This month, we will again be strolling along the shores of the first public bathing beach in the United States, Revere Beach, Revere, MA. We will start at the southern end of Revere Beach Boulevard, and walk north. I will describe what we would see along the way, and when we’d have had to have been there in order to see it. Our first order of business will be taking the narrow gauge railway from Boston a few miles to the shores of Revere Beach. Upon exiting the train station, we walk east towards the beach and boulevard.
Our first stop along the way is just south of Shirley Avenue to ride The Jack Rabbit roller coaster. This coaster was built in 1916, and survived until 1924. Remember in this age, each ride was individually owned and operated, unlike modern amusement parks. Rides came and went, sometimes very quickly, entirely dependent upon how much money they made. A ride which wasn’t profitable was a ride which wouldn’t be in operation for too long before being razed and replaced with a (hopefully) more profitable endeavor. Little has been written about the Jack Rabbit coaster, and this view of the ride is the only view I have ever seen.
As is obvious from the view, The Jack Rabbit was much like it’s contemporaries, a tame ride with gentle drops and curves. Under wheels, the wheels that grip the track from underneath, were not invented until the early 1920’s, so most coasters prior to that time were more gentle rides. It wasn’t until the under wheel system was invented that coasters were able to have sharp turns, and deep drops, as without them, such elements could potentially cause the trains to derail during the ride. Even then, no ride operator wanted his patrons to die onboard!
After getting off the Jack Rabbit, we walk just slightly north, and get in line to ride The Dragon Gorge, a scenic railway. Scenic railways were the predecessors of modern roller coasters, and had trains that would traverse gentle slopes (usually with an onboard brakeman), past murals of various scenic vistas (hence the name). Many amusement parks, including Coney Island, had scenic railways named the Dragon Gorge, and generally the entranceways of these rides were decorated with large, imposing dragons, made from wood, chicken wire, plaster, and paint. This view shows the one of the dragons, up close and personal.
Dragon Gorge Scenic Railway
This view, which shows the entrance, and tracks of the ride to the entrance’s left, is not marked Dragon Gorge, but rather Thompson’s Scenic Railway. This is the only card I have that doesn’t call it the Dragon Gorge, obviously an error, since, as we’ll see on our walk up the boulevard, there is already a coaster on the beach called Thompson’s Scenic Railway. Also this Dragon Gorge was built by John Miller, and not by LaMarcus Thompson, inventor of the scenic railway. You can’t really see the dragons in this view, except for the tips of their wings, but a quick glance at the structure makes it obvious it is the same ride.
Dragon Gorge Scenic Railway
This ride was built in 1916, and closed in 1926. By 1926 several more daring rides had been built along the beach, and the Dragon Gorge’s gentle hills and sights were no longer enough to draw the crowds. The Dragon Gorge was razed in 1926, and a new coaster was built on the same spot which it once occupied. If the public had felt the Dragon Gorge was too tame an experience, nothing could possibly have readied them for what was to come on July 9, 1927.
Noted roller coaster designer Harry Traver had built one coaster on Revere Beach (The Cyclone, about which we’ll talk about later), and wanted to build another. When the lot that Dragon Gorge sat on became available, he pounced, and began work on what was to be one of the wildest, most extreme roller coasters the world had ever seen. It was one of what was to become known as Traver’s Terrible Triplets, three almost duplicate roller coasters that opened in either 1927 (Revere Beach Lightning, Crystal Beach Ontario Cyclone), or 1928 (Palisades Park, NJ Cyclone). The Lightning closed in 1933, the Palisades Park Cyclone in 1934, and the longest lived of the triplets, the Crystal Beach Cyclone was razed in 1946. What made these rides, which only lasted 40 seconds after being released by the chain lift, so terrifying were the extreme angles, massive g-forces, steep grades, and sharp turns that these wood and steel monsters inflicted on their riders. Because there are more views available of The Crystal Beach Cyclone, and it is pretty much the same ride, I am including this view of that ride to illustrate the ridiculous first drop on these coasters.
