In Search of the Cyclone of Palisades Amusement Park
In search of the Palisades Amusement Park Cyclone roller coaster cars: a missing part of Fort Lee history found in Pennsylvania.
The summer sun has actually peeked through the clouds this week so we can hope, as we progress through the month of June, that we will see more and more summer-like weather, and we can only hope that we also receive cool breezes off the Palisades. Those breezes, if you listen closely enough, whisper in your ear of summers long ago atop the Fort Lee Palisades.
Summer in our community, from 1898 through 1971, ran from April through September, as those were the opening and closing dates each season for Palisades Amusement Park. This clifftop park has been written about in past archive columns but this column serves Palisades Amusement Park straight up, if you please, with a twist.
Mr. Palisades Amusement Park, author and documentary filmmaker, Vince Gargiulo, called me recently, and there was a definite urgency in his voice. Seems that, like the fictional Indiana Jones of movie fame, “Palisades Amusement Park” Gargiulo (sans fedora) uncovered a mystery surrounding one of the most iconic rides in the history of our amusement park: the Cyclone roller coaster.
As many of us know either from personal history or from reading Vince’s book or seeing his PBS documentary, Palisades Amusement Park: A Century of Fond Memories, when the park closed in 1971, most of the rides were sold to amusement parks across the nation.
The famed Carousel still is in operation in Canada. In 1950 park owners, Irving and Jack Rosenthal, met Irish immigrant and ride operator Morgan “Mickey” Hughes. This was an alliance that would increase the popularity of Palisades Amusement Park and make it one of the most well-known amusement parks in the world.
The Rosenthals booked Mickey’s ride, the Rotor, and they made a deal in which Mickey would introduce the newest European rides at Palisades Amusement Park. At the same time, these rides would be showcased so American amusement park operators could come to the park and book similar rides for their parks. The Rosenthals knew a good deal when they saw one as Palisades Amusement Park received all the rides for free. Mickey too benefited, soon becoming the nation’s largest importer of amusement park rides.
The good times continued to roll for Palisades Amusement Park, but its increasing popularity led to its demise; by the 1960s the towns of Fort Lee and Cliffside Park had enough of the tremendous traffic generated by the park, and both towns rezoned the park for high-rise development.
Irving Rosenthal, by then the sole owner after his brother, Jack, died some years earlier, was in his 70s. Though Irving vowed to keep the park open, by 1971, with no children of his own to leave the park to, Irving Rosenthal sold his beloved park atop the Palisades, and it was to be developed for high-rise residences.
From the close in September of 1971 through early 1972, many of the wonderful rides were sold off to other parks. The Cyclone roller coaster, built by Joe McKee, was demolished in February 1972.
But this is where things get interesting.
What became of this signature Palisades Amusement Park ride – of course not the wooden rollercoaster structure, as it was demolished, but what happened to the Cyclone roller coaster cars?
See this link to Vince Gargiulo's website for some rare Cyclone photos.
This leads us to a now defunct amusement park in Mechanicsburg, PA. According to Vince Gargiulo, Mickey Hughes operated Williams Grove Amusement Park through 2006, when he sought a buyer to operate the park. Failing to find one, many of the park’s rides were auctioned off that same year.
Mickey died in 2008. The park, though closed today, still contains some rides. We are trying to establish who may own these rides because they include (drum roll please ...) the original Palisades Amusement Park Cyclone roller coaster cars!
Members of the Fort Lee Historical Society, under the leadership of Mr. Palisades Amusement Park, Vince Gargiulo, are presently doing background research to establish who owns the cars. We hope to bring some of these cars back home – perhaps place one on permanent display at the Fort Lee Museum, in addition to a spot in Cliffside Park because both towns were home to the park.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to once again sit in a Palisades Amusement Park roller coaster car and transport yourself back in time when summers in Fort Lee echoed with screams and laughter from a long gone park atop the Palisades?