“The best way to know where you are going is to remember where you’ve been.”
When you have lived in one place your whole life you take for granted that you know everything there is to know about it. As a lover of learning I get excited when new knowledge isn’t just educating me about parts unknown but even more so when the subject is my hometown, Brooklyn, New York.
Many will instantly recognize the name Coney Island whether or not they have ever been there. You will likely know that there are rides, including the world’s first rollercoaster, which is now a National Historic Landmark and still in use, The Cyclone. It opened in 1927 and is still operating on the original wood. A fact that feels more terrifying when you are on it and feeling like you are going to end up in the Atlantic Ocean, if you are lucky.
Here are the weird yet fun facts, as Thrillist shared.
· “The boardwalk once showcased premature babies for money.”
During the 1900s Dr. Martin Couney decided to use the thrill of lookers on for a good cause. He put premature babies on display in incubators to raise money and prove he could save those children. As a result parents became desperate to get their sick kids to the man at the circus so to speak. Parents didn’t pay but it cost a quarter to view the display. Of the eight thousand babies brought here about sixty-five hundred lived. This is one of my favorite stories of all time, one I plan to read extensively on.
· “A giant elephant hotel-turned-brothel once called Coney Island home.”
The so-called Elephant Colossus built in 1885 was at one time or another: a concert hall, museum, cigar store, and spiral staircases. It’s creator, James Lafferty wanted it to be known as the Eighth Wonder of the World but it would not be so. Its final use was as a brothel. It burned down to the ground in 1896.
· “The Wonder Wheel was an I.O.U. wedding present.”
Fellas if you are getting married soon I dare you to top this. Denos Vourderis wed his bride in 1948 and promised to buy her the hundred fifty foot high Ferris wheel in the center of Coney Island. Though only a hot dog vendor at the time it wasn’t until 1983 when he could keep his promise. Their son currently owns the ride where many people still find the inspiration to propose.
· “If Coney Island didn’t exist, neither would frozen custard.”
During the summer of 1919 ice cream treats were melting all over and vendors were becoming increasingly worried about sales. Brothers Archie and Elton Kohr saved the day when they decided to blend egg yolks into the ice cream to slow the melting process. Their final product became known as frozen custard. It sold eighteen thousand cones the first weekend it was on sale.
· Coney Island inspired the creation of the first bike path.
Designed by the legendary Frederick Law Olmsted the first bike path created a route between Prospect Park and Ocean Parkway (nearest to Coney Island). It was opened in 1894 and the total route ran five miles each way.
Needless to say these facts are what prompted this blog entry.
But I have one last fun fact I want to share and I am going to present it to you via Mike Meyer’s, Linda Richmond character from S.N.L.’s past. Coney Island is a peninsula not an island, discuss.
John Parascandola of the Ultimate History Project has said:
“Over the years, Coney has been known by nicknames from "America's Playground" to "Sodom by the Sea." For some, it is the symbol of the best of America’s democratic nature, welcoming all regardless of race, social class, gender, or ethnicity, while for others it has been a site of blighted dreams, representing the excesses of capitalism, hedonism and urban decay…Coney was at its peak during the years that the three major amusement parks dominated the scene. It was the major tourist destination in America. Crowds routinely topped 100,000. In contrast, Disney World has never reached this figure.”
Coney Island was established by the Dutch during the seventeenth century and named “Konijnen Eiland” for the many rabbits that were indigenous to that area. During the eighteen hundreds Coney Island became a popular beach destination for those traveling from Manhattan. At that time sea baths were all of the rage and these waters were the perfect place to catch that craze. During the 1820s hotels became to spring up as well as the first ferry service to the mainland. As time went on four railroads were established allowing for easy access for all.
Coney Island became a Mecca for entertainment. At one time you could ride an elephant or a camel, see an aquarium, a circus, and it was the location of first known carousels. Theme parks originated here beginning with Sea Lion Park, Steeplechase Park, and last but not least Dreamland, which had a lagoon and was staffed by three hundred dwarfs. I have no idea why but I suppose originality has always been a hot commodity. The original Luna Park was opened around this time, in the early 1900s, and got its name from the over two hundred fifty thousand lights that burned brightly at night. Electricity was now a part of popular culture. Ironically Luna Park has reopened to entertain the latest generation of amusement park fans.
What I love best about the history and the future of Coney Island is that it is home to three National Historic Landmarks (http://bit.ly/2guWYBy). They are The Wonder Wheel, The Cyclone, and The Parachute Jump. Not so surprisingly they are all rides, another aspect setting them apart and together on this prestigious list.
George C. Tilyou, creator of Steeplechase Park (predecessor to Luna Park and Dreamland, where the Parachute Jump was created) famously said:
“If Paris is France, then Coney Island, between June and September, is the world.”
For me nothing in this world will ever be as special as Paris. I am in total agreement with Ms. Audrey Hepburn who is known for saying: “Paris is always a good idea.” But I take Tilyou’s point.
In light of what I have learned and what I have shared I am eager to discover what remains. I want to see it up close and take in the history like a long deep breath. This is why Coney Island remains an activity on my blog’s to do list (http://bit.ly/29H6zRG) no matter how many times I continue to return there, like this summer for instance (http://bit.ly/2gKkFFE).
I definitely plan on taking a walking tour one weekend this winter when the weather is mild. I want to visit the Coney Island History Project and see the old artifacts they have preserved since this part of Brooklyn was first founded. I also very much want to see the 2007 interview with two of the premature babies Dr. Martin Couney is responsible for saving. He is just one member of the Hall of Fame at Coney Island.
Allegedly Sigmund Freud said:
“The only thing about America that interests me is Coney Island.”
After all I have learned I would have to concur with Mr. Freud.
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