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Night Lights: 1905

New York circa 1905. "Night in Luna Park, Coney Island." A veritable wonderland of incandescent illumination. Detroit Publishing glass negative. View full size.

New York circa 1905. "Night in Luna Park, Coney Island." A veritable wonderland of incandescent illumination. Detroit Publishing glass negative. View full size.


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Luna in film

I was just flipping through the channels and Turner Classic Movies is showing a silent film called "The Crowd" that features a montage of the lead characters enjoying the sights of Luna at night.

The shots were just as spectacular as the photos of Luna park here at Shorpy.


I must correct Mattie below. The elephant was certainly electrocuted at Luna Park, but not because a handler threw a lit cigarette into her mouth and she killed him. She was killed because she had killed three men in as many years. While it was true that she was abused by patrons and had in fact been fed a lit cigarette by someone, that incident was some time before and her handler was neither whom she killed nor who fed her the lit cigarette.

Luna Park

Maxim Gorky's remarks about Luna Park fit this photo perfectly:

With the advent of night a fantastic city all of fire suddenly rises from the ocean into the sky. Thousands of ruddy sparks glimmer in the darkness, limning in fine, sensitive outline on the black background of the sky shapely towers of miraculous castles, palaces, and temples. Golden gossamer threads tremble in the air. They intertwine in transparent flaming patterns, which flutter and melt away, in love with their own beauty mirrored in the waters. Fabulous beyond conceiving, ineffably beautiful, is this fiery scintillation.

Where do you think we live, Luna Park?!

While growing up on the Lower East Side of NYC in the 60's and 70's my grandparents and parents were always admonishing us kids to "turn off the lights when you leave the room!" If they ever had to turn the lights off after we carelessly left them on they would always say, "Where do you think we live, Luna Park?!" Or, my father's favorite, "the place is lit up like Luna Park!"

Now I see what they meant!

Fascinating photo. Thank you.

Time machine please

If I had a time machine, I'd take it back, throw a huge blanket over this place and tell them that they couldn't touch it for another 100 years, when they could appreciate the grandeur of all that is here. Those architectural details! Today's buildings are just squares and rectangles. No pomp! No curlicues! No flourishes!

How amazing it must have been to see all this electricity in one place. All that light. Must have been like they imagined the future would be.

Thanks Dave

I would crawl inside this photograph if I could.


I watched Ric Burns' documentary about Coney Island several years ago and it was so haunting and eerie that I can't look at this photo without getting chills. The 1903 footage of a Coney Island elephant being electrocuted for the "crime" of attacking a handler who threw a lit cigarette in her mouth still haunts me.

Few places I'd rather be

than Luna Park and Coney Island in 1905. What an interesting, fascinating and exciting place it must have been.


What makes this photo truly remarkable is the fact that even in 1905 there still wasn't an electrical standard. Was the power Edison's DC or was it Tesla's AC? I'm betting on AC.

My grandfather, born in 1875, would regale us with stories of Coney Island. He would weave these almost impossible sounding stories about the grandeur of the place. Now you have to remember, the Coney Island of the 1950s and the 60s and then into the very depressing 70s was a very far cry from his experience, so it was almost as if he was telling fairy tales.

It really must have been something else back then for the blue-collar worker. Working six days a week, up to 14 hours a day and taking your only day off to go to Coney Island. We have gained so much, we have lost so much.

Disney's inspiration?

The attention to detail is amazing. I have (happily) wasted a half an hour on this picture and still find new details!

Hey, Dad!

Can I borrow the time machine tonight? I want to head on over to Coney with the gang. What an unbelievable shot. You've done it again, Dave. Sadly, about all that is left of the old Coney Island is the Cyclone and Nathan's.

Lights - action

I have seen a number of photos of Luna Park, and they are all astonishing. It must have been a fabulous place!

The Luna Park Circus

As if the architecture wasn't enough, the cafe mezzanines overlook a "floating" circus ring supported on arched trusses over the central lagoon. In the Shorpy image, Ring No. 1 is set up for a trapeze act. Here's a tinted postcard of a performing horse act on the same elevated platform.

Oriental Fantasies

There's never been anything quite like the hallucinatory grandeur of the architectural mashups seen in amusement park and exposition buildings in this period. The primary quotations appear to come from Cairo minarets and Mughal Indian archways, but these have been all mixed up with motifs from Chinese pagodas and old Russian church spires, Venetian balustrades and Italian baroque shields on the balconies. Then there are the what-the-heck details like the phoenix-head fern planters erupting from the bases of the flagpoles all around the upper deck. What shall we call it all -- Electro-Moresco-Sino-Baroco?

Glowing praise

One of your best choices yet -- an amazing photo.

What a Sight

Even the most staunch Victorians were impressed with this -- actually "awed" might be more appropriate. I've read a lot about Luna Park but don't remember anything about those elephants.


But hardly a surprise it burned down.

Job security!

Can you imagine having the job of changing the burned-out light bulbs there? I imagine it'd have to be done after dusk so you could see which ones were out. Wonder if they bulb arrays were rigged so they could be lowered to the ground for maintenance, or if the poor workers had to scale the heights!


They didn't waste any time taking advantage of electricity, did they?

FWIW, I found this site yesterday and it is the most glorious corner of the Internet I've yet found. Just incredible. You have a new fan for life!! I was originally looking for Lewis Hine photos for a lecture ... and found more than I ever could have imagined! Keep up the good work!

[Aw shucks. Thanks! - Dave]

Ethereal glow

I really like how the camera captured an aura around some of the lights. Even today this would be considered a beautiful display of lights. I can't imagine how magical it must have been to people who grew up without electricity in their homes and still may not have had it.

I think that people too easily forget about some things in the past, like the original Ferris Wheel, and Coney Island in its prime. Modern day designers would do well to learn from these works of engineering art.

The blurred figures

bring this photo to life! I love this website!!!!


I would have given anything to spend a night at the old Luna Park.

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