Learn more about Coney Island
Coney Island is a peninsula (and formerly an island) located in southernmost Brooklyn, New York City, USA, with a famous beach lying on the Atlantic Ocean. The eponymous neighborhood is a community of 60,000 people in the western part of the peninsula, with Seagate to its west, and Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach to its east. To the north is Gravesend.
The area was formerly a major resort and home of amusement parks, reaching its peak in popularity in the early 20th century but declining after World War II. In recent years, the area has been revitalized by the opening of KeySpan Park, home to the successful Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball team.
 The island
Geographically, Coney Island is the westernmost of the barrier islands of Long Island, about four miles long and one-half mile wide. It was formerly an actual island, separated from the main part of Brooklyn by Coney Island Creek, part of which was little more than tidal flats. There were plans into the 20th century to dredge and straighten the creek as a ship canal, but these plans were abandoned and the center portion of the creek was filled in for construction of the Belt Parkway before World War II. The western and eastern ends are now peninsulas.
 The Name
The Native American inhabitants of the area called the island Narrioch, "land without shadows", because, in common with other south shore Long Island beaches, its compass orientation keeps the beach area in sunlight all day.
The Dutch name for the island was Conyne Eylandt <ref name="1639map">Joan Vinckeboons (Johannes Vingboon), "Manatvs gelegen op de Noot Riuier", 1639. Coney Island is labelled "Conyne Eylandt". Image of Vinckeboons map at Library of Congress.</ref>, or Konijn Eiland (Rabbit Island) using modern Dutch spelling. This name is found on the New Netherland map of 1639 by Johannes Vingboon. (New York State and New York City were originally Dutch Settlements, referred to as New Netherland and New Amsterdam respectively.). As with other Long Island barrier islands, Coney Island was virtually overrun with rabbits, and rabbit hunting was common until the resorts were developed and most open space eliminated.
It is generally accepted that Coney Island is the English adaptation of the Dutch name, Konijn Eiland. Coney is an obsolete and dialectical English word for rabbit. Coney came into the English language through Old French (Conil), which derives from the Latin word for rabbit, cuniculus. The English name "Conney Isle" was used on maps as early as 1690<ref name="1690map">Robert Morden, "A Map of ye English Empire in the Continent of America", 1690. Coney Island is labelled "Conney Isle". Image of Morden map at SUNY Stony Brook.</ref> and by 1733 the modern spelling "Coney Island" was used<ref name="1733map">Henry Popple, "A Map of the British Empire in America", Sheet 12, 1733. Coney Island is labelled "Coney Island". Image of Popple Map can be found at David Rumsey Map Collection</ref>. The John Eddy map of 1811 also uses the modern "Coney Island" spelling <ref name="1811map">John H. Eddy, "Map Of The Country Thirty Miles Round the City of New York", 1811. Coney Island is labeled "Coney I." Image of Eddy Map can be found at David Rumsey Map Collection.</ref>.
Even though the history of Coney Island's name and its Anglicization can be traced through historical maps spanning the 17th century to the present<ref name="maplineage">Refer to maps given above.</ref> and that all the names translate to "Rabbit Island" in modern English, there are still those who contend that the name derives from other sources. Some say that early English settlers named it Coney Island after its cone-like hills. Others claim that an Irish captain named Peter O'Connor had named Coney Island after an island in Ireland in the 1700's. Yet another purported origin is from the name of the Indian tribe (the Konoh tribe) who supposedly once inhabited it. A further claim is that the island is named after Henry Hudson's "right-hand-man" John Coleman, who was killed there by Indians. Most of these claims can be found in a posting on the PBS website.
 The resort
Beginning with the period after the Civil War, Coney Island became a resort, as excursion railroads and the Coney Island & Brooklyn Railroad streetcar line reached the area in the 1860s and 1870s. With the rail lines, steamship lines and access to the beach came major hotels and public and private beaches, followed by horse racing, amusement parks, and less reputable entertainments, including Three-card Monte and other gambling entrepreneurs, and prostitution.
When the steam railroads were electrified and connected to Manhattan via the Brooklyn Bridge by the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company at the beginning of the 20th century, Coney Island began to turn more rapidly from a resort to an accessible location for day-trippers seeking to escape the summer heat in New York City's tenements.
