Seeking cheap thrills at Coney Island

Old photos of Coney Island in the early 1900s tend to give the impression of it as a wholesome, family-friendly kind of place, sideshow freaks notwithstanding.

But Coney Island was one of the few places middle class New Yorkers could go to feel sexually free and loose—by the standards of the time, that is. 

Compared to what people generally wore in the summer, those bathing-suit-and-bloomers combos were pretty revealing.

Single men and women met up and flirted on the boardwalk and beach, breaking free from rigid Victorian-era dating codes.

And the rides at the great amusement parks afforded a couple privacy and intimacy. They were kind of the hook-up spots of turn-of-the-century New York City.

“Various amusements contrived to lift a women’s skirts and reveal their legs and underclothing while numerous others provided opportunities for intimate physical contact,” explains Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century, by John F. Kasson.

“Slow, scenic rides through tunnels and caves offered abundant occasions for ‘spooning’ and ‘petting,’ to use the language of the day. 

“One ride, the ‘Cannon Coaster,’ articulated the appeal of many similar attractions in advertising: ‘Will she throw her arms around your neck and yell? Well, I guess, yes!’ 

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3 Responses to “Seeking cheap thrills at Coney Island”

  1. Jeff in Jersey Says:


  2. Jim Says:

    Incidentally, I’ve got a stereographic of that exact photo, and one other with the same dames. I just scanned them, if they are of any further interest to you.

    (Gothenburg, Sweden)

  3. Brendan Says:

    Coney Island’s early history was controversial. There were many parts of it that were nice and attractive to the middle class, but also many parts that were sketchy. One of the worst areas in the late 1800’s was known as “The Gut”. Located between West 3rd and West 5th, the gut consisted of shacks, bars, prostitution houses, and cheap hotels. These things usually attracted criminals, prostitutes, jockeys etc… The bars entertainment was typically a couple of pole dancers accompanied by a piano player. On the contrary Coney Island had three major luxurious hotels: the Manhattan Beach, Oriental, and Brighton Beach. They were large, majestic hotels standing at about 600-800 feet long, facing the water. If you were staying at one of these hotels it was mandatory that you made very good money. A dinner meal would on average cost about $3.50, which was on average about half the average mans weekly wage. Coney Island’s largest attractions at the time were its racetracks. Built in 1880, they had three on the island alone, which made them the unofficial racetrack capital of the world. The tracks were called: Brooklyn Handicap, Suburban, and Futurity. Each one occupied a different time of year so there was attraction all year round. They were what fueled the development and attraction to Coney Island. What made them so beneficial to the Islands growth were that they attracted all types of men. The rich, the big shots, and the middle class men that just wanted to come home with big winnings.

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