A Visit to the Long Island Museum: Coney Island and Jones Beach

The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, NY is a place that most Long Island schoolchildren visit and probably know as “The Carriage Museum” or “The Stony Brook Museums.” The museum grounds have a schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, and other historic buildings that you can explore. The carriage museum is home to thousands of carriages. And the art museum hosts the rotating exhibits. Previously, I wrote about my visit to the exhibit “America’s Kitchens.”

This season (June 14-December 29) the featured exhibit was, “Coney Island and Jones Beach: Empires by the Sea.” The south shore of Long Island, Jones Beach included, is near and dear to my heart and Coney Island is on my list of places to visit, so my family headed to the museum for an educational afternoon. Unfortunately, copyright rules prohibited any photography. The following quotes are from the exhibit and the Long Island Museum exhibit page.

“If Paris is France, then Coney Island, between June and September, is the world.
George Tilyou, owner of Steeplechase Park, 1886

“You may cross the world and find no resort to compare with Jones Beach.  No other beach or playground offers so much for so little…”
Meyer Berger, writer for the New York Times, 1947

The two exhibits worked their way in opposite directions of the museum gallery, meeting in the middle. Visitors were able to choose how to begin. Historic photographs and maps, antique objects, archival video footage, and well written text carried you from the beginning of both places to the present. Highlights included vintage lifeguard uniforms, an oral history interview (video) with a man who had been a lifeguard for 60+ summers, Coney Island signage, and video of the crazy amusement rides. (Read: I wish the steeplechase ride still existed.)  Did you see the photo post of the parachute drop? It is the only structure remaining from Steeplechase Park and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Steeplechase at Coney Island. Source HABS via wikipedia. Click for link.

The Steeplechase at Coney Island. Source HABS via wikipedia. Click for link.

Coney Island has a long, winding, interesting history of politics, transportation, amusement, culture, and it’s ever changing story of use, multiple parks and reputation. Have you been? I also want to ride the Cyclone, a 1927 historic wooden roller coaster that scares the living daylights out of most people.

Need some more information about Coney Island? Check out Coney Island History and the Coney Island History Project. And here’s a good post from a Brooklyn blogger.

As for Jones Beach: it is a New York State Park that opened in 1929. At 2,400 acres, it was the first public park of its kind, almost resort like for anyone. The park opened with swimming pools, art deco bathhouses, an amphitheater, sports fields, a two-mile boardwalk – all open to the public. If you’re driving on Ocean Parkway, you know Jones Beach by the pencil shaped water tower.  In 2012, the Cultural Landscape Foundation declared the park at risk on its annual “Landslide” list due to lack of funding and a lack of comprehensive planning. The park is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

This rotating exhibit space at the Long Island Museum always puts on an enjoyable, educational show. I enjoyed learning more about Long Island, though now it has me wishing for those warm summer amusement months.

Have you been to your local museum lately? Have you learned anything new about your hometown or region?

Sunday Snapshots for Summer #5

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To those of you who love the ocean as much as I do! Seen here is Robert Moses State Park on Long Island, NY.

Summer Days

I remember cool summer mornings, waking up to hear my mom watering the garden or cutting cantaloupe in the kitchen, getting us girls ready for the day. We might be heading to the beach that day, which meant we were responsible for finding the pails & shovels, beach blankets, chairs and any other toys we wanted for the day. We’d spend all day at the beach, moving the blanket if the tide came too close, digging holes in the sand, getting covered with sand and salt water. On the way home, near the day’s end, we’d pass around what was left in the jug of lemonade and the bag of pretzels, enjoying our saltiness while Mom drove with the windows open and the radio playing. Or the day might call for staying home and playing the backyard, climbing trees and eating ice pops. Sometimes we’d head to the public library to return our books for new choices, adding to our summer reading program list. Summer evenings were filled with barbecues, gymnastics routines on the front lawn and often ice cream cones while we sat on the front stoop. You could say that we were living the ideal suburban childhood summer, no responsibilities but being a kid in the summertime.

Recently, I’m struck by how far away those childhood summers seem, and wondering what it could possibly feel like to have that again: the imagination of a child and the freedom of days without a to-do list. What wonderful memories; these are the kind that I would like to store in a box and revisit now and then, and maybe someday relive some of those stories.

