The Virginia Reel

Dear Mr. Coney Island...
Here I go again. trying to reconcile my vague memories with reality. rode a ride I think was called the virginia reel located just down the block from the bobsled on stillwell avenue near the boardwalk. it had a high red brick wall behind it round tub-like cars that careened down from top to bottom on circular thin tracks. the cars also spun independently . the seats were bench like positioned against the car. we sat side by side around the inside of the car with our legs and knees touching each other. there was a metal pole with a wheel set on top of it which the riders held onto. . this wheel may have been the mechanism for spinning the car on the track. it was a rough ride help me remember. could it be the old luna park reel moved to this location or did it exist at all?
- Joan of South Carolina

Hello Joan,

No, you were not imagining things. The Virginia Reel was located on the Bowery at West 12th Street and operated there until the mid 1960s. Elmer Riehl invented it at Coney Island and installed the first one in Luna Park in 1908. It was named for his daughter, Virginia.


My dad worked at the virgina reel in the Bowery from about 1945 to about 1964. The owner of the ride was a man named george.

My grandmother just turned 101, Coney Island is one of her favorite memories. I asked her about her favorite rides Ava what park they were in. She said the Ben Hur and Virginia Reel. She said The Ben Hur and the Virginia Reel were across the street from each other. She would get off the train at Stillwell Ave. There were many rides and concession stands in that area. She did not have the money to go to Luna Park. They would look at the rides from outside the fence. But she could go on the Virginia Reel. Whenever there was parade they would go onto the platform at the top of the Ben Hur and watch the parade from there.

The year was probably around 1960. My family lived on Long Island, and we went as a family to Coney Island each year, usually staying mostly within the confines of Steeplechase Park.. The Virginia Reel, saved from the 1939 World's Fair, featured circular cars that cascaded down a twisting roller-coaster style track, freely spinning around as they went. "The Reel" was a ride I only dared get on when I was in my teen years. Even my mother, who loved the '39 fair, wouldn't go on "The Reel". Along with the Bobsled and Cyclone, these were rides that I feared as a child. But now, a friend and I were riding the Virginia Reel. It had rained earlier, and the ride was still a bit wet. Soon after starting, he lost his grip on the center bar and fell to the bottom of the car. From then on, he rode out the ride clinging to my legs. Truly a ride to remember, though I bet even more so for my friend! Alas, it was my last time in Coney Island before Fred Trump tore down Steeplechase and most of what I remember was converted into sterile apartment blocks.

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