Coney Island’s Dreamland Amusement Park 1904-1911
Dreamland was built on a 15-acre parcel at Surf Avenue and West 8th Street and opened on May 14, 1904. It cost over $3.5 million to build. The park could accommodate over 250,000 people. Ex-State Senator William H. Reynolds was the man behind Dreamland. The original name of the park was to be the Hippodrome, as Reynolds originally wanted chariot races around a lagoon. On the architect’s plans the name was changed to Wonderland, but the name that stuck was Dreamland. With its bright lights and a dizzying array of exhibits and amusements Dreamland was an apropos name.
On the right is a map of how Dreamland was laid out.
The week before Dreamland opened, this ad in the May 8, 1904 New York Evening Sun heralded the pleasures that awaited visitors.
The defining feature of Dreamland was the White Tower built by architects Kirby, Petit and Green and modeled after the Giralda Tower in Seville. It was 370 feet high and had over 100,000 electric lights. Two elevators transported people to the top where the views stretched for 40 miles in all directions. The White Tower’s searchlight was criticized by politicians as being confusing to navigation for being too similar and too near the lighthouse at Norton’s Point.
The main entrance to Dreamland was on Surf Avenue. Others visitors arrived by Dreamland’s own line of iron steamships which came from Manhattan to a pier adjacent to the amusement park.
There were amusements based on various themes.
Creation first appeared at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. It was reassembled at great cost at Dreamland and it illustrated the beginning of the world just as told in Genesis. For the Hell Gate ride you got into a small boat and raced through dark caverns and were rocked by waves until the end when you were caught in a whirlpool before being gently exited into calm water.
The most popular and prominent ride occupying the center of the park was Shoot the Chutes, basically like today’s water flume ride, where two boats simultaneously raced down a long steep decline into a lagoon with a big splash at the end soaking its passengers.
Another exciting feature of Dreamland was an exhibition called Fighting the Flames. According to newspaper accounts over 4,000 people were employed in making this show a success. The performers reenacted what it was like to be a firefighter. From getting the call at the firehouse, sliding down the brass poles and hitching the horses to the fire engine, the firefighters then rushed to a building that was on fire. Onlookers gathered in a large amphitheater to see how firemen battled a real fire and made dramatic rescues.
Other amusements included the Miniature Railway, Over The Great Divide which was a scenic railway trip through the Rockies, Wonderland, The Air Ship ride (behind the authentic Japanese Cafe) which was essentially some gondolas suspended in air by wires that revolved around a tower. There was also a Haunted House, the Hippodrome with trick horses, Morris Illusions and Bostock’s Arena which featured live animal shows.
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