R. Paul at 13 visiting Coney Island

RPM at 13 on the Coney Island Boardwalk

“Coney Island Boardwalk & Stillwell Ave. July 1961”

Yeah, itís this photograph again. Itís from July 1961. That roller coaster in the background is the Tornado. It stopped operating in 1977, I donít know why. In any event, itís not there anymore, completely gone.

Apparently this photograph was taken right by the Stillwell Ave. entrance to the Riegelmann Boardwalk. Thatís part of the Wonder Wheel on the right of the photograph. The Wonder Wheel is still there, although apparently under new ownership.

Pickles of the North and I visited Coney Island on May 24th, a day before the ramp we walked on collapsed! I had not trod the boardwalk for more than 30 years.

This old photograph confirmed for me the recollection I'd had that there were a bunch of roller coasters at Coney Island when I was a kid. Only the Cyclone still exists. Besides the Tornado, the remains of another roller coaster exist as a rusting ruin many blocks to the west of it; that one appears to have been the old Thunderbolt, which had a house incorporated into its underpinnings. This house was featured in the Woody Allen film Annie Hall (1977). The Coney Island history site says that the Thunderbolt shut down in 1982.

Steeplechase Park is just a flat field now. Oh, the memories I have of that place, especially the time in 1957, when St. Francis Xavier grammar school sent the altar boys and the choir, known as the choir girls, to Coney Island for an outing. We did Steeplechase that day, all right. The ride home on the bus was educational, as well.

Pickles of the North and I walked to the western end of the Boardwalk. They periodically have lavatory trailers set up along the boardwalk now, but they close down at 6:00 PM, and some folks have their own lavatory trailers off the boardwalk and they charge 25¢ to get into those. I thought that pay toilets were illegal in New York City.

I counted at least four or five guys walking around on the boardwalk with pythons or boa constrictors wrapped around them. Mostly they were attracting crowds. I guess they crave the attention.

We also saw a gang starting to assemble for the evening as we left the western end of the Boardwalk. When I was a kid the gangs weren't like they are now. And you didn't hear of them starting riots at Coney Island.

And this explains the intense police presence down there that day. It was, after all, the Memorial Day weekend, the start of the Summer season in New York City. Eating at Nathan's was an interesting endeavor because it was full of cops, both on patrol and having lunch. But all of Coney Island was loaded with cops. I assume it was to keep the gangs from starting anything at the beginning of the season. I wonder if they'll keep that many cops down there all year long?

When I was a kid the parachute jump was operational, now it's just a historic relic that the owner wants to tear down and that's isolated from the modern Boardwalk.

People might want to look at the Coney Island history Web site, which is at UCLA. Why is it there, I wonder? Anyway, you can look around at that thing for hours.

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All photographs and text copyright © 1998, R. Paul Martin