Once, Coney Island was an immense, chaotic, overpowering extravaganza of rides, shooting galleries, hot-dog stands, a six-story hotel shaped like an elephant, and three amusement parks that became the stuff of myth: Luna, Steeplechase, Dreamland. By 1966, all of them had vanished, victims of fire, the wrecker’s ball and a long-term decline in the fortunes of Coney Island. Gone, also, were the fun-seeking hordes who had devoured them, driven out by decades of decay that culminated in a bloody riot in 1968. The amusement area, which once sprawled from West 37th Street all the way to what is now the New York Aquarium, shrank to its present size, from Surf Avenue to the beach, between West 10th and 16th Streets. Huge tracts even of that stretch are vacant now, a landscape of weeds, fractured concrete and plywood fencing.
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