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Diana Kuyper: Eagle ends this coaster fan’s fun

Columnist DianKuyper

Columnist Diana Kuyper

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Updated: June 22, 2011 6:46PM

Reading several stories recently about the American Eagle’s 30th anniversary at Great America brought back a flood of memories.

When I was a young reporter more than 30 years ago at a Wisconsin daily newspaper, every spring we received an invitation to press day at Great America. Whoever attended was expected to ride and describe the latest attractions.

I was the youngest staff member and eager to spend a day out of the office so I was quick to volunteer. Nobody else was interested in riding roller coasters, so for most of the time I worked there I got my free day at Great America.

That is, until the American Eagle was unveiled in 1981.

I remember riding the Whizzer, built in 1976. The steel roller coaster went 42 mph and had a maximum drop of 64 feet. That was a piece of cake.

There were no lines and no waiting, so I dragged my younger siblings to the park and we rode that coaster over and over again and loved every minute.

Then Turn of the Century was introduced. It was a looping corkscrew ride with a maximum drop of 82 feet and it went 45 mph. It was modified to include two corkscrews to replace two camelback hills in 1980 and renamed The Demon.

I loved that ride! I went on it at least six times and would have gone back for more if I had not been obligated to ride other attractions in the park. I had a story to write and it had to include more than my description of one ride.

No new roller coasters were introduced for a few years, and even though I attended press day annually, it got to be somewhat routine.

Until the American Eagle was unveiled. It was described as a “scream machine.”

No exaggeration there!

At 127 feet tall it went 66 mph. The maximum vertical drop was 147 feet, almost double that of my beloved Turn of the Century.

It scared me silly. I looked at it and knew my roller coaster testing days were over. I sucked up my fear and went on it anyway.

I screamed. I prayed for survival. I made it off that ride and vowed to never go on it again, and I never did.

That experience is best left to the next generation of risk takers!

Diana Kuyper’s column appears on Fridays. You can e-mail her at

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