Crystal Beach, ON Cyclone a twin of the Revere Beach Lightning
As you can see on the above view, the first drop curves sharply to the right, traveling all the way to ground level, where the track is nearly perpendicular to the ground. The track then swings upwards to the right again, while quickly shifting for a very fast left hand turn downwards. The S-shaped track you see next to the tree in this view happens later on the ride. The only piece of straight track on any of these rides was the loading platform. Even the return run to the station had undulating track so the coaster train would shift side to side as it approached the end of the ride. This view also illustrates well how Traver could accomplish these angles and turns. By using a steel superstructure under the wood track. Like all roller coasters of it’s day, The Lightning was a wooden coaster, meaning that it’s track is made of seven layers of laminated wood with a thin steel plate laid over which the wheels would roll. Generally then, as today, wooden coasters have wooden superstructures, but Traver’s triplets used steel superstructures due to the incredible forces that the trains exerted on the structure. A wooden superstructure would have been torn apart by such forces.
Revere Beach Lightning
This view of the Lightning (notice the misspelling on the card) shows that the rest of the ride was nearly as perilous to one’s health as the first drop. So perilous was the Lightning, that a young woman died on it’s opening day in 1927. According to eye witness reports, she either jumped in fright from the train, or hit her head on a support while leaning out of the train (which would have been unlikely). After 20 minutes to remove the body, and determine that the safety lap bars were working, the ride was reopened. Imagine that happening today! Because of it’s reputation it was said that when a young woman found herself in an unwanted family way outside of marriage, people would remark “Take her on the Lightning!”.
Revere Beach Lightning
This last view of the Lightning is my favorite, as it illustrates perfectly just how extreme all the elements and transitions on this (and her sister rides) really were. As seemingly dangerous as it was, The Lightning was a very popular ride at the beach, though it drew more non-paying crowds to watch it, than it did paying customers to ride it. The 1931, and 1932 seasons were especially non-profitable, and the ride was dismantled in March of 1933 so that it would not be assessed any tax for that year.
So we now find ourselves stumbling in delirium after exiting the Lightning, and we walk across Shirley Avenue, continuing north along the boulevard to stop at a far more restrained ride The Over the Top, or Giant Coaster. Owned by the Hurley family, who owned amusements along the boulevard from the turn of the century into the 1970’s, the Giant Coaster was built in 1917, and was dismantled sometime in the 1930’s, though I cannot find an exact date. It was probably a victim of the Great Depression when spending money on such frivolous pursuits as roller coasters was out of the question for many folks. This first view shows the ride during the daytime. You can see the “Over The Top” name along it’s front, even though the card indicates it is the Giant Coaster.
Giant Coaster or Over the Top
This next view is the Giant Coaster at night, and illustrates how the clever post card salesman could, with a bit of artistic license, use one view to create a second view of the same ride at night time. I especially like how the headlights of the car have been added in, and how both the woman in front, and man standing near the car across the street have had their clothing color changed from white to red.
Giant Coaster or Over the Top at Night
After an easygoing ride on the Giant Coaster, we stroll further north on Revere Beach Boulevard to ride the Derby Racer. The Derby Racer was a racing coaster, where two cars full of passengers would race each other along side by side tracks. There are still many racing coasters in existence. The first Derby Racer was built in 1911, and was dismantled sometime in the early 1930’s. Like the Dragon Coaster, the original Revere Derby Racer had an elaborate entrance with a smiling, almost evil looking figure looking down upon potential riders, as seen in this view.
Facade of Derby Racer entrance
This second view shows the ride in action with two trains racing along the dual tracks.
The Derby Racer in action
In 1937, a second version of the Derby Racer was built on the same lot. This linen view from the 1940’s shows the second ride. Note the different entrance (where the Racer sign is on the right). I also like the notation on the bottom, many years before that sentence would take on a whole new meaning.
The second Derby Racer
After traveling through time to ride two different sets of Derby racers, we continue up the boulevard to ride the politically incorrectly named Oriental Ride. This scenic railway was built by LaMarcus Thompson, and was his second scenic railway on the beach (we’ve yet to ride his first). It was a bigger, more elaborate ride than the first, and obviously took riders past scenes from various Asian countries. It was located next to the Metropolitan Police Station (seen in this first view) which still stands on the beach. Below the postcard view is a recent picture I took of the Police Station.
