Friday, June 10, 2011

You Should've Seen Coney Island in Those Days

[Photos: Coney Island in the 1940s]

Today, there's a front-page photo in the Times showing Coney Island beach during yesterday's scorching temperatures on the East Coast. The picture is cropped in a way that makes the beach look totally jammed. Granted, the beach was very crowded yesterday, but when you look on the edges of the crop you can see that it's only a mid-section that's full, and there's a lot of space between some of those blankets.

But there was a time, before air conditioning and the Interstate Highway System and the suburbs, when a blazing hot day in New York brought a million people to Coney Island, nearly all by subway. Ah, you should've seen it in those days, to allude to Burt Lancaster's haunting line about the Atlantic Ocean in Louis Malle's movie "Atlantic City." (The actual line is: "The Atlantic Ocean was something then. Yes, you should've seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days.")

In some of those vintage Coney Island photos from the 40s and 50s, the beach is so full it seems that another person couldn't fit in, even greased with a full bottle of Coppertone. And those old photos bring to mind another movie allusion, Woody Allen's crack that German submarines tried to invade Coney Island during WW2 but were destroyed by the pollution.


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