History of World War Two Told Through Letters
I had a truly close-to-perfect night at Coney Island this weekend. It started with a Brooklyn Cyclones game. The Cyclones, for those who don’t know, are the minor league team for Mets fans. (Yankees fans have the Staten Island Yankees.) If there is one quintessential Brooklyn icon it can be argued that it is Coney Island, accompanied by the Cyclone roller coaster and the Wonder Wheel. Over the last few years the fate of the amusement park at Coney Island (formerly Astroland) has been uncertain. The land could have, like many other New York sites, become a row of high-rise condos. But Luna Park has reinvented itself and thrives now off it’s long and romantic past as well as its exciting future.
Standing behind the Cyclones stadium and adding to its mystique is the parachute drop, which was declared a landmark in 1977 but had long been inactive as an attraction. Just beyond this stadium (and just a few blocks from the subway) is the boardwalk and the beach.
Even the most avid and die-hard New Yorkers need a break from the city every once in a while. Wandering the city streets on a humid summer afternoon can quickly lead to a feeling of suffocation. But just hop on the B,D,F or Q and you can go straight to the beach, an amusement park, a boardwalk, and a baseball game. Once there, you can breathe a sigh of relief, eat a hot dog, and forget that you are just a few miles from the built-up, bustling, cement-covered island of Manhattan. Coney Island has the long tradition of being a popular working-class destination for New Yorkers in need of a break (who don’t have a car).
After the Cyclones game the audience waited for it to get dark enough for the fireworks show. The atmosphere was one of a big community dance party. People (and by that I mean myself) milled about, sang along to “Sweet Caroline” and jumped up and down trying to get a free T-shirt.
The fireworks did not disappoint. They exploded directly over the field and quite literally filled the stadium with smoke. The in-your-face intensity of the fireworks is a rare site these days when those darn safety regulations usually get in the way of good old-fashioned pleasures. In fact, Coney Island’s history of hazardous rides and repeated fires is not surprising.
Luna Park originally opened in 1903. The new entrance to the modern-day Luna Park mimics the original design. This gateway creates an effective divider for the park from the street and the world around it.
Inside the gates you find rides blanketed in bright lights. They look new and sleek but maintain an atmosphere that harkens back to a pretty cheesy and wondrous past (that you most likely never actually experienced).
By embracing rather than erasing its history, Coney Island lets patrons relish the over-the-top environment – especially the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel. to recapture something special from a different era. The Wonder Wheel provides the classic and simple pleasure of allowing you to go, well, way up in the air. A modern revelation made world-renowned at the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893, the Ferris Wheel represents both the old and new. The Wonder Wheel proceeded a new fad. A lot of cities today are re-employing the Ferris Wheel as a major (and lucrative) tourist attraction. (London and Paris have both used the Ferris Wheel to create modern and romantic viewing experiences.)
Maybe it was the nighttime air, maybe it was the beer, but running around Luna Park that night I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than on the rides swinging in circles again and again.
Of course, what made this experience a truly memorable one was the good friends who explored this new park by my side.
New York is a place of constant reinvention. But some joys will never change.
Next post: Sylvia leaves the city.