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A Coney Island Tour: Background information when reading My Coney Island Baby

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My Coney Island Baby by Billy O'Callaghan

My Coney Island Baby

by Billy O'Callaghan
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  • First Published:
  • Apr 9, 2019
  • Paperback:
  • Apr 2020
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About This Book

A Coney Island Tour

This article relates to My Coney Island Baby

Print Review

Dreamland TowerHere we are, at the famed Coney Island in Brooklyn, through the eyes of Billy O'Callaghan in his novel My Coney Island Baby. The air is "mean with cold." Snow's coming, so along Surf Avenue, past Nathan's Hot Dogs, "most of the stores along here are shuttered…some closed for the season, others having already written off the day as a bad debt." It's cold here. The rising, relentless wind "gusts and swirls." Not a season for beachgoers to dash down the promenade, seeking the magic that Coney Island is famous for. O'Callaghan points out the ocean. As he sees it: "The horizon line has been rubbed away and there is nothing beyond the loose logic of suggestion to differentiate between water and sky."

AstrolandNothing but gray. What can we do to make our visit to Coney Island slightly more energetic and alive?

There's a possibility on Surf Avenue, as long as we leave O'Callaghan's view behind. Let's take a tour.

Coney Island USAFurther along the avenue is Coney Island USA, a nonprofit arts organization that runs events, including the yearly Mermaid Parade and a Coney Island Circus Sideshow from spring until the beginning of fall. Coney Island USA has a museum which houses a few historical Coney Island artifacts.

Mermaid ParadeThe Coney Island we know today started in 1880, with three luxury resorts opening on what was once an undeveloped beach. Beer gardens opened in sections and, in 1894, so did the first modern rollercoaster, wooden with steel rails. In 1900, Steeplechase Park and Sea Lion Park opened. Both were enclosed amusement parks, which was a new concept at the time. 1905 brought Luna Park, which gave Coney Island its fame. It became known as the Electric City by the Sea because it is so spectacularly lit up at night. What's in Luna Park?

Coney Island USA MuseumFunhouse mirrors, cabinets full of curios, and vintage bumper cars. And in what other museum can you find an entire collection of thermoses and coolers from the 1950s and '60s that were picked up from the beach? There are New York & Sea Beach railroad tickets from 1880, postcards from the late 19th century which document Coney Island's transformation because of mass transit, and Coney Island destination signs.

Nathan'sNow that we've seen Coney Island, I'm getting hungry. How about a few chili cheese dogs? I think Nathan's is still open. Let's also get a few orders of their fries. Don't worry, I'm buying. I promise to try not to swipe a few of your fries when you're not looking.

Dreamland Tower in 1907
Wonder Wheel and Astroland Park
Coney Island USA
Mermaid Parade
Coney Island USA Museum

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

Article by Rory L. Aronsky

This "beyond the book article" relates to My Coney Island Baby. It originally ran in May 2019 and has been updated for the April 2020 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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