Ghost riding: Dorney Park’s new roller coaster is a supernatural menace

Iron Menace, the Northeast region’s only zero-gravity drop coaster, tells the spooky story of the Lehigh Valley’s steel industry.

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Iron Menace

Dorney Park's new dive coaster, Iron Menace, drops riders 152 feet reaching a top speed of 64 miles per hour. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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As your car ratchets up the 160-foot precipice of the Iron Menace, the new roller coaster at Dorney Park, you may want to consider Hiram S. McTavish, the 19th-century steel magnate who supposedly built an industrial mill on this site in the Lehigh Valley, according to legend.

As you plummet into a 95-degree free fall to the ground, the only zero-gravity drop in the Northeast U.S., perhaps the concept of McTavish’s most fiendish development will enter your mind: a hulking hauler that moved massive amounts of ore and mill workers with great efficiency, also called the Iron Menace.

As you roar into a tilted loop that slides into a corkscrew, you may become haunted by the knowledge that the wicked boss McTavish mysteriously disappeared into thin air one day. A disgruntled employee may or may not have pushed him off a catwalk into a vat of molten steel.

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His mill is now an abandoned ruin, and McTavish’s ghost is still lurking in the machine.

“I started looking at the steel history in the Lehigh Valley. When I looked at steel worker lore, everyone had these ghost stories of being up on a catwalk and feeling something pushing you towards the edge,” said Ken Parks, corporate director of creative development for Cedar Fair, the parent company of Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom.

“There’s a heavy paranormal presence here in the Lehigh Valley,” he said. “So we thought, boy, what a great way to tell this interesting ghost story.”

The newest attraction opening this season at Dorney Park carries a lot of meaning: This is its first newly built roller coaster in 19 years, the first of its roller coasters to have a fictitious backstory, and it is the single most expensive attraction in its history.

Dorney Park began developing concepts for a new ride several years ago. Vice president and general manager Jessica Naderman came on board in 2022, after Dorney Park experienced forced closures due to the pandemic. She needed something new to pull visitors back into the park for pandemic recovery, something big and menacing.

“We knew at this time, post-pandemic, we needed a good marketable, capital draw to get people to come back,” she said. “So hopefully, people come back and have an amazing time, and they buy a season pass.”

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Naderman said visitation last season was not quite to pre-pandemic levels, but expects this season to recover.

“It’s taken a while to get back to normal,” she said. “Whatever normal is anymore.”

Naderman, who calls herself a “coaster nerd,” equated the success of Iron Menace and Dorney Park to the success of Lehigh Valley tourism, generally, as coaster fans are expected to come to the region and stay overnight.

“The dive is fantastic. The inversions are great for a dive coaster,” she said. “It’s paced very well. Most of them are slow and lumbering. This one’s quick and has the newest trains. It’s very maneuverable and dynamic. It’s a really good ride.”

Dorney Park’s opening day for 2024 is May 10.

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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