Thursday, June 22, 2017

Vintage Postcards - Coney Island

Hey ho, it's time for another post featuring some vintage postcards from the collection of Ken Martinez! This one is especially great in my opinion - I have always been fascinated by those early amusement parks and their "scenic railways". The postcards make them look pretty amazing. Heeeeeere's Ken:

Coney Island Mountain Range

One of the things I discovered when I first started digging into the history of amusement parks back in the 1970’s was that there were “mountain” type  attractions well before Disney built them in their parks. Coney Island was a prime example which contained various “mountain” attractions through its early history, usually a rolling gravity scenic railway with manmade rocks, crags, tunnels and peaks.

Here’s an early Thompson wooden scenic railway called “Pike’s Peak Railway” which was located off Surf Avenue near Dreamland.  The ride operated from 1906 to 1911.  The structure which was in the form of a mountain rose to a height of 138 feet (only 9 feet shorter than Disneyland’s Matterhorn).  The ride would take riders up a lift hill and down the gravity railway, passing through the “mountain” over precipitous crags and through various caverns.  The attraction perished in the 1911 Dreamland fire.

This postcard kind of reminds me of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland.  It was officially called “Over the Great Divide” but was also referred to as “Trip over the Alps”.  It operated from 1907 to 1911.  20-passenger trains would travel to a height of 50 feet then wind their way down the tracks around turns, through tunnels and over a 70 foot bridge between “Yellowstone Mountain” and the “Great Divide” over a lake 40 feet below.  There was also a volcano that erupted at the highest point of the trip.  Each train was operated by a motorman who controlled the speed of the trains during the run through their course.  As with the “Pikes Peak Railway” this attraction also perished in the 1911 Dreamland fire.

Pictured here is the “Mountain Torrent” ride which was a combination coaster and shoot-the chutes ride.  Its location was in Luna Park near the Dragon’s Gorge Scenic Railway.  Passengers actually climbed by foot up an 80 foot “peak” where they would board vehicles/boats (which had utilized wheels) and raced down a flume which carried high volumes of rushing water helping push the “boat” along.  The ride ended in a finale with a splashdown into a glacial lake at the bottom of the mountain.  Sound familiar?  It ran from 1906 to 1910.

Here’s a close up view of the “Mountain Torrent” vehicles.  Another aspect of these cards that I love is the clothing worn by the people from the 1900’s.

Hope you enjoyed a peek at Coney Island’s “mountain range”.  There are more Coney Island postcards to come.

Information Source material: 
Funland U.S.A. copyright 1978 by Tim Onosko
Coney Island History Site

MANY THANKS to Ken Martinez for this awesome post!!


TokyoMagic! said...

Wow, what great images these are! I really thought the idea for a mountain with little cars running around on it was an idea that was original to Disney back in 1959. Who knew that they were just a bunch of copycats over there? Thanks for sharing these with us, Ken and Major!

Chuck said...

Ken, this is a wonderful assembly of attractions I had absolutely no idea had ever existed. "Pike's Peak Railway," "Over the Great Divide," "Mountain Torrent," "Coney Island" - never heard of them before. Looking forward to a new research tangent...

Thanks so much for sharing your amazing collection with us again!

TM! - Next you'll be telling me Disney didn't invent the churro...

Unknown said...

Thanks so much, Mr. Martinez. It's posts like yours that keep this site so encyclopedic in knowledge as well as good clean fun.

JG said...

Ken and Major, this is brilliant. Just amazing. Like the rest, I assumed that the Matterhorn started it all...

@Chuck, "churros", LOL. Those were invented by Mike Fink.

Thanks everyone, just splendid.


Nanook said...


As you noted, the clothing seen back in these times is such a hoot-! Somehow seeing folks at Disneyland back in the 1950's wearing coats & ties and dresses now doesn't seem quote so goofy. One wonders just how many a plumage-filled hat was lost from the G-forces. (Although in the last image I do see a hand grasping a feathered hat - and of course - they DID invent hat pins for a reason. This may just be one of them...)

Thanks, Ken.

Chuck said...

JG - of course! How could I forget that song?

Girls run and hide,
Brave men run like burros.
He's Mike Fink,
King of the Churros!

zach said...

I want to live off Surf Avenue near Dreamland! And be called Gumpelson and buy things for 5c.

