Created by a Tammany Hall-connected businessman, William H. Reynolds, Dreamland was supposed to be a high-class entertainment, with elegant architecture, pristine white towers and some educational exhibits along with the rides and thrills. It was reputed to have one million electric light bulbs illuminating and outlining its buildings, quite a novelty at the time.
Among Dreamland's attractions were a railway that ran through a Swiss alpine landscape; imitation Venetian canals with gondolas; a "Lilliputian Village" with three hundred dwarf inhabitants; and a demonstration of fire-fighting in which two thousand people pretended to put out a blazing six-story building. There was also (strange as it sounds today) a display of baby incubators, where premature babies were cared for and exhibited. The story of the very first infants is very interesting. The triplets were premature. Incubators were not approved for use in the hospitals. The side shows were owned by the Dicker family [they also owned the hotel next to the park, which burned down in the blaze reported below. The triplets were the members of the family. The doctors advised them of the new invention, but could not use it. So the triplets were placed in the side show, which was allowed. Two survived. They lived on to have full lives until their passing. In a bid for publicity, the park put famous Broadway actress Marie Dressler in charge of the peanut-and-popcorn stands, with young boys dressed as imps in red flannel acting as salesmen. Dressler was said to be in love with Dreamland's dashing, handlebar-mustachioed, one-armed lion tamer who went by the name of Captain Bonavita.
In spite of its many draws, Dreamland struggled to compete with nearby Luna Park, which was better managed. In preparation for its 1911 season, many changes were made. Samuel W. Gumpertz (later director of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus) was put in the park's top executive post. The buildings, once all painted white in a bid for elegance, were redone in bright colors. On the night before opening day, a concession called Hell Gate, in which visitors took a boat ride on rushing waters through dim caverns, was undergoing last-minute repairs by a roofing company owned by Samuel Engelstein. A leak had to be caulked with tar. During these repairs, at about 1:30 in the morning on Saturday, May 27, 1911, the light bulbs that illuminated the operations began to explode, perhaps because of an electrical malfunction. In the darkness, a worker kicked over a bucket of hot pitch, and soon Hell Gate was in flames.
The fire quickly spread throughout the park. The buildings were made of frames of lath (thin strips of wood) covered with staff (a moldable mixture of plaster of Paris and hemp fiber). Both materials were highly flammable, and as they were common in the Coney Island amusement parks, fires were a persistent problem there. Because of this, a new high-pressure water pumping station had been constructed at Twelfth Street and Neptune Avenue a few years earlier. But on this night it failed. Water was available, but not enough to contain the fire before it enveloped Dreamland. Chaos broke loose as the park burned. As the one-armed Captain Bonavita strove to save his big cats with only the swiftly encroaching flames for illumination, some of the terrified animals escaped. A lion named Black Prince rushed into the streets, among crowds of onlookers, and was shot by police. By morning, the fire was out, and Dreamland was reduced to a soggy, smoldering mess. Early editions of The New York Times claimed the incubator babies had perished in the flames; but later the paper corrected this and reported that they had all been saved. Though other Coney Island parks were rebuilt after major fires, some multiple times, Dreamland was abandoned after the fire of 1911. Dreamland was located between Surf Avenue and the Atlantic Ocean at West Eighth Street opposite Culver Depot, the terminal of New York City Subway's Brighton and Culver Lines. The site is now the location of the New York Aquarium and the West Eighth Street station.
Here is a neat collectible featuring a Coney Island Dreamland Wild Animal Show . This is an excellent reproduction of an old photo on quality photography paper not cheap ink jet stock. Size 4x6 inches. Mint condition. This photo will be shipped protected in a padded mailer. Check out my other photos and vintage collection in my Shopify Store. Please note the Photoseeum fine print in the foreground of all the photos will not be in the printed version you purchase. All of our photos are developed in photo labs, using the finest photography stock available such as Kodak & Fuji or other quality brand name product. We do not print off our photos on cheap inkjet home printers, like so many other photo sellers here on Shopify. The old saying here applies....you get what you pay for.
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