The first carousel at Coney Island was built in 1876 by Charles I. D. Looff, a Danish woodcarver. It was installed at Vandeveer's bath-house complex at West 6th Street and Surf Avenue. The complex was later called Balmer's Pavilion. The carousel consisted of hand-carved horses and animals standing two abreast. A small coach was mounted on the platform for people to sit in who didn't want to ride the horses. The ride was illuminated with kerosene lanterns (Thomas Edison did not announce his first light bulb until three years later, in 1879). Music was provided by two musicians, a drummer and a flute player. A metal ring-arm hung on a pole outside the ride feeding small, iron rings for eager riders to grab. A tent-top protected the riders from the weather. The fare was five cents.
Nathan's Famous' original hot dog stand opened on Coney Island in 1916, and quickly became a landmark there. An annual hot dog eating contest has been held there since its opening, but has only attracted broad attention as well as international television coverage during the last decade. Since 2001 the contest has been won every year by Takeru Kobayashi of Japan who downed 53 3/4 hot dogs (with buns) in the allotted 12 minutes on July 4, 2006. The world record of 53 1/2 hot dogs in 12 minutes was earlier set by Kobayashi, who weighed only 144 pounds (~65 kg) at contest time.
In 1915 the Sea Beach Line was upgraded to a subway line, followed by the other former excursion roads, and the opening of the New West End Terminal for all the subway lines in 1919 ushering in Coney Island's busiest era.
After World War II contraction began seriously from a series of pressures. Air conditioning in movie theaters and then in homes, along with the advent of automobile access to the less crowded and more appealing Long Island state parks, especially Jones Beach, lessened the attractions of Coney's beaches. Luna Park closed in 1946 after a series of fires and the street gang problems of the 1950s spilled over into Coney Island. Though there was not a real danger as would be understood today, the menacing appearance of some of the youths, and their often harassing behavior made parents less willing to bring their young children to Coney or allow their teenaged children to go there.
The presence of threatening youths did not impact the beachgoing so much as it discouraged visitors to the rides and concessions - the staples of the Coney Island economy. A major blow was struck in 1964 when Steeplechase Park, the last of the major parks, was closed.
The builder and New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses actively opposed the "tawdry" entertainment at Coney and discouraged the building of new amusements. Housing projects, both for low and moderate incomes, were built and used up space of what had been amusement areas, and the aquarium project, where Dreamland once stood, reduced the available area for more traditional amusements.
In Coney Island's lowest years there was some incremental improvement in relatively small areas, notably the preservation and later the expansion of what had been the rides area at the back of the Feltman's property as Astroland. The general improvement in New York City's infrastructure, commercial prospects and image after the 1970s fiscal crisis under the mayoral administration of Edward I. Koch helped Coney Island, and many improvements were made under the mayoralty of Rudolph Giuliani, continuing with his successor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, all helped by the Wall Street booms of the 1980s and 1990s.
While all of the original amusement parks have long since closed down — Steeplechase being the last in 1964 — one since revived, Astroland, gradually expanded and there are now also several more or less organized amusement areas along with a number of independent rides and concessions. For example, Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park is a successful family owned park with over 20 rides located directly on the Boardwalk. However, the Coney Island amusement area is set to change in the 21st century.
In the fall of 2006, Thor Properties proposed a $1.5 billion renovation and expansion of the Coney Island amusement area to include hotels, shopping, movies, an indoor water park and the city's first new roller coaster since the Cyclone. The developers hope to start construction in 2007 and complete the project by 2011. As part of the renovation, they bought Astroland and announced that it would close by the end of 2007<ref>See Bloomberg News, November 29, 2006.</ref>. The Aquarium is also being renovated<ref>"Plans Coming Together For Coney Island Amusement Park Expansion", NY1, November 14, 2006</ref>.
 The Coney Island amusements
Between about 1880 and World War II, Coney Island was the largest amusement area in the United States, attracting several million visitors per year. At its height it contained three competing major amusement parks, Luna Park, Dreamland, and Steeplechase Park, as well as many independent amusements. It was finally eclipsed by Disneyland in California.
The amusement area contains various rides, games such as skeeball, and a sideshow, games of shooting and throwing and tossing skills. Record setting Coney Island rides (as the first of their kind or largest) and notable rides include:
- Wonder Wheel (1920), a ferris wheel with stationary cars and moving cars that run on tracks, now part of Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park<ref>See [www.WonderWheel.com Deno's Womder Wheel.]</ref>. Deno's Wonder Wheel holds 144 riders, stands 150 feet talk and weighs over 2,000 tons.
