So how did you do, detective? Did you see that the funicular carriage in the turn-of-the-century postcard has the name Etna on the back of it?
This Italian funicular carriage, named Etna, was on it's way to the top of Mount Vesuvius, an active volcano rising above the Bay of Naples in southern Italy. A funicular relies on equilibrium to work, so every carriage needs a ballast (usually another carriage) to get it up and down the slope. In this case, Etna had a sister carriage named Vesuvio. (see photo)
The funicular was first introduced to tourists on June 10th, 1880 by the Hungarian engineer with the cool name of Ernesto Emanuele Oblieght. The construction of this funicular railway inspired the famous Neapolitan song Funiculi Funicula. The first funicular was a double-track monorail, described in the January 1892 issue of The Tramway and Railway World: "The peculiarity of the railway is found in its single-rail construction, which consists of wooden stringers laid longitudinally and carrying a single rail, upon which ride the central wheels of the car. There are, however, two other rails placed on either side of the sleeper near its base. These side rails are laid at an angle, and are adapted to wheels whose axles project from the floor of the coaches and bear closely against the rails on either side of the sleeper, thus keeping the carriage firmly upright."
When John Mason Cook took over the funicular line in 1886 from his father, the famous Thomas Cook, he rebuilt the older, failing carriages and, to keep faith with his clients, he advanced money (from his own pocket) to keep the funicular going. In 1887, the original owners gave up and J.M. Cook bought them out, the funicular becoming his personal property.
In use from 1889 to 1904, Etna and Vesuvio brought 10 passengers (and one driver) on each 12-minute ride to the summit of the volcano. On busy days, the funicular could carry up to 300 passengers, each paying about $5US for the journey from Naples to the summit of Vesuvius. So, as you might imagine, backpackers during the turn of the century couldn't afford to go on the ride. But this was more than a problem for backpackers for the funicular wasn't making a profit! Coal for the winding engine had to be brought up on horseback and the concession payments absorbed most of the profits.
John Mason Cook had enough. For years he had to pay an extortinate amount to his guides to keep it going, so in 1889, he refused to continue payments to the group. Acting with the emotional intensity for which Italians are famous for, guides burned down the station, cut the track and threw one of the carriage into the deep chasm of the volcano!
If you visit Vesuvius today, you can still see signs of the tracks as well as the ruins of the lower station at the base of the mountain.