Posts Tagged ‘Dreamland’

Lost Tribe of Coney IslandIn 1905, when Coney Island had a trio of three grand amusement parks–Steeplechase, Luna and Dreamland–popular attractions included a scenic railway that transported visitors to the North Pole, Africa, the Grand Canyon and Hades, and live shows such as a Midget City and Dr. Couney’s Infant Incubators. “None of this season’s novelties at Coney Island is better worth seeing than the Igorrote Village in Luna Park,” wrote a Brooklyn Eagle reporter of a brand-new attraction where nearly naked, tattooed tribespeople from the Philippines entertained the masses by performing dances and rituals. “For obvious reasons the surroundings of the Filipino headhunter are not so realistic as at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition last summer, but otherwise the exhibition has the same impression in its sheer contrast of savages with civilized people,” said the reporter.

Journalist Claire Prentice scoured innumerable archives to piece together and vividly bring to life this fascinating, long-forgotten episode of amusement park history in her new book The Lost Tribe of Coney Island. Touted as “headhunting, dog-eating savages” by the press, the Igorrotes were a show biz sensation and a gold mine for their increasingly unscrupulous manager Truman K. Hunt, the former lieutenant governor of Bontoc. He obtained permission from the U.S. government to bring the group to America after having managed the government’s own Igorrote Village at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The exhibits were “used to push the case that America had a duty to protect, educate and civilize such savage beings, and later, when the treatment they experienced became a national scandal, they were used to argue that America had no place in the Philippines at all,” writes Prentice.

Uncle Sam and Igorrotes

“Uncle Sam” and the Igorrotes at Luna Park, June 1905. The New York Tribune

Upon arrival at Luna Park in May, the Igorrotes energetically built and rebuilt the thatched huts of their Village and presented “an amusement park version of their daily lives.” Hunt staged sham romances and weddings and a fake dog-napping as publicity stunts. At home, the Igorrotes feasted on dog meat for special occasions but were forced to eat it daily in Coney Island to please the crowds. When the press asked if the tribe would be hunting human heads in America, Hunt replied “The only heads they will take in this country will be those of the goddess Liberty, inscribed on the good American dollar, at gay Coney Island this summer.”

The cast of characters including tribal chief Fomoaley Ponci, translator Julio Balinag and children Tainan and Friday are portrayed with great empathy. Among the sad realizations in this sad and astonishing story is that with the exception of their journey from Grand Central Station to Coney Island, the Igorrotes did not get to see New York City. While reporters asked them–What do you think of America?–Hunt kept them captive in their “Village” and even their requests to walk around inside Luna Park were rejected.


Igorotte Village at Dreamland, Coney Island. 1905. Library of Congress Photo

Before the 1905 season was over at Luna Park, the opportunistic showman had smuggled the Igorrote Village across the street to rival Dreamland, lured by a higher offer, and then to fairs and parks in far-flung cities. A government agent and Pinkerton detectives were on his trail following a report that the Igorrotes were being exploited and their wages withheld.

Prentice writes that during the summer at Coney Island, the Igorrotes were bringing in $20,000 per week (equal to about $525,000 today), but when they were finally sent home by the government in 1906, each one got just over $30. Though arrested and prosecuted, Hunt had squandered the fortune that the Igorrotes brought in, including their promised monthly wages of $15 each and the money they’d earned from selling souvenirs. An afterword provides information about what happened to the Filipinos after they returned home and the fate of the other characters in the book.

On December 10, the Brooklyn Public Library is hosting an author reading from 7-8pm, with a wine and cheese reception at 6:30pm at the Central Library at Grand Army Plaza. Admission is free. The Coney Island Museum will have an author reading and Q & A on December 13 at 1pm. Admission to the museum is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, kids under 12 and residents of zip code 11224. Free for Coney Island USA members.

The Lost Tribe of Coney Island: Headhunters, Luna Park, and the Man Who Pulled Off the Spectacle of the Century by Claire Prentice. New Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. Hardcover, $26.00

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Time travel back to Coney Island at Night in 1905 and see a panoramic view of the magical lights of Luna Park, Dreamland and Steeplechase. This early time exposure was made by pioneering filmmaker Edwin S. Porter, whose use of panning and the first after-dark photography can be seen in films of the 1901 Pan-Am Exposition in Buffalo. The long, sweeping view of Coney Island’s three great amusement parks ends with the camera panning up and down the Dreamland Tower.

