The Arty Semite

Coney Island Before and After Sandy

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Ever since I first read John Kasson’s “Amusing the Million,” a vividly drawn historical account of Coney Island’s singular appeal as an urban “dreamland,” I’ve had a soft spot for that Brooklyn neighborhood, whose streets are called “Surf,” and “Mermaid,” and “Neptune.” In this, I’m not alone. So, too, did Woody Allen, I.B. Singer, Molly Picon and Ric Burns.

Sarah Ackerman

Woody Allen, for his part, set a hilarious scene in “Annie Hall” in the shadow of a Coney Island rollercoaster, while some of I.B. Singer’s literary imaginings took shape against the area’s penchant for spectacle, both natural and man-made. Molly Picon, in turn, sang buoyantly in Yiddish of one of Coney Island’s most celebrated amenities: the hot dog. Ric Burns trained his sights on the off-kilter, dreamy quality of one of America’s most famous playgrounds, especially in its electrifying late 19th and early 20th century incarnation, giving rise to his very first documentary, Coney Island.

More recently, the Coney Island History Project was established in 2004 to collect and preserve the stories of people who not only visited Coney Island on occasion but also called it home. Appropriately enough, it set up a portable recording booth on the boardwalk to capture these memories.

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