2009-10-30 / Columnists

Historical Views of the Rockaways

A Special To Readers Of Views In The Wave
From The Rockaway Museum Commentary by Emil Lucev, Curator Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke

For almost four decades, Histor - ical Views of the Rockaways has been featuring images of the old Seaside Amuse ment section of the Rockaway Beach pen in sula. Many illustrations published from my collection of rare and antique picture postcards, gave a good look at the early switchback types of gravity operated thrill rides, which at this day and age has "evolved" into the modern day super-duper roller coasters, the type which makes some of us … chicken out.

As readers of Views are already aware, these early coasters were aka automatic tobaggans, scenic railways, and sickening spectacles to the older crowd of the times. (See pages 62 and 71 in my book - the Rockaways - put out by yours truly and Arcadia publishing.com. Sales are fast approaching sixteen hundred copies sold.)

There were two switchbacks in Seaside, one at the west end until the year 1909, the other at the east end until 1921. Both were replaced by more modern coasters. Rockaway Beach had four coasters at one time; the Hurricane, the Jack-Rabbit, the Thunderbolt, and the Thriller.

Recently, while studying native Americana at the Touching Stone Casino near Lake Onieda in Upper Central New York State, yours truly did spot a sign directing persons to Sylvan Beach on that lake! One of my old postcards had a view of Sylvan Beach taken a century ago. The view was of a water toboggan ride down into that beautiful body of water; once a part of the old Erie Canal! Remember that project's continuance from Albany to Far Rockaway via the Hudson, Newtown Creek, Jamaica Bay Route … to the great South Bay via Woodmere Bay … to Riverhead, LI?

Upon arriving at Sylvan Beach on Lake Onieda, the place was closed for the season (as it was past Labor Day) but what I spotted within the small amusement park thereat … was worth the late trip!

What I spotted was worth a special for Historical View followers and appears today in all its glory … a blast from the past for real. Inside that little playland, outstanding in all its glory, was a modern day "switchback" coaster, made of metal - not wood - as were its great, great, grandfathers in the Rockaways a century ago. The ride was called the "Galaxy."

This three story blast from the past is shown today in views, and is almost an exact copy of the old Rockaways' Seaside switchbacks. I intend to go back for a ride of the century.

The first and foremost switchback appeared in the Seaside Amusement area in 1888, and was lost in the great Seaside fire of 1892. The inventor of the gravity railroad was L.A. Thompson, who in 1902, built an amusement park near Seaside, which became Rockaways' Playland in 1928.

As a matter of note, L.A. Thompson opened his first switchback, Gravity Road, on the west side of Feltman's original Pavilion, which was located in Brooklyn on the west side of the East Tenth Street, south of Coney Island Avenue (Surf Avenue, today).

Built in 1884, Thompson's invention of the switchback Gravity Road is reported to have been featured in the June, 1884 issue of Scientific-Amer - ican Magazine. So far, yours truly has not been able to locate a copy of that old publication. Does anyone out in Waveland have a copy?

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