It’s true that New York summers are special and no summer is truly complete without a visit to Coney Island. The Mermaid Parade, Nathan’s, the Cyclone, extreme eating contests, cotton candy; spectacle and excess have long been a part of the scene where urban Brooklyn runs smack into the sea.
Vintage Bettmann Collection imagery from the park’s heyday gives us a peek into Coney Island’s past. But is the “People’s Playground” any less glorious in the present?
These then-and-now images not only capture the essence of Coney Island, but also visually illustrate the concepts most associated with summer: freedom, playfulness, exhilaration, joy.
The more things change, the more they stay the same – and we wouldn’t have it any other way:
1. The rides are still amazing
Then: The Cyclone, Gyro Globe and Virginia Reel rides were legendary.
Now: There are plenty of captivating rides at Coney Island’s Luna Park, but nothing says summer quite like a giant spinning swing.
2. Daredevils still walk among mere mortals
“Miss Ida has won a peck of medals, awarded for proficiency in long distance running, sprinting, jumping, pole vaulting, shot putting, discus throwing, bicycle riding, tennis, dancing, horsemanship, golf, cricket, basket ball (sic), tumbling and ice skating. Also as recognition for a performance of numerous hair-raising stunts…Ida Schnall, be it remembered, is the same young daredevil who dove from the wing of an aeroplane (sic) into the ocean in Brighton Beach one fine day last summer, giving the spectators the thrill of their young lives.”
Now: The icy waters are still a draw, but modern day Polar Bears participate as a fundraiser for Camp Sunshine and the Special Olympics.
3. For kids, no space = no problem
Then: Empty spaces to stretch out were hard to find, but the effort was always worth it. And for kids, just being there was enough.
Now: The only thing that’s changed are the swimsuits.
4. Crowds. But hey, this is New York… What do you expect?
Then: Famed photographer Weegee may have preferred crime scenes to the beach, but that didn’t stop him from getting his pictures. Louie Liotta, Weegee’s assistant, said that his boss climbed up onto a lifeguard station, dancing and screaming until everyone was looking at him, and then he took the shot.
Now: It’s still the place to be.