Tag Archives: amusement parks

The Wheel: Ferris’ Big Idea (Special Preview of The First Podcast)

This is a special preview for the new Bowery Boys spin-off podcast series The First: Stories of Inventions and their Consequences, brought to you by Bowery Boys host Greg Young.

01: The first Ferris Wheel was invented to become America’s Eiffel Tower, making its grand debut at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. The wheel’s inventor George Washington Gale Ferris was a clever and optimistic soul; he did everything in his power to ensure that his glorious mechanical ride would forever change the world.

That it did, but unfortunately, its inventor paid a horrible price.

FEATURING a visit the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island, one of the most famous wheels in the world, and a trip to one of Chicago’s newest marvels — the Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

And subscribe to The First here so that you don’t miss future episodes!

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
01 THE WHEEL: FERRIS’ BIG IDEA (The First Special Preview)

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

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The star of the show — George Washington Gale Ferris:

gwferris

… and the Ferris Wheel at the World’s Fair!

chicago-worlds-fair-1893-chicago-history-museum-01-2

 

Courtesy Chicago History Museum
Courtesy Chicago History Museum

Some intriguing finds I made while researching at the Chicago History Museum and the National Archives:

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The telegram from Luther Rice to George Washington Ferris that was read on the show:

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This was also featured on the show — the passionate letter from Ferris, asking Rice to join the project

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Images of wheel construction courtesy Scientific American.

Courtesy Scientific American
Courtesy Scientific American
Courtesy Scientific American
Courtesy Scientific American
Courtesy Scientific American
Courtesy Scientific American
Courtesy Scientific American
Courtesy Scientific American

 

New York Times, May 13, 1894 — This article mentioned the plan to move the Ferris Wheel to New York (but the plan fell through)

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From the New York Times, March 1, 1898

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PLACES TO VISIT:

The Chicago Navy Pier (featured on the show)

Chicago History Museum (featured on the show)

The Midway Pleasance and Jackson Park, Chicago

The Ferris House in Pittsburgh, PA

The Sears-Ferris House in Carson City, Nevada

The Wonder Wheel and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, Coney Island, Brooklyn (featured on the show)

The High Roller, Las Vegas, Nevada

Weiter Riesenrad (Vienna’s Giant Ferris Wheel), Vienna, Austria

THINGS TO READ:

Ferris Wheels: An Illustrated History by Norman Anderson

Circles In the Sky: The Life and Times of George Ferris by Richard G. Weingardt

Six Months at the Fair by Mrs Mark Stevens

ARTWORK FOR THE FIRST DESIGNED BY THOMAS CABUS. CHECK OUT HIS PORTFOLIO OF OTHER WORK HERE.

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The Bronx World’s Fair of 1918: the failure which became a magical park

Nobody remembers the Bronx World’s Fair of 1918 or, more precisely, the Bronx International Exposition of Science, Arts and Industries. Nor should they really. Modest in scale and only partially completed, the exposition failed to bring the world marvels on the scale of the elevator (from the 1853 Crystal Palace exposition) or the television set (from the 1939-40 World’s Fair in Flushing-Meadows).

It was, in most aspects, a flop. But something very magical — and very nostalgic — arose in its place.

The fair was twenty years in the making, opening on June 29, 1918, two decades after the Bronx had become an official borough of New York. While many areas of the Bronx (as the Annexed District) were already part of New York as early as 1874, it wasn’t until consolidation that Bronx leaders began shaping a new character for this former section of Westchester County.

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But in a sense, the fair was 300 years in the making. It was initially planned as a commemoration of the first European settlement in the Bronx. (NOTE: The park was supposed to open in 1917, although I’m still not sure which measure they’re using to get 1617 as a date of settlement; Jonas Bronck, considered the ‘first’ settler, arrived in 1638.)

The fair was developed on the old grounds of the William Waldorf Astor estate in the neighborhood of West Farms, just to the south of Bronx Park.

