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Cars crawling incrementally up lifts or flying through loop-the-loops; long lines of people waiting in anticipation for the thrill of the ride, or screaming as they’re hurled at tremendous speed down near-vertical drops. These are the kinds of vibrant images we usually associate with the roller coasters.
Yet there are many of these popular attractions that have done their duty and been demolished; or that now simply await destruction by the elements – rain, wind, fire or the green force of nature – to weaken, shake, burn or simply overgrow them.
Like skeletons made of metal or wood – morbid, especially in light of their former glory – these ten abandoned roller coasters remain giant reminders of happier times. As silent witnesses, they tell tales of feuds, fraud, bankruptcy or disaster – events that befell the amusement parks to which they belonged.
Yet amidst the moss, rust and decay there are also stories of happiness and wonder, of childhood memories and the simple pleasures that seem so tough to come by in later life. Perhaps like no other theme park attraction, roller coasters – dead or alive – hold a fascination that is hard to explain. Maybe these ten examples will give us a clue.
10. Unnamed Coaster, Satellite City, Limbiate, Italy
This roller coaster skeleton was photographed in an amusement park in Limbiate, Italy, about 15 km north of Milan. Satellite city (now known as Greenland) was built in the mid-1960s and reached its peak in the ‘80s, but later fell into decline amidst management problems and property disputes. It was closed in 2008, though plans for redevelopment were put in place the following year.
Although its frame can still be seen standing in these images, the disused roller coaster looks forsaken, its old cars dutifully lined up as if waiting for passengers that will never arrive to enjoy the ride. Even the sunny day can't hide the decay; if anything, it throws the signs of entropy into relief. Moss and rust have crept over the metal, and there are other signs of collapse and disrepair.
9. Big Dipper, Chippewa Lake Park, Chippewa Lake, OH, USA
Chippewa Lake Park had a successful run of exactly 100 years: it opened in 1878, closing in 1978 due to low attendances. After the park was abandoned, the Big Dipper, like many of the other rides, began to deteriorate and was overrun by vegetation. Don't miss the old car below the roller coaster frame in this winter image, the forsaken vehicle adding to the sense of abandonment.
The first and oldest of Chippewa Lake Park’s three roller coasters, the Big Dipper was a real dinosaur before it began to be demolished in 2010. Designed by Fred Pearce, it was built in the 1920s, becoming the park’s first modern roller coaster.
The extent to which nature took over as the Big Dipper fell into disrepair is strongly evident in this picture. With the branches of large trees growing all over and through the wooden structure, it’s almost as though nature was reclaiming what was once its own. Beautiful and somehow moving at the same time.
8. Spreeblitz, Spreepark, Berlin, Germany
This abandoned roller coaster has a turbulent history by association with the theme park in which it resides. Opened in 1969 as Kulturpark Plänterwald, this place of fun was East Germany’s only amusement park, and indeed the only one in the city of Berlin – east and west. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was redeveloped to become Spreepark Berlin, but it only lasted from 1989 to 2001, and since then the site has fallen into a state of disrepair.
Though the park had roller coasters, the main attraction was actually the Ferris wheel. Like the big wheel, the old Spreeblitz roller coaster was still standing as of 2010, complete with old cars, which seem to wait for one last ride. Plagued by massive debts, the owners of Spreepark emigrated to Peru to open a Lunapark – even shipping several of the park’s attractions out there – but are now in jail for drug smuggling. Norbert Witte was busted trying to hide 180 kg of cocaine inside a ride that was being shipped back to Germany. Talk about flying high!
7. Comet, Lincoln Park, Dartmouth, MA, USA
Believe it or not, this beautiful wooden roller coaster was built in 1946! Back then, the coaster, christened the Comet, was state-of-the art and the major attraction of Lincoln Park in Dartmouth, MA.
Opened in 1894, all went well Lincoln Park until the mid-1980s, when competition from larger theme parks grew too strong. Matters weren’t helped by a fatal accident that occurred on the Comet in 1986 – plus another mishap the following year that saw one of the cars jackknife. People understandably questioned the park's safety, and on December 3, 1987, it closed its gates for good.
Since its closure, fires have wiped out most of Lincoln Park’s structures, with the badly damaged roller coaster one of the last remaining constructions. A snowstorm, probable water damage and other assaults from the elements conspired to make large portions of the Comet collapse throughout the first decade of the new millennium, and the coaster is now a shadow of its former self.
6. Bobster & Jet Coaster, Takakonuma Greenland, Fukushima, Japan
Thanks to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of March of 2011, the location of Japan's Fukushima Prefecture is now known worldwide. Before this event, it was less well-known, though it was certainly appreciated by select urban explorers – as the site of one of the most amazing abandoned amusement parks, Takakonuma Greenland.
Takakonuma Greenland was opened in 1973 and boasted two roller coasters – the Bobster and the Jet Coaster – both quite advanced rides for their time, but now rusting away. Short on investments, the amusement park began to fall into decline and interest from visitors waned. It closed in 1999 and has been in a state of abandonment ever since, with no one willing to pay for its decommissioning.
