January 22, 2006
Back to Coney Island
When I was a kid, Coney Island was the promised land. As a young Phantom, I used to love being taken on the Sea Beach Express subway to Coney Island.
I was way too young to have seen Coney Island in its heyday. Coney Island probably peaked in the 1940s, and I didn't see it for the first time until the 1960s. It was still a rollicking place, jam packed with people on a sizzling hot day.
There were three roller coasters then. I rode them all , the Tornado, the Thunderbolt, and the king of them all, the Cyclone.
I remember the first time I rode the ancient wooden Cyclone, which opened in 1927. The slow rise, followed by a nearly vertical descent, was terrifying, a rush. When the ride ended, I could not wait to jump back on. The Tornado and the Thunderbolt are gone, but the Cyclone endures. As does Nathan's famous, home of the best hot dogs in the universe.
A block or two from the Thunderbolt on one of the side throughfares leading to the boardwalk, was the Laughing Lady. She was a life-size mannaquin, in a glass cage, who laughed hysterically all day and all night long. You could hear her for blocks. I'll remember that voice forever!
Coney Island is only a shell of what it was. Most of the old rides are gone. But Nathan's endures, as does the Cyclone. The massive outdoor subway station has been completly rebuilt. Much new development is on the agenda.
But if you want to get a wee glimpse of Coney Island in its heyday, take a look at this short home video of the Wonder Wheel and
this clip of cars passing by on Surf Avenue with a streetcar visible.
These were the days when the only way to escape the heat on a blistering August night was to go to the movies, or to hop on the subway to the neon palace of Coney Island. The workingman's Riviera, cooled naturally by the magnificent salt breezes of the Atlantic Ocean.