Live (almost) from Coney Island—PART ONE: A Trio of Sextenarians Embark on a Quest for the Spirit of the Island.

Painting by me.

Painting by me.

Dramatis Personæ:

My cousin Marilyn Schorr, a native of Brighton Beach and lover of Coney Island like me.

My cousin Marilyn Schorr, a native of Brighton Beach and lover of Coney Island like me.

My husband Jim Blythe, our intrepid photographer. He really got into it, took about 700 photos.

My husband Jim Blythe, our intrepid photographer. He really got into it, took about 700 photos.

Me.

Me.

 

The following is an excerpt from my novel. The year is 1957 and it’s from Brooklyn, my eleven-year-old-girl narrator’s point of view as she walks down Surf Avenue.

 

The names in the neighborhood had a ghostly presence, as if the past never wholly went away—the Half Moon Hotel, Club 21, Gravesend Cemetery. The word Lakeland lingered from days gone by. I didn’t even know what it had been.

 

I was soon in the amusement area, an ever-changing collection of rides, games, and eats, fourteen blocks wide and one long avenue deep, running along the boardwalk. I passed the Cyclone roller-coaster, the multi-arched front of Feltman’s Beer Garden, Blue Bird Casino, Harry’s Poker, and Fascination Arcade, until I reached the crossroads of Surf and Stillwell. Across Surf Avenue lay the yawning subway terminal, gateway for the millions.

 

The aroma of grilling hot dogs wafted toward me from Nathan’s Famous. I turned down Stillwell and walked toward the beach.

 

Marilyn, Jim, and I, all of us now in our sixties, were here to see how much or how little this had changed.

 

PART ONE—A GREAT FLOOD IN A MYTHIC LAND

 

Marilyn parked the car in front of two matching white high-rise apartment buildings on Surf Avenue. This is where our beloved Auntie Ada lived half my lifetime ago. She and Uncle Sam had a spectacular view of the ocean and aquarium from the balcony of their junk-filled apartment.

 

When we got out of the car I could feel the past, all of it still here, but out of reach, as solid as anything.

 

We crossed the street to the New York Aquarium, the oldest in the country, first built at Battery Park, Manhattan in 1896. Marilyn and I watched it being rebuilt at its present location in 1957 when I was eleven years old. It was built on the ground where Dreamland Amusement Park used to stand before it burned down in 1911.

 

The penguins today. When we were kids we used to peak through chinks in the roughhewed fence on the boardwalk to get free peeks of them.

The penguins today. When we were kids we used to peak through chinks in the roughhewed fence on the boardwalk to get free peeks of them.

 

I was surprised to find that the aquarium had been largely destroyed by Hurricane Sandy almost exactly two years ago, though, of course, I shouldn’t have been.

 

Coney Island under about 8 to 10 feet of water.

Coney Island under about 8 to 10 feet of water.

 

I learned that the eighteen staff members worked through the storm, day and night, to save as many animals as they could. They were especially worried about the freshwater fish in open tanks in the basement which was soon under fifteen feet of ocean water. Pumps, electricity, backup generators, tank aerators, everything was dead as the sea pounded the fourteen-acre park. They braved the storm to checked on Milik, the orphaned baby walrus only to find he was probably the happiest creature in the place.

 

When the water finally receded they found massive structural damage and a three-foot-long eel squirming in a staff shower stall. They were saddened by the loss of about one-hundred-and-fifty koi who’s outdoor tank had been knocked over and drained.

 

Photo: Julie Larsen Maher, WCS

Photo: Julie Larsen Maher, WCS

 

The real moment of truth came when they descended to the basement. They almost couldn’t believe what they saw. Here comes the surprise ending—all the freshwater fish were still alive, swimming around in the bottom layer of their tanks because saltwater floats to the top.

 

This is some kind of gar. The keeper told us this is its  favorite position. Photo: Jim Blythe

This is some kind of gar. The keeper told us this is its favorite position. Photo: Jim Blythe

Marilyn on the grounds. Photo: Jim Blythe

Marilyn on the grounds. Photo: Jim Blythe

 

View of boardwalk from the aquarium. Photo: Jim Blythe

View of boardwalk from the aquarium. Photo: Jim Blythe

 

The following is actual footage of the aquarium flooding.

 

Some homemade footage of Surf Avenue actually turning into SURF Avenue.

 

Coming up next: The new Luna Park.

Posted in: Blog & Stories

7 comments

  1. John Sosh says:

    Another Great post – And great photos

  2. Sheila says:

    Thanks John for all your support. I haven’t even posted it to Facebook yet! I was kind of still messing with it.

  3. Elise says:

    Sheila, I really enjoyed your pictures & story. I lived in Brighton Beach on 12th Street from 57-76. Of course, I went to Coney Island as a child. I never really connected the dots thinking of Hurricane Sandy’s effect on the Aquarium etc. You have a beautiful way of telling an informative & interesting story. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Marilyn Jones says:

    Sheila, I loved this post, and again, your artwork. This really gave me a feel of what it is like there. This flood footage really shows the impact of water – life giving and life destroying. You are lucky to have the relationship with Marilyn that you have. I wish I had remained close to my cousins.

  5. Larry Loonin says:

    I very much enjoyed the pictures and the mentioning of places that I too had seen and visited when growing up in Coney Island/Brighton Beach during the years of 1941-62. If Marilyn Schorr went to Lincoln I believe I knew her as she was a friend of my brother’s Allen Loonin.

  6. Chuck Schorr says:

    Sheila I really enjoyed your text and pictures. Those of THE AQUARIUM flooding was amazing. I also liked playing Handball and racket ball at West 4 th St and Boardwalk.
    Finally After retiring after 41 years as an Engineer How could i forget my FAVORITE job—3 Summers- selling French Frozen Custard on The Boardwalk and W 16 St. Love Cousin Charles

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