Coney had become the horseracing capital of the country with the addition of tracks at Gravesend and Sheepshead Bay. On the heels of the horses came millionaire sportsmen and an entourage of colorful jockeys, glamorous women, and inventive promoters and gamblers. Coney Island personalities included W. K. Vanderbilt, August Belmont, James R. Kane, William C. Whitney, Tod Sloan (jockey hero of George M. Cohan's "Yankee Doodle Dandy"), Lily Langtrys, Lillian Russell, Bet-a-Million Gates, and Diamond Jim Brady. James Buchanan Brady was a porcine playboy with a genuine talent for conspic­uous consumption. He maintained a galaxy of more than twenty thousand diamonds and six thousand other gems, all arranged into thirty coordinated sets to suit every costume and mood. Coney's emerging mixture of shabbiness and splendor offered a perfect playground for Diamond Jim and his high-flying friends. Great hotels were built to accommodate the fashionable throngs, and the island teemed with cele­brants and funseekers. Coney Island had been launched into legend.

The most captivating and enduring aspect of the Coney Island legend is the carnival gaiety of its mechanical thrill-rides and amusement devices. The unprecedented proliferation of amusement rides on Coney began with the first merry-go-round in 1875.


William Vanderveer probably had little sense of history when he accepted the offer from a young furniture carver to supply a homemade carousel. Vanderveer had established a flourishing colony of bathhouses and a formidable bathing pavilion at the foot of Ocean Parkway, and he was glad for the op­portunity to add a novel public attraction. Charles I. D. Looff had come to Brooklyn from Schleswig-Holstein in 1870 at the age of eighteen. He followed his trade as a woodcarver in a furniture factory, but in his spare time he carved what was to be Coney Island's first carousel. The ride was an immediate success. The bathing complex prospered and grew, changing its name to Balmer's Bathing Pavillion after the Vanderveers shifted full attention to their restau­rant north of Surf Avenue. Balmer himself died a year before his baths vaporized in the Dreamland holocaust of May 26, 1911.

The success of Looff's first carousel prompted Charles Feltman to commission a larger, more elab­orate production for his own establishment. Looff's (and Coney Island's) second merry-go-round was



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completed about 1880 and installed in a cupolaed, four-tiered, octagonal building on Surf Avenue, ad­jacent to Feltman's Pavilion. The carousel fit in well with the spirited gemutlichkeit of the popular beer garden and restaurant, and the spritely Viennese waltzes of its German organ complemented the oom-pah-pah of Feltman's Bavarian bands and the lusty lieder of the appreciative patrons. By 1886 the Felt­man domain included one of the first thrill-rides, the Flying Boat Coaster. Later Feltman's sons installed a primitive roller-coaster called the Ziz, Mile a Min­ute. The hot dog was not forgotten, but Feltman's flair with a sausage extended to fancier fare as well, making his Ocean Pavilion a magnet for gourmands of every taste. In the decade following the debut of his carousel, Feltman attracted two hundred thousand patrons a year. By 1920 the restaurant complex could accommodate eight thousand people at a time, feed­ing more than two million a year.

The carousel in Feltman's Pavilion was larger than Looffs first production but not much more advanced. Looff's early carvings were patterned closely after European models, and his skills in equestrian sculp­ture were not fully developed. Those first horses were simple, genial mounts with smiling mouths and broad, flattened muzzles. Manes were parted over the fore­head, falling in tiers of S-shaped locks over the neck. There were two poses, both somewhat rigid: a pranc­ing posture with rear hooves anchored to the plat­form, and a jumping stance suspended entirely from the rod. Embossed brass embellishments and cut-glass mirrors were applied to simple trappings. Deco­rative carving was confined to the elevated cantle of the saddle, which might be fashioned into the head of a parrot or an eagle. Looff continued to develop his skills and to become one of the most respected carousel makers in the world, known for the vitality and versatility of his designs. He supervised a large staff of carvers in a sizable output of spirited figures.

Considering Charles Looff's historic primacy among Coney Island carvers, it is ironic that so little of his work remained on the island. He placed carousels in Atlantic City, Riverside Park, Rhode Island, and many other coastal resorts. When his shop in Graves-end was condemned in 1905 to make way for a public park, Looff moved his factory to Riverside, Rhode Island. In 1910 the Looff family migrated to the Pacific Coast, installing a succession of merry-go-rounds in ocean resorts from Seattle to San Diego, operating out of an assembly shop in Long Beach, California. Looff died in Long Beach on July 1, 1918.



Charles Feltman was an entrepreneur who habitu­ally sought opportunities for innovation. In 1894, when George Tilyou introduced to Coney his own version of the famous Chicago Ferns Wheel, it glittered with hundreds of Thomas Edison's new carbon-filament incandescent lamps; the era of amusement ride "flash" had begun. Not to be outdone, Feltman determined to revolutionize the gas illumination
of his carousel. To capture the unique potential of the flameless lamps,  he   commissioned   a
system of in­ternal illumination for the outer row of horses. A concealed access panel was cut into the hollow in­terior of the bodies to house the lamp. Mirrors on the front harnesswork were replaced with large, colorful glass jewels, transmitting the light from holes drilled into the interior. Feltman must have envisioned an almost magical, fantastic effect as the horses wheeled by, jewels glowing softly as they approached the viewer, then flashing brightly as the focal point of the gem panned by. The building would be lighted with hundreds of spinning points of colored light, each describing its orbit on the walls as the merry-go-round made its journey into fantasy.  But this time Charles Feltman's imagination out­stripped the potential of contemporary techniques. He failed to recognize the limitations of the feeble, sixteen candlepower bulbs of the time and the vag­aries of primitive generating systems. Whatever the novelty value of his lighting system might have been, it was apparently not enough to justify continued re­placement of the short-lived incandescent bulbs, for the system was abandoned. The unused access panels were painted over, eventually to be obscured and forgotten under the annual laminations of new paint lavished each winter on the fabled horses.



Coney Island has risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes of many disastrous fires. The first great fire destroyed the West Brighton Hotel in 1892. In 1896 fire claimed the Elephant Hotel, a grotesque, 122-foot pachyderm with illuminated, four-foot glass eyes, offering among its accommodations a bedroom eleven feet high and eleven feet in diameter within its trunk. In May, 1899, $800,000 worth of West Brighton was destroyed. In November, 1903, the cribs and cabarets of the Bowery went up in smoke, wiping out a million dollars' worth of real estate between Steeplechase Park and Feltman's Restaurant. Steeplechase itself

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