One of the 19 rides set to debut in Coney Island’s new Luna Park this summer is Zamperla’s Wild Mouse spinning coaster, which has been rechristened “The Tickler” after the innovative 1906 thrill ride in the original Luna Park. Here’s the ride manufacturer’s official vid of their Twister Coaster. If you’re at work, you may want to mute the music before going for a spin…
While it’s customary for parks and carnivals to rename or re-theme a ride, the Tickler name holds special significance in the history of amusement rides and of Coney Island. The Tickler was the first amusement ride “designed to jostle, jolt and jounce its riders about in their seats when the ride was in motion,” according to its inventor and manufacturer William F Mangels.
As the cars went bumping and whirling down an incline that resembled a pinball machine, riders clung to each other to keep from falling out. It’s no wonder the Tickler became the perfect date ride for couples who wished to get speedily acquainted. “If a man comes in sedate and solemn, all he needs is one good trip in ‘the tickler’ to set him going like all the rest,” said Luna Park manager Frederic Thompson in a 1908 interview with the New York Times. “It is all the old principle of the small boys sliding down their cellar doors!”
We’ve been a fan of William F Mangels’ classic Whip ride since our days as a carny kid. Colbert’s Fiesta Show had a roto-whip that we used to ride in marathon sessions with our doll. It’s a shame that Coney Island, the birthplace of the Whip, remains Whip-less, while Rye Playland, Dorney Park and Kennywood boast 12- and 16-car models. That’s why we’re tickled pink (when was the last time we heard that quaint phrase much less got to use it!) that Zamperla is paying homage to Mangels by christening their Coney Island coaster “The Tickler.” It’s sort of like naming your kid after his illustrious great-great-great grandfather!
Hailed as “The Wizard of 8th Street” by historian Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project, Mangels (1867-1958) was posthumously inducted into the Coney Island Hall of Fame. In his book The History of the Outdoor Amusement Industry, Mangels recalls bringing his sketch of the 1906 ride to Luna Park to apply for a location for the following season.
Frederic Thompson, then the manager, took the picture, held it at arm’s length and gazed at it a minute. Then in his brusque way, he said, “You will need barrels to take away your money. Come in tomorrow morning for your contract.” The contract specified that twenty per cent of the gross receipts should go to the park.
The Tickler consisted of a wide, inclined platform, sloping upward from the entrance. On this platform a sinuous course was fixed by posts and rails, and through it a number of circular cars were operated. They were mounted on swivel caster wheels and had large rubber bumping rings on the exterior. The operation was simple. After the passengers had been seated, the cars were drawn up an incline by a chain conveyer. At the top, they entered the downward course and by gravity careened, bumped and whirled back to their terminal, tossing the passengers violently about in their seats. At the end of the jounrey, the five passengers were usually scrambled together so hopelessly that attendants had to help them disembark.
This new ride had cost $6,000 to install. It enjoyed heavy patronage from the start, grossing $42,000 the first season plus a substantial sum from royalties. Although the theory of the promoter seemed sound within a few seasons the novelty wore off and business declined.
Advertised as “A Scream from Start to Finish,” the Tickler was featured at amusement parks across the country and the Alaska Yukon Exposition of 1909. It paved the way for the scream machines that we enjoy today. The ride’s rival and immediate successor, the Virginia Reel built by Henry Riehl in Luna Park in 1908, was the first true spinning coaster. Although the Wild Mouse Spinning Coaster did not arrive on the amusement scene until the late 1990s, its lineage can be traced back to Coney Island’s Tickler and Virginia Reel.
The British writer P.G. Wodehouse, who was living in Greenwich Village when the Tickler made its debut, went for a spin on the brand-new ride and wrote the following review..
The principle at the bottom of Coney Island’s success is the eminently sound one that what would be a brutal assault, if administered gratis, becomes a rollicking pleasure when charged for at the rate of fifteen cents per assault. Suppose one laid hand upon you and put you in a large tub; suppose he then proceeded to send the tub spinning down an incline so arranged that at intervals of a few feet it spun around and violently bumped into something. Next day he would hear from our lawyer. But in Coney Island you jump into the Tickler and enjoy it; you have to enjoy it because you have paid good money to. Being in America, Coney Island is thought a little vulgar; if it were in France we would have written how essentially refined the the Tickler and the Human Roulette Wheel were, and with what abundance the French took its pleasure.”
It makes us wonder what Wodehouse would have written about the new Italian coaster in Coney Island.
Related posts on ATZ…
August 29, 2010: Video: Grand Prize Winner of Luna Park Coney Island’s Film Contest!
February 25, 2010: Happy Belated Birthday to Coney Island’s William F Mangels
February 15, 2010: Steeplechase Express: Will Zamperla MotoCoaster Pony Up for Coney Island?