Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland
Adapted from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art’s flagship exhibition Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008, this traveling version explores America’s playground as a place and as an idea, examining its persistent presence in the American imagination.
The constant novelty of the resort made it a seductively liberating subject for artists. What they saw and how they chose to portray it varied widely in style and mood over time, mirroring the aspirations and disappointments of the era and of the country. The exhibition is arranged chronologically, with each section titled after contemporary quotations that also communicate changing popular perceptions about Coney Island through the generations.
“Down at Coney Isle,” 1861–1894, looks at the resort’s beginnings as “New York’s sandy backyard,” a blend of genteeland popular attractions made accessible by ferry, tram, and steam railway. “The World’s Greatest Playground,” 1895–1929, examines the explosion of entertainment accessible to the masses in parks like Steeplechase, Dreamland, and Luna Park, themselves the settings for fantastic encounters and new technologies.
“The Nickel Empire,” 1930–1939, shows how, after the stock market crash of 1929, Coney Island provided a welcome and affordable diversion, where disorienting rides could spark romance between strangers in a setting where “the greatest show is the people themselves.” From the beginning, Coney Island drew crowds from all social classes, races, and ethnicities, and “A Coney Island of the Mind,” 1940–1961, inspects how Coney Island reflected American life during and after World War II, providing a refuge from the city streets and a setting for intimacy on its crowded beaches, yet also offering metaphors for life and death in amusements like the House of Horrors and the World in Wax Musée.
The final section, “Requiem for a Dream,” 1962–2008, traces Coney’s decline amid turbulent decades that saw urban disinvestment and renewal attempts, including the closing of its last twentieth-century amusement park, Astroland. Yet ultimately, Coney’s persistence and continued re-emergence continue to attract new visions and renewed crowds.
Throughout the exhibition, artifacts display how the modern American mass-culture industry was born at Coney Island. The exhibition investigates the rise of American leisure and traces Coney Island’s influence on amusement parks and popular culture throughout the country. Photographs, ephemera, film clips, and hands-on interactives immerse visitors in the experience of Coney Island.
Both the original exhibit and this touring version were supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Coney Island will tour April 2017 through March 2022.
This exhibition will be awarded first to new venues, particularly those in states that have not yet hosted NEH on the Road exhibitions: Hawaii and Vermont. E-mail MoreArt (at) maaa.org or call (800) 473-3872, ext. 208, for availability.
April 6–May 25, 2017
Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History
Bryan, TX booked
June 16–August 11, 2017
Ypsilanti Public Library
Ypsilanti, MI booked
November 10, 2017–January 7, 2018
Sioux City Public Museum
Sioux City, IA booked
April 6–May 25, 2018
Brown County Library
Green Bay, WI booked
June 16–August 12, 2018
Reading Public Museum
Reading, PA booked
September 1–October 20, 2018
Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum
Temple, TX booked
November 10, 2018–January 6, 2019
Fullerton Museum Center
Fullerton, CA booked
April 6–May 25, 2019
Park City Museum
Park City, UT booked
June 16–August 11, 2019
Hastings Museum of Natural & Cultural History
Hastings, NE booked
September 1–October 20, 2019
Kansas City, MO booked
November 10, 2019–March 16, 2020
Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center
Buford, GA booked
September 1–October 20, 2020
Johnson County Museum
Overland Park, KS booked
November 10, 2020–March 16, 2021
Carver County Historical Society
Waconia, MN booked
April 6–May 25, 2021
Collier County Museums
Naples, FL booked
June 16–August 11, 2021
North Museum of Nature and Science
Lancaster, PA booked
September 1–October 20, 2021
Louisiana Old State Capitol
Baton Rouge, LA booked
November 10, 2021–January 7, 2022
Hoyt Art Center
New Castle, PA booked
January 28–March 16, 2022
Manitowoc Public Library
Manitowoc, WI booked
Exhibition Details & Specifications
Robin Jaffee Frank, Ph.D., Chief Curator and Krieble Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT.
Organized ByWadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT, in partnership with Mid-America Arts Alliance, Kansas City, MO.
The exhibition features several freestanding units focused on thematic areas incorporating a series of objects, artifacts, photographs, and paper ephemera; audio/video features; interactive stations; and wall-mounted graphics.
On-site support is free to the opening venue for every new NEH on the Road exhibition and to first-time hosting venues on a limited basis.
Expense covered by NEH on the Road. Exhibitor will coordinate with NEH on the Road's registrar for all outgoing transportation arrangements.
Number of Crates/Total Weight
19 crates/4,525 pounds
The exhibition is fully insured by NEH on the Road at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.
To download this glossary, click here.
Bathhouse—With the development of Coney Island as a seaside destination and resort area, “sea bathing” was promoted for health as well as recreation—a much-needed activity for the crowded residents of Manhattan. In the 1860s and 1870s, several bathhouses at Coney Island were constructed for the purpose of changing clothes, renting bathing suits, and/or taking public showers. In urban areas, such as New York City in the late 19th century, bathhouses (or public places for washing up) were also scattered across the city as a health and hygiene effort due to crowded housing and shared bathrooms.
