Coney Island & the New Steeplechase Plaza


Sunday morning I woke up well before my alarm and knew I wouldn’t be falling back to sleep. Rather than torture myself by tossing and turning for another hour or two, I bit the bullet and got out of bed. Without any concrete plans for the day and with these few “extra” hours of time, I decided to head to Coney Island for my first visit of the season. In August. Suffice it to say, I’ve been a little preoccupied this summer.

It was early, but the train from my neighborhood takes a little over an hour. I arrived along with the early morning beach bums. I decided to take my usual route, wandering through the amusement areas towards the beach and walking the boardwalk down to the New York Aquarium. As I strolled along the weathered wooden planks of the boardwalk, I immediately noticed something: my old pal the Parachute Jump was looking pretty spiffy.

The Parachute Jump may be a Brooklyn landmark today, but it was actually built for the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair, in Queens. Two years after the fair, it was moved to Coney Island, where it continued to operate until cost and safety concerns shut it down in 1964. How does a structure like this operate as a ride? Well, it’s missing a few parts today…

This ride, to me, looks completely, totally, absolutely terrifying. I would never ride it. But, hey, I’m pretty into it as a landmark and for its historic significance.

The Parachute Jump is right up against the boardwalk near MCU Park, where the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league baseball team play. It sits a little back from the main boardwalk, and until this year, was fenced off and physically separated from the walkways. I was there in May when E finished the Brooklyn half marathon on the boardwalk, but in all the excitement I didn’t take a close look at the Jump. So imagine my surprise when I walked that way this morning and was greeted with this view:


A carousel pavilion AND all that beautiful, uninterrupted open space around the Parachute Jump? Well, I do declare!


This new area has been developed as Steeplechase Plaza, in honor of the amusement park of the same name that stood on this site. Steeplechase Park, known for the ride bearing the same name, was one of several iconic amusement parks at Coney Island that saw destructive fires in the early years of the twentieth century; when Steeplechase Park burned in 1907, its owner George Tilyou declared that he would rebuild a bigger, better park on the site, and then charged 10¢ for people to come in to see the smoldering ruins. Tilyou’s son purchased the Parachute Jump and moved it to Coney Island.


Now, you can walk right up to the base and peer underneath it. There is landscaping, and some stepped seating around it. And, it also just got a brand new, very expensive set of LEDs installed on it — I’ll definitely be back before the end of the season to see the show.

The other reason for a return visit is just next door: the restored B&B Carousell (yes, that’s how it’s spelled)! The carousel was built in Coney Island, and operated there and in New Jersey between 1906 and 2005, when its owners planned to dismantle it and sell it off, horse by horse. The city purchased it and it spent five years being restored in Ohio, before returning to Coney Island and its brand new, shining, neon-encrusted pavilion right next to the Parachute Jump.


Photo by Todd Heisler/The New York Times

I was there too early to see it in action, but I’ll be back. I grew up near a wonderful old public carousel in Bushnell Park in Hartford, Connecticut, and so I’ve always appreciated the whimsy of a standalone amusement ride. Next to the glitz and flash of Coney Island’s attractions, the B&B Carousell won’t be quite so exciting as the lonely carousel in the park in Hartford, but I’m sure it’s just as charming. And I’m glad to see New York City welcoming a carousel back home, and adding it back onto its roster.

Late Night Explorations – Coney Island

Saturday evening, after a day of car trouble, cleaning, and studying (for E), we got the news that our landlord wants to raise our rent for the second consecutive year. We don’t want to pay it, so that leaves us looking to move in a little over a month. We’re not very excited about this, because guess what happens in a month, exactly, from today?

E takes the bar exam.

So, Saturday evening was shaping up to be less than fun, for more reasons than our surprise rent increase. In an attempt to drown our sorrows, we headed down to the beer garden for a pitcher, but we were both sort of cranky. So we decided to be spontaneous, and hopped in the car at 11 pm to head down to Coney Island and…

…The Coney Island Cyclone.

Neither of us had ever ridden the coaster, and it seemed like just the thing to jolt us out of our sour moods. We happened upon a sympathetic security officer at the New York Aquarium who let us park there alongside the revelers at the Mermaid Ball, and we were off. Tickets are 8 bucks per person, and luckily there was no one in line so I didn’t have time to second guess my decision.

We walked onto the platform and were ushered into a car. The lap bar was pushed down so tightly I was worried I wouldn’t make it through the ride without passing out. And then? We were off.

The first drop is 85 feet tall and steep as heck at 58.1 degrees. The ride is rough in a bone-jarring way that only old wooden roller coasters can be. I was not surprised to read that someone broke 4 vertebrae on the ride in 2007.  Despite being squished in behind that incredibly tight lap bar, I still got air on some of the drops. Don’t ask me how.

After we survived our roller coaster ride (which, if you’re so inclined, you can experience virtually here), we wandered down to the beach to see the water. Coney Island isn’t exactly a picturesque beach, but it has its own charm, with the amusements behind it and the litter of days well-spent in the sand. After E got his fill of looking out at the darkened water (something that spooks me), we headed back to our car at the Aquarium, and I rolled my window down on the way home. E thought I wanted to smell the ocean, but I was really trying to ward off some lingering nausea from the roller coaster ride. Same thing, right?

In moments like that — random Saturday nights when we decide we want to conquer a landmarked roller coaster — I am so glad we live in New York City. For all its filth, and eccentricities, and tiredness, it is also a place with enormous potential for joy, maybe, once in a while, sometimes.

Okay, New York, I don’t totally hate you. You caught me.