Coney Island - Dreamland
Revised April 6, 1998Luna Park's success in 1903 made other real estate promoters and local politicians envious. Former Republican State Senator William H. Reynolds and his local cronies believed that a more elaborate amusement park than Luna would draw Coney Island's immense crowds and be profitable. Working from his office on the top floor of Manhattan's Flatiron Building, he formed the Wonderland Corporation (later changed to Dreamland Corporation) and cut in his friends, Pat McCarren, Brooklyn's Democratic political boss and Timothy Sullivan, a notorious downtown New York Democratic leader. In July two parcels of ocean front property, that had been pieced together through trickery and subterfuge by the late John Y. McKane, came up for auction. Reynold's, concealing his intentions by others bidding in his behalf, bought the 15 acres; $200,000 for one parcel and $247,000 for the other. The property was located between Surf Avenue and the ocean.
The fact that the property was divided in half by West 8th Street, which was 60 feet wide and 850 feet deep with a railroad terminal at one end and a pier at the other, caused many of the bidders to withdraw. However, the politicians had figured out in advance how to gain title to the street worth $100,000 and occupying one sixth of their property. First they made a deal with the railway company to remove its cars, then with bipartisan support, presented a proposal through the New York City Board of Estimate to give them the street and its pier as a way to improve the neighborhood. It was child's play for these statesman to get their way, but of course thousands were deprived of free access to the beach on the ocean side of their property.
A number of well known buildings including the Coney Island (Seaside) Athletic Club and the Arcade Bathing Pavilion, scene of many prominent artistic carnivals during the previous twenty years, were razed in November 1903 to make room for Dreamland's construction. Plans were prepared by the architects Kirby, Pettit and Green. Since they were basically given carte blanche to design a park from scratch, they laid it out with broad avenues around a central lagoon that offered suburb vistas and was open to cooling sea breezes. At high tide they could open the floodgates and flood the lagoon with fresh salt water. The buildings surrounding the lagoon that contained the various attractions were designed in a variety of pleasing but stately architectural styles that were harmonious as a whole. It was in complete contrast to rival Luna's chaotic architecture. Reynold's notion at first upon seeing the plans was to call the park the Hippodrome for he envisioned chariot races around the lagoon. But once he saw the architect's perspective drawings, he referred to it as Wonderland.
Construction began in December. An army of two thousand carpenters, iron workers, masons and others labored for the Edward Johnson Company all winter and spring to finish the park in time for its May 15, 1904 opening. All of the buildings were constructed of artificial stone as they were permanent structures. 1,700 tons of asbestos were used in fireproofing, and 600,000 gallons of water were stored in the central tower for the event of fire. Workers laid ninety miles of sewer, water, gas and electrical conduit.
While none of Dreamland's owners were of show business background, they were fortunate to obtain the services of Samuel Gumpertz, a successful show business prodigy from Missouri. He was born in 1868 in Washington D.C. to Herman and Elizabeth Gumpertz. His father, who was a Civil War veteran and lawyer, soon moved his family to St. Louis. When the Montgomery and Queens Circus came to town when he was nine, he fulfilled his dream of joining the big top by running away from home. He won his first job by walking on his hands and doing flip-flops. He became so adept, that when the Jackley family of acrobats lost a "top mounter" they hired young Sam at $3.00 per week to fill the spot. However, his acrobat career was short lived when one day he did a double somersault from the top of the human pyramid and landed on his head on the sawdust below.
He returned home and resumed school, but three years later when his family moved to San Francisco, Sam became an actor. He performed children's roles at the Tivoli Opera House, but when his voice changed at age fifteen, he was demoted to an usher. With hurt pride, he traveled to Texas to become a cowboy and worked three years on a ranch. When Buffalo Bill Cody's show played in nearby Abilene, the lure was too great. He joined the show as a candy butcher, but later performed in the ring as a member of Buffalo Bill's famous Congress of Rough Riders of all Nations.
From 1893 to 1897 Gumpertz ran two theaters and four amusement parks in St. Louis. He produced a series of Shakespeare plays, managed Shadow the Strongman and was Harry Houndi's first manager. Then from 1897 to 1903 he operated a chain of 17 theaters for Colonel John D. Hopkins who he met while working for Buffalo Bill.
Gumpertz brought his theatrical and circus background to Dreamland. He proposed one of Coney Island's most unusual attractions, a miniature village for hundreds of midgets to live in and entertain the paying public. It was his love of the circus that convinced Bostock to combine his American and European trained animal shows and perform with them in a permanent arena during Coney's summer season. And he recruited other circus acts to perform in a ring at the center of Dreamland's lagoon.
Dreamland, when it opened on a rainy foggy Saturday at 4 P.M. (three hours late) to a crowd of 135,000 enthusiastic visitors, was certainly bigger and bolder, but not necessarily better than Luna Park. The owners intended that their park show the unappreciated public, beauty and grandeur in its architecture, but the public found it stilted. Since it was located on the sea, Dreamland was planned around an actual inlet of the Atlantic and had its two piers jutting into the sea. Visitors for 35 cents including admission (30 cents on weekdays) could arrive by steamship from terminals in Manhattan at the Battery, 23rd Street and Harlem. Elaborate amusement structures with gaudy facades painted virgin white fronted on broad promenades surrounding a horseshoe shaped lagoon. At the inland end the 375 foot Beacon Tower, pure white with 100,000 lights, dwarfed Luna's multi-colored forest of spires and towers.
