Posts Tagged ‘Coney Island’

Girls picnic on the beach at Coney Island, 1905

June 13, 2016

Sandwiches? Fruit? I’m not sure what’s in this box lunch these four girls are sharing on the beach at Coney Island in 1905, but it doesn’t resemble Coney beach eats like hot dogs or Mrs. Stahl’s knishes.


What does it feel like to go to the beach in black stockings and wool suits . . . or the heavy hats the woman in the background has on?

[Photo via Shorpy]

A packed city beach on a hot summer day

April 9, 2012

Call it the other South Beach—not the one in Miami notorious for its topless bathers but the less posh South Beach on the eastern shore of Staten Island, featuring bathers sporting wool suits in this 1920-ish (?) postcard.

Back then, it was a jam-packed resort with hotels, an amusement park, beer gardens, bathing pavillions, and a general Coney Island-like vibe.

A century later, it’s a quieter place renamed Franklin D. Roosevelt Beach with a much thinner crowd and a view of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (not seen here, as it won’t be completed until 1964).

The most enchanting sign in Coney Island

September 4, 2011

For its neon beauty and the cheap thrills it promises—sun, surf, and juicy hot dogs—does any sign beat iconic Nathan’s Famous at Surf and Stillwell Avenues?

Repeat the words enough, and they start to sound like a four-line haiku. “Take Home Food”: Is it a noun? A command? This is what Coney Island should look like.

I don’t know how old the sign is, but Nathan’s has been serving hot dogs, fried clams, and even frog legs (has anyone been brave enough to try them?) since 1916.

Heading for Coney Island on the trolley

June 23, 2010

A school outing? Church picnic? Just some neighborhood mothers and kids seeking a fresh breeze on a hot day?

Whatever the reason, they’re all heading out to get some sea air at Coney Island on June 2, 1913, according to Historic Photos of New York State.

An elephant dies at Coney Island

June 2, 2010

No one denied that Topsy was one temperamental elephant.

A resident of Luna Park, one of the spectacular Coney Island amusement parks of the early 1900s, the 28-year-old pachyderm had already killed three trainers.

[Well, one did kind of ask for it by trying to feed her a lit cigarette.]

Luna Park’s boss wanted her put to sleep. This being Coney Island, he made a show of it.

More than a thousand people came to an arena to watch Topsy eat cyanide-laced carrots.

She didn’t die though. After considering hanging, Luna Park officials decided to electrocute her. Enter Thomas Edison, who sought a venue to prove that his direct current was safer than alternating current.

Luna Park gave Edison the go-ahead. On January 5, 1903, more than 1,500 people watched three-ton Topsy take 10 seconds of alternating current. Her grisly end was soundless and instant.

Edison filmed Topsy’s death and called the footage “Electrocuting an Elephant.”

Elephants have a long history entertaining New Yorkers. Read more about it here and here.

Mrs. Stahl’s delicious Brighton Beach knishes

April 7, 2010

Yonah Schimmel gets credit for inventing the humble knish in 1910 at his still-thriving knishery on East Houston Street.

But knish fiends all over New York still lament the loss of Mrs. Stahl’s Knishes, a dingy place tucked under the elevated train at Brighton Beach Avenue.

The shop served up hand-made cushions of potato, kasha, and cabbage inside flaky baked dough. They were truly legendary.

Photo at right from Jack Szwergold’s flickr page.

The real Mrs. Stahl was a local lady who sold her home-baked knishes up and down the beach in the 1930s.

In 1935 she was persuaded to open a store, which thrived through the 1980s; there was even a short-lived Upper West Side branch. But Brighton Beach changed, and cravings for cheap Jewish soul food plummeted. By 2005, it was gone.

“The first thing that hits you as you walk in—besides the crisp sea breeze coming from the ocean a block away—is the warm, oniony smell of potato filling….” stated Brooklyn Bridge magazine in a 1997 article (photo: Brooklyn Bridge)

“In small back rooms, huge bowls of thick, just-boiled potato filling cool down and trays of perfectly shaped, doughy knishes wait to be put in giant ovens. Their destinations are varied. Thousands are sold from the store each week, and thousands more are shipped to gourmet delicatessens across the country.”

Seeking cheap thrills at Coney Island

February 19, 2010

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!’ 

The Coney Island earthquake of 1884

January 20, 2010

New York City isn’t immune to earthquakes; a couple of small tremors measuring about 2.5 on the Richter scale even struck back in 2001 and 2002.

But on August 10, 1884, a more powerful earthquake hit. Estimated from 4.9 to 5.5 in magnitude, the tremor made houses shake, chimneys fall, and residents wonder what the heck was going on, according to a New York Times article two days later.

The quake was subsequently thought to have been centered off Far Rockaway or Coney Island.

[This photo shows a sweet Coney Island beach day in the 1940s, site of a tremor a mere 60 years earlier.]

It wasn’t the first moderate quake, and it won’t be the last. In a 2008 Columbia University study, seismologists reported that the city is crisscrossed with several fault lines, one along 125th Street. 

[Headline of The New York Times, August 12, 1884]

With that in mind, New Yorkers should expect a 5.0 or higher earthquake centered here every 100 years, the seismologists say.

Translation: We’re about 30 years overdue. Lucky for us the city adopted earthquake-resistant building codes in 1995.

Whatever happened to Hog Island?

October 20, 2009

A mile-long spit of land that surfaced off the coast of the Rockaways in the mid-1800s, Hog Island eventually became a popular summertime seaside resort along the lines of Rockaway Beach and Brighton Beach.

This favorite vacation destination for Tammany Hall politicians featured the usual late-19th century bathing facilities, pavilions, restaurants, and regular ferries. 


This print depicts neighboring resort Rockaway Beach. Hog Island probably looked similar.

So what happened to this modern-day Atlantis? First, it was battered by the Hurricane of 1893. While this category-2 storm reportedly triggered 30-foot sea swells off Coney Island on the night of August 23, it decimated the buildings on Hog Island.

A few more brutal storms in the 1890s sealed its fate; the sea swallowed it back up in 1902.

A fine day for a swim at Coney Island

June 26, 2009

And a pretty crowded day too. I’d guess this photo was taken in the final years of the male one-piece, chest-covering swimsuit.

Bathing suits for men and women back then were made of wool. Supposedly this was because it would reveal less of a person’s body shape when wet. It just sounds soggy.


Any idea why this part of the beach is roped off? The water doesn’t appear to be any deeper or have more wave action than the rest of the beach in the background.