Boardwalk—This is a wooden plank walkway typically constructed at the seashore or over a marshy area. The boardwalk on Coney Island was the main entrance to several amusement parks at Coney over the years and today hosts a variety of small restaurants.
Brighton Beach—This is one of the beaches at Coney Island and is located at the south end of Brooklyn. Brighton Beach is named for the English seaside resort city of Brighton. The Brighton Beach resort, Coney Island, was built in 1868 and was one of several hotels available for tourists at Coney.
Bowery—During the turn of the 20th century, the Bowery stretched from West 10th Street all the way to the Steeplechase Park entrance at West 16th. At one point, the six blocks of the Bower housed many saloons, dance halls, public baths, and theaters. During World War II, the Bowery became primarily a destination for drinking. Games and a penny arcade later lined this small street, known as the underbelly of Coney Island.
Carousel—William F. Mangels patented the gears that controlled the galloping motion on carousels in 1907. Mangels opened a carousel horse-carving factory at Coney Island. The horses carved at Coney had a distinctive, colorful, and realistic style with horses displaying expressive and animated features. These distinctive Coney island carousel horses were carved by Marcus Illions, Charles Looff, Charles Carmel, Solomon Stein, and Harry Goldstein.
Centennial Iron Tower—This historic structure was purchased at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and opened to the public July 4, 1876 at Coney Island. This tower was 300 feet high and offered several observation decks.
Coney Island of the Mind—This phrase refers to a collection of poetry written by Lawrence Ferlinghetti published in 1958. Ferlinghetti included several poems that refer to his time growing up in New York.
Cyclone—This track roller coaster opened at Coney Island in 1927 and is still in operation today. Its design has influenced many roller coasters across the country. More than 30 different roller coasters were built at Coney Island from 1884 through the 1930s.
Dreamland Park—This amusement park opened in 1904 and was destroyed by a fire in 1911. This was the last of the big three amusement parks in Coney Island.
Elephant Hotel—This 122-foot elephant-shaped hotel opened at Coney Island’s Brighton Beach in August 1844 as a tourist attraction and a place to stay. Although a popular family attraction, it also attracted prostitutes and their clients. It burned down in 1896.
George C. Tilyou—This entrepreneur opened Steeplechase Park in 1897 inspired by visiting the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Tilyou intended to create a seaside park in New York—a Central Park by the shore.
Luna Park—Fred Thompson and Elmer Dundy opened Luna Park in 1903, a park that was illuminated by 250,000 electric lights and featured Thompson and Dundy’s famous attraction “A Trip to the Moon.”
Major Mite—Born as Clarence Chesterfield Howerton in 1913, this individual was part of Coney Island’s sideshow scene. His stature (only two feet tall) provided him with his livelihood—he travelled with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (often appearing with the world’s tallest man), and appeared in the Wizard of Oz among other films. He died in 1975.
Melting Pot—A term that refers to a place where people of different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and lifestyles come together or are mixed together inadvertently.
Mermaid Parade—The founders of the non-profit organization, Coney Island USA, launched the Mermaid Parade as an annual event (similar to Mardi Gras) that is held on the summer solstice with floats, marching bands, mummers, flags, and banners. The first Mermaid Parade at Coney Island was in 1983. It has replaced the Fourth of July as the biggest annual draw at Coney Island.
Morris Engel—Engel was a Brooklyn photographer who worked for many national magazines and filmed the motion picture Little Fugitive with his wife, photographer Rugh Orkin, in 1953. Little Fugitive is a film about a 7-year old boy who runs away to Coney Island.
Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs—On the Bowery outside of the amusement parks is this concessionaire, who still operates today. In the 1930s, a visitor could eat a Nathan’s hot dog for five cents. Nathan Handwerker established this eatery in 1916 after working for a time with Charles Feltman. Feltman was a German immigrant who owned a Coney resort and invented the American “hot dog” in 1874.
The Nickel Empire—This is another name for Coney Island in the 1930s, where for five cents, a person could take the subway to the beach and boardwalk, ride rides, see performances, and eat hot dogs. From 1930–1939 Coney was known as the “Poor Man’s Riviera” and the “Paradise for the Proletariat.”
Parachute Jump—In 1941, the Parachute Jump was moved from the 1939–40 New York World’s Fair and was placed at Steeplechase Park. Ten (out of twelve) chutes typically operated daily and jumpers could ride for 35–50 cents (depending on the size of the crowd). This ride was popular during World War II especially.
Percy’s Pocket Dictionary of Coney Island—This 1880s publication provided a guided overview of the Coney Island seashore complete with maps and detailed descriptions of bathing opportunities, hotels, railroad transportation, restaurants, and other amusements available to tourists who wished to explore the area.
