In the early 1900s, not every child who visited Coney Island was having a blast on the rides and in the ocean.
That’s because Coney was home to the Sea Breeze Hospital, an institution for poor children (and some of their moms) who had contracted tuberculosis in the tenement neighborhoods of the city.
Tuberculosis is rare in New York now, and usually curable. But 100 years ago it was more common and deadly—and thought to be cured or at least eased by fresh, salty sea air.
Which is why Coney Island made the perfect place to build the hospital, equipped with its own school and partly funded by John D. Rockefeller. A New York Times article from 1905 reports:
“Yesterday afternoon at Sea Breeze the boys were playing at building terrible forts of sand, while their sisters sat in the sunshine to rock their ragged dolls to sleep. They were so healthy looking that no one would have dreamed they even had tuberculosis.”
[Photo from the Library of Congress, circa 1911]