There was no defunct roller coaster more famous than the Coney Island Thunderbolt, which sat dormant from 1983 until it was sadly torn down. That being said, the Thunderbolt was more than a rotting heap of scrap and more than “that coaster down the street from the Cyclone.” The Thunderbolt was fast, intense and every bit as exciting as the Cyclone or the Tornado. The coaster opened in 1925. Back then, the island was full of scores of people. The “Roaring Twenties” were in full swing and people were letting loose and enjoying the extremes of coaster riding. In response to this search for thrills, the Ridbak Amusement Corporation hired renowned coaster designer John Miller to create an exciting coaster that was built not far from Steeplechase Park (owner information garnered from a 1926 New York Times article transcribed on Jim Barrick’s site). Miller responded by coming up with a boardwalk coaster that was taller than any other coaster on the island.
Building the coaster next to Steeplechase was a very wise move, as the coaster got much of the crowd overflow from people visiting the park and walking the Bowery. There used to be a Magnel’s-designed Whip located next to the coaster, but that was gone by the 1970’s.
One of the coaster’s most famous aspects had nothing to with the ride it gave, but with the house (formerly the Kensington Hotel) that sat under the first and third turns. Although I am not sure of the date, the Moran family. George and his son Fred both ran the roller coaster for many years of its life. In the “American Experience” documentary Coney Island: a documentary film, Mae Timpano (Fred’s widow) described her years living under and working at the Thunderbolt, “We used to find teeth in the yard. We used to find wigs, glasses, guns. Everything we found in the yard…nobody came back for them, though.” She lived with Fred under the house (an image popularized [and distorted]) by the Woody Allen film “Annie Hall.” The house was uniquely used by the builders because it was incorporated into the coaster’s structural support system.