- The Cyclone roller coaster (1927), which some claim is still the world's best wooden roller coaster.
- The Parachute Jump, originally the Life Savers Parachute Jump at the 1939 New York World's Fair, which was the first ride of its kind. Patrons were hoisted some 190 feet in the air before being allowed to drop using guy-wired parachutes. This landmark ride, closed for years, was completely dismantled, cleaned, painted and restored, but there are varying opinions on whether it should reopen as a ride, or stand as a symbolic structure (it is often referred to as Brooklyn's Eiffel Tower);
- The B&B Carousell. In addition to its unusual spelling, this is Coney Island's last traditional carousel, now surrounded by furniture stores, near the old entrance to Luna Park. The carousel is an especially fast one, with a traditional roll-operated band organ. When the long-term operator died unexpectedly the carousel was put up for auction and it was feared the ride would leave Coney Island or, worse, that it would be broken up for sale to collectors, being one of the last intact traditional carousels in the U.S. still in private hands. In an act of brinksmanship with the owners, the City of New York bought the B&B Carousell a few days before the auction.
- Bumper cars, which are small vehicles with rubber bumpers all the way around, which ride on a flat metal surface, and are powered by electricity conducted by a pole standing upright from the back of the car and touching an electrified ceiling. The electrical ground is provided by the metal flooring. The object is to ride in a loop and bump other cars, especially if you are a young male and there are rival young males in another car, or better, pretty young girls. The idea for the Demolition Derby is said to have originated from bumper cars.
 Rides of the Past
- Thunderbolt, a roller coaster in Steeplechase Park that was constructed in 1925. The ride closed in 1983. It was torn down in 2000 when Keyspan Park was being constructed.
- Tornado, a roller coaster constructed in 1926. It burned down in a fire in 1977.
 Other parks and venues
Coney Island is also the location of the New York Aquarium since June 6th, 1957, on the former site of the Dreamland amusement park. In 2001, KeySpan Park opened on the former site of Steeplechase Park to host the Brooklyn Cyclones minor-league baseball team.
Since the early 80's Coney Island has been the home of Coney Island, USA - a non-profit arts organization "dedicated to preserving the dignity of American Popular Culture." Coney Island, USA produces the last 10-in-1 Sideshow in America at their theater on Coney Island. The organization also produces the annual Mermaid Parade, the Coney Island Film Festival, and houses the Coney Island Museum.
In August 2006 Coney Island will host a major national volleyball tournament by the Association of Volleyball Professionals. The tournament, usually held on the West Coast, is to be televised live on NBC. The league will build a 4,000-seat stadium and 12 outer courts next to the Boardwalk for the event. Its promotional partner is Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment.
 The beach
Coney Island still maintains a broad sandy beach from West 37th Street at Sea Gate through the Coney Island and Brighton Beach to the beginning of the community of Manhattan Beach, a distance of approximately two-and-a-half miles (~4.0 km). The beach is continuous and is served for its entire length by the broad Riegelmann boardwalk, reputed to be the world's longest, and the subject of the famous song "Under the Boardwalk", first popularized in 1964. A number of amusements are directly accessible from the north side of the boardwalk, as is the New York Aquarium and a variety of food shops and arcades.
The beach is groomed and replenished on a regular basis by the city. The position of the beach and lack of significant obstructions means virtually the entire beach is in sunlight all day. The beach is open to all without restriction and there is no charge for use. The beach area is divided into "bays", areas of beach delineated by rock jetties, which moderate erosion and the force of ocean waves.
The Coney Island Polar Bear Club<ref>http://www.polarbearclub.org/</ref> is a group of hardy individuals who swim at Coney Island throughout the winter months, most notably on New Year's Day when additional participants join them to swim in the frigid waters, recorded by television reporters covering the scene.
 The communities
The neighborhoods on Coney Island, running eastward are Sea Gate (a private community), Coney Island proper (called West Brighton until the 20th century), Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach and Oriental Beach.
Sea Gate is one of a handful of neighborhoods in New York City where the streets are owned by the residents and not the city; it and the Breezy Point Cooperative are the only city neighborhoods cordoned off by a fence and gate houses.
Its main subway station is called Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue and is reached by the D</pre>, F</pre>, N</pre> and Q</pre> train lines of the New York City Subway. The three main avenues in the Coney Island community (as opposed to the island itself), are (north to south) Neptune Avenue (which crosses to the mainland to become Emmons Avenue), Mermaid Avenue, and Surf Avenue (which becomes Ocean Parkway and then runs north towards Brooklyn's Prospect Park).
