Six Flags Great America near Chicago is a classic American amusement park featuring more than a dozen hair-raising thrill rides. Vertical Velocity catapults riders from zero to 70 mph (113 kph) up a towering vertical track. Superman: Ultimate Flight suspends riders head-first and face-down while rocketing them through a series of dizzying loops and twists.
All of those stomach-sinking drops and G-force turns clearly have a disorienting effect on the senses. How else to explain why so many park-goers neglect to secure their cell phones, wallets, sunglasses and baseball hats before climbing into the next coaster?
During the 2011 season alone, Six Flags Great America staffers recovered 7,500 cell phones, 3,500 digital cameras, hundreds of sunglasses, wallets, and keys, and untold quantities of loose change from inside the cars and beneath the tracks of its roller coasters [source: Black].
Imagine for a second that you're the Six Flags employee stuck with the job of scouring the prairie grass under Goliath, the world's "tallest, steepest and fastest wooden roller coaster," and you stumble onto something odd. Not another cracked iPhone or a pair of Ray-Bans, but something truly bizarre.
We've assembled a list of 10 unusual things that people lose on roller coasters — some tangible, some physical and some psychological. Keep reading for a strange trip through the lost and found.
The lost-and-found department at Disney theme parks and resorts has some of the most generous policies in the amusement park business. Disney carefully catalogs all misplaced items and holds them for 30 days for inexpensive items (hats and sunglasses) and a full 90 days for fancier stuff (smartphones and video cameras) [source: Disney].
Nowadays, unclaimed items are sent to area charity stores. But back in the 1990s, Disneyland in Anaheim, California, used to have an annual auction for all unclaimed items held in its huge lost-and-found storage facility. It was at one of those auctions in 1991 that a wooden leg came up for sale [source: Lait]. Did it fall overboard on Splash Mountain or go AWOL during Mr. Toad's Wild Ride? And who leaves the park without their leg?
At Six Flags Great America, a woman was once separated from her prosthetic leg during an acrobatic journey on Batman: The Ride [source: Black]. At least she had the sense to claim it at lost and found.
The fastest roller coaster in the world is the Formula Rossa at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi. Next time you're in the United Arab Emirates, you can hop on the Formula One-themed ride, which accelerates passengers from zero to 150 mph (240 kph) in less than five seconds [source: Ferrari World].
But serious speed and power aren't restricted to luxury car-themed amusement parks in oil-rich Arabian countries. Odds are your local coaster park has rides that propel extremely heavy cars at highway speeds with no emergency brakes in site.
Sadly, a surprising number of people lose body parts — and even die — at amusement parks every year. A South Carolina teenager was decapitated back in 2008 when he and a friend climbed over two security gates to retrieve a lost hat underneath the tracks of the Batman ride at Six Flags Over Georgia. A year earlier, a teenage girl's legs were severed when a snapped cable tangled around her ankles at another Six Flags in Kentucky [source: AP].
With millions of people visiting amusement parks each year, the likelihood of getting injured on a roller coaster is very low (the risk of theme park injuries in general is about 1 in 25 million according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission). Still, make sure to follow all posted instructions and notify a park employee if anything looks or feels amiss.
Modern roller coasters are works of engineering art. Every heart-pounding ascent and stomach-dropping plunge is calculated to deliver precise jolts of fear, panic and ecstasy. But every so often, the squeeze of a corkscrew or the weightlessness of a steep drop is a little too much for the pile of nacho cheese fries churning in your belly, and before you can say, "Look out below!" you blow.
Why do roller coasters wreak havoc with our digestive tract? It's all about G-forces. The "G" stands for gravity, with 1G representing the normal pull of gravity that we experience every day. Roller coasters use acceleration, momentum and quick changes of direction to produce both positive and negative G-forces.
Positive G-forces create that face-flattening feeling that you experience at the bottom of a steep hill, when it's nearly impossible to keep your hands raised in the air. Negative G-forces (anything less than1G) produce those weightless moments, when you lift momentarily out of your seat and your stomach momentarily lodges in your throat [source: Berkowitz].
