Coney Island’s Luna Park set for opening weekend, celebrating Cyclone’s 90th birthday

The Cyclone at Luna Park in Coney Island, Wednesday, April 5, 2017.
The Cyclone at Luna Park in Coney Island, Wednesday, April 5, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday / Susan Farley

Happy birthday, Coney Island Cyclone.

The legendary wooden roller coaster will turn 90 this summer, ready to give New Yorkers a thrilling whirl when Luna Park opens for the season on Saturday.

And along with the rest of the rides, games and food, the historic hot dog joint Feltman’s will reopen to add to the island’s colorful mix.

After some routine track work, the Cyclone, which hurls riders on its tracks at more than 60 mph, is just a bit faster than ever. The coaster opened in 1927 and was named a city landmark in 1988 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

Its birthday is June 26, and the party will be the day before.

“We think of her as a woman. She’s like a grandma,” Angie Morris, Luna Park’s brand manager, said. “For tourists if you’re visiting New York, you think of it as iconic, something you have to do. For people who are Brooklyn residents, it’s nostalgic.”

The ride is 2,640 feet of swirling track with 12 drops, including an 85-foot and 60-foot plunge, according to the park.

And even more than the thrill, it’s the history that makes the Cyclone such a famous piece of Coney Island. Celebrities have ridden it and movies have featured it (Diana Ross and Michael Jackson danced under it in “The Wiz”). Even legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh, the first person to fly solo nonstop over the Atlantic Ocean, reportedly said a ride on the coaster was greater than flying in a plane.

Cyclone fans explain that when it opened, the ride offered a completely new thrill. “A lot of people look at the Cyclone and think, ‘Oh, isn’t that quaint.’ When this opens in 1927 and there is no air travel for the masses of people, there is no concept of speed as there is going down that track on the Cyclone — it is an absolutely new feeling of exhilaration and fear,” said Seth Kamil, founder of Big Onion Walking Tours. “You have to place the Cyclone in a context of something never done before and something new for the millions of people who went to Coney Island on a weekend.”

That scare factor was as prevalent then as it is now, Kamil said.

“There’s something incredibly scary about that first steep climb when you feel the shakiness of the wooden apparatus,” he said. “You don’t get that on a modern roller coaster.”

Dick Zigun, founder of Coney Island USA, a not-for-profit arts organization that produces several programs, including the sideshow, the Coney Island Museum and the Mermaid Parade, said the Cyclone has always been a draw, even when the area wasn’t in the best of shape.

“The Cyclone really is the perfection of the wooden roller coaster,” said Zigun, who calls himself the unofficial mayor of Coney Island. Zigun said the area is “hallowed ground” for lovers of roller coasters — the site is actually where the first modern coaster, the Gravity Switchback Railway, made its debut in 1884.

The Cyclone was fully refurbished last year.

“And now Luna Park has poured millions into it,” Zigun said. “In our lifetime it’s never been in such good shape, it’s been a thrill to see that.”

Also returning to Coney Island this summer is Feltman’s of Coney Island, started by Charles Feltman in 1867, a German immigrant largely credited with inventing the hot dog on a bun. What started as a pushcart selling apple pies in Coney Island turned into a hot dog cart and then eventually a restaurant, roller coaster, hotel, beer garden and more, said Michael Quinn, who revived the business a couple years ago.

The Coney Island location was shuttered in 1954, but now, celebrating 150 years, Feltman’s will return to Luna Park in the spot where it first began.

“This was a labor of love. We always wanted to bring back Feltman’s,” Quinn said. “It was an amazing journey.”

Morris said it’s exciting to bring back the legendary hot dog (where Nathan Handwerker worked before starting Nathan’s Famous and charging half the price).

“For Coney Island enthusiasts it’s nostalgic,” Morris said. “I think if they understand the history behind it, they’ll understand why it’s perfect in Coney Island. Coney Island is all about that old quirky vibe to it that you don’t get anywhere else.”

Luna Park first opened in 2010 on the former grounds of Astroland, and starting this Saturday will be open on weekends through Memorial Day, and then seven days a week after that. On Sunday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, baseball mascot Mr. Met and the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys welcome the public with egg creams — and the first 100 guests will get free rides on the Cyclone.

And local businesses are ready for the summer as well.

“We need the start of the season. Coney Island is a summer place,” said Barbara Maniscalco, 51, the manager of the Steeplechase Beer Garden, which will open up their outdoor area — weather permitting — toward the end of the month. “It’s definitely good for business.”

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