10 Deadliest Roller Coaster Accidents

Rough Riders, Coney Island, 1915
Coney Island has been a major tourist destination since the 19th century. A. Loeffler/Prints and Photographs Division/Library of Congress

Today, a roller coaster named "Rough Riders" wouldn't sound particularly appealing. But in 1915 the Spanish-American War, which featured Theodore Roosevelt's legendary "Rough Riders" cavalry regiment, was still a recent memory, so it probably sounded awesome. Not so on July 27 of that year, however, when an accident killed three riders and injured three others.

The Rough Riders, originally known as Drop-the-Dip, was located in Coney Island, New York. The coaster operated much like a modern subway: Each train had a driver and an electric motor powered by a third rail that propelled its riders up hills and around corners.

On that fateful summer day in 1915, six people boarded the ride. Excitement built as they slowly passed through an exhibit that recalled scenes from the war. Then, the train accelerated. A crowd looked on as it shot down an incline and headed into a sharp turn. Suddenly, the wheels left the track, flipping the car on its side and hurling the driver and four passengers into a flimsy iron railing 30 feet (9.1 meters) above the pavement. Three fell to their deaths while two — a woman and her 4-year-old son — clung to the wrecked car's handrail until police were able to rescue them. Another person was injured when the driver's body struck her as she watched from the ground [source: The New York Times, July 28, 1915].

Witnesses claimed that the accident was caused by excessive speed as the train entered the turn. However, jurors ultimately exonerated the ride's manager on charges of homicide after determining that the accident was "unavoidable."