Certainly Dreamland was more expensive to build; $2,500,000 plus the cost of land versus Luna's $700,000. Where Luna had one shoot-the-chutes, Dreamland had two side by side. Instead of 250,000 electric lights, Dreamland had 1,000,000. Four times as many fire fighters fought imaginary flames in a building six stories high, two higher than at Luna Park. It employed 14,000 people at a weekly payroll of $85,000. There was room for 60,000 people on its promenades and its nearly 2000 foot long pier could accommodate thousands more. Its Dance Hall, set atop a steel pier, was the largest in the state and its 25,000 square foot dance floor could accommodate 4000 couples. Dreamland was large enough that 100,000 people could see everything and move about without congestion.
However, many of its attractions were either pirated or copied from Luna Park. Instead of the Trip to the Moon, it offered C.E. Boyce's Over and Under the Sea, and it presented the Canals of Venice instead of Luna's Old Mill ride. Frank Bostock presented his wild animal show which was similar to Hagenback's at Luna. Six concessions moved across Surf Avenue to Dreamland including Dr. Courtney's Infant Incubator attraction.
EAST PROMENADE & FACING SURF AVENUE - 1904
Dreamland's impressive Main Entrance along Surf Avenue was 150 feet deep, 50 feet wide and 75 feet high. Huge columns on either side were decorated in gold and its top was crowned by a figure symbolic of Dreamland. The entry served like a theater's proscenium through which the public was able to see a portion of the great show beyond. It acted like a magnet to draw patrons in and the cost of admission was only ten cents (attractions extra).
A large semi-circular Grecian style building, located to the right of the entrance, between the east and west promenades, housed Bostock's Circus. Over the arena's entrance on Surf Avenue was a large group of animal life, and at its sides were two elephants trumpeting. Surrounding the semi-circle on the park side were life-sized statues of lions. Captain Bonavita and his troupe of lions were the outstanding feature of the three ring circus. Other acts included Madame Morelli and her seven leopards; Herman Weedom with a motley group of lions, tigers, leopards and hyenas; and Madame Aurora with several polar bears. During the winter Bostock and Company toured Europe.
Our Boys in Blue was located to the left of the entrance in a blue painted semi-medieval building with turreted walls and embrasures, symbolic of warfare. The show, an elaborate spectacle, depicted the various phases of service in the Army; infantry, artillery and coastal defense.
Ben Morris and his Wonderful Illusions located just seaward of Boys in Blue, showcased mystifying magic acts direct from Paris and London. The most impressive illusion was Ariel, a hypnotized girl, who moved about the stage and over the heads of the audience.
The Chilkoot Pass attraction was a reproduction of the game of bagatelle on an enormous scale. Its facade featured a huge proscenium arch in classic style, where from the front hundreds gathered to watch the action for free. Paying customers first ascended to the top of the high platform by movable stairs. Those sliding down its broad and smooth as glass incline plane struck various raised obstacles which gently diverted their planned descent towards their landing in one of the higher numbered pockets at the bottom. Of course the biggest prize was awarded to those who reached the highest numbered hole, but reaching it wasn't as easy as it looked. It was more fun to watch their progress as they were often turned around three or four times and often reached the bottom of the slide head first. One could watch the expressions on their faces as an unexpected bounce diminished their hopes of a prize or improved it. But it was the sight of the serene looking and elderly fat lady bumping her way down the wooden hillside, who trying to stop herself inadvertently somersaulted several times to the delight of the howling audience below, that proved that people make the show.
Andrew Mack's Fish Pond was operated by the popular Irish comedian. The building's facade was unique, for over its entrance was the prow of a ship with its mainsail set. On either side of the doorway were lighthouse towers supported by mermaids. The attraction drew children and a few adult fishermen who with a pole and line tried to hook mechanical tin fish that somehow eluded their best efforts. The fish were numbered and if one caught a lucky fish they won a prize; as much as $250. Mack claimed that he presided over a game of skill where steadiness of hand and eye mattered more than luck.
Another unusual attraction located along the east promenade, was the Haunted Swing illusion during the 1904 season where a dozen people sat on a suspended swing. Attendants would start it swinging, but after they left the room, the passengers would discover the swing was gaining momentum. It was only an illusion where the entire room and its fastened furniture revolved overhead past the people on the swing.
The Canals of Venice ride, located in Dreamland's most beautiful and largest building, 250 x 80 feet, was a gigantic night-time model of Venice Italy set inside a reduced version of the Ducal Palace. Authentic gondolas carried passengers along a simulated Grand Canal where the sights along it were faithfully reproduced on 54,000 square feet of canvas, mounted in receding planes on both sides. Gondoliers pretended to pole their craft past the St. Marks Plaza, the Doge's Palace, under the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs, past the wonderful domed Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, and the place where Desdemona once lived. Live entertainment at a simulated canal side trattoria, entertained passengers as they floated past. Actually it was the stream's motive power that propelled the gondolas on the journey.
Coasting Through Switzerland's 60 x 30 foot arched facade framed a distant view of Switzerland's snowy alps, just a sampling of what visitors boarding red sleighs would encounter. Once inside they encountered roped climbers on a dangerous ascent then a Swiss valley teeming with Swiss life with a vista of Mt. Blanc in the background. The sleigh then passed upwards through a long tunnel which led to its artificial mountains. The air suddenly turned frigid cold, as pipes concealed in the snowbanks emitted refrigerated air from the cooling apparatus. The ride's tracked cars then made a slow scenic descent as it circled around a mountain and down through a valley. It was an innovative scenic railway designed by Thomas Ryan.
Fighting the Flames, cast of 2000, including 120 fire fighters, complete with four engines and hose wagons, and an extension ladder fire truck had to save a full sized six-story hotel constructed of iron that was set on fire. First there was the cry of "Fire" as people in the street spotted flames in the hotel's lower stories and the excitement in the neighborhood as the alarm was turned in and they stood watching the flames leaping upwards from story to story. In Dreamland's most exciting show, there was the noisy arrival of the fire fighting apparatus from fire house located on either side of the square, the arrival of the Fire Chief Sweeney who began giving orders, the pumping of streams of water into the flaming building's open windows, followed by breathtaking rescues of people jumping into a net below. As the flames rose higher, those trapped inside fled towards the roof. But just as the roof began to cave in, firemen rescued 15 with the aid of scaling ladders. 1500 spectators watched from bleachers just inside the buildings ornate facade which was decorated with sculptures of fire fighters. The show was expanded the following year with an entire block of burning buildings.
