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Sodom By The Sea

June 2024
1min read

Coney Island

directed by Ric Burns, Direct Cinema, 68 mins., $39.95 . CODE: DCV -3

“If Paris is France,” George C. Tilyou wrote in 1886, “then Coney Island, between June and September, is the world.” That was hyperbole, of course, but in a few years Tilyou was to build Steeplechase, an amusement park, that, with its two increasingly grand rivals, Luna and Dreamland, would help make the turn-of-the-century Coney the most famous resort in the world. Running full blast on a hot summer Sunday, the riotous spit of land could dazzle three hundred thousand visitors with its rides and bands, its full-blown re-creation of a Boer War battle fought by hundreds of veterans fresh from the fighting in the Transvaal, and its shows featuring aerial voyages that were no less than a prophecy of how the twentieth century would unfold. Ric Burns, the director, whose other works include the highly praised documentary The Donner Party , collaborates with the the editor of this magazine, who has nursed a lifelong obsession with Coney, to tell the story of the rise and decline of the resort. The film centers on the turn of the century, when the island was at its imperial zenith, and includes some astonishing early footage (the death by electrocution, for instance, of Topsy the Elephant in Luna Park); but it also offers a compelling glimpse of Al Lewis, familiar as Grampa of “The Munsters,” going into the pitch he used to part the crowd from its dimes back on the boardwalk a lifetime ago.

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