Back in the 50’s, Rotor rides were the end all thrill ride. Up until that point, there was nothing like it. The concept was simple but ingenious: riders stand in a large barrel and it spins, pinning them to the walls. The floor would then drop out leaving riders stuck to the wall thanks to centrifugal force. The ride was so unique for the time that not only did people pay to ride it, but paid to simply watch people ride it! Rotor was more than just a ride…it was a spectacle.
Eventually, the novelty of Rotor wore off. Newer thrills and smaller counterparts (Chance Rotor, Gravitron) made the older models obsolete. Many were scrapped while others were re-themed to attract a new generation of riders. Several of these Rotors dropped the novel ‘Rotor’ name in favor of a darker, more edgy theme. These Rotor rides were known as Hell Hole.
The history of Hell Hole rides is tough to come by. There were at least three under the Hell Hole banner: 12th Street in Coney Island, Sportland Pier in Wildwood, NJ, and Conneaut Lake Park. They were likely all re-themes of original Rotor rides. Conneaut Lake Park’s model was bought used and debuted in 1976 with the Hell Hole theme. Sportland Pier’s model went through an identity crisis of sorts. It was first known simply as ‘Rotor’ before being re-themed to Hell Hole by at least 1967. Soon after, it was shortly re-themed to Whirlpool in the early 70s before reverting back to Hell Hole for good. Coney Island’s model was installed by the mid 70s (it can be seen behind the Wonder Wheel in this 1976 video,) but I can’t find anything about its origins. A fourth model likely existed at Martin’s Fantasy Island under the name Devil’s Hole which debuted at the park in 1975.
The manufacturers of these rides is also kind of hazy. Older Rotors were produced under license of two patent holders: the original designer Ernst Hoffmeister (patent) and an improvement made by Max Myers (patent). In the US, Velare Brothers and Anglo Rotor Corporation handled the production of touring and stationary Rotors respectively (after a patent dispute, that is.) Outside of the US, an assortment of companies built the models. Basically, old school Rotors were rides without a common manufacturer but built using a common design. That being said, I’ve heard the company Mack being thrown around when discussing Hell Hole. Whether they built one or all of them is really anybodies guess. Perhaps Mack handled the re-theming of the rides?
Hell Hole, and all old school Rotors for that matter, were massive. Let me rephrase that: the structure was massive. The actual barrel that riders stood against was relatively small in comparison. Rotor was intended to be part ride and part show. Most of the space inside of the buildings was used for tiered observation galleries encircling the barrel. The main, circular structure was hidden behind a giant facade, making it look like an even larger building.
From the outside, Hell Hole looked more like a dark ride than a traditional Rotor. The Coney Island model in particular had artwork much like Dante’s Inferno at Astroland. It looked really neat, but badly faded over time. I’ve even seen photos where the ride’s paybox clearly stated that it was not a dark ride to curb confusion. A common feature of Hell Hole rides was a large, hulking demon holding a pitchfork while looking down on potential riders with an evil smirk. Sportland Pier’s Hell Hole didn’t feature this decoration, rather it was used in other applications on the pier (photos are at the bottom of the linked page.)
While I’ve seen blurbs about other Hell Hole rides, the Coney Island Hell Hole seems to have quite a bit of stories attached to it, many of which touch upon the fact that the ride was absolutely ferocious compared to other Rotors or Gravitron rides. Several posts from different people over the years on rec.roller-coaster noted that the force at which the barrel rotated made it hard to even breathe. The ride was run on a long cycle with the operator slowing the ride while the floor was still down which would result in the riders sliding down the walls. This is something many Rotors did in the past but would never fly in the US today thanks to our lawsuit happy nation. I’m not going to lie, this particular Hell Hole sounded like a blast and was just so…Coney Island.
Each Hell Hole ride met their demise in some some fashion or another. Sportland Pier was sold in the 80s and the ride was left to decay for some time. Eventually the structure was razed while just leaving the barrel behind on the pier (as seen here, near the bottom of the page.) Conneaut removed theirs after a ride auction in the early 90s. The ride was reportedly in bad condition and failed to sell. It was eventually scrapped. Devil’s Hole in Martin’s Fantasy Island was removed around 1994 when new ownership took hold. Like Conneaut’s Hell Hole, this ride had also fallen into disrepair. In 2011, the park added a Wisdom manufactured Gravitron ride themed as Devil’s Hole as a little throwback.
