Lookout Mountain and the Rompo Frolique

B[yron] B. Floyd / Breuker & Kessler Co., Litho., B.B. FLOYD’S ROMPO FROLIQUE[:] A TRIP TO LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN AND THE BATTLEFIELD ABOVE THE CLOUDS. [No place, ca. 1890s.]
Chromolithograph, 22 7/8”h x 28 ¾”w plus margins.
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A spectacular 1890s chromolithographic advertising poster promoting the “Rompo Frolique,” a massive roller coaster proposed for Lookout Mountain, Tennessee.

Lookout Mountain is a long ridge straddling the border of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, with its northern end holding a commanding view of Chattanooga and the Tennessee River. In 1863 it was the site of the “Battle above the Clouds,” in which a spontaneous uphill charge by Union brigades under General Joseph Hooker routed Confederate forces positioned along the summit and upper flanks. After the war the spectacular setting and historical background made the site a natural tourist destination. The Lookout Point Hotel was built at the summit in 1888, followed by the Lookout Inn in 1890. These could be reached by narrow-gauge railway or a funicular known as “Incline No. 1” (In 1895 a second funicular was constructed, known unsurprisingly as “Incline No. 2.”)

At some point in the 1890s the mountain attracted the visionary attention of inventory and entrepreneur Byron B. Floyd: The setting and existing amenities must have rendered it—in his view at least—an ideal setting for the mammoth roller coaster pictured in this wonderful chromolithograph. The coaster was never constructed, but the image is a wonderful piece of both Chattanooga and roller coaster history.

The view depicts the eastern face of Lookout Mountain, capped by the Lookout Point Hotel at right and the mammoth Lookout Inn at left. Inclines No. 1 (right) and No. 2 (center) are shown ascending to the hotels from a red, mansard-roofed station in the foreground. The main attraction though is Floyd’s “Rompo Frolique,” a pair of roller coasters, their tracks beginning and ending at the circular building shown in cutaway at lower left. Customers, seated in fanciful and gaily-painted coaches, can be seen ascending and descending on a network of tracks, occasionally passing through tunnels hewn through the mountain, likely exhilarated and terrified in equal measure. The whole was to be powered by the small brick plant just below the summit, its one stack belching just enough smoke to enliven but never spoil the view. The inclusion of Incline No. 1, which closed in 1898, strongly suggests that the view be dated to before that year.

Byron B. Floyd (1840-1931)
Floyd held an important 1887 patent for what he called “improvements in sliding hills and toboggans to be used therewith:”

“The object of my invention is to produce a sliding-hill particularly adapted for either halls or rinks or for seaside or other places of summer resort where the hill can be erected in the open air.

 

“The invention consists in constructing the hill in a zigzag form and terminating at a point immediately below the starting-point, so that a very long hill may be obtained in a comparatively small space, the hill being provided with small wheels, whereon the toboggan runs.” (B. Floyd, Sliding Hill and Toboggan to Be Used Therewith. No. 374,736. Patented Dec. 1 1887)

Indeed Floyd claimed—though this is disputed–both to have invented the “roller coaster” and coined the very phrase. With two other men he formed in 1887 the Haverhill Toboggan Company and installed his invention in that city’s Globe Skating Rink, where “the 1500 foot tracks ran around the walls from ceiling to floor criss-crossing the rink in a spiraling figure eight formation.” (Robert Cartmell, The Incredible Scream Machine: A History of the Roller Coaster, p. 72) It opened that year to much fanfair, but ensuing accidents were bad for business, the partnership dissolved in acrimony by 1889, and the rink itself was demolished in 1890.

I have been unable to learn much else about Floyd, other than that he served briefly in the 30th Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War, and nothing about his unrealized vision for Lookout Mountain. I have found few newspaper references for the term “rompo frolique”—all seemingly involving injuries—and Cartmell is dismissive of Floyd’s impact: “B.B. Floyd, outside of a few important patents, will probably be remembered for a ride that was never built…The name “Rompo Frolique” has been used for several minor rides but not a trace of this clanking apparatus has been found.” (p. 74)

The poster is rare, and I find impressions held only by the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and the Chicago Historical Society (the latter located by Cartmell). However I have learned from David Moon of Picnooga that a group of remainders emerged in Pennsylvania a few years ago, with at least five ending up in the Chattanooga area. The impression offered here may well be one of those remainders.

In all a spectacular, fanciful and decorative image, and an interesting piece of both Chattanooga and roller coaster history.

References
Not in OCLC.

Condition

Washed to reduce some staining at upper left, lower- and upper-left corners reconstructed, but not affecting printed image.