There's something particularly sad about seeing old roller coasters decay, their skeletal frames rising up against the sky as if unwilling to fall to earth – a fragile reminder of good things past.
5. Aska, Nara Dreamland, Japan
Built in 1961 but closed in 2006 after a drastic drop in the number of visitors, Nara Dreamland was the Japanese answer to Disneyland – ironic given that the dwindling numbers that led to its demise have partly been put down to the opening of the new Tokyo Disneyland.
Nara’s main attraction was the Aska roller coaster, which was modeled on Coney Island’s famous wooden roller coaster, the Cyclone. Of course, there was a time when all roller coasters were made out of wood, which resulted in the famous thunderous noise and adrenalin-inducing shaking of the structures.
We can see the intricacy behind the design of this behemoth in the close-up. The sharp twists and turns must have been something to experience at top speed. Now, though, it is only urban explorers who brave the precipitous heights – on foot, no less! Meanwhile, nature has begun to take a stranglehold on the base of the structure, with vegetation growing up like creeper plants.
4. Cyclone, Williams Grove Park, Mechanicsburg, PA, USA
The Cyclone was a major attraction in Williams Grove Park in Mechanicsburg, PA, where rides first sprang up in 1928. This wooden roller coaster was built in 1933 and operated until 2005 – the year in which the park closed, having survived a long history that included a severe beating by 1972’s Hurricane Agnes and the flooding that followed.
Here's a close-up of the roller coaster’s second hill – still quite impressive from this angle. In its heyday, the Cyclone was something of a trailblazer, with a design that allowed it to reach top speeds of 65 mph. This seems a long-distant memory now.
The roller coaster cars, now parked at the loading station, have an interesting history: they were once part of another Cyclone roller coaster – that of Palisades Amusement Park in Bergen County, NJ, which closed its doors in 1971 – but were recycled for use in Williams Grove Park, as indeed were other rides.
3. Little Dipper, Kiddieland, Melrose Park, IL
The Little Dipper was Kiddieland's main attraction, and though, at 24 ft (7.3 m) tall and 700 ft (210 m) long, not as big as most of the other roller coasters on this list, it's certainly not the least loved. It’s good, then, to know that it lives on.
Built in 1950 as part of Kiddieland's expansion, the Little Dipper was shut down in 2009 but was bought by Six Flags Great America in November of the same year for $33,000. Kiddieland closed over a row between the owners of the park and those of the land on which it lay and has since been demolished. Only memories and images like these remain today.
2. Zippin Pippin, Libertyland, Memphis, TN, USA
You’ve got to love the next roller coaster featured. Not only was this wooden beauty constructed in 1912, making it one of the oldest existing wooden roller coasters in the United States; it was also apparently Elvis's favorite roller coaster. Yep, that's right. The King is even known to have rented the whole of Libertyland, and apparently did so for six hours to entertain a group of guests just a week before his death, reportedly riding the Zippin Pippin for hours.
Built around the famous coaster that became its centerpiece, Libertyland opened in 1976 – but closed in 2005 because of financial problems. The Zippin Pippin lay unused and unmaintained for over four years; then it was sold and partly dismantled in early 2010. A few weeks later, parts of the roller coaster collapsed, but plans were put in action rebuild it in Green Bay, WI, where the coaster has since opened and proven a big success.
1. Mega Zeph, Six Flags, New Orleans, USA
One of the most famous amusement parks in the world since its closure, Six Flags New Orleans needs little introduction. Things seemed to be running smoothly for the park, but it was forced to close after Hurricane Katrina flooded most of the site in 2005.
Mega Zeph, the roller coaster pictured here, is impressive even in its abandoned state. A behemoth of wood and metal, it was inspired by the Zephyr roller coaster at another New Orleans amusement park, Pontchartrain Beach, which was operational from 1928 to 1983.
It’s no coincidence that Mega Zeph looks so sturdy and impressive even now. The wooden roller coaster track was reinforced with a steel frame to protect it from termite infestation and to help the structure stand up against the assault of hurricane-force winds. The park planners could hardly have predicted that a hurricane would strike that would leave most of the park under water. Ironically, the roller coaster’s design has allowed the skeleton to stay standing – its stubborn resistance a reminder of the catastrophe that literally took an entire city by storm.
In considering these melancholy images, it’s worth reflecting on the loss that the closing of a roller coaster may leave in people’s hearts.
Ann Y. from Chicago, IL, a frequent visitor to one of the parks on our list, sums it up best. "I am writing this as a tribute to the many childhood summers I had here with my now dearly departed grandfather,” she says. “This was truly a part of my childhood and I am really, really sad that it is going away. I am planning a final trip [to say] goodbye (and to take some pics)… I also will be riding the rollercoaster one last time! Goodbye Kiddieland. You will always be a part of my memories."
With special thanks to the photographers for granting permission to use their images.