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"If Paris is France, then Coney Island, between June and September, is the World!" George C. Tilyou, 1886.
South Bowery, showing entrance to Steeplechase in background
George C. Tilyou and the original Steeplechase Funny Face
George Cornelius Tilyou was a born and bred Coney Islander who was among the millions attending the Chicago World's Fair Midway in 1893. What he saw inspired him to build ,in 1897, what is now recognized as the first true amusement park in the world, Steeplechase Park. Steeplechase was named after its signature ride, a winding, iron railed, mechanical horserace, whose serpentine tracks ringed the entire park. The symbol of Steeplechase Park was the "Funny Face" an expression of hilarity (and a little menace) which many people believed was a portrait of the park's founder. (It wasn't, he was a rather handsome, serious looking fellow). Steeplechase was the first Coney Island park and it had something different: The Pavilion of Fun. This glass enclosed structure was built after the original Steeplechase Park burned in 1907. It was a great glass and cast iron beauty, one of the largest ever built in the United States, and it gave Tilyou an advantage - the rides were indoors. Tilyou was a devout man who attended church regularly. His rivals swore he went to pray for rain.
Steeplechase was the longest lived of the three major Coney Island amusement parks. By the late 1950's however, many of the rides were virtually, if not actually, antiques. The cost of adding modern rides was high and it didn't help matters that the Tilyou heirs argued constantly among themselves over the future of the park. Finally, Steeplechase Park closed in 1964 and was torn down by Fred Trump, father of Donald Trump, who intended to build apartment complexes on the beachfront property. He invited guests at his "purchase party" to throw bricks through the windows of the landmark Pavilion of Fun, by then the oldest glass structure in the United States (proving the asshole..uh, I mean apple doesn't fall far from the tree). His venture never happened and today, after years as a vacant lot, Steeplechase Park is a city recreation area. The only remaining vestige is the somewhat melancholy Parachute Jump ride, which though not operational, is now designated a National Historic Landmark.
George C. Tilyou's Steeplechase Pier in Atlantic City, NJ is
easily recognizable due to the presence of the inimitable Funny Face.
Also, note the beautifully attired woman at center right. She is the very
picture of elegance.
Steeplechase Park's Parachute Jump
"Suddenly I am at the seashore and no recollection of the train stopping. Everything is sordid, shoddy, thin as pasteboard. A Coney Island of the mind. The amusement shacks are running full blast, the shelves full of chinaware and dolls stuffed with straw and alarm clocks and spittoons. Over it all in a muffled roar comes the hiss & boom of the breakers. Behind the pasteboard storefronts the breakers are ploughing up the night with luminous, argent teeth. In the oceanic night Steeplechase looks like a wintery beard. Everything is sliding and crumbling. Everything glitters, totters, teeters, titters. Everything is a lie, a fake. Pasteboard. Everything is made of nuts and bolts. The monarch of the mind is a monkey wrench. Sovereign, pasteboard power." Henry Miller.
Steeplechase Swimming Pool
The Steeplechase Race, for which the park was named
Inside the Pavilion of Fun
The ruins of the first Steeplechase Park after the fire