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Long before there ever was a Disneyland, there was first Coney Island. Known for its long line of beaches and its amusement parks, Coney Island in the southernmost point of Brooklyn, New York was a place to be in the olden days, especially when the heat of summer strikes. Whether young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, the denizens of New York City would all make their way for Coney Island on weekends and when summer begins.
Coney Island saw its first days as a resort area right after the American Civil War, when excursion railroads and streetcars began to connect the island with the rest of New York City in the 1860s. The main attraction of Coney Island was its beach, and this beach remains to be the key selling feature of the place to this day. Soon enough, major hotels began to open establishments here and affluent families acquired summerhouses and private beaches in the area. Following them are the amusement parks, the gambling dens and the horseracing tracks. Until the 1920s, Coney Island was the prime place where people could have fun, especially the young set.
However, that was to change in the 1950s, after the First World War. Instead of spending time at Coney Island’s amusement parks, people preferred to spend summer days inside air-conditioned movie theaters or to avoid the crowds of Coney Island altogether by going to more secluded beaches. Crime also became a problem during that time. Another factor that led to the decline of Coney Island was the lack of support it received in terms of development from the then New York City Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. Some establishments held on nonetheless, cherishing the glorious past of Coney Island and keeping it alive.
In recent years, Coney Island has seen a sort of revival through the establishment in the area of KeySpan Park, which is a minor league baseball stadium, as well as Cathay General Bancorp, Inc. In 2006, the long-standing Astroland Amusement Park was sold to Thor Properties for the possible development of a larger Coney Island Park.
Despite these developments, tourists can still have the most fun in a day’s excursion to Coney Island nowadays. There are around 35 independently operated amusement parks in the area currently. Coney Island is where the American pastime of eating hotdogs began, and every Fourth of July, Nathan’s Famous holds its annual hotdog eating contest, a true Coney Island tradition that has been in existence ever since Nathan’s Famous opened shop in 1916. A fireworks display is also held every Friday beginning the last Friday of June till the last Friday before Labor Day.
And then there is the annual Mermaid Parade and Mermaid Parade Ball, where people get to dress as mermaids, mermen and other sea creatures in celebration of the sea. This is Coney Island’s tribute to the Mardi Gras. On New Year’s Day, the brave people of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club swim through the frigid waters of the Atlantic.
Lastly, there is the Coney Island Museum, where relics of Coney Island’s glorious history are put on display.