Coney Island: Background information when reading Vaclav & Lena

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Vaclav & Lena

A Novel

by Haley Tanner

Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner X
Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner
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  • First Published:
    May 2011, 304 pages
    Feb 2012, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk
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About this Book

Coney Island

This article relates to Vaclav & Lena

Print Review

Nathan's FamousAs a budding magician in Haley Tanner's novel Vaclav & Lena, young Vaclav dreams of performing for the crowds on Coney Island. Synonymous with roller coasters and Nathan's hot dogs, Coney Island is a unique piece of the New York City metropolitan area (located in the southernmost region of Brooklyn) and has a fascinating

Construction for Coney Island's resorts began in 1829 with the establishment of the Coney Island House, a haven for New York's upper crust. Though development was temporarily halted during the Civil War (1861-1865), the beachfront location quickly became a popular place to escape the hot, humid city summers and boomed with hotels, saloons, clam shacks, bathhouses, and entertainment for people of all types and ages. By the 1870s, it was estimated that as many as 60,000 people came out to enjoy the beaches each weekend. Among these visitors were Washington Irving, Herman Melville, Daniel Webster, and Walt Whitman.Elephant Hotel

Around the end of the 19th century, some of the quirkier amusements on Coney Island included the Switchback Railway, the first roller coaster in America, which was powered by gravity (1884); and the Elephant Hotel (see right), a 122-foot, seven story inn/brothel shaped like an elephant (1885). It is said that the hotel was so huge, it was one of the first major landmarks that greeted immigrants entering New York's harbor. On the streets outside the hotel, walkways were jammed with vendors, pitchmen, fortune tellers, and street performers - and it is easy to imagine a young Vaclav, with his Magician's Almanac in hand, among them.

This "beyond the book article" relates to Vaclav & Lena. It originally ran in May 2011 and has been updated for the February 2012 paperback edition.

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