Old New York In Postcards #7 – Dreamland Coney Island Part 1

Coney Island’s Dreamland Amusement Park 1904-1911

Coney Island Dreamland at night

Dreamland Map from Jeffrey Stanton's site http://www.westland.net/coneyisland/index.html

Dreamland Map from Jeffrey Stanton’s site
http://www.westland.net/coneyisland/

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.

Coney Island Dreamland opening ad 1904 05 08 NY Sun

The week before Dreamland opened, this ad in the May 8, 1904 New York Evening Sun heralded the pleasures that awaited visitors.

Coney Island Dreamland Tower Night 2 Coney Island Dreamland Tower Night 1Coney Island Dreamland Tower side view

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.

Coney Island Dreamland Surf Ave at NightConey Island Dreamland Entrance

Coney Island Dreamland Dock Coney Island Dreamland shore line east from the chutes

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.

Coney Island Dreamland CreationConey Island Dreamland Hell Gate

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.

Coney Island Dreamland Shooti the Chutes 1 view from topConey Island Dreamland Shoot the chutes 3

Coney Island Dreamland Shoot the Chutes 2 view close upConey Island Dreamland Shoot the Chutes 4

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.

Coney Island Dreamland Fighting The Flames SF DisasterConey Island Dreamland Fighting the Flames 2

Coney Island Dreamland Fighting the Flames daytimeConey Island Dreamland Fighting the Flames 3 Night

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.

Coney Island Dreamland Miniature RailwayConey Island Dreamland Great Divide

Coney Island Dreamland Air Ship Coney Island Dreamland Haunted House 2 Coney Island Dreamland Greetings

Coney Island Dreamland HippodromeConey Island Dreamland Hippodrome Trick Animal Track Around Lake canceled

Coney Island Dreamland Morris Illusions 2Coney Island Dreamland Bostocks Trained Animal Circus

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.

Click here to read part two.

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8 thoughts on “Old New York In Postcards #7 – Dreamland Coney Island Part 1

  1. Carmine Bassano

    . . . VERY interesting. Much of my Family grew up in the area . . . ONLY thing wrong with the presentation is the title: MANY certainly care. It’s NYC History! . . . Thank You for posting these.

    Reply
    1. B.P. Post author

      Thank you for the compliment and regarding the name of the site as we say in the “About” page….”So, the name of the site is tongue-in-cheek. We do care about this “stuff” and hope you do too and you’ll spread the word.”

      Reply
  2. Ruby

    Hello!

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your Dreamland article, thank you for posting!

    Do you own the Hell Gate postcard that’s included on this page? I’m the archivist at the Coney Island Museum and have been searching for this rare item for quite some time. If it does belong to you – or someone you know – I would be very interested in making an offer. It would be an amazing addition to our collection.

    Best,
    Ruby Johnstone

    ruby@coneyisland.com

    Reply
    1. B.P. Post author

      Hi Ruby
      First, thank you for the compliment. Unfortunately, that particular postcard I do not own. Over many years I have assembled a large number of cards that I bought, but I also saved images that were interesting and that was one grabbed from eBay.

      Reply
  3. Helen Baker

    So glad I found this site. According to my grandmother, her father, William Edward Collins, was a fire captain in Brooklyn and also worked at Dreamland in Coney Island. She told me that they put on fire displays – and that he was in charge – that nothing would go wrong. I wonder if he was there when it burned, she never mentioned the fire. Anyway, this made her story interesting.

    Thank you.

    Reply

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