Luna Park at Coney Island - A Tribute to Light

Night at Luna Park, 1905

Public domain. Detroit Publishing Co., 1905.
Public domain. Detroit Publishing Co., 1905.

Moonlight and Fascination

There is an aura of fascination around Luna Park. At the beginning of the 20th Century it was simply so ELECTRIC! Over 100,000 tiny electric lights illuminated the park each summer night after 1903, looking like a million grounded stars against the black skies. By 1907, the park wore a cloak of 1.3 million white lights at night. The effect was the increase the white light of the moon (Luna) on the park grounds by night - romantic and mysterious.

When I began to use the Internet in 1998, Luna Park was one of my first discoveries and I have sought out more information on it ever since that glorious year of no longer having to spend long nights in the university bookstacks or longer weeks waiting for inter-library loans to appear as ordered. This reminds me that I discovered a basket of flashlights for use by library patrons at a local suburban library recently, most likely for older patrons that need more intensified light to find book titles in stall stacks under skylights on overcast days. Thus, electric light is obviously useful as well as entertaining; but Luna Park alit by night is fascinating. More movies should have been filmed there.

"Coney Island" at Luna Park, 1917. Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton - public domain

An Open Air Circus Without a Tent at Luna Park

Amusement and Trolley Parks

It was Luna Park that led me to discover information regarding the history of a small amusement park in my city that disappeared in the 1950s. Passengers could take the train up from Cincinnati to Columbus and board a streetcar at the entrance of Union Station, to be dropped off at the gateway to Olentangy Park.

The park was well attended in its heyday and even sported a roller coaster over a man-made lake. Its theme was "weekend fun", especially during World War II, when people needed a lift and afterward, in the early 1950s amid intense business growth and Cold War intrigue. The front of the park gave way to a large bowling alley, physicians' offices and a restaurant in the 1950s. Today, the lake is on the property of a condominium complex next to a sporting good store, a pet supply outlet, an ice cream shop and a mega-supermarket.

Gallery: Luna By Day and Night

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Inside one of the Gates to Luna Park ~1910 (notice the wording on the sign is backwards, indicating no sign backing).The Chutes for the "Shoot the Chutes" water ride.Coney Island Now. The Surf Avenue Entrance to Luna Park.
Inside one of the Gates to Luna Park ~1910 (notice the wording on the sign is backwards, indicating no sign backing).
Inside one of the Gates to Luna Park ~1910 (notice the wording on the sign is backwards, indicating no sign backing).
Source
The Chutes for the "Shoot the Chutes" water ride.
The Chutes for the "Shoot the Chutes" water ride. | Source
Coney Island Now.
Coney Island Now. | Source
The Surf Avenue Entrance to Luna Park.
The Surf Avenue Entrance to Luna Park. | Source

A Usual Sideshow at Luna

Elephant Rides - Old Luna Park

Live elephants roamed the park all day with their trainers, and some of the herd was employed for elephant rides. Prior to opening, they helped to build the park.
Live elephants roamed the park all day with their trainers, and some of the herd was employed for elephant rides. Prior to opening, they helped to build the park.

Today's Refurbished Coney Island, NYC

A markerConey Island NYC -
Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY, USA
[get directions]

A New Luna Park

The old Luna was unique, created by Elmer Dundy and Frederic Thompson.

Dundy sold the bankrupted Union Pacific Railroad, while Thompson was an alcoholic architect. It was quite a pairing. They created "A Trip to the Moon" for the 1901 Pan-American Int'l Exposition and it evolved into Luna Park by 1903.

On May 28, 2010, a new Luna Park (lunaparknyc.com) opened under a partnership of the City of New York with Central Amusement International and new offerings are added each spring.

King of America's Amusement Parks

The Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements
The Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements

About 1900, Fred Thompson became an entrepreneur in entertainment, promoting carnivals, world's fairs, and finally developing Coney Island parks. A generation before the works of Walt Disney, Fred Thompson was the king of American amusement parks and other entertainment.

 

Chute the Chutes

A chute boat slides under bridge as a highwire artist walks above with Asian parasol.
A chute boat slides under bridge as a highwire artist walks above with Asian parasol.

