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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 26, 1927

Welcome to the twenty-sixth of June, everybody. Because it's Tuesday, we're going to go back in time to a significant event in history dealing with pop culture and entertainment. This time around, we're going back in time to a year that I've never done before. In fact, we're actually going back to a decade that I have never done before.

Of course, before we do that, we have some other bits and bites to get through first. June 26th was a busy day in history, and I think that we have to talk about some of these events before we get to the main topic. After all, it's what we do every Tuesday, right?

All right. So, let's see who is celebrating a birthday on June 26th, shall we? We have Charlotte Zolotow, Eleanor Parker, Yoshiro Nakamatsu, Colin Wilson, Dave Grusin, Robert Maclennin, Jean-Claude Turcotte (no relation to me), Billy Davis Jr., John Beasley, Pamela Bellwood, Mick Jones, Gedde Watanabe, Chris Isaak, Patty Smyth, Greg LeMond, Terri Nunn, Harriet Wheeler, Sean Hayes, Chris O'Donnell, Gretchen Wilson, Rebecca Budig, Derek Jeter, Jason Kendall, Matt Striker, Chris Armstrong, Ed Jovanovski, Chad Pennington, Quincy Lewis, Brandi Burkhardt, Jason Schwartzman, and Jennette McCurdy.

In short, June 26 seems to be the year of the athlete, as most of these people listed play some form of professional sport. Look it up if you aren't convinced.

And, in case you're wondering, here are some of the significant events that took place on June 26.

1723 – Baku surrenders to the Russians after a siege and bombardment

1848 – The end of June Days Uprising in Paris, France

1857 – The first investiture of the Victorian Cross in Hyde Park, London

1870 – The Christian holiday of Christmas is declared an official federal holiday in the United States

1886 – Elemental Fluorine is isolated by chemist Henri Moissan

1907 – 1907 Tiflis Bank Robbery takes place in what is now called Freedom Square in Tbilisi

1917 – The first U.S. Troops arrive in France to fight alongside Britain and France against Germany in World War I

1934 – President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passes the Federal Credit Union Act, which leads to the creation of credit unions all over the United States

1936 – Initial flight of the Focke-Wulf Fw 61, the world's first practical helicopter

1941 – Soviet planes bomb Kassa, Hungary during World War II, which leads to Hungary declaring war the next day

1942 – The first flight of the Grumman F6F Hellcat

1945 – United Nations Charter is signed in San Francisco, California

1948 – Shirley Jackson's short story, The Lottery, is published in The New Yorker

1959 – The opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway

1960 – Madagascar becomes independent from France

1973 – Nine people are killed following an explosion of a Cosmos 3-M rocket at Plesetsk Cosmodrome

1974 – The first UPC is scanned at a grocery store in Troy, Ohio using a package of Wrigley's gum

1975 – Two officers are killed as well as a member of the American Indian Movement in a shootout at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation; Leonard Peltier is charged with the murders and later convicted in a controversial trial

1978 – Air Canada Flight 189 crashes into Etobicoke Creek ravine, killing two

1983 – Daytime soap opera “Loving” debuts on ABC as a two hour movie starring Lloyd Bridges and Geraldine Page, show would be cancelled in 1995

1996 – Irish journalist Veronica Guerin is shot in her car on the outskirts of Dublin

2003 – U.S. Supreme Court rules that gender based sodomy laws are unconstitutional

2007 – Fashion designer Liz Claiborne passes away at the age of 78

2008 – U.S. Supreme Court declares the District of Columbia handgun ban unconstitutional

Wow, June 26th was a busy day in history, wasn't it? It kind of makes you wonder what year we're going to focus on, doesn't it?

Well, we're going back in time eighty-five years to June 26, 1927.

(And, yes, I did design the year picture just like the logo. I think I'm going to do this for all future Tuesday Timeline entries.)

So, what happened on June 26, 1927? Well, it happens to be a very important day in the world of amusement parks. I imagine that for those of you who love riding on roller coasters at the park may know the significance of this date in history. But for those of you who don't, I'll fill you all in.

Have you ever heard of a place known as Coney Island? It happens to be located on a peninsula just outside of Brooklyn, New York. Traditionally, it has been known to be a hub of entertainment filled with amusement parks, at least one major resort, and a national hot dog eating contest. Between 1880 and 1945, Coney Island was considered to be the largest amusement park area in the United States. At the height of its popularity, there were three parks in direct competition with each other. There was Dreamland, Steeplechase Park, and Luna Park. 

