LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WELCOME TO CONEY ISLAND!
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WELCOME TO CONEY ISLAND!
On a sunny summer Saturday in 1920, anybody in New York City with a nickel to spare headed to Coney Island. Its fairground attractions, restaurants, amusement parks and beaches drew the young and old, rich and poor. It was the world's largest and most extravagant playground!
Since the 1900s, Coney Island has changed a lot. Most of it is now abandoned and in disrepair. When Neda and I arrived, we saw boarded-up restaurants, broken amusement rides and littered streets.
The pleasant weather is what first made Coney famous. In the summer of 1876, it became crowded with tourists from the Midwest who had wandered down for their first glimpse of the ocean.
More working people now got Saturday and Sunday off from work, and they had more money than ever before. When they arrived, they visited one of the three giant amusement parks that flanked Surf Avenue, the Island's main drag: Luna Park, Steeplechase and Dreamland. They also frequented the sideshows found at every corner. The most thrilling amusement rides, attractions, shows and performers in the world were found in Coney Island - there was something for everyone! (Did you know that the roller coaster was invented here back in 1884?)
Virgin Megastore Sucks! / While in Times Square, New York, I decided to get crackin' on my Coney Island story in the Virgin Megastore Café...
In 1908, George C. Tilyou constructed the "Pavilion of Fun," which became the largest steel and glass structure of its time - 2.83 acres of enclosed space! It was built so that the amusement park would never again have to close early on a rainy day. He also built the world's largest outdoor saltwater swimming pool - 90 feet wide and 270 feet long!
Dreamland was even bigger and fancier. It had cost $3.5 million to build and could accommodate 250,000 people! It used more than one million light bulbs at a weekly cost of $4,000. And it even had its own theme song - the waltz "Meet Me Tonight In Dreamland" became a favorite for many generations.
One of the most popular stops was Feltman's Beer Hall and Restaurant, a place where good food was sold at reasonable prices, German bands entertained the diners and people danced in the ballroom. The owner, Charles Feltman, had struck gold when he created the hotdog in 1867.
Feltman's success inspired others, including a former employee named Nathan Handwerker. In 1916, he opened the now-famous "Nathan's," selling hotdogs for five cents, half the price of Feltman's.
One popular feature was always the barker. Outside of every sideshow, animal act, carnival ride and game along Surf Avenue stood a man shouting - or barking - anything he could think of to attract customers. In the 1890s, when the famous magician Harry Houdini was performing in Coney, his barker would shout:
"The greatest novelty mystery act in the world! How can you believe it, even when you see it happening before your eyes? Just think this over, ladies and gentlemen, the time consumed in making the change from bag to trunk is one! two! only three seconds! We challenge the world to produce an attraction with greater Mystery, Speed or Dexterity!"
Unfortunately, the Coney Island of today is run-down and empty. What happened? Well, for one, people started to drive. After World War II, cars (and gas) became more affordable, so instead of taking the subway to Coney, families preferred to explore other areas. The traffic problems and lack of parking in Coney didn't help things one bit. After getting stuck in four-hour jams and paying parking fees, New Yorkers decided they'd had enough. The last park to close, Steeplechase, did so in 1964.
So that's the story. Maybe I'm being too hard on poor old Coney Island. Despite the cold wind, the day Neda and I visited was beautiful - the ocean glistened and the sand blew gently across the boardwalk. In fact, walking along the boardwalk, away from the creepy-looking amusement arcades and tacky tourist shops, was really peaceful and nice.
Perhaps in time tourists will come back to Coney Island. After all, the ocean is still there- beautiful and blue!
Reference: All of my information comes from the following book: "Good Old Coney Island: A Sentimental Journey Into the Past" by Edo McCullough; Fordham University Press, New York: 1957 (2000 edition).
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