Revels of Japan /Japanese Teahouse featured a two-story ornate Japanese temple. Tea was served inside the building in Japanese style by Japanese attendants.
The gardens behind the Japanese Teahouse featured a hanger where Santos Dumont's Airship #9, a sixty foot long cigar shaped balloon with a 35 foot long gondola suspended below, was displayed. The attraction had been a hit at the Buffalo Exposition. A three-horse power gasoline motor spinning a two-blade propeller powered the craft on its daily scheduled flight over Coney Island. The inventor / aeronaut, promoted as a noted Brazilian scientist, performed scientific airborne experiments from his airship's base in the backyard of the Japanese temple.
Louis Mann offered his 7 Temptations of St. Anthony show which was ballyhooed to attract male patrons. After the snickering audience had been relieved of their dimes and gathered in a small room, a curtain was withdrawn to reveal a large oil painting. In it, on the right was the good saint praying hard, while behind him and beyond his vision, was a lady barely draped in garments. The ticket seller disappeared behind the painting and began lecturing about the history and times of the saint. When the audience became restless, the panel on which the siren was depicted was removed and replaced by another. The brunette in the second painting was just as scantily clad as the blond before her in the first painting, even for the permissive standards of a summer resort. However, it made no difference to St. Anthony for he was painted to look the other way. And it likely failed to excite the male audience either, since the women depicted would have trouble making the casting call as show girls in an early 20th century musical comedy.
WEST PROMENADE - 1904
Dreamland did have a number of original attractions. Probably the most unique was "Lilliputia" better known as "The Midget City" located along the west promenade. Three hundred midgets, who had been scattered across the continent as attractions at various World's Fairs, upon manager Samuel W. Gumpertz request, came to Dreamland to live in an experimental community. Their city, in a area 80 x 175 feet, was built at half scale as a replica 15th century Nuremburg, Germany. Everything was built in proportional scale of the inhabitants, from the theater to the beach lifeguard towers and toilets in their homes. The midgets had their own parliament, their own Midget City Fire Department that responded hourly to a false alarm, and their own beach complete with midget lifeguards. There was also a "Midget Theater", circus arena, miniature livery stable with diminutive horses, bantam chickens, and midget Chinese laundrymen. To accentuate the "little people's size, a giant or two sometimes walked the area. During the park's off hours, the "little people" lead a typical mundane family life.
Just inland from Lilliputia was the Destruction of Pompeii building that resembled a classical Greek temple. A fresco by Charles S. Shean, set behind the columns, depicted the Bay of Naples and its surrounding towns and cities at the base of a dormant volcano. Visitors seated inside a classical Greek temple watched E.C. Boyce's cyclorama show, a staged eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and its destruction of the town of Pompeii with its inhabitants by engulfment and a downpour of lava and ashes. The effect was achieved with scenic and mechanical equipment and included an exciting electrical display finale. The thrilling show cost $200,000 to stage.
The Electricity Building next to it housed the generators that lit the park's one million lights. Its facade was shaped like the armature of a dynamo and brilliantly illuminated at night. Its interior was decorated like that of a palace, a palace of technology. The ceiling and walls were covered with costly oil paintings depicting historical events from the time of Morse and Franklin; its frames studded with jewels. The engines and dynamos were enameled in white and gold mountings. A Vernis-Martin curio table held tools, and a beautiful mosaic table held the oil cups. The engineer, wearing white gloves and clad in an immaculate duck jacket twinkling with brass buttons, moved among the dynamos. As a college graduate, he was qualified to operate the electrical plant as well as lecture to his visitors.
"Under and Over the Sea", the park's showstopper was located on the west promenade near Beacon Tower. The building was constructed along the lines of a Man-of-War with turrets, protruding guns, lifeboats and a deck. E.C. Boyce's attraction offered the public a simulated submarine ride under the Atlantic, where viewing the action through portholes, they experienced a confrontation with a giant squid, sharks and other strange inhabitants of the deep. It was reminiscent of the adventure scenes in Jules Verne's exciting novels which boys read enthusiastically at the turn of the century. Those waiting in line for the ride on a miniature island could trace the submarine's path via a little flag remaining above the surface.
The Thompson Scenic Railway's entrance north of the submarine ride was designed in "art-nouveau style. This coaster predated Dreamland and was incorporated into the park along its west boundary. A portion of the tame 1890's ride, especially along the ocean turn, was enclosed and featured illuminated scenery.
The Dog and Monkey Building housed Wormwood's Dog and Monkey Show. The front of the building, reflecting its theme, was decorated with coconut trees in which monkeys jumped from palm frond to adjacent palm frond in their search for nuts. Dogs, watching them from below, patrolled on the ground. Inside Professor Wormwood's educated monkeys, dogs, cats, bears, lemurs and anteaters performed.
Located close to the Surf Avenue entrance was the Baby Incubator building. Its exterior was fashioned designed in "farmhouse" style with its first story brick and its upper part half timbered. Its tiled roof had a gable with a large stork overlooking a nest of cherubs. Inside at his nurse staffed hospital Dr. Courtney, a Frenchman, displayed babies that were born prematurely . These tiny babies were placed in his care by hopeful mothers at a time when most hospitals didn't have incubators to care for them. He employed wet nurses so that the babies received natural mother's milk, and a thermostat controlled system that blew filtered air past hot water pipes to maintain the proper incubator temperature. These tiny sleeping babies, boys tied with blue ribbons and girls with pink ribbons, were displayed in their small crystal houses. To cover expenses he charged 10 cents to view these children and his novel method to keep them alive. Woman, particularly childless women, were the bulk of his visitors.
