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At the foot of Brooklyn lies a tiny spit of land that at the turn of the century became the most extravagant place in the country. This spit of land is known as Coney Island. Coney Island was unlike anything one had ever seen in variety, inventiveness and in size. In 1904, one man said, Coney is the most bewilderingly up to date place of amusement in the world. This extraordinary amusement empire astonished, delighted and shocked the nation. There is no definitive derivation of the name Coney Island. Some trace the origin back to the surname of early Dutch settlers in the areas. An 1816 treatise ascribes the name Conyn , a Dutch surname. Another claim is that the Dutch named the area Konijn , Dutch for rabbit , because of a large population of wild rabbits in the area. The name Konijn was later corrupted by English settlers to Coney . A 1924 manuscript ascribes the name to an Indian tribe called the Konoh or the Bear tribe. The Konoh once inhabited the area until killed.
Coney Island was a spit of land that no one really went to. Until 1828, it was used still by Indian tribes and wildlife. In 1829, Coney Island House s opened and this marked the beginning of Coney Island s status as a seaside resort. Then in 1845, Samuel Colt erected a telegraph tower. This helped Coney Island become more inhabited because now people were able to get in touch with others. Since Coney Island
was seen as a seaside resort many wealth and corrupted people went there. By corrupted I mean that in the 1860s, Mike Thunderbolt Norton opened a hotel at
Norton s point, on the eastern end of Coney Island. This hotel was known as a haven for corrupt and rich clientele to go and do business. Drugs, prostitution and gambling were among the long list of things that went on there. On the site today lays the abandoned Thunderbolt roller coaster a contemporary of the Cyclone. Under the roller coaster is the infamous house under the roller coaster , which is still inhabited today by rats and homeless people.
At the turn of the 20th century, Coney Island s first roller coaster debuted. Then in 1923, the boardwalk opened and 175 businesses were razed to widen Coney s street. Coney Island is known for making two things very famous- the Cyclone and Nathan s Hot Dogs. The Cyclone, which opened in 1927, is still operating today. When it opened it had the largest drop and many people raced to see it. Today, it continues to give people a thrill. For me, the Cyclone was the first roller coaster I ever rode and the scariest. It s not the drop that scared me, it s the thought that this roller coaster has been here since 1927 and is made of rickety wood that shakes. At any moment this could collapse and that is the thrill that I got. People all over the world still come to see and ride this adventurous roller coaster. Coney Island also made Nathan s Hot Dogs famous. Nathan Handwerker opened the first Nathan s in 1916. Today Nathan s is known all over the world and continues to be the top selling hot dog. Nathan s is still located in Coney Island and is the most popular place to eat. Who would of ever guessed that a little shack hot dog stand would become so popular. There are many rides that you can have fun on and that are still operated by the companies that started out when Coney Island opened. Some were taken over by bigger companies like Astroland and Deno s but others still remain.
Today, Coney Island is much different than what it was. It use to be a place that astonished and delighted people. Boats filled with immigrants use to come and leave people here. Coney Island once had a large Italian, Jewish and Irish population. Today, you would never know that by walking around. The area has a large community of black and Hispanic people. This is because of the urban renewal projects that had taken place under President Roosevelt. When urban renewal took place many black people were shipped into large apartment buildings. The area was becoming so bad that most of the businesses left and the business district was taken over by more apartments. When looking around today I see a sky filled with fifteen story apartment buildings. The only stores that you see are little Ti Amo s. Many people here are on welfare and are working at jobs like McDonalds and Burger King trying to raise five kids. Looking around I feel bad for these people because of all that they go though. As great as Coney Island is its downfall would be the high percentile of poor people here. What I do know is that Coney Island is mainly Black and Hispanic. Walking around I don t see many whites and I feel as if I m being starred at like I don t belong. I guess when you re the only one of your race in a predominately white or black neighborhood people will steer at you. I feel like this because Coney Island is as safe or unsafe as any other neighborhood in New York City. If you don t mind walking around other parts of Brooklyn then there is no reason why you should mind walking around here. Anywhere I go I always make sure to exercise the same caution as I would anywhere else in the City. I do know that single women and lone visitors may want to avoid Coney Island after dark during the winter because of how deserted it is. That is just common sense to me and should be to others too.
While walking around I see many different place to eat and places to have fun at. There are many different ethnic places to eat at like Gargiulo s, a fine Italian restaurant, Aiello s, a place to get anything from sandwiches to homemade mozzarella cheese, which is a favorite of the sideshow performers, Totonno s, the oldest pizza parlor in Brooklyn where when the dough runs out, they close for the day. There are also numerous Chinese restaurants and fast food places. After eating I decided to have a little fun so I went to the New York Aquarium and then I went to the Sideshows by the Seashore, the only live theater that has the Circus sideshow. I thought the Aquarium was great and I even got to pet a starfish! The sideshow was fun too. They had people swallowing fire and knife throwers. Looking around I saw people from all over and noticed that many of these places were full of tourist. After all my fun I strolled the street to find more fun and found many arcades to play at. I decided not to because we all now that the carnival games are rigged and I would of lost all my money trying to win a fifty-cent teddy bear. I did notice that there weren t many logos or advertisements around and that bother me. I felt like they purposely don t put any up because of how poor the neighborhood is. Yeah, I did see a few signs for places to eat and have fun at but I didn t notice any Nike, Computer or fashion ad s that are usually all around me.
After leaving Coney Island I thought I would ask someone else what he or she thought of it. To my surprise many people had negative views of it. One man said, Coney Island stands for Come On Nigger Enjoy Yourself. I was appalled by this comment and felt that this man was way out of line. I felt that he was just racist and others would feel differently but as I asked I realized that many people had the same feeling if you want to live don t go to Coney Island. Now for me this was a horrible thing to say because I live five minutes from Coney Island and never had I had a problem when I went there. I feel that some people don t try things for themselves.
WGBH. The American Experience. 1999-2000. PBS. 22 Oct. 2000
Whirl-I-Gig. 23 April 1999. Coney Island Tourist Information. 22 Oct. 2000
Anonymous. Personal Interview. 28 Oct. 2000
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