The following post is by Louis Parascandola, the co-editor of A Coney Island Reader: Through Dizzy Gates of Illusion.
The Acknowledgments to A Coney Island Reader: Through Dizzy Gates of Illusion point out that the book that I edited with my brother John was created out of a great sorrow in our lives. We had lost both of our parents in the few years preceding the book, and both of our sisters were enduring life-threatening illnesses. While we were writing the book, one sister, Maryann, died of lung cancer. Now, just as the book has been published, we have lost our other sister, Judy, to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. Thus the book, which was meant to serve as a celebration of our family, now serves more as a memorial. Life, much like Coney Island, seldom conforms to what we expect, let alone want, it to be. Still, Coney is able to provide comfort even at dark moments in life and even during its off season.
Most people do not imagine visiting Coney during the winter months, something I have had the opportunity to do several times. There is a somber chill in the air. One wonders, as in Sara Teasdale’s poem “Coney Island,” why we are here, out where “The winter winds blow” with “no shelter near.” However, there is comfort here. As one walks along the boardwalk, one can see activity going on. There are people walking; there are joggers; there are the dog walkers; there may even be a few intrepid bathers. There are also people working all year round fixing the rides and preparing for the spring. Along Surf Avenue, there is also activity. Though many of the stores are closed, a few remain open for the die-hards. It is still possible to get a hot dog at Nathan’s, pizza at Grimaldi’s, and candy from a couple of vendors. One realizes that though Coney may slow down, it never completely closes. Life here never really ends.
The appeal of the off-season is apparent in several of the works in our anthology, including the above-mentioned poem by Teasdale as well as Stephen Crane’s story “Coney Island’s Failing Days,” Federico Garcia Lorca’s poem “Landscape of a Vomiting Multitude (Dusk at Coney Island”), and Bernard Malamud’s story “My Son the Murderer.” Perhaps the piece that best captures the feeling, however, is by Pulitzer Prize winner, Josephine W. Johnson, “Coney Island in November.” In this poignant story, a woman recalls her somewhat distant relationship with her now deceased father as she walks along the desolate beach at Coney. At this time of year, Coney returns to what it once was and will always remain, a seaside, natural resort. Its endless beach and eternal tide allow for contemplation that one cannot achieve on a crowded summer day. It is while walking along this beach that the woman is able to come to terms with her sorrow and gain a sense of closure with her father. This sense of serenity is an aspect not always connected with Coney, with its hurly burly. Coney is forever linked with summer fun, but the pleasure and knowledge that can be gained in its off-season is not something to be overlooked.