How do you feel? You have all probably been working for years or decades, beginning as teenagers and continuing through college and now as adults. Summer is different now; generally calmer than other seasons, easier, adventurous. As adults we get to choose where we’ll spend the days and what we’ll do, perhaps visiting places we never did as a child, and trying new things. It’s a different kind of fun, but perhaps one that is easier to recall and store in our memories, since adulthood is longer than childhood.

So I ask, how do you keep your childhood memories dear? Have you written them or keep them only in your memory? Do you return to your childhood home? Perhaps you relive your childhood through your children. Or maybe every so often something triggers a memory that you didn’t remember. Maybe it’s a certain way the breeze feels, or the smell of low tide or seeing kids racing around the block on bicycles. Regardless of how often you think of your childhood summers, or how you choose to remember them, I hope they are thought of fondly.

For my sisters: the side beach in Point Lookout.

Preservation Photos #43

Decades ago, beach bungalows stood across Reynolds Channel (view from Point Lookout). As far as I know the story, as the hurricanes damaged or demolished the bungalows, the owners were not allowed to rebuild, and eventually they were only a memory.

It’s a beautiful view anytime of the year.

This picture is in memory of my grandmother, Jeanne O’Shea.

Preservation in Pink will be taking a break for the week. Fun pictures and posts to come for next week.

Enjoy the first week of August.

Old Memories, New Memories: The Evolution of My Favorite Place

I grew up in a beach town.  My mother pulled me in the wagon to the beach and we played on any sunny day in any season.  My father held me under a crashing wave before I knew how to swim.  My uncle taught me how to ride the waves (body surf) and I have a beautiful scar on my shoulder from that incident, getting trashed by the waves.  My cousin taught me what little I know about actual surfing.  My sisters and I lived for the beach.  I have salt water in my veins and salty air in my lungs.

 

As children we spent hours on the beach digging holes, just digging. Hands, shovels, buckets, shells: anything could become a useful digging tool. Our efforts often attracted jealous attention of nearby children who marveled at a hole so wide and deep that four sisters could sit comfortably.  We guarded our hole with pride and asked our parents to not let anyone cave it in while we ran to the water to rinse off our sandy bodies.  Waves kept us in the chilly water for hours at a time.  We ran along the breaking waves and turned cartwheels.  We rode wave after wave after wave, perfecting our body surfing techniques.  Sometimes the waves tossed and turned us under water, pulled us from the surface, and dropped us from our place on top with no warning.  The waves never scared us; we thrived on the excitement.  Our father and his brother stayed with us after the lifeguards had gone home at six.  We’d occasionally use a boogie board, but that never seemed as true as body surfing.  The afternoon and evening brought warm water and an easy sunny sky.

 

Now, years later, I do not live near the beach.  Here, it is hours to any beach and people take vacations to the beach.  I never fathomed such a thing.  I miss the beach and try to take my vacations in the summer to go home and return to the beach with my sisters.

 

Playtime on the beach is different.  We dig fewer holes and tolerate the cold water just slightly less than our younger selves.  We love the beauty of the sand and the ocean, but some things changes.  Recently, I have felt guilty and suddenly too old.  How could I not want to play like that 10 year old girl I used to be?  This is when I realized that our favorite places can evolve with ourselves.  My memories never leave; I love everything about the beach and the games my sisters and I would play. 

 

As we’ve grown, I’ve adapted myself to the beach. Instead of running from the beach blanket to the waves and back, I run miles on the beach.  On these miles, barefoot and in the water, I show my love for the beach.  There is no place I’d rather run and no place that I’m happier to run.  When I run on the beach, it feels like I’m playing.  They are always my favorite runs with stops in the middle to jump in the waves.  I’ve never appreciated cold water more than during a sunny run. 

 

Now I have a melding of my childhood and myself.  We still ride the waves and turn cartwheels and jump off lifeguard stands. Digging holes may have to wait another generation.  But, I have added an older version of myself and my activities to the beach.  Without this, the beach (or any favorite place) risks fading memories.  Every time I run I remember.  Every time I run on the beach I’m adding to those memories. 

 

Memory and use are funny things: combining them makes the place stronger and more meaningful.  People and communities should consider what they love (buildings, landscapes, open space, etc) and when it’s out of date, find new ways to keep the past and the present connected, assuring life for the future.  It’s the basic foundation for human existence; our memories, our lives, are connected by the past, present, and future.  We wouldn’t want to let any of that go, so why should we forget our surroundings?