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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Historical Spotlight: Coney Island

Let’s take another trip with me today, shall we?

During my trip to NYC a few weeks ago, we spent part of one of the days at Coney Island exploring the amusement parks, the boardwalk, and the aquarium. While the experience itself wasn’t focused on exploring any particular historical aspect, I thought it might be fun to look at the history behind a couple of the things we did see while there.

Luna Park
The Cyclone
Photo Credit: Me
Luna Park is an amusement park, one of a few that remains on Coney Island. This is a non-traditional amusement park meaning that you do not pay an admission to enter the park, but can walk throughout and only pay for the rides you choose to ride or the games you play. Back during the early boom and industrialization of New York City, the city-folk would look to the shore or the hills as a means of escaping the heat/congestion/pollution of the city. Coney Island was exceptionally well placed for this and developers brought hotels and various attractions to this area to take advantage of that opportunity. Luna Park opened on Coney Island in 1903 and one of the drawing attractions were the myriad of electric lights that lit up the park. It closed its doors in its original iteration in 1946 and then reopened a new Luna Park in 2010 as they revive the amusement park culture.

Their signature ride, the Coney Island Cyclone rollercoaster was built in 1927 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The Cyclone is a traditional wooden rollercoaster and one of the iconic elements of Coney Island. It was nearly demolished in the 1970s when the land was going to be redeveloped but thanks to citizen support it was saved. We ended up not riding the coaster (I chickened out, I’m not a huge rollercoaster fan and I prefer the kind where you have over the shoulder restraints). For reference, as of 2016 it’s $10 per ride.

*Info compiled from Wikipedia and Luna Park websites.

Deno’s Wonder Wheel
The Wonder Wheel in all it's glory!
Photo Credit: Me
The Wonder Wheel totally took my breath away when I saw it. It is like no Ferris Wheel I have seen before because in addition to the stationary carts that are set around the outer edge of the wheel, there are additional carts that slide on a track from the outside of the wheel to an inner track on the wheel and then out again, depending on the location around the circle. Very cool, but I’m not going to lie, a little scary when the cart starts sliding! And you know, it goes 150 feet into the air too – no big deal, just sliding around up in the air!

The Wonder Wheel was built on Coney Island between 1918 and 1920 and was opened to the public in that later year. The wheel was originally called Dip-the-Dip and was a new kind of thrill ride at the time. It was named a New York City landmark in 1989 and became the central attraction of the Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park that was put together under a new Wheel owner in 1983. The park is primarily a children’s amusement park now with a few adult rides, but the Wonder Wheel is its focal point. It is currently $7 per ride, but absolutely worth every penny (and you must trying the sliding cars!). You get an amazing view of all the amusements and the pier and boardwalk.

Bonus note: don’t worry about getting stuck up high on this ride – they can rotate it around by hand crank if it should stop – the only time that was ever used was during the 1977 blackout in NYC.

*Info compiled from Wikipedia and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park websites.

Nathan’s Famous 
Our Nathan's Experience
Photo Credit: Me
It just so happens to be the 100th anniversary of the Nathan’s restaurant chain and their original site just happens to be at Coney Island! Pretty cool coincidence that we were headed there this year. Now, I am the first to admit that I am not a hot dog fan. I can count on one hand the number of times I have had a hot dog in the last 10 years, and it always tends to be somewhere that is iconic and I have to do it for the experience (the last time was when I went to Fenway Park for the first time and gave my husband a heart attack when I asked him to get me one from the roving venders!). The company was founded by Nathan Handwerker and the original hot dog was created based on a recipe from his wife. The stand now sells a whole selection of hot dogs, hamburgers, sides, and many other quick, to go sandwich options. The first recorded hot dog eating contest was in the 1970s, held on July 4th, which has become a tradition each year.

Did you know silent film star Clara Bow was discovered while working at the Coney Island Nathan’s?

Our first stop in Coney Island was Nathan’s – I got a corn dog and my husband got a chili dog and we split some fries. Now, I don’t get hot dogs very often as I said, but this corn dog was awesome! Great tasting hot dog with a crunchy and sweet corn meal breading.

*Info compiled from Nathan’s Famous website.


View of Coney Island amusements and beaches from the pier
Photo Credit: Me

Those are the only historical elements of Coney Island that we experienced particularly during our trip – but there are the beaches, the side shows, and many other things that you could experience. It is a wonderful place to visit. We enjoyed the boardwalk and just standing out on the pier looking out into the water and taking in the sunshine. It was such a beautiful day to visit the area.

Want to Learn More?

There is a really cool podcast available on iTunes called The Bowery Boys that features New York history and they did 2 episodes on Coney Island – one on the Golden Age and one on the 20th century iteration. Check them out!

There are some cool books too that look at Coney Island history. I picked up Lost Brooklyn by Marcia Reiss, which doesn’t just focus on Coney Island, but the whole region of Brooklyn, but parts of Coney Island are prominently featured. Lots of beautiful pictures of buildings and rides that are not there anymore. Coney Island: Lost and Found by Charles Denson and Coney Island: The People’s Playground by Michael Immerso also look at the development of Coney Island.

Tell me, have you been to Coney Island before, and if so, what were some of the things you enjoyed?

Other historical stops on my New York trip: The Lower East Side Tenement Museum and the Brooklyn Bridge (post to come).


Copyright © 2016 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. A couple of years ago I read the book The Lost Tribe of Coney Island by Claire Prentice, which gave me quite a bit of history on Coney Island. Then I watched an American Experience episode about Coney Island. This is available through Hoopla, if your library has a subscription. You can see it here.

    1. Oh I think my library has a subscription to Hoopla, I will have to check that video out, thanks !!


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