Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Old Coney Island postcards, Part 2

The concept of time is a shimmering, ever-shifting notion here at Papergreat. I hope y'all weren't sitting on the edge of your seats for the past 28½ weeks, which is how long it's been since I published Part 1 of this series and implied that the followup would be coming in an, ahem, timely fashion.

Here we go with Part 2...

Entrance to Steeplechase Park. Steeplechase Park, in operation from 1897 to 1964, was one of the Big Three original Coney Island amusement parks, alongside Luna Park and Dreamland. The smiling caricature above the entrance became Steeplechase's logo. The park's iconic attractions over the years included a Ferris wheel, a mechanical horse race, a five-acre indoor "Pavilion of Fun" (featuring an Insanitarium and a human pool table), and the Parachute Jump, which I wrote about in 2016.

The original park mostly burned in 1907, prompting owner George C. Tilyou to leave this note at the entrance: "To enquiring friends: I have troubles today that I had not yesterday. I had troubles yesterday which I have not today. On this site will be built a bigger, better, Steeplechase Park. Admission to the burning ruins -- Ten cents." I believe this postcard shows the 1908/1909 rebuilt entrance of Steeplechase, which is well-documented in this 1998 article by Jeffrey Stanton.

Johnstown Flood "attraction." At the beginning of the 20th century, Coney Island entrepreneurs catered to the public's fascination with disasters. They didn't have Irwin Allen movies or even-more-modern thrillers like Volcano, 2012 and San Andreas, so they went to the amusement parks to see recreations of events such as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Mount Vesuvius eruption that buried Pompeii, the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée, and even the Biblical flood that Noah road out with his family and a bunch of animals.

One of these disaster attractions told the story of the 1889 Johnstown Flood, in which heavy rainfall caused a catastrophic dam failure, leading to a deluge that killed more than 2,000 people in southwestern Pennsylvania. That's a cheery topic for an attraction, right? The Johnstown reenactment was touted as “the greatest technical production in the world,” according to The Bowery Boys history website. And has this description:
"The show was a cyclorama, which involved a series of different scenes being reenacted, each with a different large, panoramic, curved backdrop painting to make the audience feel immersed in the scene. The show actually used large amounts of water and steam. And, of course, don't forget the electricity, too. That was a big selling point. They'd spare no expense to reenact explosions and storms at these."

The Coal Mine. This was actually a (relatively slow) roller-coaster ride near Luna Park that opened around 1905, according to some great sleuth work on Roller-coasters back then were more like the Disney people-mover attractions of modern times that take you through historical and cultural attractions and perhaps a haunted mansion. In this case, instead of world cultures or ghosts, riders got glimpses of the life of a coal miner. But wait, there's more! According to's David A. Sullivan:
"[Young couples knew] that parts of the ride will be dark enough that you'll be able to make out with your date and no one will be able to see. Paid make-out time was a huge draw as strict proprieties had to be observed in public. Remember, women had to wear full-length wool dresses even when in the ocean, and had to ride carousel horses saddle-mounted!"

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