From the caption: “Bird’s-Eye View of the Bronx International Exposition Grounds showing the wonderful location in the heart of the great city, and transportation facilities, with railroads, subway and elevated lines, surfactelines and automobile boulevard at the very door.  The Bronx River, providing anchorage for small craft, forms the western boundary  of the exposition grounds.”

Courtesy OutdoorAfro.com
Courtesy OutdoorAfro.com

The fair was meant to “attract foreign trade to this country after the war.”  It was to be a Bronx show-and-tell. “The exposition will bring hundreds of thousands of visitors, who will have the chance to see the Bronx at its very best. There is no reason, it is said, why a certain percentage of those newcomers might not become interested in real estate.” [source]

From a 1917 advertisement in Billboard Maazine attempting to drum up exhibitors.

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Below: Grand plans indeed. What the Bronx fair was supposed to look like.

Courtesy New York Tribune
Courtesy New York Tribune

 

The fair opened almost one month late, having already been delayed a year due to the war. Even still, when it did open, most of its buildings were yet to be completed. Most would never be finished.   “[T]here are only a dozen buildings and a number of concessions including a restaurant, a roller coaster, a centrifugal swing and a nonsense house,” giving it “the impression of a mini-Coney Island.” [source] [source]

Perhaps the most notable structures at the opening were the bathing pavilion, a private club called Circle de Papellon, and “what is said to be the largest salt water surf swimming pool in the world.”

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Over the coming weeks, fair attendees would attend such free attractions as Madame Torelli’s Comedy Circus, the Lunette Sisters aka “the whirling Geisha Girls,” and performances by the world’s greatest high-diver Kearney P. Speedy.  And there was some kind of “monkey cabaret” as well.

One of the Exposition’s most popular attractions was a small submarine called the Holland, the very first commissioned by the United States Navy.

From the Private Collection Of Ric Hedma
From the Private Collection Of Ric Hedman

 

The fair was ‘international’ in the sense that only one country (Brazil) actually showed up to exhibit anything.  After all, it was entirely unrealistic to expect exhibitors while a war was raging in Europe.  By August, the only headlines coming out of the International Exposition were related to swimming and diving. (“HAWAIIANS REPEAT TRIUMPHS IN TANK.”)

Most the fair’s more serious fare took a backseat to the amusements, as this advertisement from September 1918 indicates. The Exhibition Hall was eventually turned into a skating rink. Although one could enjoy cooking demonstrations and a fine exhibition of hardware:

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By the following year, it was decided to just dispense with the serious stuff entirely.  Well before the fair, there had been much talk of turning the Astor property into an amusement park. After the Exposition ended, that finally came to fruition — as Starlight Park.

Thousands of children descended upon Starlight Park during the summer, one of the popular attractions in the Bronx in the 1920s.

Starlight_Park

One of the park’s centerpieces was a giant stadium called the Coliseum which held up to 15,000 people, often there to cheer on New York’s premier soccer team, the New York Giants, who made Starlight their home from 1923 to 1930.

By the 1930s, most of the rides had closed, but the pool was still a popular draw. The park became a magnet for the area’s working class families, who enjoyed sunbathing, picnicking and, if they stayed after dark, moonlight dancing to live big band music. One of the very first Bronx radio stations WKBQ also made Starlight its broadcasting home in 1931.

Sadly, Starlight met with a rather ungracious fate. The park was slowly demolished over the years and by 1940 it was permanently closed, transformed into a city truck facility. A fire in the late 1940s destroyed any remaining vestiges of the park, and its memory was completely wiped away by expanses of the Cross Bronx Expressway.

Today there’s a children’s playground at around the spot of the old exposition called Starlight Park.

Below: Strike up the band! Conductor V. Bavetta provides musical accompaniment to the visitors of Starlight Park

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

 

 

NOTE: Clips of this article originally appeared in my old 2009 post about Starlight Park.

 

 

PODCAST REWIND: Return to Freedomland U.S.A.!

