ushered in what quickly became the industry’s dominant coaster track.

1975 – “Corkscrew,” Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, California, United States

Not only did this coaster feature the first modern inversion, but it also had the first over-the-shoulder restraints. 

1989 – “Magnum XL-200,” Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio, United States

As the first coaster to reach 200 feet in height, it’s widely credited for setting off the “coaster wars” over the following few years. This led to the creation of some of the world’s best steel coasters and the topping of the 300- and 400-foot height marks.

1998 – “Oblivion,” Alton Towers, Staffordshire, England, United Kingdom

The first coaster acknowledged to have an almost completely vertical drop at 87 degrees, which then led to beyond-vertical drops over 90 degrees.

Sian Alcock, public relations manager at Alton Towers, says “Oblivion” became a trendsetter.

“The response from our guests has been fantastic, and ‘Oblivion’ has become a firm favorite for visitors to Alton Towers. We’re thrilled [this] innovative approach is now inspiring other parks and shaping industry trends,” Alcock says.

2001 – “Do-Dodonpa,” Fuji-Q Highland, Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan

Named for musical sounds, “Dodonpa” opened in 2001 as one of the fastest accelerating coasters in the world, using compressed air. A 2017 refurbishment gave the coaster a new name, “Do-Dodonpa,” and made the launch even faster, now reaching 112 mph in 1.56 seconds. In addition, the original “top hat” element was replaced with a vertical loop.

2005 – “Hades 360,” Mt. Olympus Water Park and Theme Park Resort, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, United States

This ride features an 800-foot-long underground tunnel riders experience twice on their journey along 4,746 feet of track. The wood coaster also features a corkscrew inversion.


“New Texas Giant” at Six Flags Over Texas was the first wood coaster converted to a hybrid. (Credit: Six Flags Over Texas)

2011 – “New Texas Giant,” Six Flags Over Texas, Arlington, Texas, United States

The first wood coaster converted to a hybrid, featuring a wood structure with a steel IBox Track from Rocky Mountain Construction. The conversion in Texas prompted a flurry of wood-to-steel hybrid conversions.

Referencing “New Texas Giant,” Sharon Parker, the park’s communications manager, says, “Six Flags is home to a long list of industry firsts. Innovation is in our DNA. Seven years after ‘New Texas Giant’ debuted the revolutionary steel-track fabrication, the technology continues to thrill guests at other Six Flags parks and beyond.”

Oldest Continually Operating Roller Coasters

Two coasters have continuously operated for more than 100 years without significant interruptions, except for maintenance and servicing:

“Scenic Railway,” Luna Park, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

This ride has thrilled guests since 1912 and, notably, also holds the record for the longest-operating roller coaster in the same location. Because of its status in the world of coasters, Mary Stuart, executive director and CEO of Luna Park, says people travel all the way to Australia from other continents just to ride this coaster.

“American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) organize a tour here specially to ride the ‘Great Scenic Railway.’ [We] often have international visitors who come for the ‘Scenic!’” Stuart exclaims.


“Rutschebanen,” opened in 1914, is a historic wooden coaster at Tivoli Gardens. (Credit: Tivoli Gardens)

“Rutschebanen,” Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark

This wooden coaster has faced some unusual challenges since it opened in 1914. The ride was attacked and damaged by Nazi sympathizers in 1944, and during a fuel shortage in 1945 caused by World War II, the coaster trains had to be manually pulled to the top of the lift hill. 

“We love and cherish ‘Rutschebanen,’” says Ellen Dahl, the park’s communications consultant. “Our carpenters take care of maintenance with the utmost care and enjoy using the old tricks of the trade that are not commonly used any longer. Coaster fans from all over the world visit to ride the historic ride, which is still both fun and thrilling.”

“Montaña Suiza,” Monte Igueldo Amusement Park, San Sebastián, Gipuzkoa, Spain

As the world’s oldest continually operating steel coaster, it opened in 1928 featuring a track formed almost entirely of concrete with steel running rails. It’s also the longest-operating steel coaster in the same location.

—Jake Anderson contributed to this report’s research.


