Coney Island - Timeline
The material is copyrighted © 1997 by Jeffrey Stanton.
- Tilyou entices Thompson and Dundy to exhibit their "A Trip to the Moon"
show at his Steeplechase Park. This untique attraction flew patrons
in a giant flying ship to the moon where they were greeted by midget
moon men and were offerd green cheese (the moon was said to be made of).
- Coney Island's summer season was plagued by a considerable amount of rain
on may weekends. While indoor attractions did reasonably well, outdoor
attractions like Sea Lion Park suffered economic hardship.
- Thompson and Dundy's Luna Park opened on May 16, 1903 to a crowd
of 43,000 paying customers. The 22 acre park, on the site of the
old Sea Lion Park, featured a forest of towers and spires lit at night
by 122,000 electric lights. Attractions inluded A Trip to the Moon, a
Dragon's Gorge (scenic railroad), Shoot-the-Chutes, Canals of Venice,
Hagenbeck's Wild Animals, Miniature Railroad, Trip to the North Pole,
Infant Incubators, Old Mill ride, Eskimo and German Villages, Chinese
and Monkey Theaters and a Grand Ballroom. The park was an immediate
- A fire on November 2,1903 swept the Bowery's five blocks between
Steeplechase Park and Feltmans. Although damages exceeded a million
dollars, it purged the island of some of Coney's most disreputable
- Dreamland amusement park opened on May 14, 1904 on 15 acres of land seaward
of Luna Park, across Surf Avenue. Ex-Senator Reynolds and his associates built
it at a cost of $3,500,000. While most of its attractions were either copied
from or pirated from Luna Park, but on a grander scale, it did have some
innovative ones like Midget City and the Haunted Swing. Intially it attracted
huge crowds, but most visitors found the park's cultural and architectural
pretensions boring. They perferred to go to Luna Park instead.
- Coney Island's first Mardi Gras Festival was held in September and attracted
300,000 people. It became a yearly tradition at the close of the summer
- Brighton Beach Race Track closes.
- The fire at Steeplechase began at 4 A.M. July 28th in the Cave of the
Winds attraction. The spreading flames could not be checked by Coney's
inadequate fire fighting equipment. Within hours all 25 of the park's
25 attractions burned along with some adjoining property along the
Bowery. The loss was $1,400,000.
- When Charles Even Hughes was elected governor of New York, his first
action was to double cross the voters by calling a special session of
the state legislature to enact a law against betting on horse races.
Although arrests increased, it was still almost impossible to convict
bettors. Still it was a nuisance and Coney Island's remaining two
race tracks closed two years later in 1910.
- A four alarm fire on July 7th destroyed Pabst's Loop and Vanderveer
Hotels at Surf Avenue and W. 5th. The loss was $200,000.
- Sixteen people in two roller coaster cars were pitched from the top
of a 60 foot peak on the Rough Riders switchback at Jones Walk and
The Bowery. Miraculously only four of them were killed.
- Dreamland burned the night of May 27, 1911 just hours before it was
scheduled to open for the season. Repairmen working late at night
to repair a water leak in Hell Gate's flume, accidently spilled a
bucket of hot tar after the lights flickered out. They wasted ten
minutes of valuable time in an attempt to put out the fire before they
called for help. When firemen arrived and couldn't get water pressure
to fight the fire, all was lost. By morning the park was ashes, and
the loss was $3,500,000 with little insured. The owners decided not
to rebuild. Nearby hotels and attractions also burned. Balmer's
Bathhouse and the Observation Tower at the Iron Pier were also
destroyed. Losses to these adjacent structures was another $1,000,000.
- The city constructed the Municipal Bath House along the beach just east
of Dreamland. It had changing rooms and 12,000 lockers that rented from
fifteen to twenty-five cents. Poor families, who couldn't afford the
more expensive private bath houses, waited in line for hours in the
hot sun to snare one of these cheap lockers. Luckily the city
constructed the building of concrete and it survived the Dreamland fire.
- Two women riding the Giant Racer died when the train they were riding
in left the track on a curve fifty feet above Surf Avenue.
- Samuel Gumpertz opened his Dreamland Circus Sideshow along Surf Avenue
after the fire on the old Dreamland site. He displays a collection of
human oddities; midgets, ginats, bearded ladies, fat ladies, skeleton
men, albinos, legless men and women, pinheads, and even a Bentoc head-
hunting chief. The freak show began in a tent almost from the day
after the fire, but Gumpertz soon built a permanent structure. It was
a rousing success.
- A fire started in the Pneumatic Tube and Miniature Subway in Luna Park
on December 11, 1911. A combination of low winds and a working high
pressure fire fighting system saved the park. Attractions burned were
the Pneumatic Tube, Checker Slide, and the Temple of Mystery all on
the east side of the main walk. Loss was $125,000.
- Frederick Thompson declares bankruptcy and looses Luna Park to creditors.
The park was then owned by the Sea Beach Land Company, but he continues on
as general manager for several years.
- Two accidents at Steeplechase Park that season. A man was killed on May 19,
1912 when he fell off the Wooden Donkey. The object was to ride on its
revolving back for five minutes in order to win a $5 prize. Then on May 26th
five people were injured when the cable on the Airship snapped and dropped
one end of a car. The passengers tumbled out and hit the ground. Fortunately
the ride as slowing down and wasn't very high off the ground.
- Steeplechase, which was preventing free public access to the beach in front
of their park and had fenced their "private beach," lost the court case on
Oct 4, 1913. Although they showed title to "a conveyance in fee to land
extending out into the Atlantic Ocean" and the widening of the beach over
the years had extended their property, the judged ruled that the public had
a right to use the beach.
- Another accident occurs on the Rough Riders roller coaster. A train
derails on July 30 and falls along Jones Walk. Two passengers and the
driver (its electric) are killed instantly.
- New York Court of Appeals rules on July 12th that occupants have no land
rights on beach between high and low tide lines, and orders all structures
and fences removed. When businesses ignore the order, Deputy Attorney General
Learner and a squad of armed men visit the bathhouses and other businesses
to enforce their removal.