Friday, July 10, 2009

One Slice of The People's Playground, Please!

The main course was hot dogs. Now it's time to move on to dessert! As the title insinuates, this mini trip report is a departure from my usual excessively verbose format. (Please hold back your tears!) In fact, it's not so much a TR as it is a whirlwind tour of a few of the major landmarks at Coney Island. My time at The People's Playground was brief, so the amusements had to take a backseat this time around. (Blasphemous, I know!)

Nevertheless, certain "sights" at Coney Island simply must be photographed during every visit, regardless of how ubiquitous they have become within modern culture. Who am I to break tradition? So pay close attention, because I'm sure you've never seen any of the following landmarks before!

Dormant since 1968, but still standing proud!

The inventor of Coney Island's iconic Parachute Jump had originally set out to build a better training structure for military paratroopers. Turns out it made a great amusement ride too! This model first operated at the 1939 New York World's Fair and was later purchased by the Tilyou family for Steeplechase Park.

I took this photo well before the masses descended upon Coney Island. The boardwalk sure was peaceful first thing in the morning, but that wouldn't last long!

The next few photos capture a piece of Coney Island that isn't so much a landmark as a travesty. "Dream Land" or "Dreamland" or however they choose to spell it on any given day is Thor Equities' attempt to sweep the Astroland debacle under the rug and pretend that they're giving something back to the people of Brooklyn. (And apparently spelling is not their strong suit: "showes"?)

Set up in the lot where Astroland used to stand, this carnival of sorts features a couple dozen rides, a "freak show", and inflatables galore. It was named after the original Dreamland Park which existed at Coney Island from 1904-1911, an association which is...well, laughable.

That being said, I predict that this place is going to make a killing this summer. Why? Two words: Dragon Wagon. Or more specifically, Michael Jackson's Dragon Wagon. That's right folks, it's right here at Dreamland! The story actually broke the day we were at Coney Island and as soon as word gets out, I'm sure that adoring fans will be descending upon this place like vultures. I can't say I blame them. Had I known this information at the time, I may have made a point to ride it myself.

And by the way, don't expect this newly discovered coaster "installation" to show up in the annals of RCDB anytime soon (although there is a brief mention of the ride's current whereabouts). Such privileges are reserved for permanent parks, and Dreamland is anything but that. Come Fall, this Coney Island "squatter" will be a nothing but a memory and the old Astroland lot will return to its empty, abandoned state.

Needless to say, Dreamland was still closed at the time these photos were taken. I didn't bother returning when it was open, partially due to time constraints but primarily because I couldn't stomach the thought of supporting Thor Equities in any way, shape, or form. Nevertheless, if this park manages to draw a few extra visitors to Coney Island, I'm all for that. If you'd like to check it out, this thread on Theme Park Review includes photos of virtually every ride, Dragon Wagon included!

What was I saying about keeping this brief? Let's fast forward to the part where everything is open. By the time the last hot dogs were consumed at Nathan's, Coney Island had become a veritable sea of people--none of whom had the patience for an ogling, tweeting, photo-taking blogger!

Shoot the Freak: An oldie but goodie

In order to truly "get" Coney Island, you really need to experience it firsthand. And leave your "PC" sensitivities at home, because somehow the bizarre, the outrageous, and the downright disturbing make perfect sense here. There's not another place like it on this planet!

Now that Astroland is gone, the burden of preserving Coney Island's legendary amusement history rests squarely on the shoulders of the Vourderis family, owners of Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. If the message printed on the park map is any indication, they are up to the challenge. It reads: "Open this year, and next year and next and next and next."

Stepping into Deno's is like stepping back in time--in a good way! Although the park has changed and evolved through the years, it has also stayed very much the same. Deno's is classic Coney.

Swinging cars: Only for the bravest of riders and the strongest of bladders!

The centerpiece of this park, of course, is the magnificent Wonder Wheel itself. This 150-foot tall landmark opened in 1920 and has managed to maintain a perfect safety record throughout its history.

Our last stop on this ever so brief tour of Deno's is the Spook-A-Rama, a classic Pretzel dark ride built in 1955. It was the last permanently installed dark ride to make an appearance at The People's Playground. In honor of Spook-A-Rama's 50th birthday in 2005, the Laff in the Dark organization presented the Vourderis family with the Leon S. Cassidy Achievement and Preservation Award for their continuing commitment to the maintenance and preservation of this historic ride.

If you are a history buff (or even if you aren't), do not leave Coney Island without paying a visit to the Coney Island History Project. This not-for-profit organization was founded by Carol Hill Albert and Jerome Albert (former owners of Astroland) in 2004. Its purpose is to increase awareness and appreciation of Coney Island's past, present, and future, with special emphasis being placed on its illustrious history. The History Project's exhibition center is certainly easy enough to find, as it is located right beneath the Cyclone!

Speaking of which...Time constraints or not, there was no way I was leaving Coney Island without taking a spin on the most legendary coaster of them all!

Earlier in the day, before the Cyclone opened to the public, I happened to catch a glimpse of a maintenance worker walking the track. So of course I had to snap a couple photos!

Our friend in maintenance must be doing something right, because the old girl was running like a well-oiled machine! It was even better than I remembered. The Cyclone stands as one of the last survivors of that fabled "golden age" of roller coasters, and it is everything you would expect a coaster built in the 1920s to be: Pure, raw, unadulterated, bone-rattling fun.

I must also give props to the members of the Cyclone's ride crew, as they, too, were working together like a well-oiled machine. The loading and dispatch times were lightning fast. I don't think the line stopped moving once!

I was lucky to get a few seconds to quickly snap some photos inside the station. The crew let me know in their own subtle, friendly, yet unmistakably authoritative way that I was not to dawdle! Point taken. I would not dream of interfering with such an efficient operation!

Now that it's all said and done, I guess this TR ended up being a little longer than I thought. That's pretty amazing considering that I didn't even have many photos to share! Let me assure you that the next time I visit Coney Island, it will be all about the rides. Until then, I hope you've enjoyed your lil' slice of the world's most famous amusement area!