Friday, January 6, 2012

Coney Island's Fading Freak Culture

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. The borough south of Manhattan and the cultural hodgepodge of the big city. On the southernmost shores of this eclectic town is a place called Coney Island. From the first hotel built in the late 1820s right up until World War II, Coney Island beckoned tourists with elegance and grace. A major resort destination and a day getaway for urbanites, it caught the nickname the "playground of the world". By the turn of the century, in the early 1900s, it featured amusement parks, games and the famous Nathan's original hot dog stand.
When the Great Depression struck, Coney Island's fame for elegance and grace amid fun and games took a turn. According to the Parachute Pavilion, "The area became a 'Nickel Empire' of cheap amusements; a nickel paid the fare on the new subway line, and visitors were greeted by the original Nathan’s Famous, home of the five-cent hot dog." Thus, the sideshow came into play, and freak culture rose.
At the turn of the next century, in the early 2000s, plans by development corporations came under fire by the public. Proposed condos would decimate much of the historic area including the amusement park, Astroland, which closed in 2008. In an attempt to salvage the remnants of the once iconic Coney Island, Luna Park (the name of the original amusement park) opened in 2010, courtesy of Italian company, Zamperla (Blick 3). With it, came a brief revitalization of the brilliant lights and sideshows that paid homage to the Coney Island of the past, and kept local business open.
Sadly, such wonders did not last. After the 2010 summer season, "Zamperla decided (or perhaps, revealed) that the old Boardwalk businesses didn’t fit with the new vision for Coney Island. It refused to renew the businesses' leases for the 2011 summer, effectively closing them down" (Blick 3). Eight businesses, known as the Coney Island 8, fought to regain their leases and maintain the old Coney Island culture. The fight did little to save the area.
As Mayor Bloomberg and the city set plans for a new modern Coney Island plan, the freak culture that built this amusement park wonderland slowly fades away. The "new vision" of Coney Island has no place for this mix of fun and games for, according to Bloomberg, it seeks to "modernise and sanitise" (Blick 3). As 2012 descends upon us, it is difficult to say what lay in store for Coney Island. Not everyone is against this "new vision". With the area riddled from high crime and residents below the poverty line, some locals believe change is necessary.
While I agree the burned out buildings, abandoned shops, and high crime rate must be fixed, I fear this "sanitising" will destroy the flavor and freak culture that created this vibrant wonderland. When chain restaurants replace mom and pop shops and Cirque de Soleil overtakes the sideshow attractions, Coney Island may lose its eclectic charm and personality to become just another conglomerate owned tourist attraction.


"Background." Coney Island History. The Parachute Pavilion, n.d. Web. 6 January 2012.

Blick, James. "The Battle for Coney Island." James Blick. James Blick, n.d. Web. 6 January 2012.


  1. Very true. I also believe that it needs to be cleaned up, but the loss of the original culture is a real shame. I think both can be done at the same time if everyone agrees to keep original "flavor" of the place.

  2. i hate when a part of history is 'revamped'. Coney Island actually plays a major part in one of my character's life. And she even celebrates her birthday there. The new vision might not go along so well with mine when it comes to that scene. I'll probably have to rewrite it according the changes they end up making.

  3. Super interesting post! I never knew much about Coney Island, other than reading about the original destination in the All of a Kind Family books as a kid. Thanks for the info :)

  4. It's so sad to see a part of history disappearing like this. :( Thank you for sharing it with us.

  5. I hate to say that I've never been to Coney Island, but you hear so much about it. It's a shame to think that it won't be there in similar fashion as before.

    Your pictures are wonderful, Tina!