Oriental Ride next to Metropolitan Police Station
Metropolitan Police Station in 2011
The third view shows the Oriental Ride in more detail. I couldn’t find a notation of when the Oriental Ride was built, but I know (from another card) that it was in existence prior to 1921. It too, probably fell victim to the Great Depression in the 1930’s.
A few steps north of the Oriental Ride was the first Thompson’s Scenic Railway, built in 1910. I like how the ride was designed to traverse into the “mountains”, where various scenes would be depicted in murals n the wall. The second view shows the elaborate trains of the scenic railway, as well as the proper dress worn by park patrons in those early days.
Thompson's Scenic Railway
Thompson's Scenic Railway close up of loading station
A few short steps to the north we stand in front of the imposing structure of Harry Traver’s first Revere Beach masterpiece, The Cyclone. Built in 1925, the Cyclone was considered one of the worlds greatest coasters when it was built, rivaling the Coney Island Cyclone for East Coast supremacy. Full of Traver’s trademark swooping turns, this first view of the Cyclone shows most of the ride in all it’s glory.
Revere Beach Cyclone
The Cyclone was the last existing roller coaster on Revere Beach, giving riders their last thrills in the summer of 1969. The beach had become a rather frightening place by those years, with gangs of hoodlums, and other nefarious characters making the boulevard less of a place for families to enjoy a day at the beach and on the rides. Several smaller rides existed throughout the early 1970’s, but by the time the Cyclone, partially burned, was razed in 1974, the reign of Revere Beach as the Coney Island of New England was over. Curiously, this last chrome view of the Cyclone, published sometime in the 1960’s is a far rarer card than the first view, which was published some time in the 1930’s.
Revere Beach Cyclone 1960's
With sadness in our hearts we walk the final stretch of the boulevard to ride the last coaster on our trip, the furthest from our starting point, the Thunderbolt. Built by Dragon Gorge builder John Miller in 1920, the Thunderbolt lasted only 10 years, being torn down in 1930. It looks imposing, but was a fairly gentle ride compared to the Cyclone, and it’s placement so far down the beach, also helped to make it’s existence a short one. Here is a view of the ride, and a second view showing the inclines on the ride from the inside. Note the airplane ride that can be seen in the first view is more prominently featured in the second.
John Miller's Thunderbolt Roller Coaster
Big Inclines on the Thunderbolt Roller Coaster
Our trip is completed, and we’ve ridden ten different coasters that existed on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean on Revere Beach. There were three other coasters that existed on the beach as well, but I don’t have any postcards of them, nor have I seen many images of them. They were all located in the same vicinity of the Oriental Ride. They were known as the Musical Railway, opened in 1906, closed ?, and the Pell Mell Coaster, open only for a year from 1915 to 1916. The final coaster that appeared on Revere Beach was an exception to the rule that early coasters were all gentle rides. This ride was known as the Loop the Loop coaster, built in 1900, and removed probably no later than 1905. I have several views of this type of ride at Coney Island but not of this ride at Revere. The reason why these rides were so short lived (the Coney Island rides were also gone by 1905 or so), was that designers used a perfect circle for the loop. On modern looping coasters, the loops are clothoid or tear drop shaped. This is because the forces on the necks of riders in a perfect circle loop are very great, and many riders experienced whiplash. Though I don’t own (nor have I seen) any postcards of this short-lived ride, I was lucky enough to purchase a admission ticket for it on eBay, back when things like this could still be had for a modest sum. This beautiful ticket shows the rides cars (each car was individual) with riders having a great time on the front. The back of the ticket shows the cars going through the circular loop. The string attached would be wound about a button to show the ride attendant you had paid your fare, and provided you with a nice souvenir. Very few of these tickets exist, as most were thrown away after a while. I have only seen one other example of this ticket in my years of collecting.
Front of Revere Beach Loop the Loop Coaster Ticket
Back of Revere Beach Loop the Loop Coaster ticket
That concludes this column on the roller coasters of Revere Beach, MA. Join me again soon for a trip through The Pit, Revere Beach’s masterful walk through fun house attraction illustrated by my favorite postcards in my collection. Until then, I’ll see you in the queue line!