Pip And Flip—Sisters Jenny Lee and Elvira Snow from Georgia were born with microcephaly, a neuro-developmental disorder characterized by an abnormally small cranium and brain. The Snow sisters became known as “Pip and Flip” and were part of the World Circus Sideshow at Coney Island and were marketed as being from an exotic culture instead of being associated with their condition.
Resort—A place or destination for vacation or recreation that is frequented for that purpose.
Steeplechase Park—This park, opened in 1897 by George C. Tilyou, was part circus, fairground, world’s fair, and dime museum that featured a mechanical racecourse, and a gondola cruise among other rides. It burned down in 1907, was rebuilt by Tilyou, and became the longest-running amusement park in Coney Island until it closed in 1966. Steeplechase Park Funny Face was the signature icon, which resulted in the site’s nickname, “The Funny Place.”
Spook-a-Rama—This was the longest ride at Coney Island. Passengers were seated in high-backed chairs and rode through a pair of swinging doors and underneath a blood-red waterfall and past cheesy dramas enacted by monstrous spiders, junked mannequins, and cult-horror characters.
Surf Avenue—This is the main avenue at Coney Island and is parallel to the boardwalk on the beachfront.
The Ten-in-One—This was the nickname of the Coney Island sideshows, named for the one ticket that granted entry to ten sideshow attractions. Some sideshows were inside the parks but others were on the Bowery, a short street outside the park gates.
Thunderbolt roller coaster—This wooden roller coaster designed by John Miller operated at Coney Island from 1925 until 1982, when it was torn down. A new steel namesake Thunderbolt rollercoaster replaced it at Luna Park in 2014.
Tornado roller coaster—This roller coaster opened in 1926 and closed in 1997 at Coney Island. It was designed by Fred Church and operated by Fred Thompson along the Bowery.
Topsy the Elephant—Topsy the elephant was executed by electricians for the Edison Company at the former site of the Elephant Hotel at Coney Island. The 1903 execution served as a publicity stunt at Luna Park. After she was tormented with a lit cigarette, the abused elephant became unruly, and the owners decided to kill her. The execution had an audience of an estimated fifteen hundred witnesses and was filmed by Thomas Edison’s movie studio.
Tunnel of Laffs—This ride was located on the Bowery at Coney Island and like the Spook-a-Rama, featured a dark side.
Weegee—Born Arthur Fellig, in 1899, he earned the nickname Weegee during his early career as a press photographer in New York City. His sixth sense for crime-often led him to a crime scene ahead of police—similar to the fortune- and future-telling properties of the Ouija board. Weegee also worked as a filmmaker, performer, and technical consultant.
William F. Mangels—Mangels was an amusement manufacturer and inventor who worked for Fred Thompson. He manufactured carousels at Luna Park, Coney Island, and invented the ride “The Whip” among others. He produced galloping horse carousels.
Woody Guthrie—Singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie came to New York after travelling the United States and writing the song, “This Land is Your Land.” He moved to Coney Island at 3520 Mermaid Avenue with his wife and three young children. He died in 1967 in a hospital in Queens, New York, following a 15-year battle with Huntington’s disease.
Wonderland Circus Sideshow, Coney Island—This was Coney Island’s longest-lasting sideshow on the Bowery.
World Circus Sideshow—Sam Wagner’s World Circus Sideshow operated between 1922–1941 and was located on Surf Avenue at Coney Island. It featured many famous attractions and performers. The first tent sideshow performers at Coney Island appeared in the 1880s on the beach.
Wonder Wheel—It was built in 1918-1920 by the Eccentric Ferris Wheel Company and opened at Coney Island in 1920. It is one of the oldest rides in Coney Island and is an official New York City landmark.
Exhibition Reference Materials
To download this bibliography, click here.
Materials accompanying the exhibition are marked with an asterisk (*).
Books for Adults
Adams, Judith A. The American Amusement Park Industry: A History of Technology and Thrills. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991.
Adams, Rachael. Sideshow U.S.A.: Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.
Baker, Kevin. Dreamland. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006.
Berman, John S. Coney Island. New York: Barnes and Noble Publishing Inc., 2003.
Bogdan, Robert. Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
Braden, Donna R. Leisure and Entertainment in America. Dearborn: Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, 1988.*
Carlin, John. Coney Island of the Mind: Images of Coney Island in Art and Popular Culture, 1890–1960. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art.
Cohen, Marilyn. Reginald Marsh’s New York: Paintings, Drawings, Prints, and Photographs. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1983.
Cross, Gary S. and John K. Walton. The Playful Crowd: Pleasure Places in the Twentieth Century. New York: Columbia University, 2005.*
Cudahy, Brian J. How We Got to Coney Island: The Development of Mass Transportation in Brooklyn and Kings County. New York: Fordham University Press, 2002.
Daly, Michael. Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked Tailed Elephant, P.T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2013.