According to Charles Musser’s Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company, Edison acquired “the exclusive privilege” for the 1905 season at Dreamland. Other subjects made by Porter under this contract are Hippodrome Races, Dreamland, Coney Island (June 1905), Mystic Shriners’ Day, Dreamland, Coney Island (July 1905), June’s Birthday Party (July 1905), and Boarding School Girls. In this version of the film, the young ladies of Miss Knapp’s Select School go on an outing to Coney Island where they pass through Dreamland’s Creation gate, frolic in the surf and ride Steeplechase’s camels and mechanical Horse Race.


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Die Cut Tag from Coney Island's Bostock Arena in Dreamland circa 1904. Courtesy of eBay Seller monsonantiques

We’ve been too busy to blog the past few days, much less browse on eBay. Luckily we found out about the auction of this century-old souvenir of Coney Island’s Bostock Arena via the blog ephemera. The circa 1904 tag depicts famed animal trainer and menagerist Frank C Bostock, whose show was a featured attraction at Coney Island’s Dreamland Park. The reverse side of the tag trumpets the 25-cent show as “Positively the Most Wonderful Wild Animal Exhibition in the World” and notes that “All Bostock’s Patrons Enter Dreamland Free.”

Seller monsonantiques has this rare item up for bid on eBay, where four bidders are vying for it in an auction that ends on Wednesday, March 23rd. The high bid is currently over $150, but that’s peanuts. We’ve seen tickets and advertising tags for Coney’s early rides and attractions sell for several hundred dollars. Good luck to everyone who plans to jump in!

Bostock was a third-generation showman who came to New York from his native England in 1893. He and his partners the Ferari Brothers first set up their carnival on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn and then moved to Coney Island. The show featured animal acts, sideshow curiosities, concession games, and such early amusement rides as an English gondola and a carousel.

According to the University of Sheffield’s National Fairground Archive, “The elaborate carved fronts of the wild animal shows Frank Bostock brought from England, some of them made by Burton-upon-Trent company Orton and Spooner, served as the prototype for wagon-mounted show fronts on American carnivals for the next half century.” Since the company toured New England in 1896, historians credit Bostock and his partners with introducing the traveling carnival concept to America. As a former carny kid, this aspect of Bostock’s career holds greater interest for me than his exploits as the best-known lion tamer of his day or his many narrow escapes from death.

If you’d like to read an engaging biographical essay, we recommend “Frank C. Bostock – The Animal King of Abney Park Cemetery.” Bostock died of the flu in England in 1912, more than a year after the fire that destroyed Coney Island’s Dreamland Park. His tomb at Stoke Newington in London is a magnificent marble lion.

UPDATE March 24, 2011:

The tag sold for $386.99 with the winning bid placed in the last few seconds of the auction!

Bostock Arena, Dreamland, Coney Island, N.Y. circa 1905. Library of Congress


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Its still summer...Coney Island is open! Fun for All. Image © brooklynnfoto via flickr

It's still summer...Coney Island is open! Fun for All. Image © brooklynnfoto via flickr

Thanks to graphic designer and Coney Island regular “brooklynnfoto” for creating this impromptu ad for Coney Island. I discovered it on flickr along with the caption “43 rides, a host of attractions…and Nathan’s cheese fries.”

Last week ATZ posted “Coney Island is Open, Only Dreamland is Closed” in response to media coverage of the closure of Dreamland Park that left many people with the impression all of Coney Island was shutdown. Since then, we’ve been barraged by search referrals asking “is Coney Island open?” and “is Coney Island closing?”

Thumbs down to the Brooklyn Paperthumbs down for doing three stories on the closing of Dreamland without even mentioning the fact that the rest of Coney Island is open for business and the attractions that remain. “Coney Island’s biggest amusement park will remain closed this weekend….” begins the Brooklyn Paper’s latest article about the closing of Dreamland. As someone who works in Coney Island I’m very concerned people will think it’s not worth a visit because “the biggest park” is closed. Notified that Dreamland (12 rides) was NOT Coney’s largest park– Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park (22 rides) has that honor– BP has yet to run a correction.

The article’s quote from an outraged visitor contains an error, too. “It’s not right to close down in the middle of the season,” said Richard Vowers of Sheepshead Bay. “It’s going to disappoint a lot of kids. My girlfriend’s son likes the helicopter ride and the train ride.”We have good news for you, Mr. Vowers. The rides mentioned -–the helicopter and the kiddie train—were never in Dreamland. These rides are in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park which is open through mid-October and will be here for years to come!

