One of the most annoying things about going to an amusement park (and there's plenty to choose from) is all the stupid precautions, from those bars that pin you to the seat even if you're just going to the bathroom to the part where they force you to listen as a suicidal ride attendant recites the same warnings for the 500th time in the day.
Amusement park owners weren't always so cautious, though, and even these days, there are still some reminders of why all that crap is necessary. Like ...
Russia has a long, proud, terrifying history with roller coasters dating back to the 17th century, when something (most likely copious amounts of vodka consumption) convinced the Russians that constructing massive wooden scaffolds, coating them in ice and pushing their children down them would be a great idea.
"Thank goodness child abuse hasn't been invented yet!"
Russian Mountains are basically giant, nearly five-stories-tall slides built from the most rudimentary materials possible -- even the "sleighs" were made entirely out of ice. This is the sort of ingenious yet utterly unlikely contraption you'd expect to find in an episode of The Flintstones. Riders would climb up the long, rickety staircase and fling themselves down on frozen toboggans, which often came complete with a purposefully placed bump at the end just to jar your groin a bit more.
Ultimate Roller Coaster
That is, assuming your groin wasn't still attached to the ice at the top of the slide.
As for safety measures, they consisted of a rope fastened to the sleigh for you to hold on to as you careened down the track at what was typically a 50-degree angle and the period's most technologically advanced stopping mechanism:
The greatest achievement in 17th-century engineering.
The straw was actually sprinkled in small layers at the end of the slide to provide friction, a measure that typically allowed at least one of the several riders to survive any given trip.
Roller Coaster History
"You know, Yuri, at this point a revolution might kill fewer people."
Since they relied on ice, Russian Mountains were only available during the winter -- that is, until thrill-seeking Russian Empress Catherine the Great (the Michael Jackson of the 1700s, apparently) decided to have her own personal slide built in her back yard and demanded that it be usable during the brief portion of the year that Russia isn't a depressing ice sculpture, laws of nature be damned. Her terrified subjects solved the problem by using wheeled carts instead of ice tracks, thus inventing the modern roller coaster.
"Now great lines shall form in front of the structure, and men shall dress as mice and ducks."
When French entrepreneurs witnessed this invention during the Napoleonic Wars, they brought the idea back to their home country, where news of the fantastic thrills spread throughout the land via slender, mustachioed men. In the mid-1800s, a version of the dry slide made a debut on Coney Island in the United States -- but it wasn't the first American roller coaster, or the most insane ...
What's the longest roller coaster ride you've taken? Three to four minutes, probably. And all of it spent, no doubt, tightly pinned down by your chest bar in a car that was safely secured to the track. The Mauch Chunk Railway in Carbon County, Penn., had no time for any of that shit.
Mostly because none of it had been invented yet.
The downhill railway traveled at a maximum speed of 100 miles per hour, propelled entirely by a little thing called "gravity." It was actually built in 1827 as a coal delivery system, but in a flash of brilliance, the workers had the idea of occasionally filling the cars with children and shoving them down the hill for a quick buck. A single pants-shitting ride in this prehistoric roller coaster lasted something like half an hour, by which time the cars were probably overflowing with the occupants' tears.
"For the love of God, someone invent OSHA!"
This created one of the most amazingly intense and dumbfoundingly stupid public attractions of all time, especially considering that the mere ability to secure the car to the track was still some 100 years away from being invented -- meaning that the railway was not so much a roller coaster as it was, in the words of roller coaster historians, "a runaway train."
It was like Splash Mountain minus the water and the racist cartoon characters.
The ride became so popular that it was eventually transformed into a full-time tourist attraction, complete with a hotel and a restaurant at the top of the track (plus a gift shop selling artists' impressions of people flashing their boobs and what your face looked like at the height of the terror, we like to imagine). At some point the coal cars were replaced by a small train ... but it was still completely powered by gravity and human fear. Apparently, the transition from "mining rail" to "roller coaster" was mostly a matter of semantics.
They did add a second steam-powered uphill track that could take passengers to the top in only 80 minutes (this was a major improvement from the previous 4.5 hours), but if you ask us, the way up must have been even more terrifying. Think about it: You know that awful moment when the car is slowly inching toward the top of the roller coaster and you start hating yourself for ever getting on this thing? Imagine that same anticipation lasting for over an hour.
The sides of the rail were littered with the corpses of those who preferred to jump off.
The Mauch Chunk Railway finally closed during the Great Depression, forcing hundreds of masochistic thrill seekers to have to look for other ways to suffer. Fortunately, it was the Great Depression. But, speaking of the gross misuse of technology for the sake of amusement ...
Ever wonder what happened to all the catapults once humankind figured out more efficient ways to hurl shit at each other? They're probably in some museum or something, right? As it turns out, one of them (or at least a very good replica) ended up in the Middlemoor Water Park in the U.K. -- where people paid $70 to be catapulted into the air in the manner of a medieval projectile.
Even without the catapult, this still looks like the worst water park ever.
The "human trebuchet," as they called it, launched unprotected, unsecured patrons more than 75 feet into a free-standing air net suspended between giant poles. This allowed park visitors to recreate the experience of being a plague-ridden corpse in the Middle Ages.
The Dangerous Sports Club
The English have a Dangerous Sports Club? Why don't we have one of those?
In 2002, the trebuchet proved to be exactly as safe as it looks when one man tragically missed the safety net. But despite claiming one life and causing at least one other person serious injuries, the deadly attraction (presumably closed by now) actually became a huge hit in Japan. This is the part where we act surprised.
We have no idea what the narrator in this video is saying, but we imagine he's expressing bafflement over the fact that the English did not think to attach fireworks to the men's feet while forcing their grandmothers to watch as they were launched. Incidentally, that's exactly what the Japanese did when they imported the idea.
You continue to find new ways to surprise us, Japan.