Thursday, March 19, 2009

Coney, Coney, Coney!

Coney Island has always been a fascination of mine. My mother grew up in Brooklyn, and her mother loved to ride the roller coaster at Coney. Mom was so young, she didn't really enjoy it, but she got dragged onto the roller coaster many times, and even remembers almost falling out under the seating bar once. This would have been in the 1920s. But Coney Island was to her a magical place where the whole world went to jump into the Atlantic Ocean and generally make merry.

The postcard above shows Luna Park at night circa 1906. I love old postcards with messages like this one: "Dear Friend, I am enjoying myself at Coney to-day." New Yorkers often call it just "Coney", not Coney Island. On a future trip to New York, my husband and I hope to make a pilgrimage out there. He remembers going to Coney many times as a child. I think I went once or twice, but I was so young, the memory is hazy. We more often visited relatives in Flatbush. Yet my heart yearns for Coney. I guess it is the amusement park archetype of my psyche. What poetry there is in its nomenclature: Dreamland, Luna Park, Surf Avenue. I'd like to ride the Wonder Wheel there, the landmark ferris wheel that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Clara Bow tours Coney Island in a silent film, It, released in 1927. I'd love to see the film. True Coney hot dogs are spicy, and are also known as "white hots. In fact, some say hot dogs were born at Coney Island. The meaning of the word, coney, is much debated but the most popular derivation relates it to rabbits. Old French for rabbit was conil, and in Latin, cuniculus. They also say that Coney Island was once overridden with rabbits. Coney Island has had it own museum since 1980; admission is only 99 cents! Ten Speed Press published Coney Island: Lost and Found by Charles Denson in 2002. It gets rave reviews on Amazon (all 16 customer reviews give the book 5 stars), so I just had to add it to my wish list. As for Ferlinghetti's most famous book of poems created for jazz accompaniment, A Coney Island of the Mind, in the book's preface he explains his choice of title: that it was taken from Henry Miller's Into the Night Life; expressing the way Ferlinghetti felt about the poems when he wrote them, "as if they were, taken together, a kind of Coney Island of the mind, a circus of the soul."

photo: Luna Park postcard, from the New York Public Library Digital Gallery, a great source for historic photos.

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