Kiddie Helicopter Ride at Denos Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Kiddie Helicopter Ride at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Thumbs Up to NY1 and the Daily News…
thumsb upNY1 made the same mistake of calling Dreamland “Coney Island’s largest amusement park,” but promptly ran a correction when informed of their error. The Daily News article about the closing of Dreamland quoted the park’s manager saying “Coney Island’s closed now.” But the reporter noted, “That’s not quite true: The Cyclone, Wonder Wheel, and other popular Coney attractions are still up and running.” Thank you!

For year round, up-to-date info on events and attractions, visit Coney Island Fun Guide.


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$95K Will Buy You the Dragon Wagon from Michael Jacksons Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

$95K Will Buy You the Dragon Wagon from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Got an extra $95,000 lying around? You could celebrate Michael Jackson’s August 29th birthday in style by acquiring one of his carnival rides from Neverland Ranch. After spending the summer at Thor Equities Dreamland Park in Coney Island, the Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster from Jackson’s private amusement park is being advertised for sale on usedrides.com. Since Dreamland closed and is unlikely to reopen (see “Coney Island is Open, Only Dreamland is Closed”), the ride’s owner decided to sell the Wisdom Dragon Wagon rather than truck it all the way back to California. ATZ spoke with Candy Strong, who placed the ad for the coaster and three other rides owned by Butch Butler of California-based Butler Amusements.

“It cost him $55,000 to bring them here. It would be beneficial and less stressful for him not to take anything back,” said Candy, who with her husband John Strong operated “The Strangest Show on Earth” in Coney Island’s Dreamland this season. Since Butler is busy with four state fairs running concurrently–the California State Fair, Western Idaho State Fair, Eastern Idaho State Fair, and Washington State’s Evergreen State Fair–Candy Strong took on the job of advertising the rides. The Strongs have been friends with Butler for over 30 years and were the ones who got him to bring the rides here from California.

For Sale on Usedrides.com: the Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch

For Sale on Usedrides.com: the Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch

When ATZ spoke with Butler earlier this season, he told us about some of the rides he’d purchased from Michael Jackson’s ranch last year. One of the Jackson rides happened to be among the four sent to “test market” Coney Island. The Dreamland Dragon Wagon’s history was not initially publicized, but Jackson’s death in June thrust the former Neverland rides at carnivals and parks across the country into the media spotlight. Butler had hoped to put his kiddie rides in Thor Equities “Flea by the Sea” tents on Stillwell Avenue for the Christmas season.

For Sale in Dreamland: Dragon Wagon from Michael Jacksons Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

For Sale in Dreamland: Dragon Wagon from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

“Like everybody, Butch thought there was an opportunity for another year. Or two or three. But now it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen,” Candy said as she and her husband were getting ready to leave New York for a Tennessee fair. Coney Island’s Dreamland Park was abruptly locked down last weekend due to a dispute between property owner Thor Equities and the park manager, but Butler’s rides are still set up and may be viewed by prospective buyers, Candy said. The other three rides for sale are not from Neverland Ranch. The additional rides are the Star Dancer, a 101-foot tower ride by Larsen International ($250,000) a Barrango carousel with horses and menagerie animals ($125,000), and an interactive play zone called Jungle of Fun ($85,000). I made a flickr set of Butler’s rides in Coney Island in case anyone wants to check them out.

Butler Amusements Carousel in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Butler Amusements Carousel in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

At the California State Fair through Sept 7: Balloon Samba Ride from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo courtesy of Butler Amusements

At the California State Fair through Sept 7: Balloon Samba Ride from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo courtesy of Butler Amusements

Meanwhile at the California State Fair, which runs through September 7, the King of Pop’s amusement rides are in the spotlight thanks to a “Fairgoers Can’t Beat It!” promotion. On Fridays, Butler Amusements gives the first 5,000 visitors to the state fair a “golden ticket” good for a free ride on one of four rides from Neverland. The rides are the Balloon Samba, Jeeps, Wave Swinger and Dinosaurs. According to the fair’s press release, the Dinosaur ride features a total of eight revolving dinosaurs and elephants that riders can control to make the animal go up or down.

Here in Brooklyn, filmmaker Spike Lee’s party in honor of Michael Jackson’s 51st birthday is set for Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. in Prospect Park. Here’s the invite to the free event, which will feature DJ Spinna spinning Jackson music and Brooklyn Borough Prez Marty Markowitz declaring August 29th “Michael Jackson Day.”

