One Last Chance to Catch Old Coney Island’s Eccentric Characters

One Last Chance to Catch Old Coney Island’s Eccentric Characters

Our blazing, red-hot summer is finally on the wane, and the clock is ticking on some big summer events, including one last chance to catch the old Coney Island before the lazy, hazy days of summer are over. One by one, the venerable institutions of old Coney Island are vanishing: Ruby’s, the last of the boardwalk-facing bars, has served its final drink; Shoot the Freak, one of the most popular game booths, won’t reopen in the spring. And this week, demolition began on the old Shore Hotel. It’s all part of a development plan to replace the area’s old (and historic) buildings with retail stores and entertainment facilities. In addition to the Shore Hotel, destruction is imminent for a number of other structures, as local preservationists have run out of options in court.

Sitting on the outskirts of New York’s five boroughs, Coney Island’s world famous pleasure beach has been the summer destination for New Yorkers since its early heyday in the 1890s. Towards the end of the 1960s, one year after he first picked up a camera, Bruce Gilden began taking the subway train through Brooklyn to capture the sunbathers, the weekenders, the sideshow booths and the Cyclone roller-coaster. Coney Island’s reputation has steadily slipped since Gilden started to photograph there, and it’s now known as a place where the poor who cannot escape the summer city heat go for thrills. Regardless of this reputation, Gilden’s ability to capture Coney Island’s characters and eccentricities give the beach and its surrounding neighborhood a humorous view of daily life from the sixties through the late 1980s.

You won’t see any of the usual iconic images of Coney Island in Gilden’s collection of photographs: no parachute jumps, Cyclone roller coaster thrills, or mermaids on parade. What you will see is a view of Coney Island that is up close and personal. Very close-in-your-face personal, and mostly confined to the beach. Gilden’s black and white images of Coney Island cover a period of about 16 years. Most of them are of beach people, New York locals who are just out for a day in the sun. Old guys, some flabby middle-aged women, the kind of characters you’d like to photograph if you only had the nerve. There are a number of must-see photographs in this collection that provide a pleasant way to end our scorching-hot summer.

Bruce Gilden: The Eccentric Characters of Old Coney Island

Photo-Gallery: The Eccentric Characters of Old Coney Island

(Please Click Image to View Photo-Gallery)

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