Steeplechase Park was an amusement park at Coney Island that operated from 1897 to 1964, offering numerous rides and well-known landmarks. (Credit: Coney Island History Project)

Ride Back in Time at Coney Island

Celebrating the past of an American icon

by Arthur Levine

Long before Disneyland, before roller coasters evolved into an international phenomenon, and even before IAAPA was founded, there was Coney Island. As with many storied places in New York City, this classic amusement mecca is etched in our collective consciousness.

Coney Island conjures a riot of sights and sounds that recalls both a simpler time and a wilder time: screaming passengers aboard the many white-latticed roller coasters that dotted the boardwalk; the stately spires and statues at Dreamland; riders mounting the “Steeplechase’s” mechanical steeds; cars swinging and swaying on the “Wonder Wheel”; the clanging of the carousels’ band organs bleeding into the clamor of the crowd; the “Parachute Jump” towering high above it all.


Coney Island’s beach offered a summer respite from the hot, hectic city. (Credit: Coney Island History Project)

This Brooklyn outpost was many things, including an oceanside refuge for teeming masses seeking relief from the city’s summertime inferno. It was a proverbial melting pot, bringing people from many cultures and classes together in a kind of grand social experiment. It was a place where immigrants could open a business and pursue their American dream. But more than anything, Coney Island was a beloved amusement area.

Its importance to the attractions industry cannot be overstated. It was where seminal events, such as the debut of LaMarcus Thompson’s “Gravity Pleasure Switch Back Railway,” helped launch the modern era of amusement parks. As Coney Island expanded in the early 1900s, it secured its place as the epicenter of the burgeoning industry. It wasn’t just the 3.5 miles of rides and attractions that lined the boardwalk. It was where many of the most prominent ride manufacturers set up their shops. In addition to Thompson, legendary designers, entrepreneurs, and businesses such as Charles I.D. Looff, M.C. Illions and Sons Carousell (sic) Works, and the W.F. Mangels Company were all based in Coney Island. The manufacturers would use the amusement area as both a laboratory to test their ride innovations and a showcase to market them.

It’s not all past tense, however. While the seaside amusement park has had its ups and downs, there’s a resurgence of development and preservation efforts recently. At about three square blocks, the core amusement area today is a shadow of the sprawling 23 blocks of parks, rides, bathhouses, food concessions, bungalow colonies, and other attractions that used to greet visitors in Coney Island’s heyday. Still, along with newer additions, a surprising number of treasured elements remain. And there are vestiges of the past, some hidden and some hiding in plain sight, waiting to be discovered.

For those who make the pilgrimage to Coney Island, several resources are available to help visitors celebrate the past.


The Coney Island Museum is housed on the second floor of the historic Childs Restaurant building, where visitors can view vintage bumper cars, funhouse mirrors, old roller coaster seats, and antique artifacts. (Credit: Norman Blake)

Magical History Tour

One place to start is the free-admission Exhibition Center of the Coney Island History Project, located on West 12th Street in a building that was formerly a bathhouse. There you’ll find a funky animated Cyclops figure that used to sit atop the “Spook-A-Rama” dark ride, handwritten operating instructions for the “Wonder Wheel” scribbled on a piece of cardboard, and many other artifacts crammed into the small space. You’ll also find volunteers eager to share their knowledge.

Charles Denson is the History Project’s executive director. Growing up in the Coney Island neighborhood, he has an abiding love for and fascination with the amusement area that was his childhood playground. 

“The history of Coney Island is really a cultural history that is the history of America,” Denson says. “Everyone can relate to it. It’s important to preserve it.”

As the historian and author of “Coney Island: Lost and Found,” Denson joined with Carol and Jerry Albert, the former owners and operators of Astroland (which is now part of Luna Park) and the founders of the History Project, to advance the nonprofit’s mission. In addition to the exhibition center, the organization records oral history interviews and honors Coney Island Hall of Fame inductees.

Horrified by the closing of Steeplechase Park in 1964 when he was 12 years old, the precocious Denson aligned with the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce and began conducting tours of the amusement area. He wanted to help tell the area’s story before it was gone altogether. Perhaps inspired by Denson’s work as an adolescent, the History Project presents walking tours.

