Coney Island has long had a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers and tourists who view it as a novelty and welcome reprieve from bustling city life. Part of the appeal, surely, is the amusement park's endearing kitschiness, which elicits a sense of nostalgia that keeps visitors coming back.
But back in the late 1800s, Coney Island wasn't kitschy at all. It was a seaside resort with upscale hotels and bathhouses for wealthy people, who traveled by train, boat, and carriage to lounge by the lapping shore during the sticky summer months.
Circa 1890 | Visitors outside of the entrance of Luna Park. | (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Circa 1900 | Visitors enjoy the beach. | (CORBIS)
Coney Island quickly became a magnet for entrepreneurs, inventors, and opportunists who helped lure crowds with new attractions, including one of the earliest carousels (1875), the first roller coaster (1884), and Nathan's Famous hot dog stand (1916). By 1920, with the New York City subway complete, anyone with a nickel (the price of a subway token) could escape the suffocating city heat and enjoy the salty air, sandy beach, carnival games and rides, sweet and savory treats, and petting zoos. Indeed, soon enough the wealthy enclave had transformed into "The People's Playground."
Below, delight in vintage photos from Coney Island's heyday.
Circa 1900 | Beachgoers walk around the waterways and gondolas. | (CORBIS)
1904 | Children ride goat-drawn carriages. | (CORBIS)
1908 | People ride the Helter Skelter slide in Luna Park. | (Andy Kingsbury/Corbis)
Circa 1925 | A stereographic image of bathers at Coney Island. | (Library of Congress)
Circa 1930 | A crowd at Nathan's hot dog stand. | (Underwood & Underwood/Corbis)
July 13, 1937 | Newsboys shoot in a carnival game. | (Bettman/CORBIS)
Aug. 3, 1937 | Women compete in the Miss Venus Competition. | (Bettmann/CORBIS)
April 24, 1938 | Riders ascend the Steeplechase. | (Underwood & Underwood/Corbis)
May 8, 1946 | Coast Guard members and their girlfriends enjoy the beach. | (Bettman/CORBIS)
Sept. 8, 1946 | Vacationers enjoy the high swings. | (Keystone/Getty Image)
Circa 1962 | The beach and boardwalk. | (Bettman/CORBIS)