New York, Nu York: Coney Island

Some of the best known features of Brooklyn, New York are its beaches. The most celebrated section of beach in southern Brooklyn is Coney Island, legendary for its sand and water, its ever-lively boardwalk and entertainments, its amusement park rides and attractions. Even in the late 1800s Coney was a recreational destination, and so many photographers, artists and writers have documented its ups and downs. Indeed, Coney Island did face rough patches from the 1970s and 1980s, but has been built up steadily. It has new rides, new restaurants, restored and renovated buildings, and more is in store.
My thumbnail survey of the history of Coney Island barely does justice to one of the iconic areas of Brooklyn. And my family seems to visit there at least twice a week each summer, and many other times throughout the year. While many tourists come by to spend a few precious hours here, my family and I are regulars. While many former Brooklynites wax nostalgic about Coney and gripe that it has changed so much (has it?), I have seen it up close and personal year after year, month after month. My husband, who was actually born in neighboring Queens, NY is thoroughly obsessed with Coney history and culture. and stops by even more than I do.
In addition, Coney Island has long had a Jewish presence, and one of the most surprising manifestations of it is the work of Marcus Charles Illions, A Jewish artisan, Illions immigrated to NYC from Eastern Europe in the late 1880s, and became known here for his woodwork carvings. He worked on Holy Ark carvings for shuls, as well as the merry-go-round animals for some carousels. I first became fascinated by his work when we saw an art exhibition in the early 2000s, at two museums, which featured Illions's work. Apparently he was not the only Jewish artisan to work on synagogue pieces AND amusement park rides. Well, they both featured animal designs!
The celebrated B & B Carousell (yes, two L's) on the Coney Island Boardwalk is home to at least one of Illions's creations, a horse that sports a depiction of President Abraham Lincoln on its saddle cover. We enjoy stopping by and paying homage, although riders cannot sit atop this one horse (it is roped off for preservation). Many people do like to snap photographs of this horse, but few know the back story of the Jewish artist responsible for it.
Every time I stroll the Coney Island Boardwalk, I see a wide variety of people there; various ages, fashions, ethnicities, and such. And I nearly always see someone who is identifiably Jewish. I will have more to write about Coney in the future, so stay tuned to learn more.