Hell Hole in Coney Island ended up being the most well known of the lot, but not for the right reasons. The ride had a major accident on the night of July 29, 1995 that injured 13 people. One of the metal straps holding the barrel together essentially snapped, leading to part of the barrel breaking away. One woman suffered severe leg injuries while many others were injured after the e-stop was pushed, sending riders tumbling to the lowered floor. The ride never reopened and was eventually removed. Its spot is currently home to Ghost Hole, a more traditional ride through haunted house.
There seems to be some confusion, so let’s make this clear…Ghost Hole is not Hell Hole!
While no Hell Hole themed Rotors seem to exist anymore, there is one that looks very similar. German showman Pluschies hauls around a massive Rotor ride that was manufactured by Siemens and based off of the Hoffmeister patent. It’s probably the only large, Hoffmeister patented Rotor still on the road. In typical German funfair fashion, the Pluschies Rotor has had some upgrades done. Most notably, the facade has been replaced by a three floor funhouse that riders walk through before going inside. That’s really an awesome idea!
Here’s a video of the Pluschies Rotor in action. It seems to spin at a reasonable speed unlike every Hell Hole story I’ve come across. They also let the riders slide down the walls at the end.
If anyone has memories about the Hell Hole rides, by all means leave a comment! Also, if anyone has photos of the rides, I’d love to see them!
- History of Rotor Rides – National Fairground Archive
- Hell Hole – Images of America Conneaut Lake Park
- You’ve got a date with the devil – Buffalo.com
- Various Hell Hole discussions – rec.roller-coaster Usenet group
- Vintage photos: Coney Island in the 1990s – Untapped Cities
- CI Hell Hole photos circa 1985 (1, 2, 3) – Steven Siegel | Flickr
- Sportland Pier page featuring Hell Hole – Funchase
- Sportland Pier Hell Hole photos (1, 2, Hell Hole when it was just ‘Rotor’) – Sportland Pier Fans Facebook
- Sportland Pier Hell Hole building (circular red structure on the left side of the pier.)
Neat theme for a Rotor. I think it could still fly. Maybe not as “Hell Hole” though. lol
I remember seeing a mini motorcycle stunt show in a decommissioned Jersey Shore Rotor ride somewhere around 1990….I cannot remember if it was Casino Pier in Seaside or a Pier in Wildwood.
I like ten minutes from fantasy island and can remember the old devil’s hole ride, but just from the outside… I was only about 8 years old when it was removed so i was never big enough to ride it… But I remember always t
Tying to imagine what the inside was like and thinking it was scary
I was scared of it too, just watching from above for a few years, but I eventually started riding it around the time I was 12. It became my favorite ride. I can see how kids were scared of it with the darkness inside, the loud metal music playing and the fact that the whole metal structure shook when the ride was spinning.
Rode the Hell Hole at Conneaut lake many times. Towards the end of the last season it operated. They let you stay on the ride as long as you wanted. I stayed on the ride for an hour and a half one day. When there was enough room you could position yourself upside down as the ride was running, as long as you were careful enough to get back in standing position before the ride started slowing down to stop. That ride was a blast!! Wish I could ride one again.
I also rode the Hell Hole at Conneaut Lake Park many times. My dad worked for General Electric in Erie, PA and the union had their annual picnic at the park every summer…so I was there every year from the mid 80s to the early 90s. I was really disappointed when they took it out with all the problems the park has had for the last 20 years or so. I have never seen another ride like that anywhere. The guy running the ride would always say “do not turn upside down” but there was always at least one person who would do it. They never enforced that rule…they probably had to say that for insurance reasons. Like the other person said, if it was a slow day, they kept the ride going for an extra long amount of time and you could pretty much stay in there as long as you wanted too.
Hey Matt. This is your brother evan
I rode Coney Island’s Hell Hole once, in my mid twenties….that was enough for me! I’m so glad I found this, because no one believed me when I told them about this ride…. I was pinned to the wall, unable to breathe, sure I was going to die….when the ride slowed, people were yelling at me to slide down. I simply could not. Three people came to my rescue and peeled me off the wall, so I wouldn’t fall.
I sat outside trembling and breathless for an hour…during which I read the medical warning posted on the ride … something to the effect of : “Do not ride this ride if you are pregnant or have a pacemaker. ” THAT was IT! Nothing else, for instance, bad back warnings, asthma/emphysema/COPD warnings, etc….you get the idea. I had no foreknowledge of the ride ….thought it was going to be a haunted house type ride. Was I ever shocked!!!! By far the most frightening ride I’ve ever experienced. Not surprised by the end of its story. Sad so many were hurt.