From the time he came to Coney Island until he retired in 1943, he was able to save 6,500 of the 8,000 babies placed in his care; an enviable record. unmatched in organized medicine. However, when he first came to Coney Island, America's medical establishment didn't approve of his methods. So he worked World's Fair exhibitions until Thompson and Dundy gave him space in 1903 at Luna Park.
CENTER SECTION & PIER
In the center of the lagoon stood the 375 foot high Beacon Tower that was a replica of the famous Giradela tower of Seville Spain. The 50 foot square tower that cost $100,000 to construct was painted pure white and studded with 44,700 electric bulbs that made it a tower of light after dusk. Electricity costs were $1 per minute. A rotating searchlight at its top was a beacon for all of New York City. Unfortunately its alternating red and white beam too closely resembled that of Norton Point's lighthouse. The city feared that it would lure ships onto Coney Island's beaches and ordered it removed. Visitors could ascend via two elevators to its observation deck for a magnificent 50 mile view including all of Coney Island and in the distance the island of Manhattan.
The Lagoon that separated Dreamland's east and west promenades was situated seaward of Beacon Tower. The 130 foot wide lake extended 300 feet to the base of the Shoot-the-Chutes. A wide pedestrian bridge arched over the water where the descending Chutes boats hit the lagoon's water.
A Miniature Railroad built by the Cagney Brothers made a circuit of park beneath the promenade. Each of its three small cars, pulled by a small oil-burning steam locomotive, held two passengers.
Dreamland's Shoot-the-Chutes was the largest version of the water slide ride ever built; actually two Chutes side by side for a greater capacity of 7000 people an hour. The chutes' 280 foot long ramp extended over 175 feet beyond the beach and was supported by a high iron frame set above ocean pilings. A moving staircase 360 feet long transported passengers to the top where they boarded flat bottomed boats which slid down the water slicked Chute beneath the pedestrian bridge to the large lagoon below. Each boat was manned by an oarsman in the rear who guided the boat to the dock where passengers embarked.
Dreamland's Steel Pier extended out to sea nearly half a mile so that steamboats, bringing passengers from Manhattan every hour, could dock safely. The structure was two stories high with broad walks for thousands of people. The largest Ballroom in the world, 25,000 square feet, was built on the end of the pier's upper deck. Its interior was largely decorated in Renaissance architectural style, with the exception of a huge sea-shell canopy built over the orchestra pit. By day, windows on three sides offered an unparalleled view of the ocean and Coney's beachfront, and by night 10,000 ceiling lights bathed the dancers in soft light.
Just inland of the Ballroom was the Ocean Breeze Restaurant in which visitors passed through to reach Dreamland's Ballroom. And on the lower deck were 1200 bath lockers used for ocean beach bathers who rented long woolen bathing attire that nearly covered them completely. Also on the lower deck was Chinatown, The Bowery and other minor attractions.
Dreamland also featured a number of smaller attractions. There was the Funny Room, sometimes known as "C'est a Rire," and Peter F. Daily's Parisian Novelty. Little Egypt entertained in the Streets of Cairo show and Mowgli The Missing Link was actually a giant orangutan. A three ring Circus operated from a platform seaward of Beacon Tower. A daring bicycle act called Leaping the Gap, was the premier attraction.
Friends of Marie Dressler, a Broadway actress down on her luck, used their political influence to get her the popcorn and peanut concession at Dreamland. She dressed up small boys as red flanneled little imps to act as her salesmen. She coached her little devils to prance and chant bits of nonsense. Customers, especially woman, were enchanted by them and bought their snacks.
The park's pretty female ticket sellers, were costumed, too. They sat in their cashier's booths garbed in long white college gowns and wearing light blue mortarboard caps. Management's intent was to give their entire park including the personnel a refined look.
In early August 1904, Bostock's renowned lion-tamer, Captain Jack Bonavita had his right hand clawed in the Dreamland arena by a lion named Baltimore. It was a bad accident that hospitalized him and required amputation of two of his fingers. It was an occupational accident that required plenty of hospital rest to prevent infection of his hand. But then Dreamland's management thought it would make good publicity if the gallant lion-tamer was wheeled into the arena where he could sit next to the cage while his substitute guided the big cats through their paces. The idea caught his fancy, but his doctors warned him that if he left the hospital, it might cost him his arm. Of course he had another incentive in that he would be closer to Marie Dressler who was madly in love with him. When he returned to Dreamland, the crowds came and applauded widely as the handsome but heavily bandaged lion-tamer sat outside the bars and made faces at his nemesis. Marie came at every opportunity and in the evenings Bonavita held court at the nearby Pabst Hotel. But by September 4th, when blood poisoning spread into his arm, he was rushed back to Brooklyn Hospital. The doctors wanted to amputate his arm immediately, but he begged for a postponement as long as there was some hope. Two days later they amputated his right arm just below the elbow.
1905 SEASON CHANGES
Roltair's Creation, the hit attraction at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair midway, was housed in a huge domed building along Surf Avenue adjacent to the east promenade. Its striking Surf Avenue entrance, formed by the spread wings of a huge 40 foot tall bare breasted welcoming female figure (said to weigh 100 tons), was acceptable in that turn of the century puritanical era only because it was Biblical epic. Its boat ride dramatized the biblical epic of the birth of the Universe. The visitor, seated in a moving grotesque craft, glided backwards through sixty centuries [the Bible states that the world is less than 6000 years old] along a 1000 foot long canal that encircled the dome. A moving panorama of the centuries passed until the ride climaxed with the universe's actual creation.
