Coney Island, what people referred to as simply “Coney,” was a slip of sand and marsh, eventually integrated into Manhattan life by the surface reail and steam ship in 1902. While the elite middle-class began to flock to Manhattan Beach, the less well-off middle class visited Brighton Beach. The Bowery along Surf Avenue became the place for nightlife debauchery. George C. Tilyou of Steeplechase Park found Fred Thompson in Buffalo, NY and enticed him to come to Coney along with Elmer “Skip” Dundy. With some start up cash from John W. “Bet A Million” Gates, Thompson acted on the assumption that “people are involuntarily attracted to orginality to novelty and tire quicklky of tehe same old fare” (99-100) and considered Luna Park a “profound inquiry into human existence” (101). Basically, Thompson was a man-child who thought fun was the most important aspect of living, and that a playground for adults was mandatory. He patented rides like A Trip To The Moon and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and gave men what they wanted– a fairytale-orient-influenced park that offered rides (keep Edgar Allen Poe in mind) with a sexual and horror subtext. This sensationalism of hedonism drew in the crowds. Luna Park, and man-child Thompson who slid down slides and then sent down an elephant after himself, was a success.
It became a place for adults as well as children to play. It became a safe-haven for rendevous that were not the typical encounters for many men and women who found taboos exciting. The use of lights and glimmer created a fantasy land of escape. It still does. Amusement parks do that sort of thing. Dollywood offers good old Dolly Parton-sanctioned fun. The difference between Dollywood and Coney Island is that Dollywood houses a chapel in the amusement park. If Luna Park were to have a chapel, it may well burst into flames. Six Flags, Dorney Park, Busch Gardens, and, of course, Disney all constantly search for the next best ride and the greatest shows of escape.
Colin Campbell says this: “the most potent driving force behind consumption . . . is neither statisfaction nor pleasure, but the disatisfaction and dissappointment that invevitably arises because a product cannot possibly live up to what the consumer ‘daydreamed’ it would deliver . . . The new sustains the hope that the dismal record of past disappointments can be erased by future fulfillments” (qtd. in Register 103). The new Luna Park opened over Memorial Day Weekend. It is the new hope of Coney Island’s future legacy, one that comes after years of not knowing if the parks would close completely and give way to developers. Fred Thompson, wherever his spirit may be, is no doubt jumping for joy.
Register, Woody. The Kid Of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and The Rise of American Amusements. Oxford UP, 2001.