"Infant Incubators with Living Babies"

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.
The Water Carnival before Luna Park opened.
The Water Carnival before Luna Park opened.
The Three Stooges: An Illustrated History, From Amalgamated Morons to American Icons
The Three Stooges: An Illustrated History, From Amalgamated Morons to American Icons

Book from which the 2000 TV film "The Three Stooges" was filmed. Includes the background information on Ted Healy, the Stooges' early vaudeville work, Coney Island, and other relevant biographical information.

 

Little Egypt - public domain

Old Sea Lion Park Replaced

Thompson and Dundy's Luna Park opened on May 16, 1903. The park covered 22 acres and became the third Coney Island Park, alongside Steeplechase Park, and Dreamland (built closer to the ocean, across the street from Luna). Luna park sat on the grounds of the old Captain Boynton's (or Boyton) Sea Lion Park,

Some Luna Park attractions included the following venues:

  • A Trip to the Moon (previously performed in Buffalo in 1901 and then at Steeplechase Park in Coney Island) -- This cyclorama experience placed parkgoers into a giant spacecraft "flown" to the moon. After some sort of simulated flight, the ship "landed" and attendees were greeted by midgets that portrayed moon men, offering green cheese, the legendary stuff of moonscapes from the 19th Century and fairytales.
  • Bridge of Laughs - This was a brige built in an inverted "V" position and likley moved to make it difficult to cross, but this is a guess.
  • Canals of Venice - complete with gondola rides.
  • Shoot-the-Chutes - A water ride much like a log ride, this was invented in 1895 by Captain Paul Boynton (or Boyton) and left over from Sea Lion Park at Luna.
  • Dragon's Gorge - a scenic railroad trip.
  • Grand Ballroom - for dances and live entertainment. The Three Stooges often played Coney Island about this time and may have appeared in the Grand Ballroom. (See book listed to the right.)
  • Hagenbeck's Wild Animals
  • Infant Incubators - This was a display of newfangled infant care, featuring live infants (see photo above).
  • Little Egypt - famous exotic dancer (see the video)
  • The Teaser - like a Disney teacup ride wthout the cup. Two wooden chairs were mounted on a spinning device. A more teacup-like ride was The Tickler, a large washtub contrivance than moved around curves in a long wooden flooring.
  • Trip to The North Pole - This was probably handled much like the moon landing ride and likely led to the Eslimo Village, although this is speculation. However, this trip was by submarine.
  • Eskimo Village - a replication of a community of exotic people of the north.
  • Chinese Theater - human actors and possibly the traditional marionette performances.
  • Professor Wormwood's Monkey Theater - trained show dogs, monkeys, and apes.

While an overnight success, Luna Park failed 9 years after its Grand Opening, Founder Frederick Thompson went bankrupt in 1912 and lost it to his creditors. However, he stayed on as manager for a number of years.

Silent Documentary - Coney Island by Night (Luna Park)

Fires at Luna Park in 1911 and 1944.

Luna Park first opened to Coney Island NYC visitors in 1903. However, the second of two fires made it diffcult to continue business.

A fire broke out in the venues of the Pneumatic Tube and the Miniature Subway in mid-December of 1911. Luckily, winds and good water pressure in the fire-fighting equipment available avoided a total loss.

Old newsreels and clippings at the Library of Congress indicate that the fire damage was limited to the Pneumatic Tube, the Checker Slide, and the Temple of Mystery to the east of the main thoroughfare.

Thirty-three years later, multiple fires struck Luna Park in 1944, closing the park for a year, after which a business group purchased it in 1945 and demolished the entire site. The American people lost a beloved theme park.

Interest in reopening Luna began to gain momentum in the 2000s and the park was redesigned, rebuilt, and reopened by Memorial Day Weekend of 2010. Hurricane Sandy produced flood waters and fouled electrical wiring, but hard work by staff and repair people ensured an opening on time in March 2013. Luna Park is back.