At the California State Fair through Sept 7: Wave Swinger from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo courtesy of Butler Amusements

At the California State Fair through Sept 7: Wave Swinger from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo courtesy of Butler Amusements

Update, December 26, 2011…

The Neverland Bumper cars were permanently installed at Cal Expo in Sacramento for which Butler Amusements provides the carnival for the California State fair. The other rides from Neverland Ranch–Lolli Swings, Jeeps, Dinos, Balloon Samba and Dragon Wagon– travel with the carnival’s different units, which play events in seven states in the West.

Neverland Bumper Cars

The Neverland Bumper Cars, owned by Butler Amusements, were first installed at Cal Expo for the California State Fair in July 2011. Photo courtesy of Butler Amusements.


Related posts on ATZ…

November 23, 2009: The Contenders from A to Z: Coney Island Amusement Operator RFP

August 5, 2009: Coney Island Has 56 Rides and 33 More Days of Summer!

July 8, 2009: Coney Island Wish List: Michael Jackson’s Bumper Car Ride for Sale on eBay

June 30, 2009: Calif. Carnival Sends Rides to Coney Island….Including One from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch

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Giantess Banner Painted for John Strongs Sideshow in Dreamland Park, Coney Island.  Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Giantess Banner Painted for John Strong's Sideshow in Dreamland Park, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The $600,000 question is why did an allegedly savvy businessman like Thor CEO Joe Sitt let more than half a million in allegedly overdue rent go unpaid until just two weeks before the end of the season? ATZ bets there’s more to this story than we’ve read in the papers.

On Sunday night the word from the locked down Dreamland was John Strong had torn down and packed up his “Strangest Show on Earth” and would be leaving Coney Island on Monday Tuesday evening for a Tennessee fair. Though the sideshow operator failed to “Save Coney Island” as boasted, we’ll forgive him because the front of his Strange Girls show was gorgeous in a retro sort of way. The bannerline evoked an earlier Dreamland Circus Side Show’s circa 1926 banners by Coney Island’s Millard & Bulsterbaum. Strong’s banners were painted by Jorge Rivero and Coney Island’s Takeshi Yamada, who also operated a freak baby show featuring his fantastical creations.

Over the weekend Dreamland Park was abruptly locked down by Thor Equities because of a rent dispute with the park’s manager. At 2 a.m on Friday morning, guards from Epic Security stormed in, cut the locks on the gates and took control of the property. In the morning Thor’s pr guy Stefan Friedman notified the media: “Dreamland has been locked out because it has not come close to meeting its financial obligations in many months. We are hopeful that Dreamland will soon pay its rent so it can quickly re-open the rides and allow Coney Islanders and visitors to continue enjoying what has been a spectacular summer so far.”

Night Shot of Banner Painted by Jorge Rivero and Takeshi Yamada for John Strongs Strange Girls Show. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Night Shot of Banner Painted by Jorge Rivero and Takeshi Yamada for John Strong's Strange Girls Show. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The Coney Island Rumor Mill offers the following scenario: Perhaps no one owes Thor $600,000. Perhaps it’s a ruse to enable Thor CEO Joe Sitt to get rid of his carnival tenants asap and deliver the property vacant to the City. If that story sounds crazy, it’s no crazier than the scenario offered by Thor’s spokesman. A deal to sell most of the land including the Dreamland site to the City was expected when the Coney rezoning passed in City Council at the end of the July. At the time the NY Times said that Sitt would keep only the property at Surf & Stillwell. This land was rezoned for a high rise hotel. But that news is already three weeks old and no announcements have been made yet. Mayor Mike is running for re-election and time is running out for him to be able to claim he “Saved Coney Island” and win our vote!

Is the Coney Island dream over for the amusement operators who came from Georgia, Florida and Texas to Thor Equities Dreamland Park? Over the weekend rumor had it the carnival equipment was being held hostage by Thor Equities, but we’ve also heard folks are free to leave. While John Strong was spreading the word about a “breakout attempt” with monster trucks crashing through the gate, Glen Geren and some of the other amusement operators said they’d be sticking around. They’d paid their rent to Dreamland’s manager and were waiting to see if the park would reopen after today’s scheduled court hearing.

UPDATE 8/25: No “official” word yet about what happened in court. I’m kind of surprised the NY Post didn’t cover it! The Coney Island Rumor Mill says the judge is expected to make a decision on Wednesday. But the folks inside Dreamland say that they were told the park will reopen. With all the twists and turns we’ve been through in Coney, I find it hard to believe anything until I see it with my own eyes.

