Amusements and Thrills

Coney Island’s many death and destruction amusements

The entrance to the Johnstown Flood presentation (Cleaned-up photo courtesy Shorpy) On May 31, 1889, a dam near the town of Johnstown, PA, collapsed after a brutal day of torrential rain, flooding the valley with 20 million tons of water and destroying everything in its path. There was virtually no escape, and 2,209 people died… Read More

Those Were The Days

Venuses in Fur — New York society ladies in fancy animal skin

The Metropolitan Opera’s soprano sensation Geraldine Ferrar, photo taken April 1913. I guess fur was never out of season a century ago! “When You Done Your Christmas Furs — It will be an added pleasure to know they came from Gimbels — the house with the time-honored experience in Furs — for surely it requires… Read More

Bowery Boys Bookshelf

‘The Big Crowd’: Kevin Baker takes on an unsolved mystery, the murder of Kid Twist and the secrets of a fallen mayor

New York City, 1953, the setting for Kevin Baker’s The Big Crowd. Photo by Eliot Elisofen, courtesy Life/Google imagesBOWERY BOYS BOOK OF THE MONTH Each month I’ll pick a book — either brand new or old, fiction or non-fiction — that offers an intriguing take on New York City history, something that uses history in… Read More

Health and Living

Dueling ‘perfect babies’ in Brooklyn and Manhattan, pageantry in support of healthy infants in New York

The exaltation of fat, plucky babies via beauty contests stems from a rather grim origin — American infant mortality rates of the 19th century.  During the 1880s, as swelling immigrants and overcrowding in New York created harbors for disease and malnourishment, over one in five infants would die in America, with higher occurrence among poor… Read More


Bicycle Mania! The story of New York on two wheels, from velocipedes to ten-speeds — with women’s liberation in tow

  Alice Austen’s iconic photograph of a telegram bike messenger in 1896, a year where many New Yorkers were wild about bikes. Austen even rode one around with her camera.  PODCAST The bicycle has always seemed like a slightly awkward form of transportation in big cities, but in fact, it’s reliable, convenient, clean and —… Read More

Brooklyn’s Hell Gate: Dangerous tides off Coney Island

Above: The waters off Gravesend, Brooklyn, sketched by a British general in 1776. They too would have experienced the odd watery phenomenon known as ‘the Potato Patch’. [NYPL] You may know the legend of the East River’s Hell Gate, a rush of violent waters borne from a tidal strait near Randall’s Island, so famous for… Read More

The legend of bank robber ‘Red’ Leary, his wife Kate, and the greatest jail break in Lower East Side history

 ‘Red’ Leary was one of the famous bank robbers of the 1870s, assisting in heists all along the Northeast. Above is an illustration of a bank robbery in Montreal, Canada, displaying some of the tools found at the crime scene. They don’t talk about ‘Red’ Leary anymore down in the streets of the Lower East… Read More

Eight forgotten roller coasters from all five boroughs!

If you’re ever attempting to make the case that New York isn’t as fun as it used to be, just use the following post as an illustration. The New York City area was once home to dozens of roller coasters, set up at major amusement destinations around the city, in every borough. Even Manhattan! Coney… Read More

Coney Island unveils a new alternative to pedicabs

Goats were the environmentally friendly way to see Coney Island in 1904. The short lived ‘Coney Island Zoo’ was actually a part of Dreamland amusement park, alongside the bizarre dwarf village Lilliputia and the infamous room of premie babies in incubators. The goats pictured above were joined at the modest zoo with a collection of thalycines — also called Tasmanian… Read More

The rockets’ red glare, over the 1939 World’s Fair

An elaborate fireworks celebration over the grounds of the World’s Fair of 1939-40. (I’m not sure which year this picture was taken.) The wars of American independence, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and World War I are represented in a lighting display in the foreground. And you also may have noticed something familiar over… Read More

Before mermaids paraded, Coney Island went Mardi Gras!

A century-old party: ghoulish revelers from the 1911 parade An even larger collection of freaks and aquatic oddities than Coney Island’s everyday normal assortment will come slithering down Surf Avenue this Saturday with the 29th annual Mermaid Parade. The parade is the heart of Coney’s modern freak-show aesthetic, Christmastime for the tattooed and glittery. Most… Read More

Fantasy in flames: The end of Coney Island’s Dreamland

Dreamland’s heavenly glow, felled by a hellish fire Tomorrow (May 27) will mark the 100th anniversary of a very unusual tragedy upon the landscape of Coney Island, a terrible blaze that consumed one of its most popular attractions — Dreamland amusement park. The swift and destructive fire, occuring just two months after another horrifying conflagration… Read More


Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach, at your leisure

Above: Manhattan Beach Hotel EPISODE 102 Today Brighton Beach is known for Brooklyn’s thriving Russian community, while its neighbor Manhattan Beach is calm and family oriented. But over a hundred years ago, these neighborhoods were the homes of giant, lavish hotels catering to the upper classes. While regular folk were playing at Coney Island’s Steeplechase… Read More

Luna Park forever? Amusement of the past — and future

The early days of Luna Park, 1905, in all its electric-lit glory. The park opened in 1903. (Pic courtesy Shorpy, click here for full-size image) Flying overhead, looking down at Luna Park, 1920 (Courtesy U.S. Army Air Forces) The last days of Luna Park, 1944. A series of fires in the park the next year… Read More

Amusements and Thrills

Elephantine Colossus: Brooklyn’s most unusual hotel

  Visitors to pre-20th century Coney Island would have enjoyed a most unusual site — Elephantine Colossus , more famously known as ‘the Elephant Hotel’, an actual guest house which stood watch over the entertainment district’s beach amusements. The hotel opened in 1885, a 12-storey pachyderm with 31 organ-themed guest rooms that faced the ocean and… Read More