Today in Coney Island History: George C. Tilyou

George C Tilyou Coney Island History Project

"If Paris is France, then Coney Island, between June and September, is the world." --George C Tilyou.

George C.  Tilyou, founder of Steeplechase Park and creator of Coney Island's Funny Face logo was born on this day, February 3rd, in 1862.

Tilyou was a master showman and amateur psychologist who understood how people wanted to be entertained. He realized that his customers were happy to play the fool to entertain others.

He  came with his parents to Coney Island in 1865 at the tender age of three. His father, Peter, opened a small wooden bathhouse and restaurant on the beach, and young George was soon selling bottles of souvenir sand to visitors. The family nearly lost everything when they challenged Coney's political boss, John McKane, in the 1880s. After McKane went to prison, the Tilyous' fortunes improved, and soon George owned a theater, a Ferris wheel, and other rides scattered along the beach.

Tilyou became Coney's biggest booster and a philanthropist who supported local orphanages, the Catholic church, children's hospitals, and other charities.

In 1897 Tilyou moved his rides into an enclosed park at West Sixteenth Street and Surf Avenue. Horse racing was the park's theme. The Steeplechase ride enabled ordinary people to experience the thrill of racing by riding mechanical horses along a steel track.

Read more about Tilyou on his page in the Coney Island History Project's Coney Island Hall of Fame.


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