Dennett, Andrea Stulman. Weird and Wonderful: The Dime Museum in America. New York: New York University Press, 1997.
Denson, Charles. Coney Island: Lost and Found. New York: Ten Speed Press, 2002.*
___________. Images of America: Coney Island and Astroland. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2011.*
___________. Wild Ride!: A Coney Island Roller Coaster Family. Berkeley, CA: Dreamland Press, 2007.
Ferlinghetti, Lawrence. A Coney Island of the Mind: Poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. New York: New Directions, 1958.*
Fried, Frederick. A Pictorial History of the Carousel. Vestal: Vestal Press, 1997.
Frank, Robin and Charles Denson. Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008. Hartford: Yale University Press, 2015.*
Haenni, Sabine. The Immigrant Scene: Ethnic Amusements in New York, 1820–1920. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.
Hagley Museum and Library. Centuries of Progress: American World’s Fairs 1853–1982. Wilmington: Hagley Museum and Library, 2006.*
Hammer, Carl and Gideon Bosker. Freak Show: Sideshow Banner Art. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1996.
Hartzman, Marc. America Sideshow: An Encyclopedia of History’s Most Wondrous and Curiously Strange Performers. New York: Penguin, 2005.*
Haskell, Barbara and Joseph Stella. Joseph Stella. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994.
Henry, O. “Brick Dust Row,” in The Trimmed Lamp, and Other Stories of the Four Million. Garden City: Doubleday, 1907. http://americanliterature.com/author/o-henry/short-story/brickdust-row
Hoffman, Laura. Coney Island: Postcard History. Mount Pleasant: Arcadia Publishing, 2014.*
Ierardi, Eric J. Gravesend: The Home of Coney Island. Mount Pleasant: Arcadia Publishing, 2001.
___________. Gravesend Brooklyn: Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay. Mount Pleasnt: Arcardia Publishing, 1996.
Immerso, Michael. Coney Island: The People’s Playground. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002.*
Kasson, John F. Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century. New York: Hiss & Wang, 1978.
Kyrianzi, Gary. The Great American Amusement Parks: A Pictorial History. 1978.
Lilliefors, James. America’s Boardwalks: From Coney Island to California. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2006.
Mangels, William F. The Outdoor Amusement Industry: From Earliest Times to the Present. New York: Vantage Press, 1952.
Manns, William and Peggy Shank. Painted Ponies: American Carousel Art. Santa Fe: Zon International Publishing, 1986.*
Marsh, Reginald. Reginald Marsh: Coney Island. Fort Wayne: Fort Wayne Museum of Art, 1991.
Miller, Henry. Black Spring. New York: Grove Press, 1994.
Musser, Charles. Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
Onorato, Michael Paul. Another Time, Another World: Coney Island Memories. Fullerton: Onorato and California State University, Oral History Program, 1988.
Onorato, Michael Paul and Daniel Pisark. Steeplechase Park and the Decline of Coney Island: An Oral History. Bellingham: Pacific Rim Books, 2003.
Parascandola, Louis J. and John Parascandola (editors). A Coney Island Reader: Through Dizzy Gates of Illusion. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.*
Pilat, Oliver and Jo Ranson. Sodom by the Sea: An Affectionate History of Coney Island. Garden City, Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1941.
Rabinovitz, Lauren. Electric Dreamland: Amusement Parks, Movies, and American Modernity. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.
Register, Woody. The Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.*
Samuelson, Dale and Wendy Yegoiants. American Amusement Park. Saint Paul: MBI, 2001.*
Scheiber, Barbara. We’ll Go to Coney Island: A Novel in Stories. Philadephia: Sowilo Press, 2014.
Snow, Richard F. Coney Island: A Postcard Journey to the City of Fire. New York: Brightwaters Press, 1984.
Stein, Harvey. Coney Island: 40 Years. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 2011.*
Stencell, A. W. Seeing is Believing: America’s Sideshows. Toronto: ECW Press, 2022.
Sterngass, Jon. First Resorts: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport, and Coney Island. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
Weedon, Geoff. Fairground Art: The Art Forms of Travelling Fairs, Carousels, and Carnival Midways. New York: Abbeville Press, 1985.
Zimiles, Murray, Stacy Hollander, and Vivian Mann. Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses: The Synagogue to the Carousel. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2007.
Books for Younger Readers
Altebrando, Tara. Dreamland Social Club. New York: Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2011.
Greenberg, Melanie Hope. Mermaids on Parade. New York: G. P. Putnams Sons Books for Young Readers, 2008.
Linden, Joanne. Ben & Zip: Two Short Friends. Chicago: Flashlight Press, 2014.
Nuño, Fran and Enrique Quevedo. Fairground Lights. Madrid: Cuento de Luz, 2015.
McLoughlin Brothers. Johnny Headstrong’s Trip to Coney Island. Carlisle: Applewood Books, 2011.*
Milford, Kate. The Broken Lands. Boston: Clarion Books, 2012.