Hiram Maxim's Airships ride was located in a grove of vines in Dreamland's central section between Bostock's Arena and Beacon Tower. Its huge rocket-like airships hung from a 150 foot high tower. As they circled it, centrifugal force extended their arc to a 150 foot radius. It cost $75,000 to construct.
Hell Gate's visitors were transported in a boat along a spiral water flume to the gates of Hell. The action took place in an open fronted building where a 50 foot whirlpool drew boats crowded with passengers into constantly narrowing circles, until before the eyes of astonished spectators, they dove into the center of the pool and disappeared. It was a clever device for drawing in paying customers, for by allowing everyone to watch one of mankind's primal fears for free, most were curious to see what happened beneath the pool. At the gate their boat became caught in a whirlpool where the iron and wood channel's slope suddenly dipped and the boats dropped into a subterranean channel which followed a torturous course under the building to its exit point. Its Plaster of Paris caverns collaborated the popular conception of the Earth's interior. Ellis' attraction replaced the previous year's lackluster Submarine Boat ride.
Dreamland's Hippodrome Track encircled the lagoon. Its Pageant of Romans introduced soldiers, performers, chariots and drivers to an expectant audience. Chariot races were four horses abreast and the program also featured ostrich races. Equestrians also competed for prizes.
The Temple of Mirth, situated along the east promenade in a building of Egyptian architecture, was a fun house. It featured a medley of dissolving mirrors, crystal mazes, shaking walls and blasts of wind.
Dreamland's Leap Frog Railroad, built out on a special 400 foot long pier jutting into the sea, was a one track railroad that went nowhere. It was built to meet an absurd challenge once posed by Mark Twain; "the only thing Yankee ingenuity had not accomplished...the successful passing of two carloads on a single line of tracks." Each of the Leap Frog cars were equipped with a pair of bent rails on their roofs that allowed the approaching cars to glide over or underneath each other. The 32 frightened passengers bracing for a collision, were relieved when the other car safely passed overhead. On the return trip the cars changed positions so that passengers on both cars got to experience the sensation.
Touring Europe by Automobile which replaced the Fall of Pompeii on the west promenade was likely a dark ride in which passengers riding in model cars were pulled by chain past painted scenery of famous scenic spots in Europe.
Other attractions debuting that season included Streets of Asia, Altheer's Dog, Monkey and Pony Circus, Conklin's New Illusions, and a Carousel in the Hippodrome Building along the ocean-front west of the Shoot-the-Chutes. A shooting gallery called Hunting in the Ozarks , was situated just inland from the Japanese Tea Garden.
1906 SEASON CHANGES
The End of the World biblical show, which replaced Touring Europe by Automobile on the west promenade, depicted the Bible's Book of Revelation. It was performed on two stages in two separate auditoriums, each seating 1200 people. The show, which was in four parts, began at the entrance and was open to the public. It depicted a human forest; reproductions of Dore's fanciful pictures.
The second scene on the first stage was laid out on rocky terrain and was introduced by a chorus of 100 men and women. Suddenly the Archangel Gabriel appeared and blew the Trumpet of Doom. Chaos erupted as thunder, lighting and darkness possessed the scene. A rain of fire and brimstone upon a wicked world. The dead, consisting mainly of skeletons, arose from their graves and coffins. The good people took wing and flew off to heaven, while the wicked accompanied by devils and hobgoblins fell through chutes into a lake of red fire signifying Hell. The terrified spectators were led to the second stage where they were taken to Purgatory. In the final act all the beauties and delights of the heavenly realm were depicted. Jacobs Ladder was raised amidst angels playing golden harps. Angels descended and ascended with those who found repentance and were judged good. Its moral lesson was not to sin or suffer the consequences.
Near the End of the World building in a small space were tours From New York to California and a Trip Thru Switzerland. The cars were patterned after Pullman palace Observation cars.
Roltair's new show, Pharaoh's Daughter was located on the west promenade (in the old Monkey Theater site) between the L.A. Thompson scenic railway and the Infant Incubators. Its story line involved a girl who planned to sacrifice herself to the gods by drowning in the Nile. Instead she found baby Moses.
The Village of Moqui Indians, 16 adults and 3 children from New Mexico's Painted Desert, used a walled off section of the Midget Village. It featured a show with snake dancers who danced in a circle with live rattlers in their mouths.
Midget City's space was reduced to make room for the Village of Moqui Indians. Prices were halved to compensate for the loss of the midget jail and circus. One of the 25 midgets residing in the city was Mrs. General Tom Thumb.
Also on the west promenade was Tim Hurst's Auto Tours to Paris and From Washington to New York. This was a mechanical arrangement of moving pictures and practically stationary cars.
Halle's Scenes of the World replaced Conklin's Theater on the east promenade. It was a mechanical illusion which transported the tourist from New York to San Francisco and about London. Two cars were used and the moving scenes were projected.
A similar illusion nearby was C.L. Hagen's A Trip in an Airship. That illusion imagined an aerial voyage from Manhattan to Coney Island.
The San Francisco Earthquake show, which replaced Fighting the Flames, was a spectacle in which 350 persons, scenery, fire and smoke, and a quaking machine showed the great Pacific city before, during and after the earthquake.
A new Shooting Gallery near Creation with a rustic setting of trees and thickets that obscured the wild animal targets was owned by Gumperetz. It was run by western girls in Rough Rider costumes.
Other new attractions included a Traver Circle Swing , and Hurst's Touring Automobiles. The outdoor Japanese Tea Garden returned after Santos Dumont's Airships left.