Steeplechase Park closed up in 1964, and MCU Park now sits in its former location, and both Dreamland and Luna Park closed after they were both destroyed in separate fires. However, these parks later reopened as new incarnations with the same name in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Another park, Astroland, was in operation between 1962 and 2008. In addition to Dreamland and Luna Park, there are Deno's Wonder Wheel and Amusement Park, 12th Street Amusements, Eldorado Arcade, and Kiddie Park.

And Coney Island is where our story begins. For on June 26, 1927, a Coney Island treasure first opened up...a treasure that has provided thrills to riders over the last eighty-five years. It has since been named a historical landmark by New York City (one of three Coney Island rides to get that honour), and it continues to be loved by thousands of people each year.

Today, we're going to take a look at the Cyclone, one of America's oldest wooden roller coasters currently in operation. The coaster was opened to the public eighty-five years ago today.

During the period known as the Roaring Twenties, roller coasters were all the rage. It seemed as though a new roller coaster was being built every few months. On Coney Island, two roller coasters were already getting a lot of buzz. When the Thunderbolt was completed in 1925, and the Tornado was built just a year later, it prompted brothers Irving and Jack Rosenthal to come up with a roller coaster design of their own. The brothers invested $100,000 into the project (a ridiculously high amount in 1927), which was to be built on the intersection of West 10th Street and Surf Avenue. Vernan Keenan was hired to design the coaster, while Harry C. Baker supervised the construction of the coaster. When the coaster was finally completed in early 1927, the estimated final cost of the coaster was approximately $175,000 (in 1927 dollars).

TRIVIA: When the ride opened, the cost to ride the coaster was a mere quarter. As of 2011, it costs eight dollars to ride!

The ride itself boasted a series of features that made it stand out when compared to other roller coasters. It contained an eighty-five foot drop, could carry almost fifteen hundred riders per hour, and went at a speed of 60 miles per hour. When the Cyclone was completed, it was at the time the fastest roller coaster in the world, an honour that it held onto for almost five decades before it was unseated by the Screamin' Eagle in 1976.

The ride was extremely popular for years after it was completed, and the coaster was reportedly the site of a supposed legend. Although I have no proof of whether this event really happened, but I found it to be an interesting tale to say the least. Reportedly in the late 1940s, a coal miner who had aphonia (the inability to talk) rode the coaster. Upon reaching the coaster's first drop, the man screamed and said the words “I feel sick”, the first words he had spoken in years! Upon the realization that he had spoken, he passed out cold! Again, it's hard to say whether this story is real or make-believe, but either way, I was amused.

Of course, there were some instances in which the Cyclone almost shut down for good. By the late 1960s, the ride was beginning to show signs of decay, and was actually shut down the following year. The Cyclone was purchased by the City of New York in 1971, but due to the decrease in riders, the ride was officially condemned, and was at risk of being demolished completely when the New York Aquarium expressed a desire to expand. But thanks to an impromptu “Save The Cyclone” petition was started up, the Cyclone was soon leased to the Astroland Amusement Park (which was situated nearby), and was completely refurbished by the owners of the park. On July 3, 1975, the Cyclone was re-opened, and has remained open ever since. Even though Astroland went out of business in 2008, the ride is still in operation, largely due to the fact that it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1991.

While the majority of the history is positive in regards to The Cyclone, the roller coaster has had its share of horrible accidents. At least three people have been killed while riding the Cyclone. However, in at least two of those cases, it was carelessness by the riders themselves that caused the deaths, not the ride itself. In the third case, a 53-year-old man broke several vertabrae while he was riding and died from complications from surgery to repair the damage four days later.

But in the long run, The Cyclone has been at the center of a lot of accolades. It was prominently featured in the 1978 film, “The Wiz”, as well as the 1988 film “Shakedown”. You can watch the trailer for that film below to see what I mean.

The coaster is also the site for a world record set by Richard Rodriguez. In 1977, when Rodriguez was 19 years old, he rode on the Cyclone for a grand total of 104 consecutive hours on a roller coaster! And for the Cyclone's 70th anniversary in 1997, tightrope walker Tino Wallenda walked across a tightrope suspended between the two highest points of the coaster.

TRIVIA: Does that last name sound familiar? If you watched Nik Wallenda traverse Niagara Falls across a tightrope just a week and a half ago, you might see the connection.

One final note to add before I end this look back through time. You know how the Cyclone was built after a couple of other successful roller coasters were built on Coney Island previously? You know, the Thunderbolt and the Tornado? Well, the Thunderbolt was closed up in 1982, and torn down with the arrival of the new millennium, while the Tornado's fate was sealed by arsonists who torched the coaster in 1977.

Of the three coasters that were built during the 1920s on Coney Island, the Cyclone is the only one still standing, and still in operation. No wonder it's loved so much by so many people.

That's our look back on June 26, 1927. I hope you enjoyed the ride!

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