Summertime is the best time to think about amusement parks. They are still the frenzied experience that they were designed to be 100 years ago. The old ones are gone, but new ones took their place and we can be sure that there will always be one just far enough away to make the kids anxious and hopeful and the adults annoyed and eventually acquiesced to going.
I was lucky enough to find “Steeplechase Jack” on the combination admission badge for the famous Coney Island amusement park. If you have ever seen footage from this park you would recognize the odd horses racing on wooden rails with human riders, or the Parachute Jump, which was originally designed to train paratroopers. It may be the only piece of the original park that still stands.
Coney Island Steeplechase park lasted from 1897 to 1964, survived several fires — a large one in 1907 from which a bigger better one was rebuilt a year later — and other smaller ones that didn’t cause it to close. Other parks were built nearby like Luna Land, but instead of stealing customers, actually helped to solidify the area as a destination for more people.
There are several videos to be found on the web that show the park for all its glitz, side shows, rides and madness, and the one I’ve picked, though long, may capture it the best. Coney Island’s demise has several factors, air conditioning reduced the need for people to seek relief at the shore, middle class families moving away from the city into the suburbs, and the battle for zoning to change and redesign the purpose of the land around Coney Island. The family, who had inherited and run the park from their father, was aging and eventually sold the land to real estate developer Fred Trump — Donald Trump’s father — in 1965.
The park I would like to learn more about is Savin Rock Park in New Haven. (See images.) Interestingly, Savin Rock’s timeline closely mirrors Coney Island. It, too, got its start in the late 19th century (though as a seaside resort) and became an amusement park, which lasted until the 1960s. Please enjoy the video I have picked out for this amusement park as well.
The last image of the family posing for a novelty photo is one I hope Patch readers can help with. The photo-postcard is undated though it is likely early 20th century.
Speaking of amusing — take a look at these ads from 1886, the products look familiar but make a list of promises that even then must have been hard to believe.
Greg Van Antwerp is a Brookfield resident and blogger, who can be found on the weekends in search of a good “dig” or a good story. You can read more about his adventures by visiting his blog.