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Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • THE NEW ZEALAND FOREST, c. 1950

Steeplechase Park: 1903

Steeplechase Park: 1903

New York, August 1903. "South end of Bowery, Coney Island." Be sure to bring the kiddies -- "All the children will be presented with toys to-day." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

 

Relief

After you eat your rosted peanuts and drink your lemoade, you can go to the tolet upstairs!

Steeplechase Jack

You can see "Steeplechase Jack" and his grin inviting you into "The Funny Place" near the center, below the weathervane, to the left of the signs for Cummins Indian Congress (a Wild West show)!

What's there today?

What a beautiful picture. Coney Island is such a wonderful chameleon. Steeplechase Park was on the western end of the Coney Island amusement area, roughly where the minor league Keyspan Park and its parking lot are today.

This means that if this picture was taken at the western end of the Bowery, which stopped at the Steeplechase property line, then that puts us on the Bowery just west of W. 15th Street. Here's the the corner on Google Maps. Keyspan Park would be directly in front of us where the Steeplechase admission gates are. The spot to our left, in later years, would've been the Thunderbolt roller coaster with the Kensington Hotel underneath its far turn (the house from Annie Hall where Alvy Singer grew up.) The roller coaster sat dormant from 1983 to 2000, when Guiliani tore it down in 2000 to make way for a much-needed vacant lot.

Anyway, I just realized I'd taken a picture of that spot from a similar angle in 2000. As you can see from the 2000 picture the street was no longer a public way, but you can get a good sense of the use of the land then and now. I'm willing to bet Kensington Walk is the little turn-off to the left that you see in the 1903 pic.

The Kensington was built in 1895 and according to this story from a NY folklore society it "survived the Bowery fire of 1903". The New York Times story on the fire puts the date of the blaze as November 1, 1903. This photo is dated on or before August 25, 1903 if the Knights of Columbus sign is any indication.

Most of these buildings, then, didn't have long to live when the picture was taken. Most of the Bowery from Steeplechase all the way to Feltman's Restaurant (where Astroland Park recently stood) was ruined. Out of the ashes of the bordellos and gambling parlors came, well, more bordellos and gambling parlors. Coney Island has always had that amazing knack for giving people what they want.

This is why I love shorpy.com so much. With a little work and some luck, we can still uncover those connections from the past which the photographs (and the newspaper morgues, bless the NYT) have so kindly kept for us.

No No, can't have it here!

"Yes, we need electricity, but placing a utility pole here would get in the way of our customers buying our waffles for 35 cents. Figure something out."

"Well, ok, but we'll have to balance a pole up on your balcony and tie it to your roof. We try not to do anything in an attractive way, you see."

So the power companies and telegraph companies set a precedent that stays with us to this very day.

Budget Sign Co.

You may have needed some of that LEMOADE to wash down those fresh "rosted" peanuts.

Palmist

I want my life read to me by Eaton the Great! That clock tower is amazing!

Back into my ancestors' lives

My grandfather was born in Brooklyn, not far from here, the month after this was taken. Seems like a completely different world. Wonderful image.

"The Funny Place"

Does anyone else remember the old newspaper ads for "Steeplechase, The Funny Place," whose logo was the caricature drawing of an idiotic grinning man? I always thought it was George C. Tilyou himself.

The Guy on the Left

is ready to start a fight. Maybe he's the guy who misspelled "Lemonade."

They all just seem to be in costume.

It's hard to believe that people wore those kinds of clothes. Especially the women. It just seems all so civilized. My first impulse upon seeing this image, was to jump into it to hear the sounds and smell the smells of what this grand place was offering.

At night

this place is lit up like Luna Park!

When Life gives you Lemos

Check out the sign: LEMOADE!

1963

I visited Coney Island exactly 60 years after this photo was taken. You could still avail yourself of the Steeplechase Horses and Parachute Jump. And George C. Tilyou is the name behind the flags.

Signage

Incredible photo! I spent a half hour just reading signs.

Who says there's no such thing as a time machine?

I love photos like this one - so clear and so detailed, its like you could step right into them! Thanks, Shorpy!

 
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