Why do some people puke on roller coasters and others don't? It might have to do with the gastro esophageal valve, the one-way muscle that transfers food from the esophagus to the stomach. In some folks, the negative G-forces experiences on roller coasters are strong enough to make that one-way valve a temporarily two-way street [source: Berkowitz]. Lovely.
March 30, 1999 is a day that will live in infamy in the proud state of Virginia. The setting was Busch Gardens, one of the great American amusement parks, and the press had gathered to report on the inaugural run of a brand-new coaster, Apollo's Chariot.
Being 1999, Busch Gardens had recruited the closest thing to a god on Earth — none other than Fabio, he of the flowing blond locks and perpetually open shirt — to drum up publicity for the ride. On that sunny morning, Fabio boarded the coaster flanked by rows of pretty young girls dressed in white Grecian robes. Smiles and polite waves all around as the coaster rolled into action.
A minute later, the cars roared back into the platform bearing a shocking sight. The beautiful Fabio, whose clueless grin had graced the covers of dozens of romance novels, was smeared in blood. Splatters of crimson even stained the innocent white robes of his young courtesans. What the heck had gone down on Apollo's Chariot?
An unlucky goose, apparently, had flown into the coaster's path as the ride roared down a hill at more than 70 mph (113 kph). The front of the coaster struck the goose, killing it instantly, but its large body deflected straight onto Fabio's face, slicing his nose and creating one of the world's greatest photo ops.
Fabio was fine — he only needed three stitches — but his pride took a beating. Jay Leno described it as a "collision between two birdbrains" [source: Holtzclaw].
Asking someone to marry you is a lot like riding a roller coaster. Your heart races, your palms sweat and there's a pretty good chance that you're going to puke before it's over. So why not combine the two!
Reddit user Nightzel — we presume he has a real name — pulled off an ingenious proposal in 2013 when he and his girlfriend were visiting Cedar Point, the roller coaster capital of Ohio. Hiding a "Marry Me?" T-shirt underneath his button-down, Nightzel boarded the Millennium Force coaster and timed his reveal for the flash of the photo-op camera.
Another souvenir photo snapped at Disneyland's Splash Mountain captures a smiling dude named Chris and his three friends holding up smuggled signs reading, "Lindsay will you marry me?" Lindsay — who in the photo is totally clueless in the front of the log, gripping the handles in sheer panic — also said yes [source: Harness].
If you're young and relatively healthy, you have absolutely no reason to think about dentures. But the truth is there are millions of people in the United States who rely on full or partial dentures — sets of custom-fitted false teeth — to successfully speak, eat and smile.
According to the American College of Prosthodontists, there are 178 million Americans missing at least one tooth, and 35 million people in America with no natural teeth at all. The medical term for toothlessness is edentulism; a full 90 percent of the edentulous population wears dentures [source: ACP].
Because dentures need to be removed daily and cleaned, they are not physically attached to the mouth, which has some serious comic potential. According to the lost and found staff at Disneyland, the park recovers "a lot of dentures," including "full sets of uppers and lowers sometimes" [source: Lait].
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the lost dentures mostly turn up near the tracks of Space Mountain, the Matterhorn and Big Thunder, likely ejected from the mouths of screaming elderly riders. Most go unclaimed [source: Lait].
Despite your mother's warnings that you will almost certainly shoot your eye out with that BB gun or slingshot or rubber band, less than 1 percent of the United States population has a prosthetic eye. Although we call these convincing fakes "glass" eyes, they've been made out of acrylic, a plastic, since World War II [source: Steinberg].
Like dentures, glass eyes aren't surgically implanted into the wearer's face. The glass eye is held into place by the upper and lower eyelids, and the prosthetic can be easily removed with a nifty suction device and cleaned using soap and water [source: Erickson Labs Northwest].
