Three's a crowd, they say, but not at Coney Island! | History | Smithsonian
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Three's a crowd, they say, but not at Coney Island!

The old place has had its downs and ups, from a wild man from Borneo to glittering Luna Park, but it's still happily roller-coasting along

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"Step right up, folks! See an empty strip of sand in Brooklyn become the most famous amusement spot in the world! Gawk at the dazzling lights, visible from 30 miles at sea! Learn about the famous stars who got their start right here on Surf Avenue! See the Creation of the Universe, Heaven and Hell, all on Coney's stages! Watch flames burn entire amusement parks to the ground! Meet the Mule-faced Boy, the Blue Man and the Human Blockhead! It's all right here at Coney! Have your nickel ready! You're just in time!"

So writes Bruce Watson in a story that makes a small amusement park out of time travel through the history of the place that for more than a century has been America's entertainment icon."If Paris is France," wrote George Tilyou, who opened Coney's Steeplechase Park in 1897, "then Coney Island, between June and September, is the world." Even during the Great Depression, Coney mocked hard times. By the late 1930s, its five-month season was drawing more people than all the major league baseball games combined. It had ll roller coasters, 13 carousels, 6 penny arcades, 60 bathhouses, 2 waxworks, 5 tunnel rides, 3 freak shows and more than 200 eating establishments.

Much of that has gone, but last year five million people rode the subway to Coney to stroll the beach and the Boardwalk, gulp down Coney Island "hots" at "Nathan's Famous," ride the Cyclone and plunge into carnival fun. "Cheap thrills haven't gone out of style," Watson reports.

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