Rose, Deborah Lee. The Rose Horse. San Diego: Harcourt Children’s Books, 1995.
Smith Hyde, Heidi. Feivel’s Flying Horses. Minneapolis: Kar-Ben Publishers, 2010.*
Sullivan, Maureen. Custard and Mustard: Carlos in Coney Island. Riverhead: Mojo Inkworks, 2009.*
Tullet, Hervé. The Game of Mirrors. London: Phaidon Press, 2014.
American Experience: Coney Island. DVD. 1991; Directed by Ric Burns. Alexandria: PBS, 2006.*
Annie Hall. Directed by Woody Allen. DVD. New York: Rollins-Joffe Productions, 1977.
Boardwalk. Directed by Stephen Verona. DVD. New York: Stratford, 1979.
Coney Island. Directed by Walter Lang. DVD. Los Angeles: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 1943.
Coney Island: Dreams for Sale. DVD. Directed by Alessandra Giordano. Los Angeles: Cinedigm Studio, 2013.
Coney Island: The Early Days Film Collection. DVD. Anderson: The Historical Archive, 2006.*
Coney Island Honeymoon. Directed by Arnold Albert. Burbank: Warner Brothers, 1945.
Coney Island U.S.A. Directed by Valentine Shevy. 1952.
The Devil and Miss Jones. Directed by Sam Wood. DVD. Chicago: Olive Films, 1941.*
Enemies, A Love Story. DVD. 1989; Burbank: Warner Home Video, 2002.
Famous Nathan. Directed by Lloyd Handwerker. DVD. New York: Film Movement, 2015.
Freaks. Directed by Tod Browning. DVD. 1932; Burbank: Warner Home Video, 2005.*
The Gilded Lily. Directed by Wesley Ruggles. DVD. 1935; New York: Universal Studios, 2011.*
He Got Game. Directed by Spike Lee. DVD. Burbank: Touchstone Entertainment, 1998.*
Happy Ride, Coney Island. Short film. Directed by Gary Beeber, 2005.
Little Fugitive. Directed by Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin, and Ray Ashley. DVD; 1953. New York: Kino Lorber Films, 2008.
Requiem for a Dream. Directed by Darren Aronfsky. DVD. 2000; Santa Monica: Lionsgate Films (Artisan Home Entertainment), 2001.*
Silent Classics: Amusement Park Antics. Directed by Edwin S. Porter and Hal Roach. DVD. Eden Prairie: Alpha Video, 2014.*
Speedy. Directed by Ted Wilde. DVD. 1928; Criterion Collection, 2015.*
The Warriors. Directed by Walter Hill. DVD, 1979; Burbank: Warner Brothers, 2005.
Weegee’s New York. Directed by Weegee (Arthur Fellig). 1948.
Went to Coney Island on a Mission from God—Be Back by Five. Directed by Richard Schenkman. DVD. 1998; Troy: Anchor Bay, 2008.
Zipper: Coney Island’s Last Wild Ride. Directed by Amy Nicholson. New York: Cinema Guild, 2012.
Carousel History and Carving
Carousel History and Terms
This site features definitions of various styles of carousel styles.
How to Make a Carousel Horse
This five-minute video reveals the steps to design and carve a carousel horse.
Step-by-Step Photos to Make a Carousel Horse
The Spokane Antique Carousel Society website has thirty-seven step-by-step photos from the creation of one carousel horse, from drawing to painting the carved finished work. The site also contains links to other carousels and carousel resources.
Coney Island Amusements and Amusement Park History
6 Early Amusement Parks
The History Channel’s website features information about early American amusement parks.
Amusement Parks in America
This site is about the history of amusement parks, including those on Coney Island, with pages on specific parks throughout the United States.
National Amusement Park Historical Association
The National Amusement Park Historical Association’s website contains facts and figures, timelines, photographs, and links to historic parks.
Lost Amusement Park Listing by City or State
The National Amusement Park Historical Association site also features a link devoted to historic amusement parks across the United States that are now defunct.
Luna Park at Coney Island Parachute Jump
The current Luna Park at Coney Island website contains a few short paragraphs about the history of the parachute jump amusement.
Coney Island Parachute Jump
This website provides a brief history of the Parachute Jump amusement at Coney Island.
Wonderland Circus Sideshow
This website contains photos and information about Coney Island sideshows and “freaks.”
Roller Coaster History
This website hosted by the American Coaster Enthusiasts features roller coaster history, design information, and links to a list of roller coasters by state, park, or name. The site is also searchable to locate expert members in various regions of the United States to speak about particular sites.
Coney Island (General)
Coney Island Bathhouses and Beaches
History House Photos—this page of this online archive describes Coney’s beaches—their history and their development as resorts.
Coney Island USA
Coney Island USA is a museum and producer of performance programs related to Coney Island and traditions of sideshows and circus culture.
Coney Island (PBS)
This site provides information about Coney Island, the film produced by PBS, and includes a teacher guide, timeline, gallery of images and more.
