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  • Writer's pictureAbby Brenker

Historic Photos of Coney Island's Amusement Parks

Updated: Jan 16

Researching the history of Amusement Parks for our deep dive into the intersection of amusement parks and horror on Lunatics Radio Hour has unearthed some truly fascinating historic photos of theme parks. 

Coney Island in Brooklyn New York was an incredibly influential amusement park when examining the history of these attractions, mainly because of it’s importance to the immigrant population in New York City. From 1880 until World War II, Coney Island was the largest amusement park in the country. Here are historic photos of Coney Island's Amusement Parks.

Coney Island itself is a peninsula based neighborhood in Brooklyn. At its peak, the millions of annual visitors had the choice of three different parks that were located here. Including: Luna Park, Dreamland and Steeplechase park. For about a ten year period, Sea Lion park was also located in the area, which was the first park to charge admittance fees. (This was replaced by Luna Park in 1903). 

We can also thank Coney Island for the first Roller Coaster, as we know them today. In June of 1884, The Switchback Railway was built. The ride was invented by LaMarcus A Tompson. It was a 600 foot track, with a car powered by gravity that ran about 6mph. They would simply remove the car and place it back at the beginning for the next group of riders.

We also have to mention Coney Island's Elephant shaped hotel. This is Elephantine Colossus and it was an attraction on Coney Island from 1885 until 1896 in Brooklyn. The hotel was designed by James V. Lafferty and can be filed under "novelty architecture." Lafferty also designed Elephant shaped buildings for attractions in Cape May, NJ and Atlantic City.

As you can see, it was seven stories tall. Tragically, the hotel burned down in a fire in the late 1800s. Though the hotel was only standing for 11 years, it saw many lives. It opened as an attracting hosting "amusement stalls," concerts and a museum. It was claimed that from the back you could see Paris, Yellowstone Park and Rio De Janeiro . It eventually was used as a brothel before it fell into disrepair and eventually destroyed.

Coney island is also famous for its sideshows. But famously, these sideshows were also the home of the invention of incubators for premature babies. 

Listen to episode 131 of the Lunatics Radio Hour podcast for more history on amusement parks.

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