Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Seeing the Elephant

I thought the phrase "seeing the elephant" was a reference to the sufi story about the blind men and the elephant, or maybe to going to see Dondi the painting elephant in Dumbo last year. Windsor Terrace playwright Dana Leslie Goldstein, whose musical "Cyclone and the Pig-Faced Lady" hits the stage next week, set me straight when I asked her to tell me how she felt about the closing of Astroland. I'm glad I asked. I could use a wider education in American History, and the island of the rabbits in particular. I'm glad she wrote so well on the subject because I've felt a little tongue tied about Astroland, for some reason. What can I say, I'm glad it's out of the hospice, but I'm terrified of the artificiality of what may replace it. Dana's thoughts on the subject have far more to offer, so here you go...

My mother used to go to Steeplechase Park in Coney Island on dates in the fifties. Boys who weren’t allowed to touch her outside of the amusement park could put their arms around her waist and hold her close as the famous mechanical horses caromed around their track. Now Steeplechase is gone.

So is Dreamland, lost to fire in 1911. And Luna Park closed for good not long after World War Two. Things change.

As a kid in the seventies, I was at Coney Island every weekend, getting tumbled by the waves, watching fireworks at night, screaming as my grandfather removed the splinters I got from running barefoot on the boardwalk, and riding the bumper cars at Astroland.

Now Astroland is closed too. As I write this, the log flume and the Tilt-a-Whirl are about to be dismantled. I don’t know how to feel. What I really want is to be able to travel back in time, to the opening of Steeplechase in 1897, to the invention of the hot dog, to the days when “seeing the elephant” meant more than just climbing inside the gigantic, elephant-shaped hotel north of Surf Avenue.

Today the Cyclone remains. And the Wonder Wheel. There’s the boardwalk of course. And the ocean. The Parachute Jump is restored, if not operational, and the sideshow is miraculously revived.

George Tilyou, the founder of Steeplechase, said “If Paris is France, then Coney Island between June and September is the world.” The world is changing. Again. I wonder what he’d say if he saw Keyspan Park, built right where his mechanical horses used to squeal as they made their jerky way around the track, leaving an opening for teenagers with roaming hands. But I guess that can happen at minor league baseball games too. Some things never change.

I hope the spirit of Coney Island is one of them.


M.Thew said...

And, fyi, you can see the rhino until Sunday at the Museum of Biblical Art, which has what sounds like an incredible Durer show until then.

amarilla said...

Thanks so much, I hope to make it.

M.Thew said...

Continuing on this elephant kick, you can still go inside Lucy the wooden Elephant down the shore in Margate NJ.

And "seeing the elephant," which I associated with westerning pioneers, also is rich with military associations.

Now, excuse me while I go jump the shark.

amarilla said...

Not a whale?