NEW YORK — For over a century, tourists and New York natives have flocked to Coney Island, a peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean in southern Brooklyn. It's best known for its amusement parks and exciting rides but also features cool sea breezes and world famous hot dogs.
Coney Island is only half a kilometer wide, but this “playground by the sea” has been offering giant-sized fun ever since the early 19th century.
It's been a "Big Apple" summertime destination, beginning with its first carousel in 1876, Luna Park in 1903, and the Cyclone in 1927 - reputed to be the world’s first roller coaster and now on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Wonder Wheel ride, Coney Island’s most visible landmark, has been family-owned and operated since it opened in 1920. “Dee-Jay” Vourderis works seven days a week helping to maintain and operate the 180-metric-ton contraption.
"I’m proud because not only do I have a job that I enjoy doing but I’m proud because I feel like I’m part of maintaining the jewel of Coney Island," he said.
Coney Island had its heyday before World War II. It was a prime destination for working-class and immigrant families seeking respite from the city's factories and tenements. But the area went into a steep decline between the late 1960s and the 1990s.
“... There has been this renaissance. There are three new amusement parks here. Life is coming back," Vourderis said.
Tourists and residents like to beat the heat on the nearly five kilometers of Atlantic Ocean beach that lies adjacent to the rides.
For many New Yorkers, Coney Island, especially Nathan's on the Boardwalk, is nostalgia. The hot dog shop opened in 1916 and has been turning out hot dogs and french fries year-round ever since.
“I thought the crispiness was really great. I thought the flavor was really great. The chili was fantastic. I loved it, “ said Alfonse Lorente, who brought his family to Nathans from nearby Long Island.
For those who don’t stomach hot dogs, there are old-fashioned rides and games of luck and skill.
Corporate developers have raised the rents on many old-time concessions and forced some out of business. Coney Island native and concession owner Monica Ghee had to move three times in as many years. She’s angry and says attractions like hers give Coney Island its soul.
“Our spirit will live on long after we’re dead, honey. We are the blood, sweat and tears on the block," she said.
Coney Island with its unique mix of nostalgia and thrills will be spinning in full force through September when the leaves turn gold.
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