Whoo! The spring semester has ended! As far as I’m concerned, it’s officially summertime, and if it happened to be 1913 instead of 2013, I’d probably be visiting Coney Island.
Coney Island: A Brief History
A century ago, Coney Island was a rising star in the American entertainment circuit. The first establishments appeared on the peninsula in the early nineteenth century during which, Coney Island, situated at a comfortable distance from New York City, provided a respite from urban life for wealthier Americans. Slowly, as the decades drifted by, the seclusion of Coney Island began to attract much more than wealthy city-slickers; gamblers, prostitutes and other dodgy folk began hanging out, seeking the lurid recreation that could be had away from the city.
The end of the civil war brought further development to the peninsula as businessman tried to profit from the creation of a seaside resort. Encouraging this development was a changing American culture. Stuffy Victorian values were waning fast as America’s capitalist economy developed alongside a working class. These working class Americans sought entertainment and Coney Island delivered. Soon the peninsula was riddled with commercial amusements – theme parks, recreational piers, incubator babies were just a few things visitors could experience. Here are some interesting examples…
Elephantine Colossus (1885-1896)
The Elephantine Colossus aka the Elephant Hotel, was a hotel complete with shops and an observation deck. Nearly 200 feet fall, the elephant was built by architect James Lafferty, who evidently had a soft spot for elephant-shaped architecture — he’s also responsible two other elephant-shaped structures, Lucy the Elephant in Atlantic City and Light of Asia in Cape May. The elephant caught fire in 1896.
Galveston Flood Thrill Ride (1904)
In 1900 the coastal Texas town of Galveston was struck a hurricane. Nearly 8,000 of the 38,000 residents perished in the storm which became an inspiration for the Coney Island thrill ride, Galveston Flood which debuted for the 1904 season. The ride which Described by The Hampton Magazine as “astonishing in its artistic completeness,” the amusement employed advances in electric devices to create a more riveting experience. In February of 1904, Broadcast Weekly wrote of the ride and its creators, “In presenting their wonderful reproduction of the Galveston Flood, Adams & McKane Amusement Company, while showing in a most thrilling and intensifying manner the terrible destructive power of the elements, have eliminated all of those horrible and gruesome details of death.”
As the 20th century dawned, Coney Island’s reputation as a destination of ill-repute continued to grow. In order to provide a respectable alternative to Coney Island’s ramshackle amusements (and to no doubt make money), ex-Senator William Reynolds created Dreamland. Modeled after architecture from world expositions, Dreamland was a rectangular metropolis, perched upon the ocean. White, picturesque buildings populated the park, in the center of which stood its iconic 375ft tower. One of the park’s most dazzling spectacles was its wide-spread use of electricity. According to an article from The Electrical magazine and Engineering Monthly, each night, “at the moment when darkness was setting in,” visitors experienced a “brilliant outburst of electrical illuminations.”
Dreamland adorned the coast of Coney Island until 1911 when an electrical malfunction started a fire which spread quickly throughout the park, quickly destroying the buildings made only of thin wood, plaster and fiber hemp. The park was never rebuilt.