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Coney Island


Uncle Moses, p. 125


Uncle Moses, p. 134


Uncle Moses; a novel, Sholem Asch (1880-1957), Isaac Goldberg (1887-1938), translator, 1920


“On a Sunday at Coney Island,” Gordon MacRae and the Cheerleaders; Carmen Dragon; Vernon Cross; Jeffrey Curtis, 1951

Celebrating the solstice with a trip to Coney Island in June… (And an early reference to “a naked city…”) “…Everything was permissible; the whole world intermingled.” Weegee, the war-time photographer, filled a centerfold with pictures and words of the “escapist crowd,” made on a Sunday at Coney Island… (Like a Stonehenge for midsummer sweltering city-dwellers…) The spread is a sequel of sorts to the previous years’ successful Coney centerfold: “Yesterday at Coney Island… Temperature 89… They Came Early, Stayed Late.” And a sprinkling of songs released in June 1941; possibly heard on the portable radios playing swing…


“She’s Love Crazy”, Tampa Red, Hudson Whittaker, June 1941

Coney Island Revisited… Pictures and Words by Weegee

I was one of 800,000 people – cops’ estimate – at Coney Island yesterday afternoon. It as an escapist crowd. Portable radios played swing instead of war news. Some planes flew over, but nobody paid much attention.

Most of the people arrived with bathing suits under their street clothes and undressed on the beach. A lot brought their lunches, too, and spread newspapers on sand to eat. It was 87 degrees when I took this picture.

First aid for ripped slacks. I don’t know how Mama happened to bring along her needle and thread, but I didn’t pose the picture. You don’t have to that to get amusing pictures at Coney. I go out every summer to photograph the crowds. They’re always the same – and always different. One difference from 1940 and yesterday was the number of soldiers in uniform on boardwalk looking over the gals on sand below.

Waiting three hours to get a picture of the official first lost child of the season when a man came over to the Park Department attendant with this and and, “Lost child.” Pretty soon his wild-eyed mother came up and took him away. The child was making such a rumpus, and the mother seemed so excited about it all, that I didn’t want to bother them to ask their names and address. PM Photos by Weegee

PM, June 9, 1941, pp. 16-17


“Sixth Avenue Express”, Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons, June 1941


“Rock Me Mama,” Art Tatum And His Band, Joe Turner, Jones, June 1941


“Lonesome Graveyard”, Art Tatum and His Band, Joe Turner, Jones, Williams, June 1941

Filed under Exhibitions in our electronic filing cabinet:

New York Review of Books:

Raunchy, Raucous Coney Island
By J. Hoberman

…Its subject is the mental construct “Coney Island”—an illusion filtered through such earthy sensibilities as the tabloid photographer Weegee, the American scene painter Reginald Marsh, or the anonymous artisans who created the banners and signage for Coney’s attractions.

Coney Island peaked as a people’s playground during World War II and began its slow decline when the largest of the amusement areas, Luna Park, burned to the ground in the summer of 1944. Although Weegee’s stunning news photo of the ruins, showing two forlorn painted hearts above a lone fireman in a sea of wreckage, gets smaller play than it might, the image of absolute devastation haunts the exhibition’s final section…

Weegee and Morris Engel, his sometime colleague at the leftwing tabloid PM, are the show’s best-represented photographers…

… and the photos Weegee took of the World War II–era Coney Island crowd from a vantage point on the Steeplechase Pier…

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PM, July 22, 1940, pp. 16-17

We just stumbled on this classic post:

(first drafts)

There were a number of attempts by Weegee to make the famous Coney Island photo…
Here are some of them:


PM June 17, 1940, pp.16-17
(The first draft of the first draft of the first draft of history…)

Weegee’s photos of the crowd at Coney Island, presumably made on July 21, 1940 (perhaps in chronological order)…

The number of variants, or number of exposures, or photos that Weegee made of the same scene is something that interests us a great deal. The version of this photo that was published in PM on July 22, 1940, is not the same photo that appears in the all of the Weegee books, from Naked City to Weegee’s World… A prominent photo agency (Corbis) has a number of variations on their web site…

An early “version” of, or attempt at, this photo was published in PM on June 17, 1940, in a trial or test version of the paper, a day before PM started publishing, a day before Volume one, Number one…

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New York Herald Tribune, February 28, 1944 (Photo by Weegee)
Fire Destroys ‘the World’s Largest Scenic Railway’ at Coney Island
Firemen fighting the four-alarm fire which razed the Thompson Scenic Railway late Saturday Night. Minor damage was done to concessions in adjacent Luna Park and to ties of the B.M.T. elevated tracks, causing the rerouting of all trains on four lines.”

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Weegee, Unknown Weegee, February 28, 1944, p. 40 (Photo by Weegee)

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Daily Mirror, February 28, 1944 (Mirror Photo, presumably not by Weegee)
“FOUR-ALARMER IN CONEY ISLAND. Hundreds of firemen, coast guardsmen and wardens were called out to combat a spectacular week-end fire which reduced to these ruins Coney Island’s Scenic Railway, called the oldest and largest amusement device in U.S. Unused Luna Park property and adjoining concessions were damaged. The orgin of the blaze is unknown.”

ny_times_1944_02_28-2

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New York Times, February 28, 1944 (Associated Press, presumably not Weegee)
“Coney Island Scenic Railway After it Was Gutted by Flames
The L.A. Thompson landmark – called one of the oldest and largest amusement devices of its kind in the country – was destroyed by fire on Saturday night. It is adjacent to famed Luna Park and four alarms were turned in before the blaze was under control.”

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PM, February 28, 1944, (PM Photo by Weegee)
“Plug for Wimpy by Weegee
An auxiliary fireman handing coffee to rain-soaked firefighters at the Thompson Scenic Railway fire at Coney Island yesterday poses long enough to give Weegee this picture.”

(It’s fascinating that while photographing the tragedy of a large fire at Coney Island, Weegee also made this funny foto of a coffee-toting fire-buff goofing around with Wimpy the hamburg-loving cartoon character and friend of Popeye. And that this is the photo that PM published of the fire…)

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Weegee’s People, 1946


Irrelevant: Popeye, Amusement Park (1947), from youtube – here… “It’s marvelous…”

coney-is-yale
Coney Island, Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861–2008, “Edited by Robin Jaffee Frank; With contributions by Charles Denson, Josh Glick, John F. Kasson, and Charles Musser,” 2015

Image and quotes from the Yale U. Press website.

“This dazzling catalogue highlights more than 200 images from Coney Island’s history, including paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, posters, film stills, architectural artifacts, and carousel animals. An extraordinary array of artists is represented…” including Weegee and Weegee and Weegee.

We haven’t gotten our greasy, hypo-stained paws on this book yet, but if you judge a book by its cover, this book is a good one…