1907 SEASON CHANGES
Over the Great Divide on the east promenade was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in the large area previously used for Fighting the Flames. It was a scenic railroad in which 20 passenger trains traveled over a portion of the Rocky Mountains. The electric railroad's two cars, each with a motorman, traveled up a 5-1/2% grade to a height of 50 feet, then wound down by gravity along the mountain's 2000 feet of winding and undulating trail. A 40 foot span bridge, across a yawning canyon with a picturesque lake 40 feet below, connected the two 65 and 80 foot high peaks. A volcano erupted at the highest point.
There was a serious accident on the ride in July 1907 when a two car train derailed as it was about to shoot down a steep incline into a dark tunnel. A dozen people were hurt.
Touring the Yellowstone nearby featured a journey through a national park. Its entrance was at the foot of a miniature mountain towering above and just inside on railroad track stood a Pullman observation car. After the spectators bought tickets and were comfortably seated, the trains vibrating movement was reproduced as scenery passed the apparently moving train. Scenes painted on 4000 feet of scrolling canvas included Fort Yellowstone, Hot Springs Terraces, Black Glass Mountain, Upper Geyser Basin, Old Faithful Geyser and the Morning Glory Pool.
Ellis converted the area on the west promenade where Lilliputia and several other attractions stood and built a lavish attraction called Orient. There he built an aggregation of attractions clustered about an Oriental Theater that showcased a gigantic spectacle called the "Feast of Belshazzar and the Destruction of Babylon." About the Royal Court, in the center of Belshazzar's other buildings was Herold's Temple. At the east end of the court on the terrace of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, huge terraces built with columns erected in Babylonian architectural style, was an Oriental coffee room and Geisha parlor. Beneath the gardens, a troupe of clowns, jesters and acrobats from the palace of "Gaekwar of Baroda, and whirling dervishes from the Sahara, entertained those awaiting a show. There was also a museum of antiquities.
The 200 foot long great wall and gateway arch to the Orient was the largest ever built of staff; its central arch was 50 feet long and 200 feet high. Massive statues of Babylonian deities and winded bulls were set into the base of the archway, while its dome was adorned by hundreds of lights. At the end of the wall were obelisks. Set into the arch was a large stage where the show's historic characters, flanked by camels and slaves in period costumes, were ballyhooed.
The main show, the "Feast of Belshazzar and the Destruction of Babylon," in the main theater was an old Bible story. The stage represented the throne room of Belshazzar's palace. The roof of his Oriental court was supported by pillars resembling marble columns, and one side of the throne was set with blazing jewels. Beautiful slaves, representing various nations, stood around the throne and waved gem studded fans of peacock plumes. Others served the king and his generals wine from golden flagons. Dancing girls, poets and singers entertained the guests. Lords, priests and councilors, garbed in flowing beards, were gathered about the king, while soldiers in brazen armor, stood guard about the colonnade.
The festivities were at their height when suddenly a flash of lightning came from the sky. Darkness came quickly and a luminous hand appeared writhing on the wall in front of the king. The guests and king prostrated themselves in fear as the hand traced in fire the ominous words, "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin." The hands disappeared, but the words remained as the darkness waned. After none at the court could explain the words, Daniel, a prophet was called to interpret the hand writing on the wall.
The final scene showed the climax of Belshazzar's rule. The king and his guests were drunk and fell helplessly into the hands of the Medean invaders. Belshazzar was slain by Darius who entered the throne room in his royal chariot. While the king died in agony, the walls of the throne room and palace crumbled and fell in mimic ruin.
The Venice Canals attraction on the east promenade was revamped to become the Bay of Naples. A view of the Bay near Naples and Mt. Vesuvius was reproduced and a canal network led from it. Passengers rode in gondolas past scenery of Naples and Pompeii.
The Tropics at the base of the tower at the west end of the lagoon was decorated with flowers and foliage. A big Dreamland orchestra gave afternoon and evening concerts there.
Roltair's Arabian Nights replaced a group of small attractions adjacent to Creation. Seven gorgeous palaces, each featuring a sculptured head in front, represented the illusion within. Each magic act, based on the old Arab tales, was set in seven different colored rooms, representing the seven days of the week. Tuesday's green room featured a sphinx table where a lecturer held a little green casket in his hand, and Friday's black room, representing Ali Baba's cave, showed a remorseful brooding robber chief sitting at the base of a large candlestick 14 feet high. In its flame appeared a little soubrette (coquettish maiden) draped in green. And on the largest stage in the Saturday room was a heavy automobile with a girl driver. The astonished audience watched as it ran in midair, turning sideways and upside down at the will of the driver. It sailed over the city and landed atop a house; all done by a mechanical trick.
The Trip Over the Alps a scenic railway with mountainous scenery was erected likely along the east promenade.
Other new attractions included a Skating Rink on the pier, the Temple of Palmistry , the Rocky Mountain Holdup show, and the Hunting in the Ozarks shooting gallery.
NOTE: Press releases for the 1907 season included several attractions outside the old park perimeter. It is possible that they bought the adjacent property between W. 10th and Dreamland that Tilyou had leased through the 1904 season. It would certainly account for the park's ability to build the Giant Racer after the Loop the Loop coaster was removed after the 1910 season. Several of the attractions that they claimed were part of the park was a Ferris Wheel along W. 10th and Johnson's Pavilion and Carousel along Surf Avenue just east of the Creation entrance.
1908 SEASON CHANGES
The German Beer Hall, which replaced Ryan's Airships north of Beacon Tower, was roofed but had an open air feel. Each of its four sides were a row of large arched openings that gave the customer the option of entering the hall from any direction. Frauleins would serve mugs of frothy beer to customers seated at long tables.
Freak Street featured forty human monstrosities.
