Just 45 minutes on the subway from midtown Manhattan lies Coney Island, known for its amusement park. No longer an island – it was linked to the mainland by a causeway before the Second World War – it contains not just the amusement park but a number of residential communities. However – it is for its amusement park that it has become famous.
This world famous amusement park has featured in numerous films, television programmes and even video games. The amusement park has played a role in "Annie Hall", "Rollercoaster", "Sophie’s Choice" among others. Betty Grable starred in the 1940’s hit "Coney Island" where she played the role of a singer performing in one of the shows offered at that time in the amusement park.
This "poor man’s paradise", as it has been called, began with the construction of a hotel in 1829, followed by a second one in the 1860’s. In 1867, Charles Feltman invented the hot dog, something that has become a star attraction of the amusement park ever since. Today Nathan’s hot dogs, which started up in 1916, has spread from Coney Island and has 1, 400 points of sale and holds its annual 4th July hot dog eating contest in the amusement park. The winning contestant in 2007 managed to down 66 in 12 minutes. [It is to hoped that he kept away from the rides for a while after that!]
In 1875, a railway was built to improve access to the amusement park and other hotels and attractions made their appearance, including a camera obscura, but not until 1884 did one of the most desirable of the attractions of amusement parks make its debut. This was the Switchback Railway and in 1895, the first enclosed amusement park – Sea Lion Park – was constructed. Other amusement parks followed, among them Luna Park [which survived for 43 years] and Dreamland [which burnt down after only 7 years].
1920 was an important year for the amusement park as the New York subway was extended to Coney Island and the Wonder Wheel ferris wheel, 150 feet high, was erected – and is still going strong. Three years later, the 4 mile long Riegelmann boardwalk was constructed and named after a Brooklyn Democrat politician. Four years later, the wooden Cyclone roller coaster arrived and that too continues to be a major attraction in the present day amusement park In 1962 Astroland USA opened and still offers a splendid day out with a range of exciting experiences.
Today Coney Island is run by a not for profit arts organization, which indicates that it has become an amusement park of historic and sentimental
value. This organization runs the annual Mermaid Parade, the Sideshows and the Coney Island Museum. The 35 rides and attractions in the amusement park are individually owned and managed and these are open from Easter until September. The beach and the boardwalk are open all year. Nathan’s Hotdogs are open almost every day as is the New York Aquarium.
The amusement park has gone through difficult times in recent years as people have found other amusement parks to visit and more ways of using their leisure time and has also faced challenges from developers eager to replace the old attractions with residential buildings. Currently there seems to be an increasing awareness of the importance of retaining the historic features of Coney Island and a determination to revitalize the area. In 2001, the Brooklyn Cyclones, a minor league baseball team, moved into KeySpan Park. This move gave a boost to the work to ensure that the amusement park continues to exist and to offer that heady mix of smells that will always be associated with Coney Island – hot dogs, fresh air and salt water!