June 13: Coney’s First Coaster

Coney Island“Get your tickets ready, get your tickets ready! Be amongst the first to ride Coney Island’s Switchback Railway, the first “roller coasting structure” in this or any other amusement park in these United States of America! Only one shiny nickle!”

That’s presumably what you would have heard if you were visiting Coney Island on this day in 1884 when the Switchback Railway opened. The Switchback Railway was probably the first roller coaster in an American amusement park. Designed by LaMarcus Thompson, the Switchback Railway was a technical marvel for it’s time: Riders would sit in a train car as it headed down a 600-foot track, reaching a top speed of six miles per hour…until the train car hit the hill and lost momentum. At this point, riders would walk to a platform at the other end of the track and wait until workers pushed the train car uphill and transferred it to the other track. At this point, patrons would then enjoy another 600-foot ride back to the coaster’s entrance.

Okay, so the two minute ride doesn’t have much appeal for modern thrill seekers, but the Switchback Railway was a hit in its time and earned $600 to $700 daily. At five cents a ride, that’s over 12,000 riders a day!

Much like Coney Island’s first roller coaster, the Coney Island Cocktail is a simple thing that gives great thrills. This combination of brandy, milk and hazelnut liqueur may not sound like the most exciting drink, but it is quite enjoyable.

Coney Island Cocktail

  • 1 ounce Brandy
  • 4 ounces milk
  • 1 ounce Hazelnut Liqueur (i. e. Frangelico)

Shake all ingredients with ice, and strain into a rocks glass filled with ice cubes.

Tomorrow: Bourbon! Need I say more?


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