In the Moorish Theater along the east promenade was a show featuring 18 belligerent Arabs bandits who rode with the Raisuli when he kidnapped U.S. consul Caid McLane from Tangier Morocco. The show also featured the Arab's savage desert customs; the Torture Feast and Powder Dance. Gumpertz had personally gone to North Africa to recruit the horsemen and their mounts. They were commanded by Chief Scrub Dowdy who personally escorted the frightened consul from his desert imprisonment to the British garrison at Tangier.
Ellis staged his huge production of an electric opera "The Hereafter," the destruction of the World by fire, in the huge auditorium that the Orient used the previous season. The Biblical epic, using a chorus of 200 singers, showed the Damnation of Faust and the Salvation of Marguerite in detail.
The Battle of Submarines was a big show depicting a modern naval battle under the waters at San Francisco's Golden Gate Harbor. Spectators viewed the show through massive plate glass windows. Also in the same auditorium was Deep Sea Divers.
Fireman's Christmas Eve showed the action of the New York Fire Department. Sixty fire fighters battled a burning skyscraper.
Dreamland wasn't as successful as the politician owners expected. While the park drew its share of the business, it was never the lion's share. The majority of Coney Island's amusement park visitors preferred to go to either Luna Park or Steeplechase. Frankly Dreamland's cultural and architectural pretensions were lost on the largely uneducated public. Instead of refinement they wanted fun, chaos and exotic illusion. Gate receipts couldn't support the park's lavish initial construction costs nor its top-heavy management filled with political appointments. None of Dreamland's management were showmen and they lacked the insight of what the customer wanted. To simulate business during the 1908 season, they instituted a free gate except on weekends and holidays. [Of course there was an admission charge for individual attractions.]
1909 SEASON CHANGES
By 1909 Dreamland's owners realized that they needed a showman to run their park if it was to be profitable. Heads rolled and they promoted Samuel W. Gumpertz, who had managed Lilliputia from 1904-1906, to general manager of the park. His fondness for curious and unusual people of the world led him to import and display a tribe of Igorrettes from the Philippines complete with village for the 1909 season. These Bontock head-hunters were simply garbed with only a few folds of gay-colored cloth.
To promote some of his unusual attractions, he recruited the legendary Omar Sami who was considered the greatest carnival barker of all time. Sami, unlike barkers who screamed for attention, had a mysterious air and was soft spoken. He spoke in flowing musical sentences with a vague Hindu accent and rarely raised his voice. He dazzled his audience, who would then buy tickets to the show in droves as if they were hypnotized.
Behind Bostock's, where the German Beer Garden previously stood, the constructed a splendid Ballroom for 1800 couples. Circling the dance floor was a platform with seating places and waiters.
Surrounding the lagoon they built a wooden Pergola twined with wisteria vines and hung with quaint lanterns. It served two purposes; to remove the lagoon's bar look and provide a viewing platform for the free circus at the center of the lagoon. One of the acts included the Herzog horses. They also built elevated balconies overlooking the ocean. Patrons were provided with comfortable chairs to enjoy the ocean view.
The United States Against Japan sometimes known as the Deep Sea Divers show featured a demonstration by Captain Sorcho of submarine mining. It was performed in front of the lagoon stage with a rig that weighed 50 tons. Sorcho, who's show had been in the Trip to the North Pole building on Surf Avenue, donned a bulky diver's rig to place the mines against the submarine's hull.
The show Melodia in the Electric Theater featured six young women and two men who coaxed pleasing music out of funny looking electric instruments. One of the instruments was a Musical Sawmill.
For the Yale & Harvard Boat Race William Mangels laid parallel tracks along the ocean pier. Levers in front of each seat when rocked back and forth, propelled the boat forward. The operation was run by the Pleasure Boat Company.
The construction of the Marine Scenic Railroad by Thompson was announced in March, but it is unlikely that it was built. A concept postcard that was issued showed it on a pier extending out to sea.
However several smaller attractions were built for the 1909 summer season. Two rides debuted; the Rigmarole basically huge tubs fastened to a circular track that revolved and dipped; and Cupid's Circle a ride with series of tete-a-tete seats (2 person) designed for courting couples that revolved. There were shows like the Butterfly Mystery , the Pandrome, and a one called Night in Paris featuring 60 dancers, mostly girls, dancing to Broadway tunes. The unpopular show closed in mid-July. A Pony Track opened for children on the pier's lower deck and a shooting gallery named Teddy in Africa was along the east promenade. Other entertainment included a Vaudeville Stage south of Beacon Tower and a free circus on the lagoon. The later was so popular that its hours were extended to 11 P.M.
1910 SEASON CHANGES
Alligator Joe's, located in a building on the west promenade where Pharaoh's Daughter had been, was converted into a humid tropical version of the Florida Everglades. It featured a collection of 1500 alligators, crocodiles and sea cows. There were also lizards and chameleons. The ugliest of the crocodiles was guaranteed by a Chicago University professor to be 1,884 years old. He counted the rings on its tail.
The pier's dance hall was converted into the Novelty Theater for vaudeville and motion pictures. Sometimes they offered a wild west show.
Glaciers Scenic Railroad, an L.A. Thompson ride, was likely a remodel of the Sea Shell Scenic Railway on the west promenade with new and thrilling dips. This was an L.A. Thompson ride. The scenic railroad's scenery, based on a Trip to the North Pole, included scenes of ice floes, arctic animals and the ship "Roosevelt" caught in ice floes.
A Swimming Pool was placed in one corner of the spacious lagoon and it appears from photos that two story bathhouse structures were built over the old hippodrome track. There were facilities for 3000 people. A Yacht Club was located on the pier's lower deck.
New shows included The Diving Venuses an aquatic show with 20 diving girls, Alias Kid Allen an outdoor spectacular drama about contemporary criminals, Havana which depicted the blowing up of warship Maine in the Cuban harbor, and the Devil's Thumb, an English pantomime and the show Girl & the Bandit. There was also a Grecian Theater and a village of Wild Men from Borneo.
