Thursday, September 06, 2007
Coney Island of the mind
Parachute JumpWhen we heard about possible redevelopment at New York's Coney Island, we wanted to hear what our I-Reporters had to say about the development plans and about their experiences over the years at the world-famous amusement area.

I was struck by how vivid some of the memories still are -- after nearly 50 years! (See I-Reporters' photos and memories of Coney Island)

Space limits wouldn't allow the use of all the wonderfully poignant stories in the gallery, but I wanted to share one of these great tales.

Joseph Cassar, 55, of New York City wrote this about his visits to Coney Island as a boy:

"On Wednesdays, in the summer, the women of 66 Orchard Street took their kids to Coney Island to escape the heat and humidity of the Lower East Side. They packed lunches, which for some reason included a large number of hard-boiled eggs.Wonder Wheel

The women carried the food bags, and we kids grappled with the aluminum beach chairs, which always dragged on the ground because our arms were too short. We walked to Delancy Street to catch the D train to Coney Island. It was a long train ride, and we made a lot of noise. (Watch an I-Reporter's video of a ride on the Cyclone roller coaster)

The women said things we kids didn't understand, but they laughed loudly and their faces turned red. At the last stop, we gathered our belongings and headed for the exit. My mother pointed me in the right direction with a stiff finger jabbed in my back. My sister would give me that sister look of "hmmm, you deserve that!"

BoardwalkThe wooden boardwalk was a block from the station. We made our way to the beach and scoped out our spot near the boardwalk so we could change underneath. None of us knew how to swim, and anyway, the water was dirty and cold. So we ate. We ate all day.

In the evening, we changed out of our dry bathing suits back into our clothes. As a treat, Mom let me ride the carousel. I had a hard time getting up on the wooden brown horse, and some carny would come over and toss me on top of the horse.

My goal was to snatch the brass ring, and I would lean over as far as I could and stretch out my arm and try to hook the brass ring. One time, I got the brass ring, and I was so excited. The operator came over, patting me a bit too hard on my head, and said, "Good job, kid," and yanked the ring out of my hand.

Flooding in downtown Findlay, OhioAt dusk, we went to Nathan's (in those days there was only one Nathan's) and we ate some more. We had hot dogs, fries, pizza and sodas. The ride back home was quiet. We were stuffed and sore from our sunburns. The kids fell asleep against the broad arms of their mothers. We all dozed off, but we never missed the Delancy Street stop.

That was a long time ago. My Coney Island is in the past, in the mist. My photos are memories trapped in the fog."

Posted by Rich Cook
The disappearance of boardwalks is a growing concern for me. I first noticed this back in the mid 90s when I revisited one of my favorite childhood vacation spots--Myrtle Beach, SC. Apparently, increased tourism and popularity had not gone unnoticed, and as we drove towards the beach, we noticed a new mall, outlets, and a giant shopping center (Broadway at the Beach)--all of which demonstrated how commercialized the region had become.

Out with the old, in with the new, I suppose.

It was frustrating, because I could not seem to find a place to register my childhood memories. Some had been torn down, and others were simply existing in the shadows of larger structures which sought to profit off of the tourists (many of whom came there for the boardwalk experience).

Last year, one of the hallmarks of Myrtle Beach, the Pavilion, was torn down to make room for new condominiums.

But this is happening everywhere, as is evident in Coney Island--which serves as a benchmark to the boardwalk experience. There is a conflict, it seems between enjoying the nostalgic experience that comes from the boardwalk, and those who seek to find new ways of profiting from it (and in doing so, tear down the very structures they admire). It's a conflict between preserving the past and economic expansion.

Here, in Wilmington, NC, there is one last shred of history at Carolina Beach, which is simply known as the boardwalk. By 2009, this historic region will most likely be gone, as developers seeking to profit from the valuable location will tear it down and replace the landmark with either a hotel or apartment complex. In the process, they will remove a reason many people visit Carolina Beach--which is to walk down the boardwalk, eat donuts or ice cream, and simply enjoy the little piece of history.

Once it's gone, it's gone, and presenting a new structure "honoring" the history of what stood before does not give future visitors the chance to actually experience that history--it cheats them out of it.
Nicole,

Coney Island seems to be a place where many of your memories have occurred. I understand how you feel about the redevelopment of the Corey Island. I would not want the amusement park to change,but the safety of the people who visit this park comes first. Corey Island amusement park have been around for over 50 years. Equipments used at Corey Island may need to be inspect.With redevelopment of the Corey Island, you will be able to create more happy memories in the near future.
Coney Island was a one time visit for me as a child. My grandfather took me and it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. Pretzels the size of footballs and hotdogs that tasted like heaven even with all the stuff my Grandfather had them put on mine just so he could have a bite and I certainly didn't mind sharing it with him. Back then one Coney Island hotdog could feed a small village of that I am certain.
The cotton candy was pink and after about 3 bites I was bouncing off the walls from the sugar rush, my grandfather was not a patient man when it came to kids. There was a Ferris wheel the size of the New York Empire State building or at least it seemed that way to me and it took 3 people to pry me off of it after words because my fingers had gripped the bar so tight and I really think I had gotten altitude sickness instead of just an upset stomach from all the stuff I ate that day. My grandfather passed away the next year and that was the last time I have seen Coney Island or him. Some things are best just remembered because you just can't reproduce them nor should you try. There is no going home for Cony Island, that train has left the station. Rich Kaminski McKinney Texas
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