Tag Archives: Coney Island

Summer in the City

Now that summer is in full swing, we look back at the ways New Yorkers have either escaped or embraced the heat.

The Drive in Central Park was a place to see and be seen, particularly for the wealthiest New Yorkers, who dressed in their finest attire and rode carriages through the park.

Byron Company. Central Park: The Drive, Summer. 1894. Museum of the City of New York.

At the turn of the century, long black stockings typically accompanied women’s bathing suits (or bathing gowns, as they were called). Bathing suits became less restrictive a few years later, when women began participating in competitive swimming.

Byron Company. Sports, Bathing, Midland Beach. 1898. Museum of the City of New York.

Before air conditioning, it was not uncommon for tenement dwellers to put their mattresses on the roof and sleep through the season’s hottest nights.

John Sloan. Roofs, Summer Night. 1906. Museum of the City of New York. 82.200.1

The Jackie Robinson Pool originally opened as the Colonial Park Pool in Harlem on August 8, 1936. It was one of 11 swimming pools opened throughout the city that year and funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal agency created to combat the Great Depression.

Sid Grossman. Federal Art Project. Colonial Park Swimming Pool, Harlem. 1939. Museum of the City of New York.

Some New Yorkers preferred water hoses to swimming pools.

United States. Office of War Information. Children spraying a hose from a porch. 1944. Museum of the City of New York. 90.28.88

Every summer, Coney Island’s boardwalk bustles with city dwellers seeking a respite from the heat.

Andrew Herman. Federal Art Project. Feeding Ice-Cream to the Dog. 1939. Museum of the City of New York.

Nathan’s Famous opened in Coney Island at Surf and Stillwell Avenues in 1916, where it still stands today and attracts scores of New Yorkers and tourists alike.

Andrew Herman. Federal Art Project. Nathan’s Hot Dog Stand, Coney Island. 1939. Museum of the City of New York.

Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park began hosting an annual poolside beauty contest called Modern Venus in 1913. Beauty contests flourished as bathing suits became skimpier.

Reginald Marsh. Modern Venus Contest at Steeplechase Park. 1939. Museum of the City of New York.

After World War II, folk singers began congregating in Washington Square. The singers and their audience clashed with some residents of the neighborhood, who thought they were a nuisance. In 1947, the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation started issuing permits for public performances in city parks. In 1961, Parks Commissioner Newbold Morris rejected folk singers’ applications to play in Washington Square. Protests ensued, culminating in a fight between the musicians and their supporters and the police seeking to clear the crowds. In the end, a compromise was reached, with folk singers being allowed in the park on Sunday afternoons.

Frederick Kelly. Musicians – Washington Square. 1962. Museum of the City of New York. 01.59.22

Some people, like the man below, embrace the “if you can’t beat the heat, join it” philosophy.

Benedict J. Fernandez. Male Beauty, Coney Island, 1970. Museum of the City of New York. 99.150.23

Skully, also known by variants like “skellie,” is a children’s street game played with bottle caps. Its popularity among youth began to fade in the 1980s.

Joseph Rodriguez. Game of Skellie, East Harlem, 1987. Museum of the City of New York. 2007.8.1

A telltale sign that summer has arrived is hearing the music from ice cream trucks. Ice cream vendors have used noise to attract customers since the late 1800s. But not everybody welcomes the familiar melody of ice cream trucks. In 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to ban the music in the city’s noise code. An outright ban was unsuccessful, but now vendors are only allowed to play music when their vehicle is in motion.

Gerard Vezzuso. Young boys at ice cream truck, Staten Island NY, 1999. Museum of the City of New York. 01.26.8

Coney Island Rides

For more than 130 years, Coney Island has been host to a number of imaginative amusements. Here we take a look at the amusement rides – some long gone, some still standing.

Horse racing had been a popular pastime at Coney Island since its emergence as a resort area in the 1840s . When George C. Tilyou opened Steeplechase Park in 1895, he presented his customers with the steeplechase ride. People rode side-by-side on mechanical horses down a track of over 1,000 feet, simulating a horse race.

Byron Company. Steeplechase. Horseback riding ride at Coney Island, with people on mechanical horses being pulled along a track. Museum of the City of New York.

Around 1907 Luna Park introduced The Tickler, in which people in rotating cars were jostled down a curved path.

The Tickler at Luna Park, Coney Island. Museum of the City of New York postcard collection. X2011.34.2041

Construction of the Wonder Wheel began in 1918 on-site and was completed in 1920. Unlike other Ferris wheels of the time, not all of the cars on the Wonder Wheel were stationary.  16 of the 24 cars rolled back and forth on curved tracks between the inner and outer wheels. The Wonder Wheel remains in operation and is still a popular attraction to this day. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated it a landmark in 1989.

John Harry Lufbery. Wonder Wheel, Coney Island. Museum of the City of New York. 04.18.1

The caterpillar ride debuted at Steeplechase Park in 1925. The ride featured a canopy that enclosed cars once it reached maximum speed, making it popular with couples. It also contained a large fan that blew air from the seats.

Tilgins. Couple on Caterpillar ride at Coney Island amusement park. Museum of the City of New York.

The Cyclone opened in 1927 and still runs today. In 1988, the Landmarks Preservation Commission declared The Cyclone a landmark. It was also placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

Cyclone at Coney Island. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.7601

This spinning disk at Steeplechase Park’s Pavilion of Fun rotated faster and faster until everybody in the center had been flung to the side.

Tilgins. People riding large spinning disk at Coney Island amusement park. Museum of the City of New York.

The Pavilion of Fun also housed The Human Pool Table, which featured a series of spinning discs for the rider to navigate. The objective was to move from one side to the other without being seriously diverted.

Tilgins. Human Pool Table ride at Coney Island amusement park. Museum of the City of New York.

The Parachute Jump was built for the 1939 World Fair by a retired Navy officer, Lieutenant Commander James Hale Strong. After the fair, the Tilyou family purchased the tower and moved it to Steeplechase Park in 1941. The Parachute Jump ceased operation on September 19, 1964 after the closure of Steeplechase Park (see http://www.coneyislandhistory.org/mrconey/?p=8 for more details.) It is the only remaining structure of the amusement park, which was demolished in 1966. In 1980 the Parachute Jump was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nine years later, New York City identified it as a landmark.

Parachute Jump, Coney Island. Museum of the City of New York Photo Archives. X2010.11.7594

Every effort has been made by the author to identify Tilgins, the only name associated with some of the content used in this blog entry. If you can help us identify Tilgins, please contact the museum at collections@mcny.org.

The photographs by Tilgins are part of the Reginald Marsh collection at the museum. Digitization of this collection was made possible by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.