WELCOME to Coney Island, the seaside playground of New Yorker’s. Pay your money, take your mat, sit on it, and slide off into the unknown…
The resort rose to prominence in the late part of the 19th Century, when the railway connected it to the city, making it accessible for everyone.
It quickly became a booming resort with a promenade, fortune-tellers, public houses, donkey rides, and theatres. It was also, like most seaside hotspots, known for rowdyism of all kinds. At its height, it contained three competing major amusement parks, Luna Park, Dreamland, and Steeplechase Park, as well as many independent amusements.
Like all resorts – it was a constant source of news and a favourite spot for journalists seeking a story. In 1901 a fairground wire-walker fell and was instantly killed in front of thousands of spectators. Then, that same year, a fake Turkish Harems set – up offering a marriage ceremony performed by a real Turkish priest with false whiskers and ‘walnut-juice complexion,’ for the paltry sum of ten cents!
It was the scene of a disastrous fire in 1911 when the Dreamland attraction burnt out, and ‘there was left of it nothing more than ten acres of blackened waste.’
In 1929, two bathers on the beach were killed by a seaplane, which made a forced descent through lack of fuel and was swept on to the beach by the breakers. In 1936, a disastrous and long-continued drought in the United States described as a ‘national calamity’ saw hundreds of people sleeping on the beach, during what was recorded as the greatest heat wave in the meteorological history of New York.
Shifts in tastes, combined with opportunities for New Yorker’s to travel overseas, affected Coney Island’s status as a leading resort in the late 20th century.
The Steeplechase Park closed down in 1964, with the property being bought by developer Fred Trump, the father of Donald Trump.
Even now during the summer, the seafront continues to attract visitors to the much-smaller Luna Park, and many day-trippers enjoy a hotdog at Nathan’s, on the spot where they opened their first branch in 1916.
In the old days, a Coney Islander tradition was to whistle, when the critical moment of Looping the Loop and hang like a fly from the ceiling.
This article was taken from the History Buffs Guide to New York by Mark Jones, which is available at Amazon