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.


Pentex said...

Excellent description and great photos...really brings me back to the days of youth. How funny with the Laughing Lady...that was the sound that always made me feel I was at Coney Island.

The rollercoasters I never got to ride. See, my two older brothers had mean streaks. They told me that I used to have a third brother but that he died falling off the Cyclone so I never went on one. To this day, I owe my rollercoaster phobia to them!

The Phantom said...

We'll get you on the Cyclone in June.

-Tommy said...

Heeeeeyyyyyy!! Now this is what I call class. I'm sitting here in my kitchen lamenting the loss of Lento's and came across your place thru Google. Glad to see a hometown blog. Why didn't I think of it? Consider yourself bookmarked. Now, any ideas on how to get Lento's open again?