What is Freedomland U.S.A.? An unusual theme park in the Bronx, only in existence for less than five years, Freedomland has become the object of fascination for New York nostalgia lovers everywhere. Created by an outcast of Walt Disney’s inner circle, Freedomland practically defines 60s kitsch, with dozens of rides and amusements related to saccharine views of American history. Along the way, we’ll take a visit to the Blast-Off Bunker, Casa Loca, and, yes, Borden’s Barn Boudoir!

NOW WITH BONUS CONTENT:  Listen all the way to the end of this show for a special ORIGINAL tour of Freedomland U.S.A.

This was originally released on February 26, 2009. It’s so old that I make a Jonas Brothers joke!

A special illustrated version of the podcast on Freedomland U.S.A. (Episode #77) is now available on our NYC History Archive feed, via  iTunes or other podcast distribution services.  Chapter headings with images have been embedded in this show, so if your listening device is compatible with AAC/M4A files, just hit play and a variety of pictures should pop up.  The audio is superior than the original as well. (This will work as a normal audio file even if the images don’t appear.)

For this and our older episodes (Episodes #5-#75), subscribe to The Bowery Boys: NYC History Archive feed, on iTunes, directly from our host page, or directly via our RSS feed.

___________________________________________________________________________

The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

A map of Freedomland U.S.A., its United States-shaped space divided up into sections like Little Old New York and the Great Plains.

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Sections of the theme park included

Little Old New York

Courtesy Freedomland USA/narratively
Courtesy Freedomland USA/narratively

 

Old Chicago

Courtesy Arcadia Publishing
Courtesy Arcadia Publishing

 

The Great Plains

Courtesy the blog Gorillas Don't Blog
Courtesy the blog Gorillas Don’t Blog

San Francisco

Untitled

The Old Southwest

Courtesy Gorillas Don't Blog
Courtesy Gorillas Don’t Blog

New Orleans

Courtesy Gorillas Don't Blog
Courtesy Gorillas Don’t Blog

And Satellite City, a futuristic place situated in the South:

Courtesy Bill Cotter
Courtesy Bill Cotter

You could visit Elsie the Cow at Borden Barn Boudior.

Courtesy Mike Virgintino/Examiner
Courtesy Mike Virgintino/Examiner

The park, constructed in the Baychester area of the Bronx, was not quite completed when it opened its doors in the summer of 1960.

Courtesy Freedomland USA/Narratively
Courtesy Freedomland USA/Narratively

 

“The thrill as big as America itself!”

 

Stanley Kubrick’s photos of people in a haunted house 1946

Palisades Amusement Park [People in a haunted house.]

Before he became an iconic filmmaker, the Bronx-born Stanley Kubrick was an ace photographer, wandering the city with his camera and beautifully capturing aspects of New York street life. In 1946 he became the youngest photographer ever employed by Look Magazine (located at Madison Avenue and 52nd Street), a Life Magazine look-alike that still managed millions of subscribers during the years Stanley was employed there.

In June of 1946, just a few months into his employment, Kubrick headed over to the Palisades Amusement Park near Fort Lee, NJ, and set up his camera in the park’s haunted house.  Illuminated with a camera flash, the silly thrills of the amusement look especially absurd. But the faces are truly priceless.  His pictures of the Palisades ran in a four page essay called “Fun at an Amusement Park.”

Enjoy Kubrick’s photographs — courtesy the SK Film Archives and the Museum of the City of New York — and Happy Halloween! (Visit MCNY’s archive site to see the rest of the series.)

Palisades Amusement Park [People in a haunted house.]
Palisades Amusement Park [Haunted house.]
Palisades Amusement Park [Haunted house.]
Palisades Amusement Park [Haunted house.]
Palisades Amusement Park [Haunted house.]
Palisades Amusement Park [Haunted house.]
Palisades Amusement Park [Haunted house.]
Palisades Amusement Park [Haunted house.]