New ride attractions were Lauster's Giggle that seated 36 people, the Ocean Wave which gave the effect of like being in the ocean, and a water slide called Over Niagara Falls. The Chutes were widened and this slide ran down the middle tracks.
There was an announcement of a new 300 foot wide front entrance along Surf Avenue. It is uncertain if this was ever built but if so had a forest and waterfall on its mountain side. Electrically controlled airships were to run from forest to mountain top. If it was put in it had to extend from the east promenade all the way to W. 10th St.
1911 SEASON CHANGES
Gumpertz began to upgrade attractions and for the 1911 season scraped the all white paint job in favor of creme and firehouse red. The owners poured in another $60,000 into the park to remodel, redecorate and hopefully revive the park for the 1911 season.
The Novelty Theater in the old Ballroom on the pier was converted into a Skating Rink, and a Pony Track for children with fifty Shetland ponies was placed beneath it on the pier's lower deck. The Chutes were given a new look with winter sleighs descending the water slide and a Miniature Subway encircled the park. Other attractions included The Pit, combined a Helter Skelter slide, the Sneezer and a Human Roulette Wheel, an Automatic Baseball booth and a ride called the Mary-go-long. New shows included the Siege of Richmond, a Civil War extravaganza in the Novelty Theater and "The Sacrifice," a new biblical show. Gumperez also placed a Side Show beneath a canvas tent that featured freaks of all kinds from all over the world. It was called the Congress of Curious People.
They used the under-utilized property extending west to W. 10th Street to construct the Giant Racer, Coney Island's largest racing roller coaster. The 900 foot long steel two-track racing coaster was built by Jarvis at a cost of $180,000. Its steel super structure enabled it to survive the 1911 Dreamland fire. The coaster had a terrible accident later that year when a Giant Racer train left the tracks on a curve fifty feet above Surf Avenue. Two woman were killed
DREAMLAND'S FIERY DEMISE (also see Dreamland Fire article)
It was the rush to have everything operational for the Memorial Day weekend that kept the tinsmiths working past midnight at a ride called Hell Gate on Friday night May 26, 1911. They were repairing a leak in the ride's water flume with hot tar. At about 1:30 A.M. a cluster of lights, that the men were using for illumination, began to explode. Whether it was due to heat from the hot tar or just a short circuit, the result was the men were suddenly plunged into darkness. Someone kicked over a bucket of hot bubbling tar in the darkness and a moment later Hell Gate was in Flames.
Several of the workers panicked and fled, while others including the boss decided to fight the blaze with a fire extinguisher and hose located nearby. They wasted valuable minutes locating the equipment and by the time they returned the fire was already licking the rafters. Englestein and his workers ran for their lives.
A night watchman upon seeing the blaze, raced into the administration building and pulled the fire alarm. Firemen located only a 100 yards from Dreamland responded immediately, but when they hooked their hoses into the newly installed high pressure fire fighting system, the pressure began to fall rapidly and their streams of water fell short. Within minutes a second and third alarm were sounded and fire fighting equipment from all over Coney Island and Brooklyn began to race towards Dreamland.
While the six premature babies were being evacuated from the nearby Baby Incubator building, the animal trainers and keepers began to move the wild animals from their cages into the main arena in preparation of moving them in crates to safer quarters. They kept the great cats on a continuous patrol of the arena, but Hip the park's beloved elephant refused to move from its post because its trainer hadn't returned from a Manhattan party. Naturally the animals were nervous, but all was well until the firemen cut the electrical power and the animals were plunged into darkness. Then all hell broke lose as the frightened animals turned on each other. The trainers ran for their lives before they had time to put the animals mercifully to their deaths. Sixty of Ferrari's trained wild animals would lose their lives before the night was out.
At first the wind was blowing inland. Sparks lofted upwards caused flimsily built adjacent buildings to catch on fire. Dreamland's huge tower began burning like a candle and eventually came crashing down. Those that were still in the park had to be evacuated by sea via police rescue boats.
Building owners on the other side of Surf Avenue used hoses to wet down their building facades. Luna Park's owners were doing the same and were accused of tapping into Coney Islands high pressure system, something they denied. But the sad truth was that too many illegal connections into the high pressure system accounted for the loss of pressure.
By 3:30 A.M. after the wind had finally shifted and blew off shore, the weary firemen rallied. At last they could control it while it burned itself out. However, the buildings to the east of Dreamland began to catch on fire. Once Balmer's Bathhouse started burning all the buildings that lined the New Iron Pier Walk were doomed including the Iron Tower from the Philadelphia Centennial. It too caught fire in the intense heat and within minutes came crashing down. After that area burned, taking with it three hotels, several restaurants, two bathing pavilions, a carousel or two, the Oriental Scenic Railroad and Pike's Peak Railway, the fire burned itself out. Four hundred firemen had contained the fire between West Fifth and West Tenth Streets.
When the sun rose the next morning all of Dreamland's 15 acres were blackened smoking ruins, and nearly as much property on either side of it. Dreamland had staged its greatest spectacle but the cost was nearly $5,200,000. Little of it was insured.
There were no plans to rebuild Dreamland since Senator Reynolds had lost his stomach for show business. "The city should take the land and turn it into a public park," he declared. "The loss is about $2,125,000, of which $400,000 was covered by insurance...I don't think we should be permitted to rebuild. There is too much risk."
Dreamland's board of directors met, but only for the purpose of extricating their investments. Although the property was assessed at only $1,500,000 by the Board of Estimates, the city eventually paid Dreamland stockholders $1,800,000 for the 15 acres including the street that they once gave away for nothing.