Coney Island 3-D Version of Luna Park
This is a short video made by artist Fred Kahl that recreates Luna Park using a 3-D printer featured on Time magazine’s website.
Save Coney Island
This organization is committed to restoring the historic district of Coney Island as a world-class amusement destination. The website features links to articles, information about historic structures, and more.
This is the website for the current Luna Park at Coney Island where one can view the current rides, see the plan for the future, read about the history of the park, and understand the current business operation.
Coney Island History
America’s Playground: The Development of Coney Island
The Ultimate History Project provides a good synopsis of the history, settlement, and development of Coney Island.
This site, created by students at Middlebury College, features, images, a timeline, and links to works of literature about Coney Island.
Coney Island History
This site features information about the history of Coney Island including timelines, articles, photographs, interactive maps, and a list of movies filmed in Coney Island locations.
Coney Island History Project
The Coney Island History Project is a not-for-profit organization that aims to increase awareness of Coney Island by providing access to historical artifacts and documentary material through educational exhibits, events, and this website. The website features an oral history project with recorded stories about Coney Island as told by local residents and information about famous Coney Island figures in history.
Coney Island Remembered Film
Coney Island Remembered is a New York Humanities Council documentary and is available here on YouTube.
Coney Island 1900s Film Footage
This YouTube 20-minute silent film features 1900-era footage of beachgoers at Coney Island and a brief history of the amusement parks Steeplechase, Dreamland, and Luna Park.
Coney Island 1940s Film Footage
This 10-minute 1940s-era film features footage of Coney Island beachgoers and aspects of the park food, roller coasters, etc.).
Heart of Coney Island
This website hosted by the Heart of Coney Island explores the history of Coney Island and its amusement parks.
Percy’s Pocket Dictionary of Coney Island
This 1880 publication provides maps and information about how to get to Coney Island and is available as an online version through the Library of Congress.
Coney Island Images
Contemporary Photographs of Coney Island
This website of New York City Parks & Recreation Department features images of Coney Island boardwalk, beach, and rides.
Harvey Stein Photographs
This New York Times article slide show features 10 photographs by Harvey Stein and brief information about Coney Island.
History House Photographs
This website features historical postcards and photographs of sites including Coney Island.
Hot Dogs and Coney Island
History Channel: Hot Dog History
This online article provides a short history on the hotdog in America and its tie to Coney Island.
New York vs. Chicago Hot Dog Recipes
This online video presents step-by-step instructions for making a Chicago-style hotdog or New York-style hotdog.
National Hot Dog and Sausage Council Hotdog History
The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council website describes the history of the frankfurter and its emergence as a “hot dog” in America.
National Hot Dog and Sausage Council hotdog recipes
The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council website features a page that describes regional hot dog specialty recipes.
History of Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest
This article describes how the hot dog eating contest originated and the history of Nathan’s hot dogs.
Class and Leisure at America’s First Resort
This site provides information to compare and contrast Coney Island settlement and patterns of class and leisure with that of Newport, Rhode Island to provide context for examining and investigating the history and settlement patterns and class divisions in other resorts or amusement parts across the country.
Leisure and Entertainment
This lesson plan created by the National Endowment for the Humanities features information about “Having Fun: Leisure and Entertainment at the Turn of the Twentieth Century”.
PBS Film “Coney Island” Teacher Materials
This online teacher’s guide contains suggested questions for discussion for the classroom, an online timeline, thumbnail images, topics such as technology and roller coaster history, and links to people and events tied to Coney History for classroom teaching.
Timeline of Coney Island
To download this timeline, click here.
The town of Gravesend authorized the formation of the Coney Island Road and Bridge Company to provide better access to Coney Island and opened the Shell Road (paved with oyster shells) and installed a wooden bridge over Coney Island Creek.
The Coney Island Road and Bridge Company opened the first hotel, Coney Island House.
A tent-covered circular dance platform called the Pavilion was constructed at Coney Island and was considered its first “amusement.”
Steamboat service from Manhattan to a pier near the Pavilion at Coney Island was introduced for a fare of 12 1⁄2 cents.
The Coney Island and Brooklyn Railroad opened a horse car line—the first direct rail line into Coney Island.
German immigrant Charles Feltman came to Coney Island and opened a small saloon, which later expanded into the largest restaurant at Coney Island. Feltman sold German-style sausages on a bun, a food that became known as the “hot dog.”
Andrew Culver bought out the old Coney Island Road and Bridge Company and ran a steam railroad along its route and built a beachfront terminal.
The Centennial Tower, bought by Thomas Culver at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 (the first world’s fair held in the United States), opened July 4, at Coney Island.
The Manhattan Beach Hotel, a summertime resort for the wealthy at Manhattan Beach at Coney Island, opened for business.
Coney Island’s first steam railroad was completed— the Brooklyn Flatbush and Coney Island Railroad.
