Coney Island conjures up images of amusement park rides, carnival sideshows and games, hot dogs, ball games and summer fun with friends on the beach. Four miles long and one-half mile wide, Coney Island is a neighborhood in the southern part of Brooklyn.
Formerly an actual island separated from the main part of Brooklyn by Coney Island Creek, Coney Island became a peninsula when the creek was filled in for construction of the Belt Parkway begun in 1934.
The name may have originated with local Dutch farmers name for area rabbits, konijn. Coney Island became a resort after the Civil War with improved access via rail and steamship. It was a major attraction until World War II, after which its popularity declined and it fell into neglect. There have been several attempts to revitalize the area over the years. Coney Island featured large amusement parks in its heyday that have since closed: Sea Lion Park, Luna Park, Dreamland and Steeplechase Park, which was the last to close in 1964 and where KeySpan Park—home of the Brooklyn Cyclones—is today. In February of 2010 The Brooklyn Cyclones announced a name change to MCU Park.
With a two-headed cow and 250 other oddities moving to the boardwalk, Coney Island may be getting some competition for its long running world-famous Coney Island Circus Sideshow. Astroland, which opened in 1962, was sold in November of 2006 to developer Thor Equities. It will be replaced by Coney Island Park in 2011, but the Cyclone roller coaster will continue to be operated by the Astroland owners.
The New York Aquarium, which opened at its Coney Island location in 1957, stands on the former site of the Dreamland amusement park, and KeySpan Park, which opened in 2001 as the home of the minor-league baseball team the Brooklyn Cyclones, is located where Steeplechase Park once stood. The Riegelmann Boardwalk, opened in 1923, provides access to the two-and-a-half mile sandy beach along the Atlantic Ocean. Steeplechase Pier is a popular fishing spot both in the summer and winter when fishermen are about the only people you’ll see at the beach.
With carousels, bumper cars, and haunted house rides, Coney Island hosts a variety of amusement rides. However, the rides and attractions are all separately owned and managed by different companies.
The Wonder Wheel, the Parachute Jump and the Cyclone are all recognized by the National Register of Historic Places and protected as designated New York City landmarks. The Wonder Wheel, built in 1920, is a 150-foot tall ferris wheel with both stationary and rocking cars. The Parachute Jump debuted at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The ride was closed in 1968, but remains as a landmark. Most famous is the Cyclone roller coaster. Built in 1927, it is one the oldest wooden roller coasters still in operation in the United States.
Perhaps even more renowned than the Cyclone is the original Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand, which opened in 1916. Since its opening, Nathan’s has held an annual hot dog eating contest every July 4th.
Coney Island Mermaid Parade
The summer season kicks off each year with the colorful and outrageous Mermaid Parade on Surf Avenue produced by the non-profit arts organization Coney Island USA, which is also responsible for the Coney Island Museum. Begun in 1983 by Dick Zigun, founder of Coney Island USA, and held on the weekend in June closest to the start of summer, the parade plays homage to Coney Island Mardi Gras parades from the early 20th Century. A thousand or more individuals typically participate and partial nudity is to be expected (women topless in public is legal in New York as long as it is not part of a business venture). The Coney Island Mermaid Parade is a family affair with many young people particpating. Costumes feature mermaids, of course, in every shape and size, pirates, sea creatures and just about any crazy outfit participants can dream up. You will also see motorized floats, antique cars and more.
King Neptune and Queen Mermaid are present to officially open the beach and amusement park. Lou Reed (Velvet Underground) and Laurie Anderson were the 2010 royalty. Past merman and mermaid royalty have included Queen Latifah, Harvey Keitel, Adam Savage (Mythbusters) and David Byrne (Talking Heads). A ball with NYC’s best Burlesque and Sideshow Superstars is held the evening of the parade.
Next: KeySpan Park