Coney Island Riding High

by BILLY GRAY · September 22, 2010

Despite a constant stream of premature obits, Coney Island has rarely been better. More people visited the park this summer than in any since Eisenhower was in office. Attendance quadrupled from last year. And if you weren't among the 14 million who strolled the boardwalk, don't worry: this season has been extended through Halloween.

You can chalk Coney Island's robust attendance figures--the highest since 1954--up to a few things. The lingering recession led to a demand for cheap summer getaways. Record heat brought people to the ocean. And the spanking new Luna Park district pumped fresh blood through Coney Island's tired veins, even though the development was initially viewed with suspicion.

Some highlights (and a couple of lows) from Coney's banner year:

Memorial Day Weekend: Fears of the park's overdevelopment and watering down are mostly allayed when Luna Park, the $15 million attraction zone that replaced the endearingly seedy Astroland, opens. Lots of critics dig it.

June 18th: Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson are crowned King Neptune and Queen Mermaid in the orgiastic annual Mermaid Parade. They fight with nipple tassels for attention.

July 4th: Weirdly emaciated competitive food eating champion Takeru Kobayashi causes a ruckus by crashing the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. Most onlookers refuse to look up from their cheese fries.

July 31st: The first annual Coney Island Talent Show is the latest event that thinks it can divert attention from the raw humanity constantly on display on the boardwalk.

August 9th: Last Summer at Coney Island, a documentary by JL Aronson, debuts at BAM. Title proves joyously inaccurate.

August 13th: Veteran and suddenly anachronistically sketchy boardwalk business are threatened the boot if they don't clean up their acts.

The long-term future of Coney Island (and Cha Cha's!) might still be in doubt. But for now you can celebrate its very good year at a film festival this weekend, on rides whose closing dates have been pushed back to October 31st, and in a just announced Halloween parade. Against all odds, the ghost's on display won't include Coney Island's.

[via Juan Gonzalez/NYP, BridgeandTunnelClub]