Live (almost) from Coney Island—PART THREE: THE HOUDINI OF HOT DOGS

Photo: Jim Blythe

Photo: Jim Blythe

 

After Spook-A-Rama Jim still wasn’t ready to face the Wonder Wheel, so he, Marilyn, and I headed down Jones Walk then turned left on Surf Avenue, drawn to another legendary attraction.

 

Painting on the side of a ride on Jones Walk. Photo: Jim Blythe

Painting on the side of a ride on Jones Walk. Photo: Jim Blythe

A lot of kids were in costume two weeks before Halloween.

A lot of kids were in costume two weeks before Halloween. Photo: Jim Blythe

 

This guy looked familiar sitting there on Surf Avenue, then I remembered where I saw him last.

This guy looked familiar sitting there on Surf Avenue, then I remembered where I saw him last. Photo: Jim Blythe

He was the barker at a side show we saw in 1989.

He was the barker at a side show we saw in 1998. Photo: Jim Blythe

He was hawking this strange product.

He was hawking this strange product. Photo Jim Blythe

 

Photo: Sheila Martin

Photo: Sheila Martin

 

Photo: Jim Blythe

Photo: Jim Blythe

 

 

We walked until we hit Nathan’s Famous between Stillwell Avenue and Schweikerts Walk.

 

 

Nathan’s in 1950. It’s mega-corp overlords in their wisdom have left the Coney Island branch pretty much the same.

Nathan’s, 1950. It’s mega-corp overlords in their wisdom left the Coney Island branch pretty much the same.

 

Nathan’s was founded in 1916 by Polish immigrants (like my father) Nathan and Ida Handwerker with their life savings of $300. Somehow Nathan gets all the glory, but it was Ida who created the hot dog recipe using her grandmother’s secret spice mix. They were urged to open the place by then Coney Island singing waiters: Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante.

Jimmy Durante and Nathan Handwerker

Jimmy Durante and Nathan Handwerker

 

An odd event sponsored by Nathan’s is their annual Hot Dog Eating Contest which started in the early 1970’s. In 2001 an 128 lb. Japanese competitive eater named Takeru Kobayashi doubled the previous record by eating 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes. He went on to beat his own record three times. In a different venue in 2003 he lost a hot dog eating contest to a 1089-pound Kodiak bear, but in 2012 redeemed himself by breaking the bear’s record.

 

Takeru Kobayashi in 2007

Takeru Kobayashi in 2007

Hot dog eating contest, 2011.

Hot dog eating contest, 2011.

 

Another oddity is the variety on the menu. What other hot dog stand has frog legs and clams on the half shell? My first husband, Andrew and I used to walk there for clams from our apartment on Brighton 2nd Street in the early 1970s.

 

When Marilyn, Jim, and I got to Nathan’s we were happy to find a table in their outdoor seating area on this perfect fall day.

 

Photo: Jim Blyther

Photo: Jim Blythe

 

Across the street is the ruins of the once elegant Shore Theater.

Across the street is the ruin of the once elegant Shore Theater. Photo: Jim Blythe

 

We got the classic combos—hot dogs with sauerkraut and French fries. Memories are made of this.

Photo: Nick DeSantis

Photo: Nick DeSantis

 

In case you think I forgot, here’s an excerpt from my novel, again from my eleven-year-old heroine’s point of view. She talking to a Delta blues singer on the boardwalk.

 

 “I just had a horrible thought,” I said. “Do you think they put real dogs in hot dogs?”

 

Mississippi laughed. “Don’t you worry yourself none. Hot dogs are made from hog fat and gristle.” He held up the soda bottle. “What kind of Coke’s this?”

 

“That’s not Coke, that’s a Doctor Brown’s Cel-Ray Soda. Don’t tell me you don’t have celery soda where you come from!”

 

“We sure enough don’t.”

 

 

Kobayashi vs the Bear. It’s very silly.

Posted in: Blog & Stories

5 comments

  1. andrew m says:

    Sheila, I wish you’d print those great pictures of the Coney Island parade with the mermaids, and ocean themed floats.

  2. Lucille says:

    LOVE the words And The photos !!
    Esp the first one of Nathan’s seems spooky ::
    And remembering your past is quite touching
    and unique. Writing a page for the nytimes
    “Life” section back of the magazine would
    Be so much fun for people to read.

    Am enjoying this !
    Lucille

  3. I really enjoyed this one. Thanks for it, Sheila.

  4. Marilyn Jones says:

    I think the idea of writing for that page of the NY Times is a great idea – a perfect way to get attention for your book. I loved these photos. The idea of competitive eating totally grosses me out. I can’t even look at pictures of it. Is celery soda real?

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