Vintage Coney Island: postcard from 1938 Fortune Magazine

Summer has officially started and for many New Yorkers, summer is synonymous with Coney Island‘s boardwalk, beach, and hot dog eating contests. Fortune Magazine has just republished a story from their archives about Brooklyn‘s famous “island” (really, it’s been connected to the mainland for many years and is an island only in name, though technically it is part of Brooklyn, which is part of Long Island) when a day at the beach cost only 10 cents (round trip!) in subway fare.

The fascinating and evocative article chronicles the history and then-current status of New York‘s “nickel empire” after its 1920s heyday and at the beginning of its decline that led to the closure of most of Coney Island’s original attractions.

Back in 1938, there were sixty bathhouses where you could rent a locker, use the pool facilities, and even rent a bathing suit for fifty cents or less (nowadays you can try to change in a municipal restroom, but the only pool will be the overflowing sinks). Though it may seem a world away from the Coney Island of 2011 (men in white sailor suits cleaned the boardwalk each night!), a lot of parallels can be drawn about the waning popularity of urban beach resorts and revitalization efforts of Coney Island then and now.

Other highlights of the article include:
-The saga of Feltman’s frankfurters, who could once serve 8,000 meals at a time until a young upstart named Nathan undercut the hot dog business by a nickel and took over the market.
-Observations from chief lifeguard of 37 years John McMonigle on beach rescues: ” The fat dames is different. Hell, you don’t have to worry about them — can’t swim a lick — but they go in, dog paddle around two hours, an’ never touch bottom. By God you can’t sink ’em.”
-The oddly intriguing practice of baby incubators on the boardwalk with a charge to view (Boardwalk Empire viewers will recall seeing this in 1920 Atlantic City). Turns out they were opened by a pragmatic and kindly doctor who treated poor and ill infants, using the admission fee to pay for the medical care and facilities.
-The difficulties of running a freak show, where acts included “The Spider Boy; Singing Lottie, Fat Girl (O Boy, Some Entertainer); Laurello, the Only Man With a Revolving Head (See Frisco, the Wonder Dog); Professor Bernard, Magician Extraordinary (He will fool you); Professor Graf, Tattoo Artist (Alive); and his star act, Belle Bonita and her Fighting Lions (Action, Thrills).”

Read the whole article (maybe on your way to Coney Island on the subway) here.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Albany_Tim.

Coney Island’s Scream Zone to boast two thrilling roller coasters

Coney Island is about to get a much needed boost in the thrills department. Once home to cutting edge amusement rides and the World’s fastest roller coaster in the famed Coney Island Cyclone, the area has closed rides and had few roller coasters of note. Scream Zone looks to change that with two new roller coasters.

Steeplechase Horses Coaster might be considered the headliner for the new park. While launch coasters have been around for years, they still freeze onlookers in their tracks. Many are still used to seeing traditional lift hills versus a coaster rocketing out of the station. After boarding horse-shaped seats, Steeplechase will launch riders to 40 mph. As launch coasters go, that’s a benign launch, but it will still impress your average park guests and offer a fun family-friendly ride. Steeplechase should be similar to Knotts Berry Farm’s Pony Express (pictured above).

Flying roller coaster Soaring Eagle will put riders in a face-down flying position. Similar to Playland Park’s Super Flight, it will feature a spiral lift hill and two loops. The ride has just made a cross-country trip from Denver’s Elitch Gardens where it was known as Flying Coaster.

Both roller coasters are compact and don’t come anywhere near record speeds or heights, but they’re a step in the right direction. If Scream Zone does well, then bigger attractions could be around the corner. When I visited Coney Island a few years ago, I got to experience the iconic Cyclone, but after that I left the area. Tourists and locals looking for more thrills on the boardwalk should be excited. Sign up for updates about Scream Zone’s opening at their website.

[Image credit: Flickr user – Magic Madzik]

Ousted Coney Island businesses plan rally

Patrons of several longtime Coney Island businesses that were recently denied lease renewals are planning a rally at noon Saturday. The patrons are hoping to make Central Amusement International reconsider its plans to shut down some classic Coney Island businesses.

On Monday, CAI told 11 Coney Island boardwalk eateries, shops and concessions that their leases would not be renewed, and that they had 15 days to vacate.

The businesses that are closing include the 76-year-old Ruby’s Bar, a paintball attraction and a beer garden.

CAI told WNYC radio that it plans to invest millions of dollars to make Coney Island a year-round destination, with shopping, dining and entertainment. No official plans for the boardwalk redesign have been released, but CAI says it is seeking tenants who would open sit-down restaurants that could operate year-round.

