Our first special exhibit of the season, opening on May 23, will be “Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920.” Stereoview photography of Coney Island began in the 1860s, providing the earliest documentation of the resort. This exhibit features original stereoview photo cards, antique stereo viewers, and enlargements of some of the oldest photographic images of Coney Island.
Long before television, radio, movies, and the internet, the main form of family home entertainment was an exciting new technology called stereoview photography. Most homes could afford a simple wooden hand viewer and a collection of stereoview cards that covered every subject imaginable.
The cards were actual photographs shot with a stereo bellows camera and pasted on a cardboard backing. The viewer split the card, creating a 3-D image, something that had never been possible before.
Coney Island was one of the earliest subjects photographed. During the 1860s Coney Island consisted of a tiny resort centered on Coney Island Creek at the terminus of Shell Road. The Coney Island Tollhouse, Wyckoff House and Oceanic Hotel were prominently featured in these vintage stereoviews, as was Coney Island Creek itself. Hunting, fishing and rowing on the creek were the main attractions in the resort’s early days.
Late 19th century images included the Elephant Hotel, the first roller coasters, and a variety of humorous bathing attire. Our exhibit features modern enlargements of these early images, as well as the cards themselves. Commercial stereoviews continued to sell well into the 1930s.
While this form of stereo technology may seem primitive by modern standards, visitors to our exhibit can peer through an antique stereoviewer and experience the earliest days of Coney Island as it was transformed into the “Playground of the World.”
“Please join us on this journey into the heart of Coney Island and leave the digital world behind,” says Charles Denson, curator of the exhibit and director of the Coney Island History Project.
This program is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and our members and contributors.
Located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, the Coney Island History Project is just a few steps off the Boardwalk. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island’s colorful past. Visitors are also invited to take free souvenir photos with an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name and “Skully,” a giant skull that is a veteran of Coney’s Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama.
The History Project’s exhibition center season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. New hours are 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.
Join our unique walking tours based on Charles Denson’s award-winning book Coney Island: Lost and Found, the interviews from CIHP’s Oral History Archive, and other primary sources. Visit our online reservation site to see the walking tour schedule and purchase advance tickets online or book a group tour.