Explaining Coney Island to the rest of the world

It’s that time of year to learn more about the history of one of America’s biggest playgrounds, Coney Island! Great post by Ephemeral New York.

Ephemeral New York

Much has been written about Coney Island, once just a thread of sandy beach supposedly named for its rabbit population (konij is Dutch for rabbit).

By the 1880s, of course, this little outpost had become Sodom by the Sea—a tawdry playground of hotels, pavilions, dime museums, freak shows, amusement parks, exotic animals, and more, all bathed in thousands of colored lights.

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The phenomenon that was Coney Island attracted hordes of working class New Yorkers as well as foreign journalists, who wrote articles attempting to explain Coney to curious readers outside New York City.

Lunapark1906These articles serve as an illuminating look at the spectacle that rose out of the sand in just a few short post-Civil War decades.

“Coney Island, one of the great resorts for the million, is reached from the foot of 23rd Street in about an hour,” wrote English novelist Mary Duffus Hardy in…

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A little girl’s diary sheds light on the 1849 city

This is a tiny treasure that gives us a small peek into the earlier part of the Golden Age of Brooklyn.

Ephemeral New York

“I am ten years old to-day, and I am going to begin to keep a diary,” wrote Catherine Elizabeth Havens on August 6, 1849.

CatherinehavensandfatherCatherine only kept her diary for a year. But lucky for us, as an adult, she had the foresight to publish it in 1919.

Now, future generations can peek into what day-to-day city life was like for kids in the mid-19th century.

Well-off kids, that is. The daughter of a businessman (with her father at right), she first lived on exclusive Lafayette Place, then in Brooklyn, where she tells us her brother “liked to go crabbing.”

Her family finally settled on Ninth Street near Fifth Avenue. “It is a beautiful house and has glass sliding doors with birds of Paradise sitting on palm trees painted on them. And back of our dining room is a piazza, and a grape vine, and we have lots of…

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More cute creative old Business postcards courtesy of the Brooklyn Public Library.

Ephemeral New York

The Brooklyn Public Library has a wonderful digitized collection of late 19th century business cards from hundreds of shops and companies located in the teeming city of Brooklyn.

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They’re whimsical and imaginative—and some honor the cold weather while advertising their goods, like J.V. Dubernell, tailor.

His shop was at 331 and 333 Fulton Avenue, and his suits sound kind of expensive for the era.

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That’s some sled illustrated in this card, for this clothing store, which comes off like the L.L. Bean of the time. Check out these prices for trendy wool cloaks!

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This sweet scene advertises the business of a paint dealer. Sumpter Street is in today’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, quite a bit away from the other businesses, which are located closer to downtown Brooklyn in what was the fashionable shopping area of the time.

Perhaps a paint store was not welcome on refined Fulton Street?

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Brighton Beach eats in 1906

If you thought today’s restaurants have delicious entrees and choices, check out this 1906 menu from the Brighton Beach Hotel. It will make you starving! The wine list alone is a mile long. The prices can’t be beat either. You could have a scrumptious 3 or more course feast for probably under $10.00

Ephemeral New York

At the turn of the last century, the sprawling Brighton Beach Hotel served as a more upscale seaside resort than its neighbor, Coney Island.

And if you were wrapping up your summer vacation there in 1906, you’d probably make dinner plans at the hotel restaurant.

So what kind of food and drink would be available to you?

We’re talking about a mind-boggling array of seafood (clear green turtle soup! fried eels!), poultry, caviar, steak, chops, pastries, and ice cream, not to mention a pretty big wine and drink list.

The entire hotel restaurant menu from that year (the front cover is at left) has been preserved as part of the New York Public Library’s menu collection.

It’s a fantastic reference that gives us a peek at the city’s culinary preferences over the years.

The massive menu selection can be viewed here. But for just the seafood, check out this…

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A Brooklyn neighborhood’s coal hole covers

Ephemeral New York has taken some gorgeous pictures of 19th Century Coal holes found along Fort Greene and Clinton Hill and other places. They certainly add historic character to the neighborhood!

Ephemeral New York

Coal holes are bunkers beneath the sidewalk in front of a house that originally used coal for heat: Delivery companies would drop a shipment down the hatch, and the coal could go right into the basement and wouldn’t dirty up the home.

You still see them dotting sidewalks all over the city, especially in neighborhoods with lots of beautiful brownstones built in the 19th century.

No surprise, then, that pretty sidewalks of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill are filled with decorative examples.

This one was made by Empire Foundry. A Brooklyn Daily Eagle ad from 1854 says they’re located “one block from the Fulton Ferry.”

The John Brooks foundry made this cover on Navy Street, right in the middle of where the Ingersoll Houses are today.

This lid was probably a lot prettier and more colorful back in the day. The address says 5 Worth Street; I wonder if…

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