A three-piece panorama by the Detroit Publishing Co. about 1905.
A three-piece panorama by the Detroit Publishing Co. about 1905. | Source

Article References

  • Brooklyn Museum; information from the Exhibition Goodbye Coney Island? [Patrick Amsellem, Associate Curator of Photography, Brooklyn Museum.]
  • Coney Island; The People's Playground by Michael Immerso.
  • Coney Island by Night, a 4-minute silent film short from the Edison Manufacturing Co. in 1903, directed by Edwin S. Porter.
  • The Kid of Coney Island; Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements by Woody Register.
  • The Library of Congress (LOC) - Images and information in the public domain.
  • The Ohio Historical Society; Columbus, Ohio.

More by this Author


Comments and Information 16 comments

Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 7 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

Sounds like we are missing a great piece of amusement history. I enjoyed the hub. Thankyou.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

I'm sorry I was never able to see it in action, but it was before my time. I can still look at the pictures, though. Thanks for visiting, Gypsy Willow!


William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

I can't thank you enough for this hub, Patty. I've been curious about Luna Park and Dreamland since I was a boy. My father, and sometimes other adults, often referred to them. I knew they were amusement parks, but knew little else. My dad frequently used the phrase, "Lit up like Luna Park." I've made half-hearted inquiries about these parks over the years, but never learned much. Thanks a million for your detailed and wonderfully illustrated history.


mulberry1 profile image

mulberry1 7 years ago

The videos give me the chills, I don't know why but old black and white films from the earlier 1900's do that to me. Enjoyed your hub!


Montana Farm Girl profile image

Montana Farm Girl 7 years ago from Northwestern Montana

Very informative hub...I so loved the nightime photos!!!!


Hawkesdream profile image

Hawkesdream 7 years ago from Cornwall

Fatty and Buster, What a pair, really enjoyed the video, had never really considered the history of amusement parks before. It's fascinating stuff.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

Patty, Coney Island in its heyday must have been astonishing. The pictures are fabulous and the film of Liitle Egypt amazing. She moved like liquid. She also had quite a broad behind.

My family has visited Coney Island, now a pale shadow of its former glory, but the sense of history is there, and its still a great place. I've always wanted to attend the Mermaid Parade.


Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 7 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

That sounds like it was a great place. Excellent hub.


Lissie profile image

Lissie 7 years ago from New Zealand

Theres a Luna Park in Sydney - right next to the Harbour and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Its still there but has been shut a long time (70s?) as they argue about the use of the site. There is also a Luna Park in Melbourne - which is historic but still runs to this day -not as flashy as the Gold Coast parks but well loved by the number of patrons it gets


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

William - when I first researched Luna Park, I found only a few still photos, so the Internet is a tremendous source today, along with the Library of Congress photo set. Pieces of infomration are included with video clips around the Internet and I hope more will be posted. I first Found Luna accidentally on the I'net, looking for something else. I was amazed. I know what your Dad meant now by "Lit up like Luna Park."

mulberry1 - I like the old films in the same way!

Montana - me too - the night shots are fascinating, almost hypnotic. I read that the electric bill was over $5,600 a month form 1903 - 1912.

Thanks very much to each of you who have made comments! This Hub was interesting do so, since so much more is avaiable about Luna than when I first researched it.

I did not know that Luna in Sidney was closed, but when I searched the I'net for Luna recently, Melbourne pictures certainly appeared often. Looks great!


lxxy profile image

lxxy 7 years ago from Beneath, Between, Beyond

A friend and I, Q to be exact, once got really smashed in 1920s NYC. We decided to check out Coney's Island in it's Victorian glory...I'd like to see I remember it, but again, I was smashed. ;)


salt profile image

salt 6 years ago from australia

Completely beautiful. Wonderfully written, lots of information and detail. Thanks.


Mike Outdoors profile image

Mike Outdoors 5 years ago from Somewhere in Canada

Very interesting hub!


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 5 years ago

What a fascinating piece. Coney Island was such a big part of my childhood. My dad took us there every Sunday!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 5 years ago from North America Author

What a fun bunch of memories you must have, POP!


Kenn Harper 5 years ago

Do you have (or know of) any pictures of the Eskimos at Luna Park, other than those pictured in "Luna Park - The Electric City by the Sea"?

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