Below: Self portrait of Kubrick:

In the 1960s, the Palisades replaced their Tunnel of Love with a new haunted ride — Casper’s Ghostland, featuring Harvey Comics characters in an amusing spooky environment.  (Courtesy the Bill Tracy Project)

Forgotten paradise: Welcome to South Beach, Staten Island

South Beach, Staten Island, 1973, photographed by Arthur Tress

As a resort and amusement mecca, the time of Staten Island’s South Beach has come and gone.  The waterfront community south of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge still has a classic old boardwalk, built in 1935 as New Deal project and appropriately called the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Boardwalk.  And there are still recreational facilities for baseball and hockey found just off its old boards.

But priorities have changed here. Similar to the fate of Rockaway Beach, most of the amusements were gone by the 1970s,  Several sections of neighborhoods along the shore were gravely damaged in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy.

Its doubtful this area will ever return to its glory days of the early 20th century when Happyland Amusement Park brought a bit of Coney Island magic to the shore.  Further inland, real estate developers were changing the landscape with planned communities that eventually appealed to New Yorkers of Italian, Irish and Hispanic descent.

Here’s some views of South Beach and adjacent Midland Beach from early in the century and then some drastically different views from the 1970s. Photos are courtesy the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library:

From a 1908 advertisement: “A delightful ferry sail down the bay and trolley ride through Staten Island’s verdant hills will bring you to HAPPYLAND, on South Beach, looking out toward the ocean.  The new combination ticket feature provides, for a quarter, admission to the park, vaudeville, dancing pavilions, Bill’s Ladder, Paris by Night, Foolish House, Georgia Minstrels, Dib Dab Slide, Electric Slide, Hippodrome, Circle Swing, Fat Saidy and the Human Roulette Wheel.”

Brooklyn Daily Eagle ad from 1913 (courtesy the blog wagnerowitz)

Below the beaches in 1973, photographed by Arthur Tress

Staten Island already had a gigantic Ferris wheel — in 1893!

In the spirit of P.T. Barnum, Mayor Michael Bloomberg yesterday announced plans to build the world’s largest Ferris wheel next to the ferry terminal on Staten Island. The amusement, called the New York Wheel, will stand 84 feet higher than a similar Ferris wheel in Singapore and also nods towards the London Eye, a ride built in 1999 that quickly became a centerpiece of British tourism.

Obviously geared towards boosting tourism to Staten Island, the plan offers something for the residents of the borough in the form of a “retail outlet complex.” With the ballpark home of the Staten Island Yankees and the recently redesigned ferry terminal, the new projects will radically alter the face of the St. George neighborhood.

(At right: A rendering of the new wheel, courtesy ABC.)

But the idea of a Ferris wheel drawing tourists to Staten Island isn’t a new one. The very first Ferris wheel in the borough was constructed back in 1893, on the opposite shore in the old Midland Beach resort area.

Midland Beach and adjacent South Beach were Staten Island’s answer to Coney Island and Rockaway Beach, back in the era before any of those amusement centers were officially a part of New York. The Staten Island resort area got its wheel the same year that George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. installed his most notable wheel — and thus giving the amusement its name — at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Staten Island’s ride — called an ‘observation roundabout’ — was built by Ferris’ rival William Somers after he was rejected a spot at the Chicago fair. It was probably similar to Somers over roundabouts built on Asbury Park and Rockaway Beach, of wooden construction, about 50 feet in diameter with approximately 16 passenger chambers. [Check out Norman Anderson’s history of Ferris wheels for more information.)

Thanks to Ferris and the fame of the Chicago World’s Fair, nobody was calling them roundabouts by the start of the 20th century. The Ferris wheel hovered over Midland’s rows of bathing pavilions and beer gardens along the boardwalk and was joined by the Happyland amusement park in 1906.

The New York Tribune sang praises of the amusement in 1904: “If they [the young of all ages] desire pleasure with an element of excitement, [they] may venture a ride in the great Ferris wheel, from the summit of whose broad circle they may enjoy an excelled view out over the broad bay to the open sea.”