But with the right amount of force — say, a jarring left turn at 90 mph (145 kph) — an artificial eye can be unintentionally ejected from the owner's socket. This has happened at least once at Disneyland, and also at a U.K. amusement park called Blackpool Pleasure Beach, where the dredging of a park pond uncovered several sets of dentures, a wig and a glass eye [sources: BBC News, Lait].
We stumbled across that last nifty tidbit about the glass eye in the U.K. pond as a side note to a much more interesting story about movie legend Marlene Dietrich.
Dietrich was a German-born cabaret singer-turned-actress who became a leading femme fatale in a series of Hollywood movies in the early 1930s. While Hitler rose to power, Dietrich chose to become a U.S. citizen, flying overseas to entertain Allied troops [source: BBC News].
During an earlier visit to the U.K. in 1934, Dietrich spent a day at the family-run Blackpool Pleasure Beach, founded in 1896 as England's first American-style amusement park. While riding the park's newly built wooden roller coaster, The Big Dipper, she lost one of her pearl and gold earrings. Park officials searched, but couldn't turn it up.
In 2007, more than 70 years later, construction workers dredged up an earring from a park pond while building a new ride. The delicate pearl jewelry matched Dietrich's exact description and was in excellent condition. Dietrich herself passed away in 1992 at the age of 90 [source: BBC News].
There's a ride at Denver theme park Elitch Gardens called Mind Eraser. One of the first suspended roller coasters in the world, the Mind Eraser uses a series of tight corkscrews and disorienting turns to jostle the rider's brain. Every once in a while, it jostles a little too hard.
Deborah Lee Benagh rode Mind Eraser with her sons back in 1997. Instead of a thrilling rush, she suffered repeated knocks to the head that left her temporarily unconscious. Over the following weeks, her vision blurred, she blacked out repeatedly, and her short-term memory vanished. Mind Eraser, indeed. Benagh was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, though she eventually recovered and sued the park, settling out of court for an undisclosed amount [source: Gilbert].
More than 10,000 people visited the emergency room in 2000 for injuries sustained on thrill rides. Most were accidents, but some resulted from rides operating exactly as designed, like Mind Eraser. A 2002 report by the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke showed that 58 people had suffered brain trauma after being on amusement park rides that operated normally. Eight of them died [source: Gilbert].
If you get off a ride and have a terrible headache, get to a hospital quickly. It's possible to rupture a blood vessel in the brain and die if it's not treated in a timely fashion. Again, not a likely scenario, but better to be safe than sorry.
In the great state of Florida, a properly licensed gun owner can legally carry a concealed handgun in public, except for at schools, airports and courthouses [source: Wang]. But what about amusement parks? As private entities, they can make their own rules. At the Walt Disney World Resort, there is a strict "no guns" policy -- apparently not strict enough, though.
In 2013, a woman riding the Dinosaur ride at Disney's Animal Kingdom with her grandson was more than a little surprised to find a loaded handgun in their seat. The owner of the gun, who had a concealed carry permit, didn't notice it had slipped out of his pocket during the bumpy ride. He also didn't know that guns weren't allowed in Disney. To his credit, no such signs were posted outside the park [source: CBS News].
In 2007, authorities closed down Gillian's Wonderland Pier in New Jersey when an off-duty police officer misplaced his loaded weapon in the amusement park. It turns out that a 16-year-old girl had found the gun earlier in the day on the Sling Shot ride and assumed it was a toy. The .22-caliber handgun was small, but still deadly. The teen realized her mistake when she shot a live round into a sand dune and quickly turned the gun over to police [source: NBC10.com].
For lots more odd tales of wonder and amusement park thrills, check out the related HowStuffWorks links on the next page.
Velocipede carousels were created in the late 19th century to accustom Parisians to riding bicycles. Learn more about velocipede carousels.
