I’ve never been to New York City. The closest I ever got was Buffalo.
That seeming non sequitur said, I really can’t identify with the apparently deep emotional attachment that people have to Coney Island. At least I couldn’t until I saw “Under the Roller Coaster”.
A tiny documentary piece from Lila Place, “Under the Roller Coaster” interviews Mae Timpano, called “Miss Coney Island” by contemporary media, and several other folks involved with the New York amusement park.
And it’s really poignant. The musical score Place uses is a fantastic accompaniment to the rise and fall of Coney Island, and Timpano gives us her memories—the fond and the foul—in even doses. Timpano is a surprisingly able storyteller as we learn the other side of any amusement park—the people who lived and worked there.
Check out the sequence at seven minutes fifty seconds—it’s almost heartbreaking.
I think the best way to sum it all up is with an offhand remark from Mae about tearing down the Thunderbolt, Coney’s main roller coaster and Mae’s home for years. There was actually a house built underneath that thing, and that’s where we get our title from. But Mae talks about the dismantling of the Thunderbolt, and says that it was a very difficult job. There was lots of “old steel” in it, you see, and old steel is weighty, dense, and terribly powerful stuff.
You can’t help but wonder how much “old steel” was in Mae Timpano, a woman who survived an insane amount of loss in her lifetime.