At the turn of the 20th century, Charleston businessman Dr. Joseph S. Lawrence set out to transform his newly purchased Isle of Palms into one of the greatest resorts on the East Coast. To attract the public, he needed amusements, so he visited resorts such as Atlantic City and Coney Island to buy out their best. Under the headline “Coney Island of the South,” the October 14, 1898 edition of the News & Courier noted that Dr. Lawrence had returned from New York “with good news about the attractions which are to be placed at the Isle of Palms.” Among them was the steeplechase (pictured here at IOP in 1901), which had been christened “The Mint” at Coney Island because of the immense business it generated.
To ride, people mounted life-size mechanical horses (each weighing 500 pounds) set into steel guide rails. For 10 cents a go, they’d steer the horse along a U-shaped course of “hurdles and dips,” with parallel tracks leading from start to finish. Since the rider had the ability to accelerate or slow down, actual races could be won. Wrote the ride’s inventor, Coney Island’s George C. Tilyou, “it is well known how the amusement public enjoys any device in which there is even a semblance of a game of chance.” —Adapted from The Islands, Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms, An Illustrated History (S. Bond Publishing, 2013)