The cross streets in the Coney Island neighborhood proper are numbered with "West" prepended to their numbers, running from West 1st Street to West 37th Street at the border of Sea Gate.
The majority of the population of Coney Island resides in approximately thirty 18- to 24-story towers, mostly comprised of various forms of public housing. In between the towers are many blocks that were filled with burned out and vacant buildings. Since the 1990's, however, there has been steady revitalization of the area. Many townhouses were built on empty lots, popular franchises have set up shop, and Keyspan Park was built to serve as the home for the Cyclones, a minor league baseball team in the New York Mets' farm system. Once home to many Jewish residents, most of those living on Coney Island today are African American, Italian American, or Hispanic.
Coney Island, like other parts of New York City, is served by the New York City Department of Education.
Nearby high schools include:
- Rachel Carson's School of Coastal Studies
- John Dewey High School
- Leon Goldstein High School for Sciences
- William E. Grady Vocational High School
- Abraham Lincoln High School
 Coney Island in popular culture
 in movies
- Perhaps the most famous, fictional, residents of Coney Island come from Walter Hill's 1979 cult film The Warriors. Based on Sol Yurick's novel, the film charts the progress of a street gang called "The Warriors" as they travel from their Coney Island turf up to a meeting in the Bronx, get framed for killing a powerful gangleader and then have to fight their way back to Coney Island with 60 gangmembers and 30 cops against them. In 2005 The Warriors movie was also adapted as a video game for the Playstation 2 and Xbox home entertainment systems.
- We see the lead character in Woody Allen's 1977 semi-autobiographical film classic Annie Hall, Alvy Singer, living in Coney Island as a child in a house that was under the Cyclone rollercoaster that shook wildly every time the coaster made its rounds. Alvy's father ran the bumper cars' concession.
- Neil Simon's 1986 Brighton Beach Memoirs movie (also a play) also depicts growing up in the Coney Island area, and features scenes with the Coney Island rollercoaster in the background.
- In the 2001 Steven Spielberg movie A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, David the boy robot and Teddy the mechanized bear travel to the flooded ruins of Coney Island in a submersible (Coney Island, as well as the entire Manhattan area, is now at the bottom of the ocean because of global warming). Just when David finds a sculpture of the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio and starts praying to it to turn him into a real boy, the Wonder Wheel collapses on top of them, trapping them for the next two-thousand years.
- Coney Island figures prominently in the 1989 film version of Isaac Bashevis Singer's novel Enemies, a Love Story, directed by Paul Mazursky.
- Coney Island is a location in Darren Aronofsky's first two films, Pi and Requiem for a Dream, specifically Brighton Beach for the latter. Darren Aronofsky grew up in Brooklyn.
- Coney Island has a reputation both locally and nationally for producing outstanding basketball players. A number of accomplished basketball players hail from Coney Island, including Stephon Marbury, currently playing for the New York Knicks and Sebastian Telfair of the Boston Celtics. Telfair was one of the top high school players in the country and one of the last to make the jump directly to the NBA. His life in Coney Island is the subject of the documentary film Through the Fire. Additionally, Spike Lee's 1998 film He Got Game, a fictional story about the struggles of a top high school basketball player, was set in Coney Island, further cementing the neighborhood in basketball lore.
- Coney Island is the setting for the film Lord of War.
- A Coney Island amusement park is the setting of the Rhedosaurus' last stand in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.
- In the 1973 Peter Bogdanovich film Paper Moon, Moses Prey (played by Ryan O'Neal) tells Addie (played by Tatum O'Neal) to "Eat your Coney Island and drink your Nehi".
- In Uptown Girls (2003), Coney Island was featured as the childhood runaway home of Molly Gunn (Brittany Murphy). It was also the place where she took Ray Schleine (Dakota Fanning), to go on the spinning tea cups to get away from all the problems in life.
 in novels and short stories
- The Warriors by Sol Yurick is the 1965 novel that the 1979 movie with the same name (see above) was based upon.
- Samantha at Coney Island by "Josiah Allen's Wife" (Marietta Holley), 1911, was a popular young-adult novel in the early 20th century.
