While looking at early 1900 clips for today's Steeplechase post, I found this 2 minute video that shows the action of a giant merry-go-round similar to the Luna Park one I showed in my last post, Unique Merry-Go-Rounds. It's right at the beginning of this video, Let's Go Coney! Island (1932) and used courtesy of British Pathe TV which has an extensive library of documentaries, movies and historical clips like this on YouTube.
Images of Steeplechase rides fascinate me because the closest I've seen at present day midways are usually the type where you squirt water, or roll balls, into a funnel-type hole and the amount of balls, or pressure, moves your horse, or other animal, racing across the booth. But watching a horse race, and riding a horse in a race, are totally different experiences.
Steeplechase rides involved full-size horses which raced around an inside-outside track that often ran the circumference of the amusement park. They were fast, cozy rides where wooing men could hug their sweethearts as a safety feature without fear of reprisal. Children rarely rode alone, and safety straps weren't used until the third or fourth decade of the 20th century.
This black and white undated image from Wikimedia shows the Steeplechase Ride in action at Coney Island, New York.
|The Steeplechase Ride, Steeplechase Park, Coney Island, NY, undated. Courtesy of Wikimedia|
This next image is a postcard of the same steeplechase ride at Coney Island, but with a different view. Also called derby races, they were the closest ride one could get to racing without a live horse, although derby rides were mostly used on carousels. (I'll cover carousel derby races in my next post on October 5th.)
Steeplechase Ride, Steeplechase Park, Coney Island, NY, undated postcard
The following 33 second clip of the Steeplechase Mechanical Horse Ride at Steeplechase Park is fun to watch, either here, or on the YouTube site where you can read the comments of people who actually rode this ride back in the day. I can't quote them here, but it's very interesting that the ride was fast and there wasn't much to hang on to.
The Forest Park Amusement Park in Chicago, Illinois contained the only Steeplechase Ride in the midwest. Built in 1909, the 6-track ride was gravity-driven whereby the wooden horses were pulled up the incline by chain, and then allowed to glide down and around the track like a coaster. Since the more weight the horse carried, the faster it went, romance-hungry couples used the ride as a way to squeeze tight without raising eyebrows.
|Finish on Steeple Chase, Forest Park, Chicago, Illinois, undated. Courtesy of Living History of Illinois and Chicago Digital Library|
Forest Park's Steeplechase Ride was half of a mile long and built between the Chutes lagoon and the Giant Safety Coaster, as shown in the following postcard. Both Forest Park postcards are courtesy of Living History of Illinois and Chicago Digital Library.
|Steeplechase Ride between Chutes Lagoon and Giant Safety Coaster, Forest Park, Chicago, Illinois, undated. Courtesy of Living History of Illinois and Chicago Digital Library|
Although popular, in 1913 Forest Park razed The Steeplechase Ride along with others during restructuring to make room for newer rides. Today, the Eisenhower Expressway cuts across the location where Forest Park's Steeplechase and other rides once provided family entertainment. (Source: http://livinghistoryofillinois.com/pdf_files/Forest_Park_Amusement_Park.pdf)
A gravity-powered 4-track steeplechase ride, Peck's Prancing Ponies, existed in Old Orchard Beach, Maine from about 1910 onwards. The 1909 patent by Charles F. Peck states, “The invention…will give the passenger a rocking motion similar to that which is obtained by riding a horse without injuring the person or any undue jarring during the manipulation of the device.”
|Peck's Prancing Ponies, Sea Side Park, Old Orchard Beach, Maine, undated.|
Peck was right in that it was the nearest thing to riding a live horse, but from the videos and comments of a similar ride at Blackpool, UK, The Steeplechase is a thrilling and scary ride filled with jarring bumps and turns. How do I know? The Blackpool Pleasure Beach website states this:
Get ready to ride the Steeplechase! Swing your leg over your very own horse and buckle up ready for a race with jumps, twists and turns. The Steeplechase is a one of a kind three lane steel coaster where there can only be one winner!Under the usual height and physical ability requirements, we see you need the ability to keep your posture under "dynamic conditions" as well as "withstand high G-forces and/or sudden changes in direction of forces." Basically, they are the same as for any high-speed coaster.
Although the Steeplechase ride at Blackpool wasn't opened until 1977, it is a very good representation of the ones that have been torn down to make room for "improved" rides. Blackpool's version runs 3 parallel tracks for a length of 1500 ft with 30 mph maximum speed reached.
Here's a video of this modern Steeplechase ride, Steeplechase (Track 2 Green), Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Mounted On-Ride POV, from the viewpoint of a rider using a GoPro attached to the grab handle:
On the other hand, if you want to see what it looks like to someone watching from the sideline, check out this cool video of Steeplechase - Blackpool Pleasure Beach - Off Ride where it looks like they're going very fast and you can hear the kids' screams to match:
The main difference I see between the original and the modern steeplechase rides is that the older ones weren't banked, therefore you didn't lean in and go smoothly around a corner, but stayed upright for a more jarring experience. And although I wouldn't want to lean over and stare at the pavement forty feet below, or another coaster crossing beneath my feet, I know that it's easier on the body if it's a smooth transition around the bend.
I sure would like the opportunity to try out a steeplechase ride if I had the chance.
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Anita Mae Draper's historical romances are woven under the western skies of the Saskatchewan prairie where her love of research and genealogy yields fascinating truths that layer her stories with rich historical details. Anita's short story, Here We Come A-Wassailing, was a finalist for the Word Guild's 2015 Word Awards. Her novellas are included in Austen in Austin Volume 1, and The American Heiress Brides Collection. Readers can check out Anita's Pinterest boards for a visual idea of her stories to enrich their reading experience. Discover more at: