The wild rides of Crystal Beach

Crystal Beach opened in the late 1880s as a vacation place. The man who originally founded it, John Rebestock, also built a surrounding town, called Crystal Beach. People traveled to Crystal Beach, Ontario, from Buffalo, New York, via steamers and ferry. In the early days, Crystal Beach had a hotel and rickety dock. After the hotel burned to the ground in 1893, the place nearly went bankrupt. In 1907, Crystal Beach was transformed. A midway was built, as well as an amusement park. The first roller coaster was built in 1908. It traveled at a very peaceful six miles per hour. By 1910, the slow roller coaster was replaced by the “Backety Back Roller Coaster.” It was one of a kind. No others like it ever existed. In fact, the builder of that roller coaster constructed only three or four roller coasters in his entire career.

Bill Kae came to the Grand Island Historical Society to share the history of Crystal Beach. It was an interesting presentation. In this blog post, I will focus on the story of the roller coasters.
Back in the 1980s, I went to Crystal Beach with some friends. Crystal Beach is near Fort Erie, Ontario. It seems like a long time ago, back when the U.S.-Canadian border was open. In fact, according to Bill Kae, the “park relied on the open border between the United States and Canada.”

My excursion to Crystal Beach included riding on the (in)famous Comet. It was a roller coaster that was considered to be quite frightening. I happily hopped aboard with my friends. At first, it was loads of fun, and I screamed with great gusto. Unfortunately, the inevitable occurred. When I got off of the Comet, I looked green with motion sickness. My friend said, “Let’s ride backwards next time.”

Feebly, I said, “Let’s not, and say we did.”

That was my last roller coaster ride.

I never went back to Crystal Beach. It closed in 1989.

Crystal Beach was not a big part of my life.

But, for Bill Kae, pictured above, Crystal Beach was his most “favorite place on Earth.” For him, the Comet was a beautiful combination of art and architecture. “It was very graceful.”

Bill showed pictures of his grandmother, pictured at Crystal Beach in 1926, with friends. She was sixteen years old at the time. When Bill was a child, his parents and grandparents took him to Crystal Beach. As a small boy, he said, “I can’t wait ’til I’m old enough to ride the Comet!”

His grandmother told him about her favorite roller coaster: the Cyclone. To Bill, it was just a story of roller coasters past. It was closed in 1946. Two years later, the famous (or, for some of us, infamous) Comet opened. 

Bill Kae’s grandmother told him about another roller coaster, one that she probably did not ride on. Grandmother told her grandson that “it went back and forth, like a leaf.” Bill said that he believed that his grandmother “didn’t know what she was talking about.”

Years later, when Bill researched a series of books that he wrote about Crystal Beach, he discovered that the old roller coaster, the one that was removed before his grandmother was old enough to enjoy a good roller coaster ride, took “turns and swooping drops.” It was called the Backety Back Scenic Railway.

“My grandmother wasn’t totally loopy,” Bill said.

Well, maybe all of those sudden drops and stops did make her (and others) a bit loopy.

Apparently, the roller coaster riders of the past would have good reason to become loopy. Bill said that people used to dress up to go to Crystal Beach. In his Powerpoint presentation, he showed a picture of people dressed up in suits and hats and fancy dresses and hats. Bill said that his uncle wore a button-down shirt. The ride, apparently, popped Uncle’s buttons. He got on the Cyclone with his buttons intact and, when he got off, he had no buttons.

People sat within close proximity of one another and “got jabbed with elbows.”

“It was painful,” Bill said.

Other rides included the Wild Mouse, which was added in 1959. It was removed sometime between the late 1970s and the early 1980s.

“No more of these are left anywhere,” Bill said.

Another ride at Crystal Beach was the “Tumblebug.” It was actually the oldest ride at Crystal Beach. There are only two of this type of ride remaining in the entire world, and they are both at amusement parks in Pennsylvania. There was a “Magic Carpet” and a “Rocket Ship.”

Apparently, there were very few roller coaster disasters. There was, however, one fatality. In 1938, Amos Weidrich, age 22, fell from the top of the Cyclone. He fell out of the ride because his lap bar failed to function.

Crystal Beach went bankrupt in 1989. People, however, still ride the Comet and they still scream (or turn green).The Comet was removed from Crystal Beach. Its home now is in Great Escape Park in Lake George, New York.

Sharing question: Did you enjoy roller coasters? Please share any roller coaster tales that you may have.

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