Subject: How Coney Island Defined America
In 1941 a remarkable history of Coney Island was published, titled Sodom By The Sea. I look forward to reading Randy Shaw’s recommendation to learn what new material has been presented. I lived and grew up in Coney Island where I remained until my late twenties. As Randy describes, it was a remarkable place to live. Among the advantages is that I never had problem getting work because the concessionaires preferred employing local folks..And I always loved the salt water air and the extraordinary two mile boardwalk. Not least, there was a strong progressive working class who lived in Coney Island. ; It was in Coney Island where I got my first lessons in political activism.
But there was some serious downsides. For one thing, the freak shows were very popular. These concessions employed people with serious physical deformities who they exhibited for interest and yes, for laughs as well. The freak shows were exceedingly popular. For the “freaks”, they were institutions of humiliation.
But at least the freak shows could be avoided. However, if you were Jewish, which made up the majority of Coney Island residents, the anti-Semitism was unavoidable. There was a sector in the Catholic Italian community who would never forgive the Jews for killing Jesus Christ (who was also a Jew!).. Judging from the number of beatings that I and other Jews suffered, clearly the statute of limitation had not passed. If not beatings, we were subject to a lot of contempt.
Coney Islanders were active in many progressive movements, including he women’s movement. Women during the 1920s fought bitterly for the right to wear shorter and more comfortable bathing suits. Despite arrests and harsh treatment by the police, they won that battle (hey, as you can see anytime you go swimming).
The good life in my view balances tranquility and excitement. Coney Island, more than anywhere else I have lived, provided ample opportunity and encouragement to balance both.
Harry BrillFiled under: Letters to the Editor