Kevin Baker's Coney Island Trivia
Favorite Coney Island Trivia
by Kevin Baker, author of the upcoming graphic novel LUNA PARK:
--Before the boardwalk was built in 1923, competing owners of Coney’s beach used to mark off their territory by rolling barbed wire across the sand and into the water.
--In 1884, one James Lafferty built an entire, 150-foot-tall, 34-room hotel on Coney…in the shape of an elephant. It even had a cigar shop in one of the legs and an observatory in the houdah.
--Both Luna Park and Dreamland, two of the three great, original amusement parks on Coney, had their own “Midget City”—enclosures built to scale for some 200 or so midgets and dwarves, who lived their year round. They had their own police and fire departments, which were supposed to be pretend, but when the great Dreamland fire broke out in 1911, the park’s midget fire company responded to the call and acquitted itself credibly.
--Not one but two infamous New York gangsters named “Kid Twist” were murdered on Coney Island, and each murder prompted one of the great sayings of gangland: “I could do that standing on my head” and “This bird could sing but he couldn’t fly.”
--The scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, in which a family lives under a roller coaster, was based on the real, Coney Island, “Thunderbolt” coaster. Until a few years ago, the ruins of the ride could still be seen next to the Keyspan Ballpark (formerly the site of Steeplechase Park). Right underneath the roller coaster was the Kensington Hotel, which later became a private residence for many years.
--Coney’s record crowd is thought to have showed up on July 4, 1947. On that day, commemorated in a memorable Weegee photograph, an estimated 1.2 million people crowded the beach and parks—better than one in every seven people living in New York City at the time.
--Early in the twentieth century, patrons enjoyed “electric bathing,” feeling their way out into the ocean at night along rope lines, tied to poles with electric lights at the top.
--Deno’s Wonder Wheel is technically the world’s only combination Ferris Wheel and roller coaster, since the cabs swing forward and backward on short rail lengths as the wheel turns.
--Patrons departing the steeplechase ride at Steeplechase Park had to exit across a stage where jet air holes blew up women’s skirts, and men and women alike were attacked by a dwarf in a harlequin’s suit wielding a cattle prod, all for the amusement of their fellow patrons watching in the “Laughing Gallery.”
--Benches on the old Coney Island were electrified, in order to give a little zetz to anyone who rested too long in between spending money.
--When Steeplechase Park, the first real amusement park, closed in 1964, it was bought by Donald Trump’s father, a developer. He decided to raze it to the ground, and held a party at which guests were given bricks to throw through the fabled glass trellis that enclosed the park.