Coney Island: the First Resort on Rabbit Island

1:12 pm  |  25.05.2021

For the ever-busy New Yorkers, getting out of town on the beach is a problem. But if you want to rest and have fun, you should visit Coney Island, especially since this town resort has such an interesting history.

How the Earth Without a Shadow Became the Rabbit Island

The island of Coney Island was called by the Indians «The Land without Shadows», and what happens in such places where the sun always shines? Right, a resort is born. When the region was populated by Europeans, it was called Conyne Eylandt, which in Dutch means the «bunny island». And since the 18th century, it’s already known in documents under the modern name Coney Island. 

In the mid-1800s, wealthy townspeople had already mastered this part of Brooklyn. 

They came here, on the Atlantic coast, to unwind in fancy hotels and bathrooms. However, the Civil War devastated the area, and for a time the Coney Island area was divided into two parts. Dangerous ghettos on one side, family resorts on the other. New Yorkers lived there until the authorities decided to open the world’s first amusement park.

It All Started With a Carousel

The first carousel called Woodcarver was built at the resort in 1876. On a large wooden circle were carvings of people and animals, and a brass band played in the middle. The owner of the attraction, Charles Luff, built the carousel himself and paid for all the costs in a week. People were ready to stand in long lines to ride on wooden figurines. Then it became clear: it was time to build new attractions, the future belongs to them.

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Four Parks and One Fire

Construction has expanded. Four large amusement parks have appeared here – Steeplechase Park, Luna Park, Astroland, and Dreamland.

The least fortunate park was Dreamland (“The Kingdom of Dreams”). It was opened in 1904, the park was designed with great taste, the canals of Venice and the Tower of Seville were reproduced in it, and after 7 years a huge fire broke out in the park, which destroyed everything.

Steeplechase Park has existed much longer – almost 70 years since it opened in 1897.

Consequences of a fire.

In 1941, an attraction was installed here, which has become a symbol of the entire Coney Ayand – an 80-meter parachute tower. At first, it was used as a simulator for parachutists, but then it was turned into an attraction for everyone.

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When the park closed, it was too expensive to dismantle the 150-ton colossus, so it was left, then illuminated, and now the Parachute Jump is visible from afar and is the unofficial symbol of Coney Island. It is also called the “Eiffel Tower of Brooklyn”.

And Luna Park and Astroland, although rebuilt a myriad of times, have been renewed to this day.

Two of the Park’s Oldest Attractions and a Romantic Tradition

The first roller coaster appeared here. It was a 600-foot railroad. The cabins traveled at 6 miles per hour 50 feet above the ground. Later, the famous Cyclone was built in their place. He was already taller at 85 feet (by comparison, the tallest slide in North America is now at about 456 feet).

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The Cyclone still rumbles on Coney Island now. Have you tried a ride? Although the slides are not high, the adrenaline rush during the trip is off the scale, because the 1927 attraction is made of wood. In the year of its opening, many city newspapers called it “the ninth wonder of the world”. Despite the fact that the “eighth” they called the Wonder Wheel, which was opened on Coney Island a few years earlier.

The 46-meter Ferris wheel, the cabins of which not only sway but also move along the rails, has a romantic story. In 1948, Greek immigrant Denos Vourderis proposed to his girlfriend and, in addition to the ring, promised: if she married him, he would buy her a wheel. The guy, however, did not have money then, but Denos turned out to be a persistent fellow and eventually bought an attraction, which at that time was idle. In 1983, the wheel started working again, now the couple’s son Steve is in charge. After this romantic story, the locals have a new tradition – to ask for marriage on the Wonder Wheel.

The First Bike Paths

And the country’s first bike paths appeared on Coney Island. Designed and built by the creators of Central Park and Park Avenue, Frederick Lowe Olmsted and Calvert Vox. In 1894, bike paths connected Coney Island and Prospect Park. This route, which runs along the Ocean Parkway, is still popular, however, now it cannot be used to reach the park. And before, cyclists were limited in speed: they could not go faster than 12 miles per hour. The restrictions have now been lifted.

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Beaches and Accessibility

In the 19th century, the famous wide beaches of Coney Island were not accessible to everyone. 

You had to pay 10 cents for the opportunity to use the locker room – an unaffordable amount for the poor. Thus, the lower classes were weeded out. A breakthrough in the development of the resort was in 1920 when the metro was brought to it, and then the question arose that the beaches should be public. In 1923, embankments were built here and it was announced that everyone can swim.

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Hot Dogs with a Century of History

One of the oldest eateries still operates on Coney Island. It was discovered in 1916 by an emigrant from Poland, Nathan Handwerker. 

Visitors were offered beef hot dogs with unique secret spices prepared according to a recipe invented by his wife Ida. They were sold at an unprecedented price then – only 5 cents. 

Legend has it that this is how Nathan fought his main competitor and former employer Charles Feltman, whose sausage bun cost 10 cents. Nathan’s Famous is located at the old address, at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues. The owners assure that the recipe has not changed, and although hot dogs are no longer 5 cents, as at the opening, you can still drop in here and try a hundred-year-old snack.

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