A cyclone is an enormous storm caused by rotating winds, and Coney Island — much like the weather pattern that its famous roller coaster shares — has a whirlwind of history making it a worthwhile destination for those looking for a break from their summer routine.
Located in southern Brooklyn, NY, Coney Island was a popular resort during the 1800s when New Yorkers ventured out via carriage roads and steamships. By the 1900s, the advent of electrified modes of transportation allowed for day-trips to the area, which by then had become an amusement park destination.
These attractions included Luna Park, home of elephants, one of which was famously electrocuted by Thomas Edison; Steeplechase Park, and Dreamland. The resort town began to decline after WWII, with many falling victim to fires and low attendance. However, that wasn’t the end of the seashore town’s story. Coney Island has resumed popularity. There is more reason now than ever to visit.
The carnival of Coney
A reincarnation of Luna Park (www.lunaparknyc.com) and the new Scream Zone, recently began operation. It features the Steeplechase, a roller coaster that pays homage to the former park; and the Slingshot, skyrocketing riders 150 feet into the air at 90 mph. Boardwalk Flight, scheduled to open this summer, will give riders the feeling of flying over the boardwalk.
All of Coney Island’s amusement lore isn’t just in the past. The Cyclone roller coaster (1000 Surf Avenue) was built in 1927 and is one of the oldest wooden coasters still in operation, featuring an 85 foot 60 degree drop.
The Coney Island Wonder Wheel, operated by Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park (West 12th Street), has been rotating since 1920 offering outstanding views from its 150 foot height. It features a select number of rocking cars that offer an additional thrill.
Just a few steps off of the boardwalk, located on West 12th Street at the entrance of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park is the Coney Island History Project (www.coneyislandhistory.org). The non-for-profit began in 2004 with the goal of archiving and sharing the history of the park. Its walking tours are a great way to delve into the history of the island.
Coney Island, USA (www.coneyisland.com) was formed in 1980 with the intention of keeping the area’s freak show past and future arts programming alive. Every year they host the Mermaid Parade – a celebration that embraces the spirit of Mardi Gras. The organization runs the Coney Island Circus Sideshow (Surf Avenue and West 12th Street) in a location where JoJo the Dog-faced boy once performed, but now notable acts like Insectavora, a skilled fire-eater, and Serpentina, a snake charmer, welcome visitors.
Every July 4, the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest is held, but any day is worth visiting the place where hot dogs were born (1310 Surf Avenue). In addition, plenty of stands crowd the boardwalk and outlying areas. One that promises especially delicious tacos is Doña Zita Plaza Mexico (Henderson Walk and Bowery Street).
A getaway for anyone
Last, but certainly not least, is the 2.5 miles of beach that border the boardwalk, which due to its southern exposure is bathed in sun for the entire day. Coney Island is a place where any person can go and experience what the seashore sideshow was suppose to be about. It is a cultural Mecca, where sometimes you can hear 10 languages in an earshot. Coney Island is just a short train ride away. From the city, take the D, Q, N, or F train to Stillwell Avenue.
Photos by Tricia Tirella, CIHP Executive Director Charles Denson, Coney Island History Project.