Coney Island

Remembering a stomach-dropping childhood ride on the Coney Island Cyclone

September 17, 2020 William A. Gralnick
The Cyclone’s opening has been postponed because of the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Lore Croghan/Brooklyn Eagle
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Most every kid who is a roller coaster fan knows the Cyclone. It is an aged boxer that can still give you a pretty good whack in the nose. No, it doesn’t roll over. No, it doesn’t defy gravity like its newer versions. What it does, in its old-fashioned way, is scare the hell out of you.

Take a look at this Jurassic Park creature from another century. First and foremost, it is a wooden roller coaster. The first scary thing is that it isn’t shiny and new, it is old and nasty and makes you wonder if all that wood ever had termites or might just give out from age.

On a new coaster you hear the whoosh of air and the screams of the riders. On the Cyclone, it’s the deafening clank, clank, clank, of the wheels on the chain-driven pulley that take you up to the top at a 58-degree angle and then the clack, clack, clack and ever-increasing speeds from the rails attached to the wooden frame.

Around the high curves there is that sense the whole structure is leaning. That’s terrifying. The ride is 2,460 feet of terror accompanied by sounds from the car that make it sound like it is being torn apart by G-forces. Describe the whole ordeal? Forgedaboudit.

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While it is ever-so-slowly creaking its way to the top, reaching 85 feet in height, let’s get a fuller understanding of what makes up a ride on this creature from the Luna Park Lagoon.

As the train reaches the bottom of the drop, it comes so close to the track above it that the effect is called the head-chopper. While you’re checking your skull, up the car goes into the first high-speed U-turn to the left, descending again beneath the lift hill and rising to a 70-foot-high U-turn to the right.

It descends parallel to the lift hill, enters a camelback hill and rises to a smaller banked-right U-turn, where it dives under the first high-speed curve. After the third U-turn, the train enters a second camelback hill with a fan turn and a smaller airtime section as it approaches a fourth U-turn to the right. The train hops several times more, paralleling the second drop, before entering a final right curve.

All of this has been done at 60 mph amid screams hurtling over your head from front to back. The car drops slightly, ascends into a tunnel with a small left fan turn, and enters a brake run just before re-entering the station.

It was well known among my friends that I was so afraid of the Cyclone that I wouldn’t even walk on the same side of the street with it. One night they jumped me, dragged me across the street kicking and screaming for the police, dumped me into a car, threw a fiver at the trainman — the ride was seventy-five cents then (a tenner now) — and yelled, “GO!” He did.

That 180-degree climb? I thought I’d get hit by a plane landing at LaGuardia, though I did have enough sense left to see one of the most beautiful sights in my life.

The 58-degree drop? I thought I’d either pitch forward out of the car or the car would smash through the ground and I’d end up in China.

That first turn? I slammed into the side of the car so hard I had a bruise for weeks.

It was the longest two-minutes-and-a-half of my life. It wasn’t the speed that was so terrifying — though in the 60s, 60 mph was considered fast, except at the Indianapolis Speedway — it was what kept happening at that speed.

By the time we rolled to a stop, there was no fight left in this dog. In fact, my friends sort of peeled me out of the car. I couldn’t stand, my knees were shaking so much; they had to hold me up. I was motion-sick. My head seemed still attached to the roller coaster and I couldn’t stop the ups and downs.

My friends began to fret. It was then that I smoked the first and only cigarette of my life. One of them lit up a Camel and said, “Take a few drags on this, it’ll settle you down.” Of course, I almost choked to death, but it worked.

Two final thoughts: Thanks to Wikipedia for the technical stuff, and know this: I’ve never been on a roller coaster again in my life. Now at least my age gives me a good excuse.

Bill Gralnick is the author of “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Tales from Brooklyn.” His writings can be found at

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