Photo Essay – The Ghosts of Coney Island

by Leighkaren Labay

I was wondering if I would have any trouble finding a parking spot due to all the snow, but the minute I turned onto Ocean Avenue, I saw it would be easy. The street showed no signs of life. I pulled my car up in front of Nathan’s and went in. I needed a hot dog for sustenance. Even though the streets were empty and covered in snow, I was happy to be at Coney Island. This was the place my family had been going to as a summer hotspot for three generations. It was a part of my heritage. And it was totally deserted on this cold, winter’s day.

To me, one of the saddest things is an amusement park in the winter time. There is a particular brand of melancholy that I associate with it. It’s like ghosts are all around, the gloomy ghosts left behind when summer went away and all the people went home. Lonely, but sadly beautiful.

The pictures that this essay accompanies were taken on one of the coldest days of last winter. There were, surprisingly, many more people walking on the boardwalk and on the beach than I thought. Leave it to New York: people in the most unlikely of places at the most unlikely of times. No surprise there.

I walked on the deserted boardwalk; past the tattoo parlors, the Nathan’s, Astroland, and the Wonder Wheel. Walking on the beach was lovely, and I sat on the deserted benches and watched the cold Atlantic wax and wane. I thought about the brave swimmers of the Polar Bear Club. This was their kind of day.

The sun was beginning to go down, and the shadows on the fairway were lengthening. I don’t think I would want to be here in full darkness. Those ghosts that I felt barely touching me earlier would be out in full force soon enough, sadly waiting in their melancholy way for the fun to begin again, and for the people to come back.

Now go see: Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008 at the Brooklyn Museum thru March 13, 2016.  “Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008 is the first major exhibition to explore the kaleidoscopic visual record they created, documenting the historic destination’s beginnings as a watering hole for the wealthy, its transformation into a popular beach resort and amusement mecca, its decades of urban decline culminating in the closing of Astroland, and its recent revival as a vibrant and growing community.”

ghost of coney island

coney island empty street

HM_coney island astroland

HM_Coney Island EmptyRides

HM_Coney Island ShoottheFreak

HM_Coney Island nathans

HM_Coney Island WonderWheelEntrance

HM_Coney Island WonderWheelEntrance

HM_Coney Island Wonder Wheel

HM_coney island Cyclone