Coney Island - A Perennial Centennial

Coney Island

 

"The component parts of Coney Island were sand, bath-houses, brass bands, dime museums, hotels, and promiscuous humanity."

New York, one of the largest cities in the world, also had the largest suburb in the world— Long Island.  During the early 1900s there was hardly a town or village on Long Island, from Brooklyn to Babylon, from Patchogue to Montauk Point, which was not in some way or another conducive to the comfort and pleasures of dwellers in New York City.  Long Island had its lavish estates, game preserves and sporting clubs with their many brooks and ponds that were kept stocked with speckled trout—an ideal holiday retreat for the upper class businessman from the work and turmoil of the city.  But all entertainment was not aristocratic in this vast suburb.  

 

Coney Island

An late 1800s map showing Coney Island

 
Coney Island

Among the least aristocratic features of the great suburb, none, perhaps, was more focused towards the masses than Coney Island. Coney Island was chiefly a refreshing breathing place for New York’s teeming thousands.  The mere fact that it was within one hour's journey from New York by steamboat or by the horse-cars from Brooklyn, rendered Coney Island unfashionable for the well-to-do, since its advantages were attainable by all. 

IMAGE: Crowd on the Boardwalk. Library of Congress]
 
Coney Island

It was the summer resort of the people— the American people —who reached the Island by steamboat, tugboat, sailboat, railroad, trolley road, wagon road, boat rowed, and also by bike; the main point being that the ordinary people got there. Coney Island was the playground, bath house, and paradise of the American metropolis; and it guaranteed to give as much salt water for 2 dollars as Newport and Narragansett offered for two thousand.

 

Coney Island

Beach scene.

 
Coney Island

An 1880 magazine dubbed the area, “a perennial Centennial;”  another said, “It is the most bewilderingly up-to-date place of amusement in the world."  The component parts of Coney Island were sand, bath-houses, brass bands, dime museums, hotels, and promiscuous humanity.  Coney Island's mammoth hotels stretched for several miles along the sandy shore.  It had groups of shows, shops and sights both under tents and in the open air.

 

Coney Island
"Razzle Dazzle" ride.

 

The boardwalk was flanked by lines of pop-corn, hot waffle, and tintype men along with gypsies willing to read a visitor’s palm for what seemed a ridiculously small sum. Included was a mighty succession of merry-go-rounds, shooting galleries, candy booths, restaurants, scenic railways, and special attractions of every known variety. There were towers to go up in, mines to go down in, and amazing spectacles to be witnessed for a modest fee.

 

Coney Island

Sliding down a water toboggan in the surf.

 

Hundreds of thousands of visitors came to Coney Island not only to be cooled, bathed, and fed, but also to be amused, and the demand for entertainment resulted in one of the  most colossal collections of rides, slides, drives, whirls, and thrillers that the early 20th century world had seen.

 

Coney Island

A hot dog stand opposite Luna Park Entrance.