Posts Tagged ‘Coney Island’

Coney Island’s infamous Half Moon Hotel

December 17, 2008

Astroland at Coney Island is sadly being dismantled ride by ride this month. It’s kind of going the way of the Half Moon Hotel—once a majestic, Spanish Colonial–style resort right on the boardwalk.

Opened in 1927, the Half Moon was supposed to compete with then-luxe Atlantic City and attract upscale crowds to Coney rather than just hordes of working-class day-trippers.












Well, that didn’t exactly happen. In the 1930s, the hotel teetered on the brink of foreclosure; it eeked out a profit by hosting banquets and conventions. 

And then Abe “Kid Twist” Reles moved in. Reles was a gangster with Murder, Inc. who turned informant after he was charged with homicide in 1940. While he testified at different trials, he lived under police protection at the Half Moon, guarded by six cops and watched at all times.

aberelesmugshot Abe Reles, prior to taking up residence at the Half Moon. Looks like he knew what was in store for him.






In the early hours of November 12, 1941, Reles was found dead, flat on his back on the roof of the hotel kitchen far below his sixth-floor window. Bed sheets tied together like a makeshift rope made it seem like he fell to his death while trying to escape.

Or was he pushed? In the 1960s, mob boss Lucky Luciano said that police were paid $50,000 to toss Reles out the window. No one knows for sure, and the Half Moon—knocked down in the 1990s to make way for a senior citizens’ home—took its secrets to the grave.

Sideshow freaks and human curiosities

November 18, 2008

Legendary Coney Island amusement park Dreamland burned down in 1911, but that didn’t stop its owners from launching the Dreamland Circus Side Show on Surf Avenue soon after.

This 1930s photo shows some of the sideshow’s most famous performers (plus the newest attraction, “Mortado”). Note the Nedick’s on the right—once a big chain of hot dog and orange juice stands.










The granddaddy of all freak show promoters was P.T. Barnum; his museum on Ann Street in lower Manhattan attracted hundreds of thousands of gawkers each year.

“The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth” toured the country, luring crowds with its “peerless prodigies of physical phenomena,” including a bearded lady, sword swallower, and “Egyptian giant.”



Another bizarro Barnum exhibit: babies. Twins, triplets, “quaterns”  . . . it seems 19th century New Yorkers were as fascinated by multiples as we are today.

“Taking a sun bath at Rockaway Park”

August 6, 2008

Coney Island gets all the love, but lets not forget New York City’s other major seaside destination.

Rockaway Park was once called “New York’s Playground” for its amusement park and then the “Irish Riviera” thanks to the large number of Irish-Americans who flocked there for summer vacation and as a place to live year-round. There’s still a big Irish presence here; 36 percent of the population is of Irish descent, according to the 2000 census.

Luna Park’s “boatloads of screaming humanity”

July 30, 2008

New Yorkers at the turn of the last century were dazzled by Coney Island’s Luna Park, a 22-acre amusement park fantasyland, with “babbling brooks, Japanese gardens, German villages, Irish villages, Eskimo villages, Hindu villages, a Chinese theatre, a monkey theatre, and scores of other attractions calculated to make the average visitor drain his purse before he leaves,” reported The New York Times in 1903.

The chutes were an especially popular attraction. As the Times story put it, “The Court of Honor, or main avenue, opens out finally on a broad esplanade, bordering on a lake, into which a ‘chute-a-chutes,’ brilliantly lighted, was precipitating its boatloads of screaming humanity.”

When little babies entertained New York

July 6, 2008

New Yorkers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries loved babies so much, they paid an admission fee to see them in museums and side shows. Hard to believe, but it was perfectly acceptable for showmen to display infants, especially preemies and multiples, for public enjoyment.

Barnum’s Museum, on Broadway and Ann Street, drew throngs of tourists in the 1860s. They gawked at attractions such as General Tom Thumb, a “Fe-jee” mermaid, and the Baby Show, below. Apparently Barnum had to pay parents to show off their infants, kind of like a pageant.


(From Incredible New York, by Lloyd Harris)

Barnum’s museum burned down in the 1880s, after which he went into the circus business. Taking its place in 1903 was the Coney Island baby exhibit. Run like a hospital, here preemies were placed in incubators, cared for by registered nurses, nursed by new mothers other than their own, and shown off to anyone willing to pay a quarter. Another baby display was built a decade later at Coney Island’s Dreamland park; about 8,000 babies passed through both parks until the practice was discontinued in the 1940s.

The Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children investigated the Luna Park exhibit when it opened. But the promoter, a German doctor, convinced his critics that he was actually helping the babies, as incubators were not used in hospitals at that time. Maybe he was right; more than 80 percent of the premature babies survived.

Hot beach babes and their funny swimsuits

July 4, 2008

Imagine hitting the sand and surf on a scorching summer day and having to wear a dress, bloomers, and stockings, with just a sash at the waist to allude to the curves of your body. No wonder these early-1900s Coney Island chicks hiked up their skirts for the photographer. A girl’s gotta show a little skin.

Of course, guys also covered up at the beach. By the 1920s they could wear a tank suit with shorts, but it wasn’t acceptable for men to go bare-chested until the mid-1930s. Below, studly lifeguards showing off at Rockaway Beach.

The six towns of Brooklyn

April 23, 2008

It’s neat to think that Brooklyn was originally made up of six separate towns, five of them Dutch, which then united into the city of Brooklyn and eventually morphed into Kings County as we know it. This map, date unknown, also includes the names of small villages within those early towns—like New Lots, Bedford, and Williamsburgh. 

The map notes Bergen and Mill Islands, site of present-day Bergen Beach and Mill Basin. And Coney Island is two actual islands here.