May 24, 2011

A Coney Island of the Heart

I grew up not far from Coney Island and carry wonderful memories of times at the amusement parks, riding on the Wonder Wheel––but never in the swinging cages, much too scary!––where from on high you could get a view over the borough of Brooklyn, as you could on the now closed Parachute Jump, an exciting ride up to the top, where there would be a ..bump!.. and the parachute would open as you slowly came back to earth. After years of decline, Coney is coming back with bright new amusement parks, a baseball stadium and lots to eat.

But it's the old rides, the Wonder Wheel and The Cyclone, which along with the Parachute Jump are on the Register of Historic Places, which make my heart go thump when I look at them. It took a lot of courage for a child to ride on the Cyclone with its dramatic swoops and turns, but oh how exciting it was! I hadn't been in Coney Island in years, but last weekend there was a morning of bright sun, a welcome respite from days of rain, so I went for a walk on the broad boardwalk and enjoyed memories, and meandering through the happy varied crowds.

The colors of amusement parks are so extravagant: no subtlety, no holding back, full of flights of fancy.

But Coney Island is also a beautiful wide sand beach, used by thousands of city residents. At this time of year, before the lifeguards are on duty, the beach is a place to walk, or to contemplate from the benches at the edge of the boardwalk.

The wacky imagination of the amusements seems to have drifted over onto the beach, with a fake palm tree gracing the Brooklyn beach. I can see no reason for it to be there but sheer fun.

Steeplechase Park.––how I loved it!: the steeplechase horse ride along with all the others––was built by George Tilyou , Coney Islander born and bred. The summer at Coney Island was indeed, for many, the World.


  1. Thank you for the rich, rich memories. Steeplechase Park! My family had a membership in the early 50's. My elementary school had our outing there each June ... remember the round tickets that were punched for each ride? Coney Island remains a wondrous part of my childhood.

  2. that bizarre palm tree actually is a water spray - I saw a large family of Hassidic women and children cooling themselves under it, fully dressed, one hot summer day...

  3. Emily, you're very welcome. It was such a treat for me to wander through the memories while walking the boardwalk.
    rappel, thanks so much for clearing up the mystery of the palm tree. How perfect that it's a water spray! How very Coney.

  4. Your photos have captured the magic of Coney Island. One of my favorite things about COney Island was the original Nathan's french fries in the paper cones. I have fond memories of Uncle Abe taking a bunch of the cousins to Coney Island to buy fries. We each got our own paper cone, he didn't make us share.

  5. That third image is wonderful and reminds me so much of your paintings.

  6. thanks for that memory, Cheryl. I sure remembered the french fries but had forgotten that Uncle Abe took us to Nathan's.
    Julie, it's so interesting that you mention my paintings because as I was photographing, I was thinking about the issue of subject matter, which I'll write about in a blog post soon. I took some pictures of the base of the Parachute Jump that I am thinking of using for paintings, but will have to think about it more.

  7. Always a pleasure to read/see your blog. My husband grew up in Coney Island and loves seeing your photos.We make an annual trek to Nathans and a walk on the boardwalk. I remember Steeplechase rides, Charlotte Russe from a concession, sandy lunches on the beach, looking for coins under the boardwalk. Some things change and remain the same.

  8. ah, Deesha, Charlotte Russe! I'd forgotten about that. Thanks for the memories...