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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Believe it or not... » » Just plain "the end" for old Coney Island? (Plus that old Elephant footage) (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Inner circle
Arlington, Virginia
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Profile of rossmacrae
I've been seeing several articles about the pending closure of several amusement areas on Coney Island, and I wonder what the feeling is from those who are there?

Steampunk magazine, in its new issue, reports "As of this writing, the last season of old Coney Island has begun. There is a large development plan to 'sanitize and modernize' Coney Island. Thor Equities was buying up midway turf and will be building a shopping mall/waterpark complex. The new year-round entertainment complex would include a beachfront hotel and spa, apartments, open-air Cafés along the boardwalk, arcades, bowling alleys, a pool (yes, a pool right next to the ocean), movie theaters and other non-freak-related attractions."


From the same article, I pass on some history (re-posting authorized by its Creative Commons "Please re-post" license):

"HOW EDISON KILLED A CENTURY ON CONEY ISLAND" (author given as "The Catastrophone Orchestra and Arts Collective")

As the 19th century made way for the 20th, one of the biggest attractions at Coney Island’s Luna Park was its free-roaming private herd of elephants. A favorite among them was Topsy, a three-ton tusker whose great strength had been put to use building many of the attractions that made Coney Island so much fun. Topsy had helped move the world’s largest steam boiler, a machine that powered no less than three rides—including a steampunk favorite “A Trip To The Moon”.

Topsy could work hard, but he could be pushed only so far. One day, a drunken Eli McCathy—an abusive lout of a trainer who had beaten one of his own children to death two years prior—tried to feed a lit cigarette to Topsy. The giant paciderm knocked McCathy to the ground and stomped him to death.

Thompson and “Skip” Dundy—two shady businessmen who were never shy of publicity—publicly declared they would hang Topsy for his “crimes”. They claimed the elephant had killed two others, but further research suggests that this was just one of the flamboyant duo’s many exaggerated claims. The ASPCA [American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] became involved, criticizing the plan to hang the elephant and the newspapers had a field day with the story. Thompson called up the famed inventor Edison to see if he would be willing to do the honors.

For over two years Edison had been publicly electrocuting dogs, cats, lambs, and even a calf to prove that alternating current—a competitor for his direct current systems—was dangerous. It is unclear if any of the more than two-dozen animals executed by Edison had ever committed a “crime”.

It was an easy sell for ultimate wheel-dealers Dundy and Thompson. Topsy offered an opportunity that Edison couldn’t resist; what better way to demonstrate the horrible consequences of alternating current than to roast a full-grown elephant? Three years earlier, Edison had been “robbed” (as Edison had phrased it in a letter to his teen-age niece) by being denied the right to film the death of President McKinley’s anarchist assassin, Leon Czolgosz. He had been limited to filming the convict going from a dingy cell to the death chamber to be electrocuted and the dead body being wheeled out. Edison was not going to be denied again; he arranged for everything and even paid for the execution out of his own pocket.

Edison sent over a crack team of technicians—and his film crew. On January 4th, 1903, Topsy was led to a special platform and the cameras were set rolling. Over 1,500 hundred spectators surrounded the terrified animal. Edison himself spoke to the assembly, which included prominent businessmen and the assistant mayor. He praised the achievements of the “unseen fire”, a term he stole from his arch-enemy Nikola Tesla, and proclaimed that “we are entering a new age…” He grabbed the switch with his mink-lined gloves and smiled. It took only 6,600 volts and a little less than thirty seconds to start the elephant’s feet on fire and kill the mighty Topsy. Edison later showed the film to audiences across the country to prove his fallacious point.

In the end, it made no difference. AC beat out DC, but the Wizard of Menlo Park still made tons of money.

That wasn’t much consolation to Topsy, who was dead, nor to Luna Park, which was eventually destroyed in a horrible fire that was caused by Edison’s DC electric light system. Today, nothing remains of either, except for Edison’s film. If you ask the folks at the Coney Island Museum, they’ll show it to you.


The film is easy to find on the web, but it is a grim and terrible thing, and I suggest that you will gain nothing but a sad and disgusted feeling from looking it up.
Harley Newman
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Inner circle
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DC tended to break down frequently and badly. Tesla's system worked consistently, and Edison was very jealous. Tesla actually worked for Edison for a while, but their egos didn't match up. When Tesla left, Edison owed him a lot of money, which was never paid.

It's a sad time for Coney. A place that's been its own name brand for a couple of hundred years, that everybody else wanted to copy, is going to be name-branded. Thor talks about making it a Las Vegas-style entertainment complex, but it'll knock out anything on the low end. Ooo! Maybe we can all go see Cirque or Celine for a couple of hundred bucks a pop? Not me.
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus” -Mark Twain
Todd Robbins
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New York
2906 Posts

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The saga of Coney Island is far from over, and the ending may not be as bleak as some would have you believe. I can't really say more. Stay tuned...
Slim King
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Eternal Order
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It's still there right?
THE MAN THE SKEPTICS REFUSE TO TEST FOR ONE MILLION DOLLARS.. The Worlds Foremost Authority on Houdini's Life after Death.....
Todd Robbins
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New York
2906 Posts

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As a place, it is there. What it once was is no longer there.
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