Last week’s column was about people killed by their own inventions. Overwhelming reader response (my wife) called it morbid and distasteful, so I thought I’d follow up with a cheerier column on people killed and wounded in amusement parks.
The first amusement park rides were sled-like devices from Russia about 400 years ago. Ice slides were built and riders had to climb long sets of stairs for a bumpy 20-second ride. These amusement devices became popular throughout Europe in the next century and were still called Russian Mountains.
The public demanded more thrills, so slides and rides with wheels became steeper, resulting in increasingly severe accidents. By 1840 the world had nearly given up on roller coasters. Technology had failed to keep up with the public’s demand for safe thrills. Improvements kindled a little interest, but even so, as late as 1900, the fastest roller coaster crept along at a stately 12 miles an hour!
Over time, engineering and materials improved until today’s rides have become so daring that the biggest thrill is simple survival.
High on the list of bad rides was the Human Trebuchet at the Middlemoor Water Park in southern England. A trebuchet is a huge medieval catapult, a human is an idiot to put the two words together while flying 75 feet through the air into a safety net. Mistakes happen. One day in 2002 an Oxford student climbed into the basket of an over-wound mechanism and was hurled out of the park.
The Mind Eraser at Elitch’s is Colorado’s largest roller coaster. It rockets 108 feet into the air then spirals around, upside down, five times at over 50 miles per hour. A few years back, Deborah Benagh got off the Mind Eraser and began complaining of memory problems. Instead of complimenting Elitch’s for their truth in advertising, she filed a lawsuit, saying the amusement park failed to warn customers that the name of the ride was literal not figurative.
Back in 1996, the single-named, male model and romance novelist, Fabio, suffered a broken nose on the inaugural ride of Busch Garden’s Montu Roller Coaster when he smacked a slow pigeon with his comely brow. When the EMTs got to the scene, they looked at Fabio, they looked at the pigeon, threw the bird on the gurney and left.
In another statistically curious, but no less fowl encounter just three years later, Fabio head-butted a goose to death on Busch Garden’s Apollo’s Chariot roller coaster, breaking his own beak a second time in the process.
There is something inherently dangerous in being clamped into a tin can with like-minded suicidals, shrieking down twisting inclines and screaming into hairpin turns all designed to separate you from the living, or at least parting ways with that last corn dog. There’s risk involved in thrill-seeking, otherwise they’d call it responsibility or adulthood.
Cedar Point’s Top Thrill Dragster is located at the south end of Lake Erie, not far from Cleveland. The passenger compartment resembles a dragster that blasts off at 120 mph in four seconds then skyrockets straight up four hundred and twenty feet. It was top dog for a while, but like Old West gunslingers, pretty soon somebody faster is gonna tap you on the shoulder.
That tap came in 2005 when Six Flags in New Jersey launched Kingda Ka. Pronounce it like “Kingdom Come,” with your lips pulled back over your ears. The lip trick is a distinct possibility as the launch fires you straight up four hundred and fifty-six feet at 128 mph. The tip of Kingda Ka’s tower is equipped with strobe lights to frighten away drones. And you thought “Crash Test Dummies” was a band?
I’d like to ask Deborah Benagh why she didn’t think the ride’s name, “Mind Eraser” wasn’t enough warning?