The St. George Ferris Wheel is slated for completion in 2015. As for the old Midland Beach wheel, it appears to have been destroyed — along with a great many other amusements — in a devastating fire in 1924.

And by the way, Ferris’ original wheel, the one that was at the Chicago World’s Fair? There were actually plans to bring the wheel to Manhattan in 1894 and set it up — on Broadway! Sadly, these plans fell through.

Pictures courtesy NYPL

The Rockaways and Rockaway Beach: The strange fortunes of New York’s former resort oasis and amusement getaway



The entrance to Rockaways’ Playland in the 1960s, one of the more nostalgic reminders of an era in the Rockaways gone by. (Image courtesy the blog Sand In Your Shoes)


PODCAST The Rockaways are a world unto its own, a former resort destination with miles of beach facing into the Atlantic Ocean, a collection of diverse neighborhoods and a truly quirky history.

Retaining a variant of its original Lenape name, the peninsula remained relatively peaceful in the early years of New York history, aland holding of the ancestral family of a famous upstate New York university.

The Marine Pavilion, a luxury spa-like lodging which arrived in 1833 featuring the new trend of ‘sea bathing’, opened up vast opportunities for recreation on the peninsula, and soon Rockaway Beach was dotted with dozens of hotels, thousands of daytrippers and a even a famous amusement park.

Not even the fiasco known as the Rockaway Beach Hotel could drive away those seeking recreation here, including a huge population of Irish immigrants who helped define the unique spirit of the Rockaways.

The 20th century brought Robert Moses and his usual brand of reinvention, setting up the Rockaways for an uncertain century of decreased tourism, urban blight and uncommon solutions to preserve its unique identity.

FEATURING: Pirate attacks, an inferno in Irishtown, the Cabaret de la Morte, and the legend of Hog Island, New York’s very own Atlantis!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.


Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys: Rockaway Beach

Next Week: Some books, additional resources, a couple more pictures and some more stories left out of this week’s podcast.
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A zoning map of the Jamaica Bay region from 1937, featuring the Rockaway peninsula. A few interesting things to note about this, including: 1) no Idlewild Airport at this time, but Floyd Bennett Field was still in operation, 2) Rockaway Beach Improvement, 3) Everything west of Jacob Riis Park is basically ignored. [source]

The Marine Pavilion, the first significant resort destination in the Rockaways, introduced the notion of sea bathing to New Yorkers and attracted famous writers and actors to this peaceful area. [Courtesy Rockaway Memories]
 
This is not an image from the Rockaways, but ‘bathing machines’ like these were most certainly used in the early days of Rockaway Beach.
A couple examples of hotels that once filled the peninsula during the late 19th century, early 20th century, the Woodburgh House (at top) from 1870, the Kuloff (at bottom) from 1903.

The boardwalk from 1903 in front of or near a section of Steeplechase Park, I believe, judging from the mini-railroad tracks along the side. [source]

 

Along Seaside Avenue, possibly depicting an area of ‘Irishtown’, in 1903, rebuilt after a devastating fire the decade previous.

The bungalows of Rockaway. (Courtesy Library of Congress)



The 1950s began a long era of difficulties for the Rockaways, but you wouldn’t know it from this summertime Life Magazine photo from 1956. Click into the image to inspect some of the interesting and long-vanished shops and amusements along the boardwalk.


This almost-ghostly skeleton of a high-rise housing development never built stood for years as the residents of neighboring Breezy Point successfully fought to kill that project and other intrusive plans by the city in the late 1960s. Picture courtesy Arthur Tress/US National Archives.

The mysterious remains of old Fort Tilden, now part of the Gateway Recreation Area and completely taken over by nature. For many more pictures of this area, please visit our Facebook page and check out my photo album on the ruins of Fort Tilden.

The thrashing waves of Rockaway make for good surfing:

 And, what posting about the Rockaways would be complete without: