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"Kennywood’s rides of the past"

On May 10, 1991, Kennywood opened a new rollercoaster to the public. The Steel Phantom was its name. It began with a 160-foot lift along the land once occupied by another coaster, The Laser Loop. Writing for The Pittsburgh Press, Ed Blank said, “Life may have higher purposes, but this is where coaster loves live — climbing steadily toward an apex that seems to be blowing in the wind. And knowing all the best is still to come.”

And it was. After the first 157-foot descent came the real thriller: A second dip, 225 feet into the valley toward the Monongahela River.

But the Steel Phantom wasn’t just tall. It was also fast — in fact, a little too fast. Just days after it opened, it had to be closed for two weeks while park officials and the coaster’s manufacturer investigated why it was traveling faster than the intended top speed of 80 mph through its inversions.

The Phantom set records for speed for nearly a decade before Kennywood announced in March 2000 that it would be replaced after that season. A park spokesman was quoted in the Post-Gazette as saying, “In our quest for the best rides and the best use of our space, we have decided to pursue a new roller coaster.” 

After receiving complaints about closing a rider favorite, the park decided instead to renovate the Steel Phantom rather than replace it. The modified coaster reopened in May 2001 as the Phantom’s Revenge, which is still at the park today, following in the Steel Phantom’s footsteps with speeds at just over 80 mph.

Over the years, several other rides have come and gone. A popular attraction in the summer of 1977 was the Cinesphere, a cloth dome filled with church pews that was…well, actually, not a ride at all. An article in the May 26, 1977 issue of The Pittsburgh Press explained: “It’s a nine-minute movie made up of 16 scenes culled from three travelogues, in which “first person” camerawork gives viewers the illusion of movement.”

Included in the experience were a roller coaster ride, a helicopter liftoff from New York City’s Pan-Am building, a trip around the Indianapolis 500 track, and more.

Another favorite was the Turnpike, which opened in 1966 and greeted visitors just inside the park’s entrance until it was decommissioned in 2010 and replaced with another roller coaster, the Sky Rocket. The antique car ride, where the price of gas was always “FUN,” will reportedly make a return to the park in the future.

Heather Schmelzlen 

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    Kennywood Park was the place to go with family, friends, or on a date. The “Thunderbolt” was the roller-coaster of my...