Author's Note: 10 Surprising Things People Lose on Roller Coasters
There's a ride at our local amusement park — the amazing and historic Kennywood — called the Aero 360. I'm a huge roller coaster fan, but this "thrill ride" seems exclusively designed to part riders with their earthly possessions. The ride starts by swinging in increasingly higher arcs until you complete three or four full loops. But when it comes time to change direction, the ride holds you upside down for a full 10 seconds. While you and your family scream in terror, the entire contents of your pockets — cell phones, change, car keys — fall 100 feet to a black net below. Next time I'll check it for glass eyes.
- American College of Prosthodontists. "Facts & Figures" (June 26, 2015) http://www.gotoapro.org/news/facts--figures/
- Associated Press. "Teen decapitated at Six Flags Over Georgia." June 28, 2008 (June 26, 2015) http://www.nbcnews.com/id/25431893/ns/us_news-life/t/teen-decapitated-six-flags-over-georgia/#.VYxYGhNVikp
- BBC News. "Fair unearths 'Dietrich earring.'" Jan. 10, 2007 (June 26, 2015) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/6248143.stm
- Berkowitz, Bonnie and Stanton, Laura. "Roller coasters: Feeling loopy." The Washington Post. July 1, 2013 (June 26, 2015) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/health/why-roller-coasters-make-us-scream/index.html
- Black, Lisa. "The Six Flags lost and found." The Chicago Tribune. May 10, 2012 (June 26, 2015) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-05-10/news/ct-met-six-flags-ride-sidebar-20120510_1_cellphones-coaster-flags-officials
- Blackpool Pleasure Beach. "Pleasure Beach History" (June 26, 2015) https://www.blackpoolpleasurebeach.com/schools/pleasure-beach-history/
- CBS News. "Disney World patron found loaded gun on ride." May 30, 2013 (June 26, 2015) http://www.cbsnews.com/news/disney-world-patron-found-loaded-gun-on-ride/
- Erickson Labs Northwest. "How to Handle Your Artificial Eyes" (June 26, 2015) http://www.ericksonlabs.com/v/Artificial_Eyes/care_handling.asp
- Ferrari World. "Formula Rossa" (June 26, 2015) https://www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com/en-gb/attractions/formula-rossa.aspx
- Gilbert, Susan. "When Brain Trauma is at the Other End of the Thrill Ride." The New York Times. June 25, 2002 (June 26, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/25/health/when-brain-trauma-is-at-the-other-end-of-the-thrill-ride.html
- Harness, Jill. "27 Awesomely Stages Roller Coaster Photos." Mental Floss. May 16, 2014 (June 26, 2015) http://mentalfloss.com/article/56224/27-awesomely-staged-roller-coaster-photos
- Holtzclaw, Mike. "Remembering the day Fabio got goosed at Busch Gardens." Daily Press. Aug. 14, 2014 (June 26, 2015) http://www.dailypress.com/entertainment/blog/dp-popcorn-fabio-goose-0814-story.html
- Lait, Matt. "A Cache of Lost Finds." Los Angeles Times. Nov. 15 1992 (June 26, 2015) http://articles.latimes.com/1992-11-15/local/me-1074_1_lost-items
- NBC10.com. "Off-Duty Officer's Gun Found by Teen" (June 26, 2015) http://www.southjersey.com/articles/?articleID=17101
- Nightzel. "I proposed to my girlfriend on a roller coaster yesterday. She said yes!" Reddit (June 26, 2015) http://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/1iszbq/i_proposed_to_my_girlfriend_on_a_roller_coaster/
- Steinberg, Stephanie. "The art of eye making." CNN. July 21, 2011 (June 26, 2015) http://www.cnn.com/2011/LIVING/07/21/eye.making.art/
- Walt Disney World. "Lost and Found" (June 26, 2015) https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/guest-services/lost-and-found/
- Wang, Betty. "Are guns allowed at amusement parks?" Findlaw. June 6, 2013 (June 26, 2015) http://blogs.findlaw.com/law_and_life/2013/06/are-guns-allowed-at-amusement-parks.html