Hotel Brighton at Brighton Beach, a seaside resort that catered to the wealthy, opened.
This year, more than one million visitors came to Brighton Beach by railroad.
James V. Lafferty’s famous Elephant Hotel opened at West Twelfth Street.
One of the first roller coasters in America opened at Coney Island, the Switchback Railway.
The World’s Columbian Exposition opened in Chicago. This was the first world’s fair with a separate amusement area (midway)—this midway inspired Coney Island’s amusements.
America’s first bike path, designed and built by Frederic Law Olmsted, opened along Ocean Parkway connecting Coney Island to the rest of Brooklyn.
Paul Boyton built the world’s first enclosed amusement park (Sea Lion Park) at Coney Island that featured a roller coaster, a Shoot-the-Chutes ride, and a circus.
George Tilyou opened Steeplechase Park that featured a mechanical horse race and other amusements. The Tennessee Centennial Exposition in Nashville, Tennessee took place.
The Trans-Mississippi Exposition was held in Omaha, Nebraska.
The Pan-American Exposition took place in Buffalo, New York.
Luna Park is opened by Fred Thompson and Elmer “Skip” Dundy—the park enfolded Boyton’s Shoot-the-Chutes amusement and a lagoon as its centerpiece.
Dreamland Park, founded by William H. Reynolds and a small group of New York politicians), opened directly opposite Luna Park. The Louisiana Purchase Exposition took place in Saint Louis, Missouri.
A fire destroyed parts of Steeplechase Park and the park was rebuilt by George Tilyou.
The Jamestown Tercentenary Exposition took place in Jamestown, Virginia.
The Alaska-Yukon International Exposition took place in Seattle, Washington.
Dreamland’s attraction Hell Gate caught on fire and destroyed the entire park.
San Francisco held the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. San Diego held the Panama-California Exposition.
Nathan Handwerker started a nickel hot dog stand at Coney Island.
The “New West End” subway terminal (today known as Stillwell Avenue Terminal) was built at Coney Island.
The Wonder Wheel opened at Coney Island.
The Big Dipper roller coaster opened.
The first completed section of the new Coney Island Boardwalk was completed.
The Thunderbolt roller coaster opened.
The Sesquicentennial International Exposition opened in Philadelphia.
The Cyclone roller coaster opened at Coney Island. The Half Moon Hotel opened.
The Pacific Southwest Exposition was held in Long Beach, California.
A Century of Progress Exposition was held in Chicago, Illinois.
The New York World’s Fair in Flushing, Meadows Park, took place in Queens.
San Francisco held the Golden Gate International Exposition.
The Parachute Jump was moved to Steeplechase Park from the 1939–40 New York World’s Fair.
Coney Island closed to the public in May and was converted into a training ground for WWII troops. It reopened in June.
Luna Park closed due to a series of fires and decreased revenues.
Astroland Park opened.
Steeplechase Park closed. Real estate developer Fred Trump, (father of Donald), bought the park and demolished it to erect high-rise developments.
Steeplechase Park was demolished.
Coney Island USA a non-profit organization, was created for the purpose of revitalizing the sideshow tradition at Coney Island.
The Thunderbolt roller coaster closed.
The first Mermaid Parade, an annual event organized by Coney Island U.S. A. that celebrates the start of the summer in June, took place.
The Cyclone roller coaster was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Coney Island History Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to increase awareness about Coney Island, opened.
Astroland Park closed.
The B & B Carousell at Coney Island was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Illustrated Talk: History of the Carousel
Use the carousel horse exhibition content as a topic for an illustrated talk about the history of the carousel, carousel horse carving and fabrication, and/or relate it specifically to Coney Island carvers in comparison to carousel factories elsewhere in the United States. Connect to regional carousel museums, refurbished carousels, or other carousel resources in your region.
Illustrated Talk: History of Coney Island
Invite a Coney Island historian and/or Coney Island exhibition curator Robin Jaffee Frank to present an illustrated lecture about the history of Coney Island and how it has been depicted through various artists’ works over time.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti: Poems about Place
Use select poems written by Lawrence Ferlinghetti about Coney Island and Brooklyn as a starting point for a discussion about memory and poetic description of place. Engage a local or regional poet to host a reading of Ferlinghetti’s work and compare/contrast it to other poems that evoke a similar experience. Consider pairing the reading and examination of Ferlinghetti’s work with a poetry-writing workshop.
Family Day: Swimming at the Seashore
Host an all-ages event that provides a virtual escape to the seashore (no matter what time of year it is). Have participants pose for photos at a cut-out photo station featuring two-dimensional bodies wearing men’s and women’s vintage bathing costumes. Engage visitors in creating a three- dimensional “play-scape” diorama image of themselves at the seashore using paper, scissors, and crayons or colored pencils. Engage visitors in looking for beach-related items in the exhibition, invite musical performers to create atmosphere, and consider other creative play activities (sand castle contest outdoors in a parking lot sandbox, etc.) Relate the Coney boardwalk and beach area to a regional body of water and beach-like experience.
