Greetings from Coney Island, New York
This atmospheric 1938 article in Fortune Magazine profiles the unique world of Coney Island, including the outside talkers and freak show proprietors. Read it to get a sense of the pre-war scene on the boardwalk, including the advertisers and practitioners of deceptive games of all kinds:
At ten the dour, octogenarian Paddy Shea, "the original," "the old reliable," takes his seat at the door of his "Gilsey House" saloon. Coney Island is officially awake. And as though at the appearance of a concertmeister the Coney Island orchestra starts tuning up. A spieler tests his microphone with a sudden blast of sound. "Have you tried it? Have you tried it? It's Fascination -- that fascinating game." And a block away another answers, "Learn to play Bingo. Free game now going on." And down the street another picks it up -- and another -- and another -- a growing wave of sound flowing up the island and returning and flowing back again. "Get your hot dogs here. Red hot." -- "Three balls for a dime. Step right up. The ladies play it too." -- "Charlie McCarthy. Take home a Charlie McCarthy." -- "Test your skill. Everybody wins." -- "Get your thrill here. Fastest ride on the island." -- "Have you tried it? You'll like it. Oh boy, you'll like it." -- And the shills and the boosters move up to the game tables -- and a carrousel organ breaks into Bei mir hist du schön -- and the gaily painted horses with their necks arched high move off in stately procession -- and the tinsel changes to gold -- and adventure walks suddenly in the streets-and under the hot summer sun Coney Island slowly melts and comes slowly to a boil...
Talking up the freak show, trying
to get the crowd to spend a nickel.
There are three freak shows of a sort at Coney Island, but the islanders will tell you that there is only one showman. That's Sam Wagner of the World Circus Side Show, Inc., who has been in the business thirty-five years. Sam's two boys handle the spieling and inside lecturing. Sam didn't think much of the idea -- tried to persuade them to get into something else; but it didn't work...
"Laurello, the Only Man With
a Revolving Head"
(yes, he was real)
appeared in Sam Wagner's
on Coney Island.
Sam's present show, and he admits it isn't up to some others he's had, includes: The Spider Boy; Singing Lottie, Fat Girl (O Boy, Some Entertainer); Laurello, the Only Man With a Revolving Head (See Frisco, the Wonder Dog); Professor Bernard, Magician Extraordinary (He will fool you); Professor Graf, Tattoo Artist (Alive); and his star act, Belle Bonita and her Fighting Lions (Action, Thrills)...Read the whole article: To Heaven by Subway>>
- To Heaven by Subway (Fortune Classics, 1938) Fortune Classics, CNN Money>>
- Like Coney Island? Visit Coneyisland.com>>
- More about sideshows from Todd Robbins at Confessions of a Glass Eater>>