The Walking Tours of Coney Island are small-group, 1.5-hour tours that offer fascinating insights into the past and present of the amusement area. Local historians conduct the tours and incorporate archival photos to help illustrate their spiels—like how the famous “Parachute Jump” was originally conceived as a military training device. In addition, tour guides share how ride operators would intentionally stop the ride midway up so that passengers would scream and draw a crowd. Plus, Feltman’s (credited as originating the hot dog), served thousands of meals at a time from the world’s largest restaurant. One of its employees, Nathan Handwerker, opened his own Coney Island stand, undercut Feltman’s, and eventually became a hot dog hero with the aptly named Nathan’s Famous.


Admission to the Coney Island History Project’s Exhibition Center is free, allowing visitors to explore historic artifacts, photographs, maps, and more related to Coney Island’s past. (Credit: Arthur Levine)

Celebrating the Past, Building the Future

Head to the second floor of the historic Childs Restaurant building on Surf Avenue to visit the Coney Island Museum and you can ogle vintage bumper cars, funhouse mirrors, old roller coaster seats, antique postcards, and more artifacts from the amusement area’s glorious past. An exhibit about beach culture history includes rental bathing suits improbably made of wool.

The museum is run by Coney Island USA, which also presents a circus sideshow and organizes the famous Mermaid Parade. Presiding over the organization is its charismatic founder and artistic director, Dick Zigun, aka the “Mayor of Coney Island” (“permanently unelected,” he wryly notes). Calling the beachside community home since the 1970s, Zigun enjoys celebrating and sharing its past. But he is heartened and upbeat about its present and future, as well, ticking off milestones such as a new hotel that is under development; the remodeled Stillwell Terminal, which is one of the world’s largest subway stations; the opening of MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball team; and the investment and stewardship of Zamperla, the amusement company that operates Luna Park.

“We are running out of acreage,” Zigun says about the recent flurry of development. He believes it will inevitably lead to an expansion of the current amusement area. “People are going to be surprised in a few years. There’s going to be a solid tourist-friendly strip.”

Denson is also encouraged that Zamperla is using Luna Park to feature its latest attractions, just like industry pioneers did over a century ago. Today, Coney Island is a combination of some of the oldest, most beloved rides, while serving as a showroom for the manufacturer’s newest rides.

“The History Project is not about nostalgia and longing for the past. It’s about the area’s future and what endures,” Denson adds. “Coney Island is a shared experience that is passed down from generation to generation. It’s a magical, special place.”

Arthur Levine covers the attractions industry for USA Today and authors Funworld’s “The Art of Attractions” column each month.

Island Oases: The Past is Present at These Coney Island Spots

Attractions industry fans may regard Coney Island as a shrine, but it is more than a place to be studied and admired from a detached distance. It is a living, thriving slice of Americana. Even though the following attractions have survived for many decades, visitors are enjoying them today for the intrinsic fun and thrills they provide. Some are even oblivious to their historical significance. 

“Coney Island Cyclone”—The grand dame of the Brooklyn amusement area may be one of the world’s most famous roller coasters. Opened in 1927, the “Cyclone” still uses manual, mechanical brake levers, and forgoes seat dividers. It also still delivers a ride sometimes imitated, but never duplicated.

“Wonder Wheel”—Opened in 1920, the 150-foot-tall marvel of industrial engineering offers stationary cars and gondolas that swing along tracks embedded in the frame of the wheel. Either way, passengers get spectacular views of Coney Island and the Manhattan skyline. 

Classic Kiddie Rides—Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park is also home to historic flat rides, including “Fire Engines” and “Pony Carts,” manufactured by the W.F. Mangels Company. To operate the attractions, attendants still use the original red ride control boxes, embossed with the name “Mangels.”

“Spook-A-Rama”—Coney Island’s last remaining permanently installed dark ride, and one of the few from the Pretzel Amusement Ride Company, is still operating at Deno’s. Dating back to 1955, “Spook-A-Rama” endures as a scary/campy delight.

“B&B Carousell”—Manufactured by Mangels in 1906, “B&B Carousell” is Coney Island’s only surviving antique carousel (although you can no longer grab the brass ring). 

Nathan’s Famous—When it opened in 1916, Nathan’s charged a nickel for a hot dog. You’ll have to shell out more than that today. While the price changed, the same great taste remains.

Gargiulo’s Restaurant—Dating back to 1907, the highly rated Italian eatery still serves delicious fare.