2009-07-10 / Columnists

Historical Views of the Rockaways

The Great, Great, Great Granddaddy Of The Modern Day Rollercoaster!
From The Rockaway Museum by Emil Lucev, Curator Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke

In 1884 this amusement ride was introduced to the amusement world by an old friend of Lamarcus A. Thompson, who was also into so called playthings when they were both young lads. The unknown friend developed an amusement ride and set it up at a beach area in New Orleans, Louisianna. The new device was a wheel, approximately 100 feet in diameter, set on a vertical axle tilted so that one side of the wheel was inches above the ground, while the opposite end was twenty feet up. Park benches were placed on the opposite side and filled with four riders each, who were tightly strapped in. With the wheel thusly balanced with riders at five cents a head, the spinning power was supplied by Thompson's friend. This required very little effort on the owners part, and the resulting screams, laughs, and cries of the riders drew large crowds to see what was going on. This resulted in plenty more cash customers, and voila!, success. His old boyhood friend offered L.A. Thompson a half interest in the device and Thompson accepted. The new Razzle Dazzle later became world renown.

Being that Thompson was a mechanical whiz and inventor extraordinaire, his active mind began to develop ideas on how to get more riders on Razzle Dazzle for greater profits, or evolve the device for the same gain.

It is reasonable to assume that Thompson's skills in production and construction, that already made him a wealthy man in prior years, and all the ideas in his head gelling together due to the invention of the Razzle Dazzle, caused him to build the first switchback (an early rollercoaster) in Coney Island, Brooklyn. This was also in 1884.

The switchback evolved into the bigger and faster and higher scenic railways and rollercoasters, as well as the present super coasters built the world over! L.A. Thompson was known as Mr. Gravity and the inventor of same due to his switchback of 1884. In 1888 there were two switchbacks in Rockaway Beach.

I wonder if Thompson's homestate of Ohio had anything to do with the invention? After all … after the fact … Ohio is round on both ends and high in the middle … isn't it?

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