With thanks to Mark Friedland, whose words appear below. Mark grew up in West Haven, and currently resides in Colorado-
Savin Rock’s Outstanding Roller Coaster “The Thunderbolt” was built in 1925 by the Traver Engineering Co and designed by Prior & Church. Constructed on a pier supported by spiles out over the water, it was 505 feet long, from the water’s edge out into Long Island Sound. It’s zenith was 93 feet from the pier, and its drop of 85 feet, brought it within 8 feet of the main deck, a thrilling ride of terror! Riders would scream from delight and fright, as they raced around curves at breakneck speed.
The Thunderbolt is not to be confused with Savin Rock’s other colossal roller coaster, the Devil which was also built over Long Island Sound. The Thunderbolt was located on Beach St, near Summer St, and next to Wilcox’s Pier. The Devil was in Liberty Pier, home of many other rides & attractions, and was located near Grove St, between the years 1922 & 1932. Both of these roller coasters existed at the same time for a while, but The Devil, along with all of Liberty Pier, burned down in 1932, never to be rebuilt.
The 1938 Hurricane was disastrous to much of Savin Rock, and naturally the Thunderbolt was no exception, being completely destroyed by the storm. In 1939 it was rebuilt by Ackley, Bradley and Day, and renamed the “Giant Flyer”. But devoted fans of Savin Rock’s Thunderbolt would not accept the new name, and public outcry forced the owners to rename the coaster “Thunderbolt-Giant Flyer” But even though that may have been it’s “official” name, most everyone referred to it simply as the Thunderbolt. Savin Rock entrepreneurs and ride & stand operators, were not known for being bashful, evidenced by a proudly painted sign at the entrance of the Thunderbolt that read “The Greatest Ride on Earth”! The Thunderbolt ceased operating in 1956, and the coaster was razed in 1957, because of rotting spiles on its understructure. In 1958 the Wild Mouse and Roto Jet rides were built where the Thunderbolt used to stand, between the Skooter and the New Death Valley Funny House, remaining there until the park closed down in 1966.
Great stories have been passed down in our folklore, but there has never been any confirmation or proof, or evidence of any kind, riders on the Thunderbolt flew out of their cars to meet an untimely demise in the dark and scary Long Island Sound. There were two accidents resulting in death on coasters built by Traver Engineering, (the builder of our Thunderbolt) one at the Cyclone in Crystal Beach, Ontario, Canada, and the other at the Lightning in Revere Beach, Massachusetts.
I’m not diminishing the tragedy of these two events, simply pointing out they didn’t happen at Savin Rock’s Thunderbolt. I’m guessing parents either actually believed they occurred at Savin Rock, or didn’t care, and were happy to use these stories as ammunition to scare their kids into being super careful, and/or not go on these types of rides at all.