Hot Dogs and Roller Coasters ~ Coney Island, Brooklyn

June 13, 1884. The world’s first roller coaster opened on this day in 1884 at Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY. Built and later patented by LaMarcus Thompson, the “Gravity Pleasure Switchback Railway” boasted two parallel 600-foot tracks that descended from 50 feet. The cars traveled at six miles per hour. Riders paid five cents each for their rides. The roller coaster was a sensation, and soon amusement parks all over the US and the world featured them.*

Not the oldest, but the most loved: the Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island

If you’re thinking of visiting Coney Island on a weekday in early June, it’s safe to assume you’ll be spared crowds of summer tourists, school holiday makers, and amusement ride thrill seekers. Instead, you’ll share its long herringbone paneled boardwalk with strolling locals, joggers, cyclists, and probably a few sightseers. Come lunchtime, you won’t even have to line up at Nathan’s Famous original hot dog stand for a 2000-caloric mega meal for two…

A neighbourhood that seems to be more renowned for its annual events, theme park attractions, and a Russian immigrant population, it’s a place that has a charm that harkens to the good ‘ol days.

Nathan’s Famous hot dog eating contest on July 4 will celebrate its 97th year here; enthusiasts brave freezing temperatures of the Atlantic in the annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear swim; and three amusement rides, Cyclone rollercoaster, Wonder ‘Ferris’ Wheel, and Parachute Jump, are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

On an ordinary day, it’s fun to see the rides, hear the Russian chit-chat, and photograph the vintage storefronts and ticket booths that add colour to a neighbourhood home to much grey and brown.

Coney Island is located in Brooklyn – it’s the final stop on the yellow Q subway line that connects it to Manhattan. The Atlantic Ocean lines the peninsula’s shoreline, and it shares a fringing boardwalk with the next ‘hood over, Brighton Beach. Interestingly, Coney Island “was formerly an outer barrier island, but became partially connected to the mainland by landfill.”**

In much the same vein as other outlying water facing neighborhoods of major cities, Coney Island was intended as a vacation spot in the 19th C. From the onset, amusement rides and themes parks defined the neighbourhood, and became a major contributor its economy. The first carousel was built on the Island in 1876.

The first hotel opened at Coney Island in 1829 and by the post-Civil War years, the area was an established resort with theaters, restaurants and a race track. Between 1897 and 1904, three amusement parks sprang up at Coney Island–Dreamland, Luna Park and Steeplechase. By the 1920s, Coney Island was reachable by subway and summer crowds of a million people a day flocked there for rides, games, sideshows, the beach and the two-and-a-half-mile boardwalk, completed in 1923. ***

The hot dog is said to have been invented in Coney Island; Nathan’s opened in 1916, and achieved instant success. This could have been in large part due to the hot dog eating contest that has been running ever since its grand opening, perhaps?

Coney Island started to suffer in the mid 20th C: the impact of WWII, an influx of local gangs, and a low income housing project urban-renewal plan, all contributed to driving away tourists; they sought out other vacation spots like Long Island. Though the Boardwalk’s New York Aquarium has stayed open since 1957, all the original amusement parks were closed down by 1964. Efforts to revive the industry for a while after were unfounded.

The majority of Coney Island’s population resides in approximately thirty 18- to 24-storey towers, mostly public housing. Since the 1990s there has been steady revitalization of the area. Many townhouses were built on empty lots, popular franchises opened, and Keyspan Park was built to serve as the home for the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team. Once home to many Jewish residents, Coney Island’s main population groups today are African American, Italian American, Hispanic, and Russian and Ukrainian immigrants.**

New York Aquarium

In 2003, Mayor Michael Bloomberg took an interest in revitalizing Coney Island as a possible site for the 2012 Olympics. When the city lost the bid for the Olympics, revitalization plans were rolled over to the Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC), which came up with a plan to restore the resort.**

Since then, issues with developers, designs for new amusement parks, and rezoning plans for hotels and housing have been circulating. A new roller coaster was built in April 2011 as part of the area’s restoration efforts. Today, many of the old theme parks have reopened and their rides are in operation.

