Throwback Thursday: When Revere Beach Had Roller Coasters

The Cyclone and the Lightning once made Revere Beach a destination for thrill-seekers.

Images via Creative Commons

Images via Creative Commons

Revere Beach was America’s first public beach, setting for a so-so 1998 rom-com, and now frequented by those in dire need of a roast beef sandwich at 2 a.m. and any number of snarky undergrads hellbent on Instagramming the Wonderland T stop sign. But back in the day, Revere Beach was a destination for thrill-seekers, and not for anything that may or may not have been floating in the water.

Opened in 1925, Revere Beach’s Cyclone was at one time the tallest roller coaster in the world and, depending on which historian you ask, the fastest too. Constructed by the Frederick Law Olmstead of roller coasters, Harry Traver, the wooden Cyclone cost $125,000 (nearly $1.7 million in present-day dollars) to build. It was 3,600-feet-long and traveled at a blistering 45 miles per hour. The all-steel Lightning, another Traver contraption, was erected in 1927 and torn down just six years later when maintenance and insurance costs grew too steep in a Depression-slammed economy.

What was it like to ride the Cyclone? Kitty Crockett Robertson described the harrowing yet addictive experience in her memoir, Measuring Time by an Hourglass:

When all were aboard and strapped in, the car moved slowly out and began to crawl up the first rise, higher and higher aboce the rooftops. Then it picked up speed, faster and faster, and suddenly the bottom dropped out.

Below us there was nothing, a vertical drop ending with a series of bumps that threw us violently against the straps, then a switch to the right and a switch to the left, catapulting us sideways. Both of us were too paralyzed with fear to make a sound, but from behind came a wave of screams. Riding the wave, we sailed swiftly along a high level plateau to another precipitous drop. I felt the cargo of popcorn and hot dogs shifting up into my throat and clamped my teeth to hold it down.

To be clear: Neither of these coasters were by any means safe. Dubbed “rib-ticklers” by riders for all the violent thrashing, Traver’s coasters were hardly the paragon of safety. A woman either stood up or fell out of her seat and died on the Lightning’s second day of operation. The ride reopened 20 minutes after her body was recovered. “Take her on the Lightning” soon became a tongue-in-cheek Boston localism for terminating an unwanted pregnancy.

The Cyclone burnt down in 1969, and its remains removed five years later.