Sunny afternoons at Coney Island
August 2006 and August 2012
Coney Island was the birthplace of the American amusement park, the modern roller coaster, the looping roller coaster, the dark ride and even the hot dog! It was named by Dutch settlers in the 1600s for the rabbits that inhabited the island - the Dutch word for rabbits is conies).
New Yorkers started visiting Coney Island via a shell road during the 1830's and by the Civil War there were over a dozen hotels and bathhouses on the island. The Golden Age of Coney came with the opening of the first amusement park in 1885 and lasted until about 1910 when horse racing was outlawed. Billed as the "World's Largest Playground", it was popular for the middle and upper classes to get away from the city to the resort-like atmosphere with clubs, restaurants, theaters, and amusements for the whole family. A seedier element was also attracted to the island (it really was an island at first but the separating channel of water was filled in) since the politicians looked the other way when it came to enforcing prostitution, gambling, and alcohol. That, movies, and the automobile (that allowed people to go farther away from the city) all helped turned the tide and Coney Island began a downward spiral. There are plans to revitalize the area today. The Minor League Cyclones play in a new stadium on the site of an old amusement park, AstroLand park is full of new rides, and the Cyclone and Parachute Jump are still landmarks.
In August, 2006, I was finishing up a summer in New York City. I wanted to go to the beach and experience the historical Coney Island. I rode the subway from downtown Manhattan and, on the train, read a newspaper so I wouldn't look quite like the old geek that I was - heading for a day at the amusement park. Reading the paper didn't seem to fool anyone. About halfway thru the journey, the train rises up out of the ground and travels in a depressed culvert and then up onto elevated tracks as it nears the ocean communities around Brighton Beach. There the tall apartment buildings had surface parking lots in front of them - something I hadn't seen for a while - ample parking lots. I got a glimpse of the ocean - pretty cool. Then disembarked at the NY Aquarium. I walked on an elevated walkway over Surf Avenue (the main Coney drag) and down to the aquarium entrance. Underneath the walkway someone was mowing the grass. Grass. Mowing. I had grown up smelling cut grass every summer of my life. This was the first time for this summer - it smelled great. It brought back memories and reminded me that I would be heading to Oklahoma grass in 2 days. The Aquarium was pretty neat. There were school bus loads of screaming kids. I don't know why they scream. Maybe they have buds in their ears with music blaring so often that, even when there is no ear piece, they still scream. Maybe fighting to be heard. I don't know, but they were loud. When I saw a herd of yelling kids wearing identical tee-shirts, I knew it was time to go to another exhibit. Saw the sea lion show, sharks, and typical fish stuff. Most fascinating: the seahorses with some males bloatedly pregnant (yes, the males carry 300-400 seaponies in them - I don't know what those females must have done or threatened to make that happen. None of the males looked happy; the females were having a good time) and the jellyfish. These creatures astound me with their delicate tentacles and pulsating blobby heads/bodies.
Lunch was at Nathan's Original with the best hot dog I have ever had. Granted, I was hungry and I had been anticipating a Nathan's Coney Island hot dog for about a week. Then, I walked down into the ocean. Yeeha, it was cold. Shivering, take-your-breath-away cold when you dunked under. But refreshing (it was hot at the aquarium and at Nathan's) and delightful to be in the ocean in New York City. Then I strolled the amusement parks and went into the Coney Island Museum where a photo shoot of side show freaks was going on. One sultry looking woman had a large albino boa (snake, not a scarf) draped around her shoulders and arms. I moved on. After about 5 hours of the Coney, I headed back to the train and the ride home to a shower and rest. But a great day.
I started the day at the New York Aquarium, part of the Wildlife Conservancy Society along with the area zoos, dedicated to preservation, education, and conservation. The seal show was typical but still a hoot.
These jellyfish creatures look like something right out of the ocean.
Lunch was at Nathan's Original hot dog stand. Nathan worked for Feltman's restaurant where the hot dog was invented about a block over during the early 1900s and sold for a dime. Nathan sold his for a nickel. The public was suspicious so he heavily gimmicked and promoted and finally it became a legend. On the right: My lunch - it was absolutely wonderful.
There are still a couple of amusement parks operating along the boardwalk. One of the few remaining structures from the heyday. Most buildings were wood and they were consumed by one of several fires that devastated the night clubs, restaurants, and amusements.
The Cyclone, the first successful roller coaster, was built in 1927 and hits speeds of 68 mph.
From a vintage postcard from the 1950s judging from the cars. From August, 2006.
The tall tower is the Parachute Jump which was moved here from the NY World's Fair of 1939-40 but closed in 1964. The Wonder Wheel opened in 1920 and, like the Cyclone coaster, is still operating today.
The boardwalk, the beach, and the ocean.
A very fun day. I will go back.
2012: I did go back.
It was time to return to the ocean. I only waded. But, that's because I was protecting my iPhone - I didn't want it out of my pocket and I didn't want my pocket to get wet.
I also watched people riding new rides at Luna Park, some rides I hadn't seen before. The Cyclone coaster (above) is still there.
Of course, I had to go to Nathan's, but, this time, instead of the famous hot dog, I got a crab roll - a crab salad on a warm buttered bun. It was excellent!