Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The charming history of Coney Island

As my last post indicated, I didn't exactly fall in love with Coney Island.

One of the disappointments we faced was that there was no Sideshows by the Seashore performance on the day we visited. Sideshows by the Seashore is a modern freakshow, featuring the world's most tattooed woman, and a man known as the human pincushion, and various like-minded buddies.

It looks a bit like the one on Venice beach TLOML always pooh-poohed. I guess life in New York has brought out his darker side because he was actually looking forward to Sideshows.
Sideshows is run by an artists collective who also operate the small, slightly dusty, but fascinating Coney Island Museum. We swallowed our disappointment about the show, paid our $1 entrance fee and headed up their staircase to look at the exhibits.
There we learnt about the madness of Coney Island's glory days. Back in the day Coney Island was home to some far crazier spectacles than the human pincushion.

Apparently they used to have incubators with premature babies in there - being cared for by nurses - on display on the boardwalk. A community of Filipinos were somehow, um, persuaded to relocate to Coney Island where they lived in an 'Igorot Village' that daytrippers could pay to look around. And there was a 0.5 scale replica of Nuremburg, populated by 300 little people (or midgets, in 1900s-speak).

Also popular were some crazy re-enactments of terrible disasters. Like the San Francisco earthquake show, or the Galveston Flood show. Both were hugely successful recreations, peopled by actors and with elaborate sets and effects, which were showing within a year or two of those disasters. Kinda like if someone did a Hurricane Katrina IMAX film. Very odd.

So, that's what people did at the beach before the invention of the Kindle or the frisbee.

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