Thursday, August 2, 2012

Coney Island Creeper

I didn't have much of an agenda for my stay in NYC, but I did make a point to visit Coney Island. We made the trip, but with rather low expectations, which were met fairly exactly.

My first feeling when stepping out of the train station, was that this was a very sad place. Looking around, I could easily imagine Coney Island in it's heyday. The lights, the music, the crowds, the sand, the laughter, the hotels, the elephant, the emcees and even the freaks. Today, it's a series of parking lot carnivals at the end of the train line. A sort of archaeological site rather than the spectacle it once was. 
Apparently Coney Island lost it's luster after World War II. A series of fires closed many of the attractions and the city's gang problems spread to the island. The later half of the 20th century saw a great tug-a-war over the land and its use, rezoning it for residential, casinos and then back to amusements. Now, it clearly can't compete with the Cedar Points and Six Flags (though it was in consideration as a site for the 2012 Olympics which are going on this week in London). 
Currently, the main attraction of the beach is the wide boardwalk that runs 2.5 miles along the Atlantic Ocean. It is populated by several beach shops and food stands, including Nathan's Famous, whose original hot dog stand opened on Coney Island in 1916. I made sure to eat some greasy Nathan's Fries while I was there, just to say I had (and there, now I've said it). 
And even though the Coney Island amusements broke my heart (Luna Park is still apparently "Where the Fun Never Stops" but I have to tell you, it looks nothing like this), I was, however, surprised by the beach. It was much cleaner and more vast than I expected, and despite the cloud filled sky, people didn't hesitate to head out into the water. 

But it was the "face" of Coney Island that really intrigued us. Everywhere we looked we were greeted by a variation of this semi-creepy grinning face. With every spotting, our fervor grew–who was he?

It seems that the face is often called Tillie after George C. Tilyou, who owned the Steeplechase Park. But, according to some accounts, Tillie is actually the name of the face at Palace Amusements in Asbury Park, New Jersey, which was painted in homage to Tilyou's "Funny Face" originally seen at Steeplechase in the 1890s. 

I like to think that in 2090 Funny Face will still be looking down at us as the creeper I've grown to adore him as. I'd love to see the developers work together to turn Coney Island into something beautiful and cherished again. It's such a legendary spot, I'd hate to see it forgotten. 

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