- Coney Island Wonder Stories, edited by Robert J. Howe and John Ordover, 2005, contains science fiction and fantasy stories set in Coney Island throughout its history, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Steven Popkes, Maureen McHugh, Mike Resnick, J. R. Dunn, Kij Johnson, Paul Levinson, and other writers.
 in slang
- "Coney Island" is a slang term used for a style of chili hot dog topped with a dry meaty chili, then mustard and sweet onions, common in Michigan. Restaurants that serve these are commonly called "Coney Island Restaurants". An example<ref>Gillie's Coney Island"About us"</ref> would be "Gillie's Coney Island Restaurants" in Flint Michigan.
 in song
- The Excellents, a vocal group out of Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx, recorded the doo wop classic, "Coney Island Baby," in 1962.
- Lou Reed's 1976 seventh studio album is entitled Coney Island Baby after a different song, his own, by the same name.
- Tom Waits has yet another song called "Coney Island Baby," on his 2002 album Blood Money. He also mentions Coney Island in his song "Table Top Joe" from the album Alice (also released in 2002).
- "Bone to Bone (Coney Island Whitefish Boy)" is a song by Aerosmith, released on their [[1979 in music|1979] album, Night in the Ruts.
- "Coney Island Whitefish" is a song by Joan Jett.
- Coney Island is mentioned in a song by Godspeed You! Black Emperor on their Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven album. An old man reminisces about how people used to sleep on the beach at Coney Island but don't any more.
- Coney Island is referenced throughout the avant-garde hip-hop lyricist Aesop Rock's career, most notably his Daylight EP where he muses, "I keep my ghoul spirit concealed, until the warriors return to the Coney Isle Wonder Wheel"
- Coney Island is mentioned in a song by Fountains Of Wayne on their 1999 album Utopia Parkway called "Red Dragon Tattoo" about a boy going to Coney Island to get a tattoo to impress a girl.
- Coney Island is mentioned by They Might Be Giants in a list of New York City attractions in the song "New York City".
- Van Morrison performed a song titled "Coney Island", but that song refers to the Coney Island in County Down in Ireland, where he spent some time on holiday.
- The band Franz Ferdinand mentions the "Coney Island rollercoaster" in their song "Eleanor, Put Your Boots On" from their second album You Could Have It So Much Better.
- Phish marked the beginning of its last tour with two shows on Coney Island. A recording of the first night, June 17, 2004, has been turned into a DVD box set entitled, Phish: Live in Brooklyn.
- Coney Island is mentioned in the 1920s song routine "Mister Gallagher and Mister Shean" in the last verse of the second song:
Mr Shean, Mr Shean.
I have made that trip so I know just what you mean.
But there's one light that shines so bright,
It's the brightest light in sight!
Statue of Liberty, Mr Gallagher?
CONEY ISLAND, Mister Shean!"
- The American Horrorcore-Rapper Necro says in his song "I Need Drugs":
I could go on forever mixing dope with my methadone dosage.
You could find me at Brighton Beach or Coney Island
Or Rikers Island.
My crack pipe's my violin.
 on tv
- A character in the HBO special Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground rides The Cyclone while waiting for his date, only to be beaten up in the Coney Island subway station by her actual boyfriend afterwards.
- Jerry and a naked subway rider (Ernie Sabella) take a trip to Coney Island in an episode of Seinfeld.
- In Futurama, Fry claims he went to Coney Island College, where he successfully dropped out. The college's team is apparently called the 'Whitefish'.
- Coney Island is often shown in episodes of Spider-Man: The Animated Series as a famous New York landmark and as a background for some scenes, like the first of kiss of a main character.
 See also
- Library of Congress New Netherland Website Lists Conyne Eylandt as Dutch name for Coney Island.
- "De Nieu Nederlandse Marcurius", Volume 16, No. 1: February 2000. This is the newsletter of the New Netherland Project. Cites New Netherland map labeling "Conyne Eylandt" in 1639 Johannes Vingboon map
 External links
- Coney Island, USA Home Page
- Coney Island Thunderbolt
- contemporary photos of Coney Island
- John A. Miller home page
- Coney Island Lighthouse
- 2004 Mermaid Parade at Forgotten New York
- Coney Island Mermaid Parade Photos
- Coney blog: Kinetic Carnival
- Newyork-evasion gallery of photographs
- Coney Island Museum
- Air visit of Coney Island in Photographs
- Contemporary photos of Coney Island
- New Netherland Project/Institute Institute dedicated to the history of New Netherland and New Amsterdam.
- Luna Park history site with numerous pictures
- A few images of Coney Island Circa 1900-1920
- Maps and aerial photos
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