The company opened the new Luna Park amusement park this year at Coney Island with 19 new rides and entertainment. A second CAI amusement park that features thill rides – called Scream Zone – is slated to open in 2011.

In September, the City of New York announced a record season for Coney island’s Amusement District, with more than 400,000 visitors this summer.

[Image credit: Flickr user edenpictures]

Photo of the Day (10.17.10)

Whoa, what is that thing? Some kind of mutant flower? An architecture project gone wrong? It’s actually New York City’s Coney Island Parachute Jump, taken courtesy of Flickr user ☆ Ambré ☆. There’s a couple neat photographic tricks going on here, most of which are created using a special photographic style called Lomography, a technique that allows photographers to create some wonderfully quirky, candid photos. The darkened edges, double/upside down image and distinctly “analog” look you’re seeing here are the result of this style. Want to try some lomography yourself? Learn more about it at sites like or grab mobile phone apps like Hipstamatic or Instagram which replicate the “lomo style” without making you purchase a whole new camera.

Have any great travel photos you’d like to share with the world? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

Theme park news roundup: The word of the day is giga-coaster

The new Intimidator 305 roller coaster has opened at Kings Dominion theme park in Richmond, VA. The coaster, named in honor of the late NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, has ride cars that look like Earnhardt’s famous black Chevy. Earnhardt’s daughter Taylor visited the park last week to open the ride.

The Intimidator 305 screams along at 92 miles per hour, thanks to a 300-foot drop at the start.

Kings Dominion says that makes it part of a new class of giga-coasters – “complete-circuit coasters with a height of 300 feet or taller.” You can now check “add a word to my vocabulary” off today’s to-do list. You’re welcome.

Universal requires 4-night stay for Harry Potter packages (Orlando, FL, USA)

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens June 18, and if you want to book Universal Orlando Resort’s vacation package to go see the wizard, you will be staying in Orlando until at least June 22.

Universal tells the Orlando Sentinel that the package was designed as a 4-night experience when it was introduced in February, but the minimum stay requirement was just set this week.

The Orlando vacation packages include a hotel stay, Universal Orlando tickets, breakfast at the new Three Broomsticks restaurant and early admission to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.Coney Island Cyclone opens for 83rd season (New York City, NY, USA)

The landmark Cyclone roller coaster has re-opened for its 83rd season on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York.

It costs $8 to ride the combination wooden and steel structure that cost $175,000 to build in 1927. Although the thrill ride is on the National Register of Historic Places, it is still listed among coaster enthusiasts as one of the best current roller coasters in the country – both for its great views of the Manahattan skyline and its 60 mph hairpin turns.

Nearby, the new Luna Park is set to open its 19 rides on the Coney Island shore on May 29.

Great Wolf Lodge tries for water-slide world record (USA)

3,651 miles. That’s the distance that bathing-suit clad visitors slid at 11 Great Wolf Lodge indoor water parks last weekend, in an attempt to set a Guinness World Record.

The Great Wolf Lodges each kept one water slide open for 24 hours and asked sliders to donate to the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. The charity event/publicity stunt resulted in 47,660 trips down the designated water slides.

Guinness is still verifying the information before making the world record – which will be in the category longest distance water sliding in 24 hours in multiple venues – official. Oddly enough, there’s no previous record-holder for this very specific, new category in the company’s record books.

SeaWorld’s Aquatic water park opens new water slide (Orlando, FL, USA)

Orlando water park Aquatica has opened its new slide, the Omaka Rocka. The tube slide deposits riders in funnels designed to mimic the sensation that skateboarders feel in the half-pipe.

This is the third year for Aquatica, SeaWorld’s venture into the water park scene. Omaka Rocka is the first addition to the park since it opened.

Future questioned at Freestyle Music Park (Myrtle Beach, SC, USA)

The troubled Freestyle Music Park is facing foreclosure. The Myrtle Beach, S.C., park – which opened as Hard Rock Park in 2008 then underwent a brand change for the 2009 season – missed a debt payment deadline last week.

The Sun News reports that the theme park’s owners have not been able to find new investors and are facing bankruptcy or foreclosure. Owners are saying it is “unlikely” that the park will open for the 2010 season.

Six Flags releases iPhone app (USA)

The Six Flags Fun Finder, a free app, is now available in the App Store. Beyond the usual park maps and event listings, that app integrates with Facebook to help you find the exact location of your friends within any Six Flags theme park. The app is free.