John Strong already packed up and tore down his sideshows and is set to leave tonight for Tennessee. Anthony sent someone over yesterday to beg them to stop working and put the show back in the building, but John Strong had already made the decision to load up and go. If and when Dreamland reopens, it will be minus two sideshows.

UPDATE 8/28 When I talked with Geren yesterday he said they have one more shot with the NY Supreme court today. Everyone is waiting till then to start tearing down. But there was a lot of hoopla on Thursday because Thor’s people said to clear out by midnight tonight! What they meant was people who were not ride help. Whatever happens next, remember there’s a lot more to this story than what we’ll read in the papers in the coming days.

Yes, ATZ has photos of “Closed” signs hanging on Dreamland’s gate, but we’d rather end this post with a photo of our friend Takeshi Yamada whose studio is in Coney Island. And a very important reminder: While Thor Equities “Dreamland Park” is currently closed, Coney Island still has 43 rides including the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel open for business. There’s also the Ringling Bros. Boom A Ring Circus, Coney Island USA‘s Circus Sideshow and Burlesque, Dreamland Roller Rink, the Coney Island History Project and much more to enjoy.

Artist and Coney Island Resident Takeshi Yamada Created a Mermaid Baby and other Freak Babies for his Sideshow in Dreamland.  Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Artist and Coney Island Resident Takeshi Yamada Created a Mermaid Baby and other Freak Babies for his Sideshow in Dreamland. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr


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April 29, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Joey “Bulldozer” Sitt Is Baaack Playing Games!

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Get on the Bus: Coney Island. Really Fun, Really Open. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Get on the Bus: Coney Island. Really Fun, Really Open. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Today NY1, News12 and the Brooklyn Paper were in Coney Island covering the lockdown of Dreamland amusement area by property owner Thor Equities because of a rent dispute. More terrible publicity for Coney courtesy of Thor. People will hear part of this story and think because “Dreamland” is closed all of Coney Island is shutdown and it’s not worth going.

Coney Island is open. Only Dreamland, the temporary fair on the former Astroland site, is closed. Big deal. Dreamland never lived up to Joe Sitt’s promise of 25 rides. It had 12 rides and several sideshows including the “Giant Rat” (a capybara) and Headless Woman. If you missed seeing these shows, please visit the photosharing site flickr where you can look at pix of the banners for free. You will have saved yourself a dollar.

I’m sorry Dreamland was abruptly closed by Thor Equities. I suspect this is all about Thor CEO Joe Sitt telling the Mayor, hey I upped the ante on the rent because amusements don’t make money. Last we heard, Sitt was squeezing the City for $165 million to buy him out. He may also be pressuring for concessions such as tax breaks and a hardship variance to build time shares in his Coney Island sandbox, oops I mean his property. It’s been three weeks since the City Council approved the rezoning of Coney without sealing the deal to buy Thor Equities property.

But there’s still plenty for visitors to enjoy in Coney Island. I work in Coney and have actually kept a ride count all summer long. Without Thor Equities Dreamland, CONEY ISLAND STILL HAS 43 –that’s FORTY THREE RIDES. In addition to the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel, there’s Deno’s Park with 21 rides, McCullough’s Kiddie Park with a dozen rides, the fabulous Eldorado Bumper Cars & Arcade, Polar Express and more.

Also in today’s headlines was the closing of Coney Island’s beach as well as other City beaches for the weekend due to the approach of Hurricane Bill.

Rain or shine, people can enjoy Ringling’s Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus, the Coney Island USA sideshow, Burlesque at the Beach, the Coney Island Museum, the Coney Island History Project, the New York Aquarium, Lola Staar’s Dreamland Roller Rink (not associated with “Dreamland Park”), Ruby’s Bar, Cha Cha’s and Coney Island Arcade.

Don’t be taken in by Thor Equities attempt to kill amusements in Coney Island by closing down his temporary fair three weeks ahead of schedule. Support amusements in Coney Island by coming out and patronizing longtime operators and entrepreneurs.

SEPT 5, 2009 UPDATE Dreamland was allowed to reopen for Labor Day Weekend after City Councilman Domenic Recchia Jr. interceded. Operating rides include Geren Rides Ring of Fire, Reverchon Himalaya, Trabant, Scrambler and five kiddie rides. There are also two arcades, games and food stands. The park has about half as many attractions as when it closed since John Strong’s sideshows left and Butler Amusements rides were dismantled. The entrance to the park is on Surf Avenue. A few games and stands have been set up at the Boardwalk gate.


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