To me, the area looks to have the potential but I’m not certain of future development plans. In the meantime, the hot dog eating Contest as well as traditional theme park rides will continue to promote it as a tourist attraction. The male record for most hot dogs eaten is currently set at a whopping 68 hot dogs; female – at an unbelievable 41. I tried one of the ‘dogs – they were good… but are they really that palatable? I just can’t imagine what goes on over Independence Day. I’ll watch it on Travel Channel if I happen to catch the shenanigans while channel surfing.

* **Wikipedia ***


53 thoughts on “Hot Dogs and Roller Coasters ~ Coney Island, Brooklyn

    • Scott – thank you for your comments. I love hearing your thoughts and was hoping the flower one would turn out! Glad you liked those – it’s actually pretty fun to photograph such bold colours and interesting textures/designs against an overcast sky. Thank you!

  1. I did not know the hot dog was invented at Coney Island. Right near where you live, Marina! I would bet all the money I have in the world (which admittedly would not amount to very much given my current employment status) that you, my yoga loving friend, could not eat 41 of them!!!

    I have never been to Coney Island.

    • I can’t even eat one of them! I’ve been to Brighton Beach to get back in touch with the motherland (well, my parents are Russian) but this was my first go in Coney Island, right next door. Reminded me alot of Atlantic City in NJ, just closer (and no casinos). It’s pretty neat – I may just return in summertime. Glad to share some new info for both of us, Syders.

    • Cool – thank you for taking a read 🙂 I am sure you’ll be able to catch the contest via cable on the West Coast. Mark it on the calendar – 3pm July 4! Thanks for your comment about the pics – it’s easier when the rides aren’t moving 🙂

  2. OMG – Never been but it looks crazy cool! How historic this place is..what an amazing roller coaster! I have always been a little terrified but amusement parks take me way back! Thanks Marina!! 🙂

    • Shira! I am with you – used to love those roller coasters but now I just think of my heart :S It’s not the strongest! But love the feel of these parks – glad you liked these too. This is south Brooklyn – further away from Manhattan! I’ll get to NYC again soon, and post something from there 🙂 Thank you!

  3. This is a must see next time I’m in NY! I hope the new roller coaster gets around a little quicker than before, with those 6 MPH 🙂 Really like the Ketchup and Mustard pic! I’ll send this article to a friend in NY.

    • Yes, I am sure roller coasters have picked up speed since then! That pic was a moment waiting to happen – I walked past the 4 bottles and couldn’t help but frame them 🙂 Thanks!

  4. Hi Marina… I’ve heard about this place almost all my life, and never really had an opportunity to visit there, so it was very nice to see your explanations and pictures. It’s all fascinating. Thanks.

    • Shimon! I’m happy to share this part of Coney Island. It’s worthy of more exploration though in the time I had, of course I was drawn to the water and the rides. Some were in operation, others were at a standstill. Happy to have shared some insights. Thank you!

  5. Love all those primary colors! The Wonder Wheel especially makes me feel like I need 3D glasses 🙂 I hear the Mermaid Parade at Coney Island is also not to be missed—I think it’s in a few weeks!

    • Jooy – you are so on point! The Ferris Wheel has me doing a bit of that “Magic Eye” squint! I didn’t realise how much colour dominated the pics until I saw them as thumbnails on the computer. I was really surprised as the atmosphere was quiet in comparison to the bold colours. Oh yeah, i did see someone posted on that parade months ago – must have been from 2011. Good point! Thanks for taking a look at this post of Coney 🙂

  6. 41 hotdogs!!! OMG 🙂 I remember my last time when I had a hotdog in London – more than 3 years ago before Christmas 😀 My friend and I went out in Soho after work, I didn’t eat much that day and got tipsy easily and all I could think of was that I wanted a hotdog, so we bought one 🙂