Chuck, Disneyland did invent the $4.25 Churro.

Thanks, Ken. And Major.

d(just call me Gumpelson)z

K. Martinez said...

TokyoMagic!, One thing I know for sure is that Disneyland was not "America's 1st Theme Park" and it wasn't the one that started it all. That claim belongs to a little fruit farm down the road. ;)

Chuck, When digging into the history of amusement/theme parks, I've found that attractions that are introduced as new today have been done in some form or other in the past. Disney just happens to be the best at doing it.

Patrick Devlin, Thank you. Because of Major's generosity in allowing his readers to share their photos and collections, it makes GDB a great site for learning new stuff. I think I learn something new here almost every day just from reader input alone.

JG, In one way the Matterhorn did start it all when it comes to the modern roller coaster. It was the first to use the tubular rail system found on most modern coasters today. At least that's what I was told.

Nanook, I too wondered about the visitors hats staying attached. Of course not much has changed with that as I still have to wear my cap backwards for any thrill ride or I lose it to the forces of the ride.

Chuck, next time I go to Disneyland, I want a Keelboat made of churros.

David Zacher, "Disneyland invented the $4.25 Churro" Ha, ha! I'll believe that before the Dorito story.

Major Pepperidge said...

Hey everybody, I appreciate the “thank yous” from people, but Ken did all of the work… I just put it on the blog! This was possibly my favorite of all of his many articles, just because of my personal interest in the early rides that are real ancestors to rides like the Calico Mine Train or even the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom. The idea of what the “Pike’s Peak Railway” would have been like in 1910 is hard to imagine to our modern brains.

Ken, I know that Knott’s has been given the “First theme park” mantle by many, and “The Old West” is certainly a theme, but I wonder if the somebody meant that Disneyland had multiple themes all in one park? It is splitting hairs, for sure.

JG said...

@Chuck, that was the song I was thinking of.

@Ken, I have read that info about the Matterhorn tubular rail innovation several places, pretty sure it's factual.

On the topic of others doing it first and Disney doing it best, there are some fascinating examples on the Haunted Mansion blog "Long Forgotten".

The anonymous blogger HBG2 has several articles on forerunners of the mansion, including numerous implementations of the "Pepper's Ghost" illusion which drives the main ballroom scene. There was a long history of haunted rooms, houses, scenes, etc. in the era of today's post. Disney assembled a bunch of existing illusions together, brilliantly tuned up and perfected. That's not meant to knock the HM, the original concept is still probably my favorite DL attraction. I don't care for the holiday overlays too much, though. But the historic antecedents are laid out carefully and clearly by HBG2, as well as the evolution of the attraction from a walk-through like 20,000 Leagues to the automated wonder of today.

Anyway, time spent at Long Forgotten is well repaid with good information and insights. Cheers all.


K. Martinez said...

Major, Thank you for the compliment. It was one of those articles I wanted to do for a while.

My comment about "America's 1st Theme Park" was inspired by my last visit to Knott's in which I purchased an item at the Market Place and after the transaction was completed, the cashier said to me "Thank you for stopping by the theme park that started it all". That took me by surprise when I heard that. I truly love Knott's and am a huge fan of the place, but I don't think they have to resort to that. They are not Disneyland and that's okay. I love Knott's for what is. There's a unique aspect to Knott's that not even Disney could pull off.

I could go on about why I think Knott's isn't the first theme park, but perhaps that is for a future article on what a theme park is. Again, thanks for allowing me to share with your readers.

K. Martinez said...

JG, It's factual about the Matterhorn tubular rails. I was just kidding with you.

Also, thanks for the link to the "Long Forgotten" blog. When reading the article, I noticed reference to Frances Lichten's wonderful 1950 book "Decorative Art of Victoria's Era". I have that book and one can definitely see how the book played a key role in the development of the Haunted Mansion.

TokyoMagic! said...

Chuck, Sorry but it's true....Disney did not invent the churro. And Knott's was serving them for years before Disney was. Not that Knott's invented it, and not that Disney didn't have a right to start selling them, but I remember a time period when Disney started taking a cue from Knott's with some of their decisions. The big one being the building of a "log ride" that looks very much like Knott's Timber Mountain Log Ride.