I rode it for the first time at Kennywood in Pittsburgh in 1970. Loved it! Then not again until the 80’s with my kids at Conneaut Lake. My grandsons are coming for a visit and wondered if Waldameer or Conneaut had the Hell Hole that their Dad had talked about. I was really surprised to read about the accident at Coney. Always thought it was fantastic.
I USED TO WORK ON THE ROTOR FOR CANADAS CONKLIN SHOWS IN THE MID 80S TAKING TICKETS WAS THE GREATEST BECAUSE WHEN YOU HEARD THAT BLOOD CURDULLING SCREAM COME OUT OF THE BARREL AND THEY ASKED WHAT WAS THAT YOU SAID THE FLOOR JUST DROPPED FOR SOME REASON YOUR LINE GOT SHORTER LOL
I rode Coney Island’s Hell Hole many times, I remember being able to stay on the ride for as long as I wanted to because no one else wanted to ride it even for free. I tell my kids about this ride all the time especially my son who loves all amusement park rides.
I was close to riding the Hell Hole back in 1995 with my sister, but my grandmother told us not to. The ride we would have gone on happened to be the ride that fell apart that day. One of those people could have been me and my sister if we didn’t listen and got on the ride in Coney Island.
Hi-just a it of correction regarding Sportland Pier’s Rotor ride. It originally started as The Rotor. Fascade was painted with a Comic strip theme featuring characters from ‘Little Iodine’. In the 60’s it was transormed to The Hell Hole and remained as such until Sportland Pier’s demise. The Whirlpool ride was another Rotor ride operating at the area known as Casino Arcade close ro Cedar Ave. It was introduced about 1971 and only remained for a few years. The Hell Hole had rubberized walls while The Whirlpool had a textured laminate-type that was hard and not enjoyable to ride. I rode both and The Hell Hole was a much better experience. I hope this info helps.
Loved The Devils hole at fantasy Island. It was riddled with graffiti on the wall and really scary inside. I have a Photo of myself posing next to the devil that was on the top after they took it down. Haha in the photo you can see that the devils hairy testicles were exposed. It’s kind of funny to know that they had that up for so many years.
I was a child of the 80s and my parents, although they didn’t have a copious amount of residual income, took me to Coney Island for the very first time and gave me the option of what ride to pick. I chose the Hell Hole not knowing what it was. It’s still a running gag in my family that I screamed my whole way through it and they heard (thanks to the attraction’s external speakers). I remember the dim nature of the ride, the ground lowering and the float-down like it was yesterday… no ill effects, dizziness or lingering problems surprisingly. I would seriously do it again!
At the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton California, June 1967. I was 18 . It was a traveling Rotor. I was wearing my Mod short shift and turquoise stockings. Me & Stanley watched the previous riders, and then took our places.The walls were like rug. When the “thing” started spinning and the floor dropped down, I slipped out of my dress and it bunched up under my arms. I was exposed for all to see waist down. I was trying to grab Stanley’s hand pleading with him to help me. People above were pointing and laughing. When the floor started coming up in jolts, I thought it was going to engulf me. I was crying. Then my hippy beads broke all over the floor when the thing finally stopped. A girl picked them up for me. That meant allot as everyone else got a big kick out of it.
I got out of there with my life–that is how it felt. I have never again gone without wearing a slip!!!!!
I rode the Hell Hole in Coney Island as a kid in the 70’s! It was, bar none, my favorite ride. My brothers and I would make a beeline right to it. My mom said we were all like flies stuck to the wall. It’s been a thousand years ago, but I can absolutely remember how it felt, especially when the floor dropped. And all the screaming. It’s the ride from my childhood that I remember most vividly. I remember having to wait a little extra once or twice so maintenance could bring in some sand and clean up after some poor soul. I came close to being that poor soul a few times, myself. I’m actually sad it’s gone. We moved to the Midwest in the late 70s, and I never got to ride it again, sadly. I do remember reading about the accident in the paper, and it was pretty horrible. My mom said she wasn’t that surprised.
I remember Devil’s Hole at Fantasy Island. I just loved that ride as a kid. Nothing quite like sticking to the wall while the pink devil looks down at you from above. Sylvan Beach has a rotor ride that they are restoring and hope to have open before Summer’s end. I hope that they finish it soon and that I am still brave enough to give it a whirl.
I’m from MD and a lot of times, when I was young, we’d visit family in Northwestern PA and we would go to Conneaut Lake Park. I LOVED the Hell Hole ride there!