The 6 Most Terrifying Theme Park Rides Ever Built
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 ...
The Original Russian Mountains
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.
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.
"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 ...
The Mauch Chunk Railway
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 ...
The Human Catapult
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 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.
A ride near Dallas, TX, is so terrifying that it's literally being used to learn more about the nature of fear. It wasn't made by scientists, mind you -- they just found it and went, "Holy shit, let's do some experiments here before they shut it down."
The attraction is located at the Zero Gravity Thrill Park, which we're pretty sure might be the sketchiest-looking amusement park ever. At first glance it appears to be little more than a series of puzzling metal structures, but as you get closer, you learn that each of those structures has a clear purpose: scaring the shit out of you.
Instead of Mickey and Goofy, they have Deliverance-style hillbillies roaming the place.
The park's main attraction is the Suspended Catch Air Device (SCAD), an unnecessarily complicated name for what's basically four pillars and a net.
"Don't worry, rope burn will really complement your whiplash!"
The SCAD works just like the Superman Drop or the Tower of Terror in that it takes you up high and then lets you drop, with the small difference that in this case, you're not actually attached to anything during the drop. Basically, the whole "mechanism" consists of a person who takes you to the top and then lets you fall off.
This ride is so intensely disturbing that it has actually been used by medical professor David Eagleman to test how the brain's perception of time changes during near-death experiences. Eagleman says he previously tried different rides for his experiments but none of them worked quite as well as the SCAD, because apparently as far as your brain is concerned there's not a whole lot of difference between "110 feet of freefall" and "110 feet of freefall with a net underneath."
At this point, you're too busy thinking "AHHHHHHHH" to remember what a net is.
To their credit, though, it looks like the Zero Gravity SCAD is the one with the cleanest track record in the whole country, due to the fact that it hasn't actually broken anyone's bones (unlike the one in Orlando or the one in Wisconsin).
The Terrible Trio
The 1920s was a great time for roller coasters, but not so much for the people riding them. Apparently "not killing people" wasn't as much of a priority back then as "mentally scarring them for life." A prime example of this comes in the "Terrible Trio" of coasters designed by amusement tycoon Harry G. Traver.
He was in the business of amusing himself by watching people shriek.
The trio consisted of the Cyclone in Ontario, Canada, Lightning in Revere Beach, Mass. and another Cyclone in Fort Lee, NJ. Traver specifically designed these coasters to be as unsafe as possible while not breaking any existing regulations, resulting in monstrously twisted knots of metal and wood that stood like giant monuments to an unloving god. Two of the three caused at least one death within their first two days of operation.
What could possibly be unsafe about this?
One of those two deaths was on the Cyclone, which literally tore itself apart on a regular basis from how vicious it was, meaning that it couldn't operate on a normal schedule -- it's opening hours were "whenever we've patched it together enough to work." Once it did manage to hold together, the G-forces it generated were so vast that passengers frequently passed out while riding it. A nurse was kept on the Cyclone's station at all times: in all likelihood, this was as much a publicity stunt as it was an insurance necessity.
Today, this thing would need its own ER.
But if the Cyclone resembled a hospital, the Revere Beach Lightning was a shady back-alley clinic. Its violent side-to-side motions were so intense that the phrase "take her on the Lightning" actually became slang for "abortion" around the Boston area.
The ride was so violent it aborted your unborn children even if you had a penis.
Finally, the New Jersey Cyclone didn't live up to the high standards of its baby-killing, self-mutilating brothers -- but only because it was demolished by a wise park proprietor before it could do any harm (it was then replaced by an unrelated coaster of the same name, probably in an attempt to exorcise the terrain).
"The sound of breaking bones is the only thing that gets me hard." - Harry Traver [Citation Needed].
However, even roller coasters that ripped themselves apart at the seams, performed spontaneous abortions and necessitated their own hospitals wouldn't be quite deadly enough to be at ...
Action Park is one of the most infamous ideas ever to come out of New Jersey, and that's counting those currently being broadcast on MTV and VH1. It's hard to believe that it really existed, and yet the evidence is undeniable. More specifically, we're talking about the death toll of six people and the hundreds of serious injuries it caused between 1978 and 1996.
The park seemed to have put so little effort into making the attractions safe that even the operators (mostly leering teenagers) were afraid to go near them. Take, for example, the infamous Cannonball Loop, a massive water slide which sent riders out of an insanely long drop straight into a loop nearly 15 feet in diameter.
If you're having troubles grasping the scale of this thing: that girl on the front could stand inside the tube.
The amount of force built up by such a loop was easily enough to break bones, as evidenced by the bones it broke, and also the time when a crash test dummy was put through the slide and came out in three pieces. As a reminder, crash test dummies are specifically made to be difficult to break. The Cannonball Loop was actually in operation for very short periods before the constant injuries forced the owners to close it down, but it remained near the entrance as a reminder of the insanity of Action Park.
As if the news articles weren't enough.
The park had no shortage of dangerous attractions, though: like the Alpine Slide, a zigzagging cement ditch snaking down the side of a mountain. Riders could control the speed of their flimsily constructed sleds without any sort of supervision, which was made even more dangerous by the fact that the ditch lacked any sort of railings or paddings of any kind. Also, there was no such thing as a seat belt. Rider speed and the general disinterest of the operators made it the ideal roaming ground for packs of bullies.
It was like Mad Max in there.
Cutting out seat belts and technicians from the budget probably made this one of the cheapest rides ever, but what they saved in precautions they lost in lawsuits: the Alpine Slide alone reported more than 40 injuries and one death during just two years of rides. The tracks were eventually torn down by later owners, at which point they probably found dozens more bodies buried underneath.
This kid never made it out of the park.
And finally there's the Tidal Wave Pool with its three-feet-tall artificial waves, which required 12 active lifeguards on duty at all times ... and still accounted for half the deaths in the park. Had Action Park continued to exist, we're pretty sure the entire population of New Jersey would have been depleted by now. We'll let you decide if that's a good thing or not.
For more attractions that confuse and frighten us, check out The 9 Most Baffling Theme Parks From Around the World and The 7 Most Horrifying Museums on Earth.