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View of Coney Island

Eugene Wemlinger

After contributing to overturning some of Coney’s widespread criminality and corruption—embodied in the 1880s and early 1890s by the local police chief John McKane’s fondness for election rigging and his support of gambling and prostitution—Peter Tilyou’s son George combined his sprawling concessions in the area and opened Steeplechase Park in 1897 on the beach between West Sixteenth and West Nineteenth streets. Inspired by the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and an early enclosed amusement park at Coney—Paul Boyton’s Sea Lion Park, founded in 1895—Tilyou charged admission and provided affordable entertainment (a roller coaster, a scenic railroad, a Fferris wheel, a funhouse, a bathing pavilion, food, and dancing) for a mass audience inside an enclosure that purported to keep crime and violence outside. The main attraction was a mechanical horserace that gave the park its name and reflected the popularity of horseracing at Coney, at this time the country’s horse-racing capital. (Racetracks had been built at Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay, and Gravesend to serve the wealthy and fashionable clientele in the 1870s and 1880s.) Tilyou rebuilt Steeplechase after a fire in 1907, and many of the rides, from the Earthquake Stairway to the Human Pool Table, were moved indoors to the Pavilion of Fun, the large steel and glass building in this picture. The most long-lived and profitable of Coney’s three historical amusement parks, Steeplechase did not close its doors until 1964. Even today, Tilyou’s emblem, the funny face seen on the facade, is considered Coney Island’s mascot.
MEDIUM Cellulose nitrate negative
DATES 1903
DIMENSIONS 6 x 3 3/4 in. (15.2 x 9.5 cm)  (show scale)
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
ACCESSION NUMBER 1996.164.10-27
CREDIT LINE Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
RIGHTS STATEMENT No known copyright restrictions
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CAPTION Eugene Wemlinger. View of Coney Island, 1903. Cellulose nitrate negative, 6 x 3 3/4 in. (15.2 x 9.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection, 1996.164.10-27
IMAGE overall, 1996.164.10-27_IMLS_SL2.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2010
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