Monthly Archives: January 2010

Casing Steeplechase in 1950 for Revenge

At a recent reading from the part of TROUBLE IN FLATBUSH. about Coney Island in 1949-50, someone asked, with suspicion, about the accuracy of the extensive description of the place. I assured her that the descriptions of specific features were quite precise. In fact, I was amazed at how one striking point in time and place stimulated my mind to wander to other spots nearby.
For example, an event on the stage at Steeplechase Park one summer afternoon in 1950 burned an image of the whole grand pavilion in my mind.
Patrons that exited the signature ride called Iron Horses had to cross a mock theater stage where a pair of clowns used them as stooges to entertain the audience. At that age, with my friends around me, I was also a clown and used the opportunity to try to upstage the professionals. Prepared for upstarts like me, they would have no part of it and cornered me on the stage to dispose of me. One of them smacked my tush with his electric cattle prod giving me a lasting painful shock. Nowadays, this would provoke a lawsuit, but then it was common entertainment. My immediate reaction was to go down like the flaming Hindenburg, but in reality, I deflated like a burst birthday balloon. With pride smashed and my bottom burning, I sat for a long time watching others romp around the grand indoor pavilion.
It was mostly during that period of studied sulking and imagined revenge that the layout and workings of Steeplechase were embossed in my memory. It was a twelve-year-old imagining a plot and casing the joint. I returned many times after that and each time, I added more detail to the image. I still remember the sounds of machinery and large gears grinding as well the smell of warm lubrication grease and overused frying oil. I remember details of the large colorful paintings that enticed and teased patrons into long lines. This was the hub of a giant world that reached throughout Coney Island and back into my neighborhood. The details are as vivid as ever. The book is accurate.