    I didn’t know there was a theme park in Brooklyn, how big exactly Brooklyn is?! 🙂 I like walking around in theme parks in summer, but I do not dare to have a spin a roller coaster anymore 🙂 I remember screaming my heart out on a Roller Coaster was in Paris Disneyland a few years back 🙂 Last time I had a roller coaster ride in Blackpool, on the first inverted coaster to be suspended entirely over water, when we got of that huge thing, my boyfriend at a time said he thought I’m gonna die, I was as white as a sheet of paper 🙂 Since then I never ever had a roller coaster ride 🙂 I think, once you grow older, you can bear such attractions anymore: D

    Great colourful pictures and thanks for letting me know that the first roller coaster was built today in 1884, wow, such a long time ago 🙂

    • Hi Kristina! I agree – no more rollercoasters for me either. The adrenaline rush isn’t so important to me anymore! I’d rather be photographing – on the ground! Hot dogs in NY must be sampled, but not consistently 🙂 Brooklyn is one of the bigger boroughs – 2nd after Queens, and has the most people living in it. Areas like Coney Island have more of a suburban feel, and a tighter knit community especially with the Russian immigrants. I didn’t buy any piroshki on this trip – they aren’t as available it seemed, as in Brighton Beach (only minutes away). Thank you K!

  7. A very interesting post Marina. Another very iconic New York landmark. I always feel these places look a little sad by day but come alive by night. We have many seaside resorts like this in the UK that are similarly suffering and becoming rather rundown, trends change I guess. As for Nathan’s, I really can’t imagine eating one of those hot dogs let alone 68. My stomach has gone into spasm just thinking about it. Is there a Coney Island branch of Urth Caffe? 😉

    • I wish there was an Urth Caffe in New York even! If anywhere, it would be in one of the gentrifying ‘hoods! yes, there is a sense of sadness, tinged with the familiar, and a bit of ‘tourist attraction’. I am not sure what Coney Island is like by night – I would say lively in the summer holiday months. Like you say, trends change, as does the neighbourhood and its community. Glad to have shared the pics and info with you Adrian. Thank you!

    • Hi Jenny! It’s not so different from some parts in Sydney actually – and I am glad you mentioned the colour. Looking at the photos all at once on the computer, the colours really popped! I was actually taken aback by the amount of colour captured. The hot dogs are actually quite good – you gotta try one of the Nathan’s ones once! Thank you!

    • Hi fergiemoto – it was the first time I had ventured beyond Brighton Beach too. It’s one of those places that you feel like you know, but you don’t. My nostalgic ties to amusement parks along Sydney’s North Coast beach towns must be strong 🙂 Glad I could show you some of the neighbourhood! Thank you!

  8. Hi Marina, Nice job! I’ve actually been working away on my own posting on Coney Island, which I should have up later today. Different time of year — when it’s deserted in the fall.

  9. Once again a perfect post! Coney Island is the one place I still haven’t visited in my 3 visits to NYC, thanks so much for sharing – keep them coming 🙂

    • Hi Sally! Reading your comment on this Thursday morning is so lovely and inspiring! I am glad you enjoyed the post and happy to have shared some scenes of Coney Island with you. I’m also a little late in visiting the Island but it’s never too late! if you make it to Coney Island on the next trip, you might combine it with a short walk to Brighton Beach for some Russian food along the Boardwalk 🙂 Thank you!

  10. Hi Like Sally this is one of the places I have wanted to visit while in nyc, but it seems I have always run out of time, l love your photos, and learning a little more about the area, it will mean that much more when I finally do get to visit!!!

    • I completely understand – as it is at the end of the Q (yellow) line, and it takes a while to get there, time gets the better when in Manhattan! Let alone other parts of Brooklyn. I’d recommend it as a day trip – this way you can take your time, enjoy the boardwalk, and check out close-by neighbourhoods. It’s nice to be by the water 🙂 Thank you!

  11. Oh my goodness, this made me remember my first ever roller coaster ride on the Jack Rabbit at Kennywood in Pittsburgh, PA. I was scared to death and only six years old, but my handsome older teenage cousin said he would ride with me so there I went.

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  13. Cool! I went to Steeple Chase when I was a kid. It’s not there anymore. It was a terrific amusement park.

    Tomorrow is the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. I’ve never gone but it looks like fun.

    Nice pictures!

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