Use the bibliography in this programming guide to craft a film series related to Coney Island content. Consider collaborating with Joshua Glick (a suggested speaker in this guide) and screening his short film This Side of Dreamland to discuss the life of Marie Roberts (together with artist Marie Roberts, also featured as a speaker in this guide) to reflect on Coney Island past and present. Reach out to Deborah Gaudet, Curator of Film and Theatre at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art for additional assistance in crafting a film series.
Sideshows: A Discussion of Difference, Human Exhibition, and Identity
Invite Circus Amok founder and Pratt Institute faculty member Jennifer Miller to engage in a conversation with author Rachel Adams about American culture, featured performers, and aspects of sideshow life related to carnival and amusement park life and history.
The Amusement Park in American Culture: Past and Present
Consider engaging Donna Braden, author of Leisure and Entertainment in America, to present a lecture about the history and rise of amusement parks and similar forms of entertainment in the United States in the early 20th century. Compare and contrast local and regional amusement parks to Coney Island.
Race and Identity at Coney Island
Coney Island was a melting pot of ethnicity, race, and socioeconomic status. Invite William Frank Mitchell, Executive Director of The Amistad Center for Visual Art & Culture at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art to engage in conversation with Coney Island exhibition curator Robin Jaffee Frank to discuss how Coney Island transcended social boundaries.
Banner Painting Workshop: Put Yourself in the Sideshow
Invite Coney Island artist Marie Roberts to discuss her work and life at Coney Island, then engage teen participants in a banner painting activity using themselves (and aspects of their personality, strengths, or weaknesses) as subject for a sideshow. Each workshop participant will craft a banner emphasizing his or her special ability as an imaginary sideshow attraction.
Illustrated Talk: Photographing Coney Island
Host a lecture that explores various photographers’ works that feature Coney Island as subject. Consider inviting New York artist Harvey Stein to share images from his publication Coney Island 40 Years and discuss his work. Engage Erin Monroe, the Robert H. Schutz Jr. Assistant Curator of American Painting and Sculpture at the Wadsworth Atheneum to speak about various photographers’ depictions of Coney Island and how these images have changed over time.
Host an afterschool or in-service educator event specifically for area K-12 teachers at your museum to relate aspects of content featured in the exhibition—Coney Island history and development, technology and tourism, patterns of leisure in America, etc. Allow time for teachers to explore the exhibition on their own, then discuss teachable topics related to art, history, geography, literature, and other aspects of American popular culture. Invite guest speakers (as desired), and consider collaborating with regional amusement parks or American studies departments at your local or regional university. Make use of the lesson ideas included in this programming guide.
Roller Coaster History and Mechanics
Consider hosting a program about the history of roller coasters in America and iconic and historic roller coasters in your region or community to compare with Coney Island. Engage the America Coaster Enthusiasts non-profit to locate a suitable historian and speaker who can present an interesting program about design and mechanical aspects of various American roller coasters.
Connecting With Local and Regional Experts
Contact local groups with whom you might wish to collaborate for program design, audience development, or speaker outreach. Some ideas related to this exhibition:
- American Studies Department at a local or regional university
- History Department at a local or regional university
- Art History and Art Department at a local or regional university
- Regional art centers and art museums
- Local historical societies and cultural centers
- Local or regional amusement park
Your state arts council, state humanities council or regional arts organizations may also be able to help you locate regional speakers who would be willing to be involved in a program or event at your museum.
- A list of state arts councils can be found at http://arts.endow.gov/partner/state/SAA_RAO_list.html, or call the National Endowment for the Arts at 202-682-5400.
- A list of state humanities councils can be found at http://www.neh.gov/whoweare/statecouncils.html, or call the National Endowment for the Humanities at 800-NEH (634)-1121.
- The U.S. Regional Arts Organizations represents six nonprofit entities created to encourage development of the arts and to support arts programs on a regular basis. Their website is http://www.usregionalarts.org/ and lists all state arts agencies. You can also check your regional arts organization for information on its performing arts programs.
Lesson 1: People's Playground Poetry
Download the lesson here, including step-by-step instructions, a worksheet, and connections to Common Core standards.
Lesson 2: Handmade Horses and History of the Carousel
This lesson uses the carousel horse featured in the exhibition Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland as inspiration for students to learn about the history of the carousel, understand how carousel horses were made and who carved them, and provides students an opportunity to design and fabricate a version of a carousel horse using papier mâché.
Download the lesson here, including step-by-step instructions, a worksheet, and connections to Common Core standards.
Lesson 3: See Yourself at the Seashore
Using inspiration from images of the beach at Coney Island and the template included in the education outreach kit and sample cardstock, invite students to use their imaginations to sketch themselves at the seashore.
Download the lesson here, including step-by-step instructions, a worksheet, and connections to Common Core standards.