Monday, March 3, 2008

My Town Monday Series

I have joined Travis Erwin for his My Town Monday series where you get to see a little part of various bloggers hometowns. Please pop on by to see Travis and the growing list of travel logs.

So I was going to do the DC area where I now live, but I realized I had already done one recently. Instead, I thought I would give you a little taste of where I grew up. Brooklyn, New York. Specifically, I’m going to talk about Coney Island. Most people have some idea about what Coney Island is, a beach, an amusement park, the roller coaster ride. But I had some fun researching a little bit more about a place that I took for granted growing up.

Copyright Dalton Rooney

When I was young, my parents would take me to Coney Island for the day. We’d drive or take the train down and walk the boardwalk and spend a day in the sun. Because of the way Coney Island beach is situated, it is in sunlight all day long. I loved going there as a kid because of the amusement park, the bumper cars, all the rides, the scary people in the haunted house. Seriously, there were some scary people there, and they didn't even work there, they just hung around drinking beers out of little brown baggies and heckling anyone who walked by. Part of the charm of Coney Island was the colorful inhabitants, half naked women, Hell's Angels motorcyclists with huge guts and huger tatoos, immigrants speaking no English, selling cheap wares. It was one loud, messy, obnoxious noisefest.

As I got older, I realized that the beach was dirty and the boardwalk cheesy and the amusement park shady. I stopped going there when I hit my teens, preferring to go to nearby Manhattan Beach which was smaller and cleaner, and had cuter boys. But I still rode the boardwalks. From where I lived near Ocean Parkway and Avenue P, I could ride my bike straight down to Brighton Beach, also known as Little Odessa. From there, I’d pick up the boardwalk and ride down to Coney Island and back, a round trip of approximately 10 miles for me. It was always a wonderful ride. So when I thought back to Brooklyn, I wanted to revisit a part of my childhood. Turns out PBS decided to do it for me, producing an American Experience program on the history of Coney Island. Below are excerpts from its transcripts.

“On September 1, 1609, one day before he discovered Manhattan, Henry Hudson discovered Coney Island, a five-mile long waste of sand dunes, scrub grass and "coneys," the wild rabbits that gave the place its name. Coney was still a wasteland two centuries later when, in 1847, a side-wheeler from Manhattan began tying up at a makeshift pier on the island's western end. Out on the beach, men served clams and beer under a crude pavilion, amidst raucous bouts of three-card monte and a dice game called "buck-a-luck." "It is a well known fact," one visitor complained, "that picnics are often arranged for the sole benefit of pickpockets, prostitutes and swindlers." Dead bodies were sometimes found rolling in the surf. At the eastern end of the island, as far as possible from the disorder of the west, three vast frame hotels went up.” (American Experience, Coney Island, PBS broadcast, 2000)
“In 1876, the centerpiece of the Philadelphia Exposition was moved to Coney -- an observation tower whose steam-powered elevators lifted people 300 feet above the sea. It was the tallest structure in the United States. After descending from the tower, daring bathers could go for nighttime swims, pulling themselves along ropes under the hissing blaze of primitive arc lamps. People called it "electric bathing."

In 1884, LaMarcus Thompson invented a gravity-powered ride he called a Switchback Railway. The roller coaster was born. Before long, there were refinements-- the Loop-the-Loop and the Flip-Flap railway. The Flip-Flap could take only four passengers at a time, frequently damaged them and soon went out of business. By 1893 the New York Times declared that Coney Island had become "Sodom-by-the-Sea" and worried that its reputation would keep people away. Coney Island astonished, delighted and appalled the nation and took America from the Victorian age into the modern world.” (American Experience, Coney Island, PBS broadcast, 2000)
Coney Island and its three major amusement parks reached its peak popularity in the 1920s drawing millions of people on a nice summer day. But it began to decline in popularity with the start of World War II. Two fires destroyed two of the major amusement parks, Dreamland in 1911 and Luna Park in 1944. The last original park, the Steeplechase, finally closed in 1964. The nations oldest wooden roller coaster, The Cyclone, is still operational at Astroland amusement park. While The Cyclone was built in 1927 and owned by the City, it is operated by Astroland amusement park by a franchise license since the 1950s.

It was also at Coney Island that Charles Feltman invented and sold the first hot dog in 1867. Feltman was a food vendor who sold pies out of an old cart. When his customers asked for sandwiches, Feltman knew that he didn’t have the room to hold the ingredients for sandwiches. Instead, he came up with small charcoal stove and a tin box which he built into his cart to boil sausages and keep his bread rolls. And that is how the hot dog was born. From that illustrious beginning, Nathan’s Famous original hot dog stand first opened in 1916 and is now a landmark of Coney Island. Every 4th of July since 1916, it has sponsored an annual hot dog eating contest. In the last decade, the contest has attracted international television coverage due to amazing contestants from around the world.


At the 2007 contest, Joey Chestnut won by eating 66 Hotdogs & Buns in 12 minutes! This picture shows him holding 60 hot dogs with buns, to give you an idea of how much food we are talking about in the span of 12 minutes. Notice how skinny he is. Him and the previous winner, another skinny man from Japan, can put away more hot dogs and faster than men three times their size and weight. My max is 2 hot dogs before all the chemical preservatives in the hot dogs begins to nauseate me. Just the idea of eating that many hot dogs makes me want to puke my guts out. Once out of sheer torturous curiousity, I watched a telecast of an eating contest. The first time a contestant started gagging, my sympathetic vomit reflex kicked in and I had to change the channel. There is something completely wrong with deliberately eating that much food. How is this a contest? Unless it is a contest for measuring how insane you are. For this incredible feat, he won $10,000 and a yellow mustard belt. $10,000 would barely cover my medical bills if I ate that much.

