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What is Coney Island?

Niki Acker
Updated May 17, 2024
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Coney Island is a former island, now a peninsula, in the south of Brooklyn, New York City, in the United States. It is one of the five barrier islands of Long Island. Coney Island is also a neighborhood in the western part of the peninsula.

Coney Island is about four miles (6 km) long and about half a mile (0.8 km) wide. It was formerly separated from the rest of Brooklyn by the Coney Island Creek, but the creek was filled in during construction of the Belt Parkway in the 1930s. The peninsula gets its name from the Dutch Conyne Eylandt or "Rabbit Island" - coney is also an archaic English word for "rabbit" - because it one featured numerous and diverse rabbits. However, hunting and resort development during the 19th century destroyed the rabbits' habitat.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the island was a major resort area. It features a beach on the Atlantic Ocean, and became accessible by rail and steamboats in the late 19th century. Hotels, amusement parks, and horse racing were among the featured attractions. The Coney Island Elephant, a huge, elephant shaped hotel open from 1885 to 1896, could be seen by approaching ships before the Statue of Liberty.

Dreamland, Luna Park, and Steeplechase Park were the major amusement parks, all of which were closed by the mid-20th century. New versions of Dreamland and Luna Park opened in the first decade of the 21st century. Some of the earliest versions of roller coasters were built on the island. The Coney Island Cyclone, built in 1927, is still in operation and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nathan's Famous hot dog stand, now a nationwide chain, first opened its doors on the island in 1916 and has held an annual hot dog eating contests at the original location ever since.

Though it is not the tourist mecca it once was, the resort still boasts numerous amusements and interesting events, many initiated in recent years. The non-profit group Coney Island U.S.A., founded in 1979, runs a museum on the peninsula's history and produces the annual Mermaid Parade, Coney Island Film Festival, Burlesque At The Beach, and the Halloween event Creepshow at the Freakshow. The New York Aquarium opened in 1957, and the minor league baseball stadium MCU Park opened in 2001. Skeeball, carnival games, and a sideshow are other ongoing attractions.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a America Explained editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By Viranty — On Jul 16, 2014

In relation to the last paragraph, I agree that Coney Island doesn't attract tourists like it once used to. One of the reasons for this may be due to the fact that there are so many sights and attractions in New York, each one more superior than the other, that Coney Island doesn't get the spotlight it used to. However, it's still a great place to go, and there's plenty of enjoyment to be had.

By Euroxati — On Jul 15, 2014

I just learned something new from reading this article. Though I don't live in New York, I am quite familiar with its amusement parks and attractions. However, I didn't know that the island's name originated from rabbits, which is very interesting. Until now, I had always assumed that it was called Coney Island because you can buy ice cream cones at the amusement parks.

By Krunchyman — On Jul 15, 2014

Maybe it's just me, but several parts of Coney Island really remind me of Six Flags Great America. Not only is this a good thing in itself, but even more so, I'm assuming this is one of the many reasons why people go there. Besides, if it's not for the rabbits, it's for the amusement park(s).

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a America Explained editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide...
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