Posts Tagged ‘Luna Park’

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.

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.