Speaking of crazy people, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club is a bunch of crazy people who like to swim at the beach during the winter months. The highlight for them is New Year’s Day when additional crazies can join them for a swim in freezing cold waters wearing only a little swimsuit. And this is good for you because women find blue balls so very attractive. It reminds me of that Seinfeld episode. You know the one. Penis. Cold water. Equals shrinkage. How sexy. Viagra anyone?

Last but not least, Coney Island opened up a minor league baseball stadium in 2001. KeySpan Park is the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones who are affiliated with the New York Mets. But since I am a Yankees fan, I have nothing more of interest to add to that.

So that's it for now. Next Monday, I will find some other interesting information about Brooklyn before I move back to talking about my current local place of residence. I hope you have found this somewhat entertaining. If you didn't, then make sure you lodge your complaint with the angry little pig up in the right hand corner of this blog. Please speak loudly as the pig is a little hard of hearing.

24 comments:

Lisa said...

What a great post! I had no idea that "coneys" were rabbits. What an interesting factoid. Every time I think of Coney Island (I've never been) I always think of the movie, "Sophie's Choice". Coney Island has a somewhat magical place in all of our imaginations, I think.

Debbielou said...

Fascinating post - I've learned a lot- Thank you - I'll never look at a hot dog in the same way again !

Travis Erwin said...

Very informative. Of course I've heard of Coney Island but your post let me know what is was like to be there as well as a bit of history. I'm glad you've joined in and I look forward to more posts.

blogless_troll said...

Great post, ello! I've seen that PBS documentary a couple of times (I own it actually), but I'm a sucker for all that nostalgia covered turn of the century amusement park/world's fair stuff. There are a couple of cool little books out there called Close To Shore and Twelve Days of Terror about the great white shark attacks of 1916 along the Jersey shore (part of it takes place on or near Coney Island I think). It's all of the above plus Jaws.

Barrie said...

I really enjoyed all the details in this post. I've always wanted to go to Coney Island.

SIXTY-SIX hot dogs! Yikes. I don't even that many in a year.

Looking forward to your next Brooklyn post...

Josephine Damian said...

Ello, I too had no idea Coneys were rabbits. Love the photos.

Such a legendary place in litertature. Aren't there scenes in Sophie's Choice set there?

As a Westchesterite, we all went to Rye Playland, so I've never been to Coney Island. Your post painted quite the vivid picture.

Colleen_Katana said...

Coney Island has always been one of my favorite places to visit! Good post!

Charles Gramlich said...

I have heard so much about Coney island over the years but mostly in references in movies and such. Thanks for the true gen.

Mary Witzl said...

You've done Coney Island proud, Ello, and I share your views about eating contests. I am somebody who LOVES eating, but this is just wrong. Having said that, I once came in second in a watermelon- eating contest. I justified this extravagance by telling myself that the watermelons were already cut up, and none of the other people looked like they were up to much. I wanted the glory and the watermelon -- pure and simple.

If I ate 66 hotdogs, I'd need surgery. And I'm not talking about liposuction, either.

Lana Gramlich said...

My dad was born & raised in this area. We lived nearby (on LI's "gold coast,") so of course dad took us to Coney Island (& back to the house he grew up in.) :) I was somewhat horrified to learn that they were closing it down, but I guess it's time is over. It still wasn't so bad when we'd visited in the 70s, but social degredation being what it is, I understand.
Your post makes me miss Nathan's hot dogs, btw.
As for crazy polar bear clubs, I know of people who do this in Canada (after breaking a hole through the ice.) Nuts!!!

Demon Hunter said...

Interesting facts about Coney Island. I only went once or twice in my lifetime. I was kid so it was cool; especially since I don't live any where near Coney Island. :*)

Larramie said...

I'm impressed. Just think, Ello, you were a beach girl/babe!

Precie said...

Cool!

I've never been to CI...my primary image of it comes from Woody Allen's "Annie Hall." :)

Thanks for sharing your research!

The Anti-Wife said...

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

J. L. Krueger said...

Gee, apparently we haven't a lot of Lord of the Rings readers out there. Samwise, comments on the only way to cook a brace of coneys in Two Towers when Gollum brings Frodo two rabbits for dinner.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Ello,

This is just fabulous. We used to take the train all the way from the Bronx to Coney Island.

I love this line: "As I got older, I realized that the beach was dirty and the boardwalk cheesy and the amusement park shady."

All true, but wasn't it great!!

Terrie

lyzzydee said...

I hated hot dogs before I read this!!! I think lots of childhood memories are like tghis and when you look back you realise that it was quite cheesy, still thats how how memories work!!

Sustenance Scout said...

Love this post, Ello! I'm from Syracuse so coneys are white-hots, preferably Kaufmanns! Never heard the rabbit story; what a hoot. Love the image of you riding your bike 10 miles and back, taking in all the boardwalk craziness along the way. What a great way for a girl to spend a summer afternoon! K.

Melissa Marsh said...

Now I know who to go to for my research into Brooklyn for one of my novels. :-)

Anonymous said...

10 miles . . . hmmmmmmmm. Now unless it was downhill both ways, I think you need to fess up - how many of those 10 miles did my beloved father-in-law have to push you?

Da' Man

Beth said...

Lots of interesting factoids. I'm going to get down and deep with this when my husband is around though because he REALLY loves factoids. Dead bodies rolling up on the surf. Mmmm, good times.

ChristineEldin said...

I haven't read this yet, but will tomorrow (i've clicked here several times though)

I love the photos, and have always wanted to visit Coney Island.

Ben O. said...

Great idea and really nice pics.

Ben O.

WordVixen said...

My sister in law is from Brooklyn, and she talks about Coney Island all the time. And yet, she never seems to want to go back?