Happy birthday, New York World’s Fair!

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. This year is also the 75th anniversary of the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair, which took place in the same park in Queens. I can’t be at today’s festivities (which include the New York State Pavilion being open to the public from 11 am to 2 pm – if you’re in New York City, please try to find a way to take advantage of this RARE opportunity!), but I made a quick and dirty Google Map featuring some of my favorite highlights of each fair. In most cases, I’ve marked spots where you can still see some physical evidence of the item or event, but a few – like the Carousel of Progress & it’s a small world pavilion locations – are just grassy fields today.

I’ll continue adding to this as time goes on (and as I learn the finer points of Google Mapping), but this is a pretty good start if you’re a fairground newbie. A link to the full map, freed from its iframe, is here.

Also, because I am pretending I am at the fairgrounds today, here’s a picture of me with the Unisphere when they had the fountains on for the Queens Museum’s grand reopening last fall.

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Coney Island & the New Steeplechase Plaza

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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:

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

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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.

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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.

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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.