Friday, June 26, 2009

Summertime in Coney Island

A hot day at Coney Island. Undated photo. C. Library of Congress.

Coney Island provided a welcome diversion for working-class people in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While the streets of Brooklyn or the Lower East Side might be crowded and hot, the beach offered summer breezes and a break from long hours in factories or shops.

For young folks, Coney Island and its amusement parks were also miles away from parents, neighbors, and bosses. Single women and men could enjoy the open-pavilion dance halls, disorient themselves on the rides at Steeplechase Park, or bathe together in the ocean. At Luna Park, visitors (many of them tenement dwellers) could even watch the drama unfold at a staged tenement house fire.

According to the 1901 New York Tribune, by 1900 Coney Island's weekend and holiday visitors numbered 300,000 to 500,000.

Read more at the Coney Island History Site -

Coney Island History Project -

Read about Coney Island excursions in Kathy Peiss's Cheap Amusements:

Underwood & Underwood, 1903. C. Library of Congress

The beach was a tourist destination that some people visited only virtually, through stereoscopic images, one of the most popular forms of contemporary visual media.

Coney Island bathers, 1926. C. Library of Congress.

The crowds at the beach were legendary by the 1920s.

Coney Island, The Chutes, 1900. C. A. Loeffler, Library of Congress.
Visitors to Coney could also enjoy a variety of rides at the amuseument parks lining the beach. The Chutes looks a lot like the "log plume" many of us might remember from our own trips to beach boardwalks and amusement parks.

Coney Island, 1898. C. The Strobridge Lithograph Company, Library of Congress

Some of the rides are visible along the waterfront in this print. Lucy the Elephant was one of the most famous. This drawing also satarizes Coney's crazy, anything-goes reputation.

The Destruction of Dreamland
Destruction of Dreamland, Charles E. Stacy; June 8, 1911; C. Library of Congress.
Dreamland burnt to the ground in 1911. Crowds continued to visit Luna Park well into the 1920s, but as Kathy Peiss remarks, "in many ways, Luna [and perhaps Dreamland as well] emerged at the end, not the beginning, of an era. Its scenic railways and re-enctments of current events were the culmination of Victorian ways of seeing and experiencing." It finally closed in the 1940s. Stepplechase, with its titilating attractions and voyeurism, must have felt a bit more 20th century - that park remained popular for decades longer.
- Posted by Kate Stober


  1. Thank you for including a link to our site in your Summertime in Coney Island post. Vintage photos of Coney's crowded beaches continue to amaze people. Such photos are among the most popular images at our exhibition center under the Cyclone. Of course many visitors are too young to remember the days before air conditioning.

    Our free public exhibition center is open on Saturday and Sunday through Labor Day Weekend. We have a new audio/video walking tour of Coney Island's amusement area which is available via free download to your computer, iPod or iPhone from our website. Enjoy the rest of the summer!

  2. This post -- and, indeed, your entire site -- rocks. I'm depending on it for the freshman writing classes I \'m teaching this summer. With students from all over the world, New York is the one thing we have in common and one thing that may pique their curiosity to explore for essays.

    Thank you.


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