Whale Exhibit

Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I have a very clear memory of a huge whale washing up on the beach at Coney Island. It was moved to an indoor exhibition space right next to Nathan's. The smell became unbearable, so the entire display didn't last long, but no one else I know remembers it. Do you have any information about it? It had to be around the mid-1950's. Thanks so much!
- Phyllis

Hello Phyllis,

The 75-foot finback whale washed up in 1954 and was hauled to the alley behind Nathan's and displayed at 50 cents a peek. The carnies who hauled the whale from the beach pumped preservatives into it but the chemicals only added to the horrific smell of decomposition. The attraction was not well received and the admission dropped to 25 cents before it went out of business. The whale display went up in flames in August and the smell of formaldehyde and smoldering blubber drove Nathan’s customers away in droves.

An insurance company paid to have the scorched whale towed away and dumped at sea but the stench remained for months after. This was not the first beached whale to be exhibited in Coney Island. Here is a picture of the 1930s "Moby Dick" that was displayed on the Boardwalk.


Coney Island has whales too??? Wow. I never knew that. I know once I went out to the beach in Orient Point, New York out there and in the ocean, I did spot a whale in the water out there. Yes, the whale had been like sailing around out there in the ocean and all of that by the park out there.

Wow. Yes, you are by the ocean there but I never knew that whales were in that water there around the bridges and all of that. You see not too much of anything. I was once out in the East End of Long Island, NY in Orient Point, NY and thought once I saw an Armada ship of Portugal out there. Yes, Ministerio da Defensa do Portugal has Armada which is a bunch of ships that patrol the water out there like the US Coast Guard does, and once I was out there in the East End and thought I saw an Armada ship out there from Portugal. Yes.

No ships really pass through the harbors there or ocean there in your area there in Coney Island. You do see helicopters in that area that may be going to Floyd Bennett Field there in Brooklyn or even perhaps Fort Totten there. Yes. NO boats though. I wonder. If they were coming from the East, they could be Portuguese or African or Spanish and if the SOUTH was applied, Carribean. I am sure you know like Cancos is SOUTH of Coney island down there. Yes, Portugal is EAST of there and from Staten Island and all of that.

Yes, wow, never knew whales were in that ocean there by the apartments and all of that.

I remember my grandfather - Edward G. Conway - telling me about this whale sometime around 1960. He had been a high ranking officier in FDNY and was in charge of the group trying to extinguish the fire. He said the smell was awful and the job was very difficult because there were no established proceedures for putting out a burning whale.

I always had a vague memory (I was 4 in 1954) of a whale exhibit..Thanks to this site I now know I'm not crazy!!!!!

I remember it well. My Aunt and Uncle had a clam and corn stand one block away and we spent weekends helping out. We walked around the corner to see the whale almost daily and then the smell of death after awhile kept us away. So glad others remember this time.

No, whales don't literally live on the coasts of Coney Island. They are usually swept to areas accidentally or they swim towards a familiar scent like fish. They usually return home after that. I think in 2009 or 2010 a blue whale somehow swam into Caesar's Bay and was swimming under the Verrazano Bridge! Then he turned away and swam back home. The summer of 2010 I was swimming in the ocean at the beach in Coney Island and a small shark appeared. No one was injured or bitten. The dorsal fin on its back was an obvious sign of a shark. Why do they come here? No one knows. Perhaps it's migration, accidents, or just instincts.

I'm certain that there was more than one instance of a dead whale on display there. Maybe as recent as the 60's?

how horrible the poor whale!!

My husband and I, some friends use to launch out shrimp boat on the Galveston beach in the mid-1960's. One week end a whale about 35' was stuck in the mud a ways down the beach. We drove as far as we could, then walked through the weeds to get a glimpse of it...We waded out and got on top of it just to say that we had been on top of a whale..it was blowing water about 15' high...but we knew it was stuck...it was swishing it's tail back and forth...The coast guard roped it's tail and tried to pull it out to deeper water but the rope broke. It was reported in the Beaumont newspaper and warning people not to wade through the marsh and mosquitoes. I am surprised that I can't find anything on the internet about it. We took pictures but the person who has them has since deceased. Can you locate any articles about it. The newspaper said that it apparently ended up in a gulf stream of warm water or was coming to shore to give birth to it's young. Frankie Locke

I was 8 years old at the time and I clearly remember seeing it for free, and the smell is still in my brain. It was a pretty big deal at the time.

I remember my father telling the story of this whale, as well as the stench. He must have went through the beast near the end of the time it was on display, because I remember him say that he paid 25 cents. I was glad to see this posting and get the story verified.

I remember riding on my father's shoulders and seeing the whale in the alley next to Nathans. It was black and enormous. Recently I started to doubt my memory so looked it up online. So it was real after all. I was 4 years old at the time and living in Brighton Beach.

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