Back on the Switchback Railway


Coney’s Island’s Switchback Railway was America‘s first roller coaster.  Designed by LaMarcus Adna Thompson in 1881, constructed in 1884, Thompson may have based his design on the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway; a coal-mining train that, in 1827, was turned into a amusement ride.

A ride on the SR cost five cents. The stately dressed crowds of summers long ago would ascend a tower, be seated in bench-like cars, and pushed off to coast along at over 6 mph (9.7 km/h) along a 600 ft (183 m) track to another tower at the far end. Upon arriving at this other tower the vehicle was switched to a return track… or “switched back” (hence the name).

This track design was soon replaced with an oval complete-circuit ride designed by Charles Alcoke and called the Serpentine Railway. In 1885 Phillip Hinkle developed a lift system which appeared in his ride called Gravity Pleasure. The Gravity Pleasure also featured cars in which the passengers could face forward instead of in the awkward bench-like seats of the first two roller coasters.


Yesteryear at 67 Orchard Street


New York City’s Tenement Museum is a must-see for visitors to this city who have already seen its more famous attraction and are eager to see something a little different. Located at 97 Orchard Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the museum is contained within a preserved six-story tenement; a total of approximately 7,000 immigrants, from 20 nations, lived there at various points between 1863 and 1935. Among the museum’s exhibits are restored apartments, historical archives and a host of educational programs conveying a sense of the dismal living conditions that prevailed in the early 20th/ late 19th centuries.

People in that day and age worked hard, played little, prayed regularly, yet often thrived but oftentimes died very young. Indeed, life was extremely difficult and uncompromising for the hordes of newly arrived immigrants (my grandparents from Italy among them) who arrived on these shores. Whatever they had, they more than earned through the defiant vigor of blood, the grueling determination of sweat and the passing consolation of tears; they made their own dreams a reality or, if they didn’t, failed with stoic dignity.

One of the exhibited apartments in the Tenement Museum was once occupied by the Levine family. They were Polish immigrants and lived at 97 Orchard Street in the late 1890s. The couple and their three children shared three tiny (and I mean tiny) rooms in, at the time, one of the most densely populated places in the world.

While Levine and three other helpers put dresses together (earning just 75 cents per dress), Mrs. Levine managed the household in the same 325-square-foot space boiling diapers, hauling laundry down several flights to hang outside, amusing the children and cooking. ‘It was amazing how they could all fit in such a small space,’ said 14-year-old Lee Gilbert, visiting with his family from Miami.   MSNBC

If you’re planning on being in New York, you really should visit the Tenement Museum; a place to reassess a time when the reality of the American Dream necessitated more modest dreaming towards more modest goals.