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How One Inventor Tried to Save America—With Roller Coasters

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In the late 19th century, LaMarcus Adna Thompson—the inventor of a seamless stocking machine and devout Christian—began to worry about the state of American morality.

From his factory in Elkhart, Ind., Thompson saw a country that was becoming increasingly interested in wicked and hedonistic amusements. Sinful diversions like saloons and brothels were steering the country in the wrong direction, and Thompson feared things would go off the rails entirely. His concerns over the decline of American virtue sent the successful businessman into a spiritual crisis. A coal mine (of all things) is what would lead him out.

More than 500 miles away in Mauch Chunk, Penn., a railroad track once used to ship coal had been converted into a tourist attraction. The car ran on a nine-mile track toward loading docks, with a 665-foot drop at the end. The acceleration all came from gravity, and in a time when thrill rides weren’t exactly commonplace, the max speed of around 65 miles per hour probably felt like a daredevil stunt. The Scenic Railway would eventually overtake Niagara Falls as the top tourist attraction in the country.

Inspired, Thompson (who was only in his early 30s at the time) sold his hosiery business and decided to devote his efforts to this wholesome entertainment. He’d found America's savior.

In 1881, Thompson drafted designs for the 600-foot-long and 50-foot-high wooden “Switchback Railway” which debuted at Coney Island in June of 1884. While not the first roller coaster in history, it was the first roller coaster in America, and is considered a forebear of the rides we enjoy today. It also helped Thompson earn the title of “Father of Gravity.”

Thompson had set his sights on the seaside locale because he saw Coney Island as a hotbed for the immorality he was crusading against, and while he might not have entirely eradicated hedonism from the place, he did provide a wildly popular source of innocent entertainment. Charging a nickel a ride, within three weeks Thompson was bringing in $600 a day, the equivalent of almost $15,000 today. The ride, with its top speed of 6 miles per hour, sideways-facing seats, and point-to-point tracks, was a success.

Within a year, those quirks had already started to morph into something more familiar to 21st century riders. An oval course replaced the original tracks and seats started to face forward.

Thompson went on to build 50 more roller coasters worldwide, earning millions in the process. He died on Long Island in 1919 at age 71.

[h/t Smithsonian Magazine]

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Pop Culture
Rare Disney Artifacts From Early Imagineer Rolly Crump Head to Auction

If you’ve ever marveled at the fantastical facades of Disney’s "It’s a Small World" attraction, you can partly thank Imagineer Rolly Crump. Throughout the 1960s, the animator and designer helped bring to life some of Walt Disney Parks’s most iconic attractions, including the "Enchanted Tiki Room," "Haunted Mansion," and "Adventureland Bazaar."

Later this month, some of his original pieces will go under the hammer at Van Eaton Galleries in Sherman Oaks, California. The most valuable of the 400-plus lots is Crump’s original model for a clock in "It’s a Small World," which could sell for up to $80,000, according to the auction house. The design was mocked up from fellow Disney artist Mary Blair’s original sketch, and the end result is now a permanent fixture of the boat ride attraction.

A few other items up for grabs are a Polynesian-style shield that Crump sculpted for the "Enchanted Tiki Room," an original devil prop from "Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride," an original "Haunted Mansion" poster, and a costumed character head from "Babes in Toyland." A ticket for the grand opening of Disneyland in 1955 is expected to sell for as much as $5000—although unfortunately it won't grant the buyer entry to the park these days.

In addition to pieces created for Disney, the collection also includes Crump’s original artwork, some of which dates back to his high school years. One such illustration of a colorful character wielding a sword and smoking a pipe was entered into a radio contest in 1947 by Crump’s mother, unbeknownst to her son. He didn’t win, but his consolation prize came five years later when he was hired to work at Walt Disney Studios at age 22.

The “Life and Career of Disney Legend Rolly Crump” auction is scheduled for April 28, 2018.

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LEGOLAND Japan Breaks Record With Cherry Blossom Tree Made From 880,000 LEGO Bricks
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A 14-foot-tall sakura tree has sprung up in LEGOLAND Japan just in time for cherry blossom season. As SoraNews 24 reports, the 7348-pound structure is made entirely of LEGO bricks, earning it the Guinness World Record for largest LEGO cherry blossom tree.

The tree's unveiling marked the one-year anniversary of the opening of LEGOLAND Japan. To construct it, a team of expert builders at the LEGO factory in the Czech Republic spent 6700 hours assembling 881,470 plastic blocks around metal support pipes. The final components were then shipped to Nagoya, Japan where they were put together and displayed at the park. Every visible part of the tree is made of LEGO—even the lanterns, which light up at night to illuminate the pink canopy.

The cherry blossom is an icon of springtime in Japan that's recognizable around the world. Each year, the nation celebrates the season with festivals and sakura-flavored treats like Pepsi and frappuccinos. This latest homage to Japan's national tree may be the most ambitious yet.

Like the living sakura trees that explode into vibrant color around Japan this time of year, the LEGO cherry blossoms won't be around for long—LEGOLAND guests have until May 6 to catch a peek of the tree.

[h/t SoraNews24]

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