“The only thing that interests me about America is Coney Island.” ~ Sigmund Freud
Opened in 1824 as a seaside resort, Coney Island has been the site of many American “firsts,” such as the first hot dog, first permanent enclosed amusement park, first roller coaster, first escalator, the first bike path, and probably a lot of firsts we don’t want to know about. The iconic “funny face” logo was first used in 1897 to convey the original Steeplechase Park’s atmosphere of amusement, laughter, and (according to legend)...sex. No wonder Freud was into it.
The annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade celebrates the arrival of summer. It is the largest arts parade in the United States and with its reputation for nudity, sex, and the beautifully bizarre, it epitomizes Coney Island at its finest.
Coney Island was the site of the world’s first roller coaster. In 1884, LaMarcus Thompson opened a 600-ft switchback railway that traveled at the breakneck speed of 6 mph and cost only a nickel a ride.
The original Thunderbolt was a wooden roller coaster built in 1925 and featured in the movie Annie Hall. It stopped running in 1982 and by 2000 it was demolished to make way for a new ride. The Thunderbolt pictured here was built in 2014 completely out of steel and shares only its name and location with the original.
While we can all agree that Germans can lay claim to inventing and perfecting the classic ‘wurst, it was a Jewish immigrant from Poland, named Nathan Handwerker, who popularized the “hot dog” in the United States. In 1915 Handwerker worked at a hot dog stand on Coney Island, slicing buns for $11 a week. He lived entirely on hot dogs for a year, eventually saving up enough money to open his own shop: Nathan’s.
The one thing Nathan’s changed was the price. Instead of charging $0.10 per dog, like his former boss, Handwerker charged $0.05 per dog and quickly put his competition out of business. The popularity of the hot dog soared, but Nathan’s recipe hasn’t changed in 100 years.
On their wedding day in 1948, Greek immigrant Denos Vourderis made two promises to his new wife Lula: a lifetime of happiness and a 150 ft-high Ferris wheel in the heart of Coney Island. Denos worked his way up from a hot dog vendor and eventually saved enough to build the ride, which first opened in 1920 as the Denos Wonder Wheel. Today, the ride is run by Denos and Lula’s son Steve, and befittingly, it is a popular spot for proposals.