Saturday, April 30, 2011

Natural History on Coney Island

City Intelligence.
...The Natural History Department met last evening--Mr. Gilbert Langdon Hume in the chair. Among the specimens presented were the following:...By Mr. Walters, the spawn of the periwinkle, from Coney Island. These minute shells were contained in a substance resembling dried vegetable matter, about three inches in length, and of a spiral shape. It was stated that they were always thus found ; and some doubts arising as to the nature of the substance, it was referred to Mr. Bell for investigation.

--Brooklyn Eagle, Thursday, November 20, 1845

They are not talking about a flower, but mollusk eggs! There's a fascinating article from 1881 in Harper's Young People. (The author appears to be discussing a walk from near the aquarium and west towards the main stretch of Coney, on toward Sea Gate.)



IF grown-up folks and young people who are desirous of becoming acquainted with the marine wonder-land of Coney island will take a stroll along the beach, starting from the Iron Tower and proceeding a mile toward Norton's Point, I'll promise them that their constant exclamations will be, "I wonder what it is!" as they meet with one after another of the many curious marine objects that are to be found along the two upper lines of drift...

Fig. 10 is a string of the egg cases of the periwinkle shell, which is one of the largest shells inhabiting the waters of Coney Island. The eggs are contained in a soft leathery case of a light yellow color, about the size of a two-cent piece, but much thicker. Each case contains from one hundred and fifty to two hundred eggs. These strings of eggs vary from one to two feet in length.

--Harper's Young People, Volume 2, 1881

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Coney Island Electro Magnetic Telegraph

I find it amazing to imagine what a big deal a single telegraph line used to be. Today, some people get worried if a friend doesn't text back in 15 minutes!

City Intelligence.
...The L. I. Telegraph.--The projectors of this work commenced staking off the ground yesterday. It will extend to the extreme end of the Island, touching by the way at Coney Island, Fire Island, and Rockaway. The station in New York will probably be in Wall street.

--Brooklyn Eagle, Friday, October 3, 1845

City Intelligence.
...The Electro Magnetic Telegraph is to be finished to Coney Island by the first of November. Yesterday the wires were put across the East River at the Fulton Ferry. They were sunk by means of leaden tubes which encased them, and will rest on the bottom, out of the way of everything but dragging anchors.

--Brooklyn Eagle, Friday, October 24, 1845

City Intelligence.
...L. I. Telegraph.--The wires of the telegraph were put up yesterday morning through Atlantic and Furman street to the Fulton ferry, so that we now have a continuous talking-rod from here to the kingdom of Coney Island. The wire in this case is somewhat differently prepared from that we have seen on other telegraphs, and we should think greatly improved. It is wound with tarred thread, which prevents the rain, or ice which forms around it in the winter time from at all destroying the power of the fluid. The end of the wire is now temporarily fastened to the Fulton ferry house, and the question is, how it shall be carried across the river. We believe the project is abandoned of carrying it under water...

The article goes on at length about ways that won't work, concluding:

The telegraph company will for the present have to make their station at our wharf, and use a semaphore telegraph to forward their intelligence to Wall street, until a tunnel be placed under the river to furnish us with the Croton water ; when they may take advantage of that utopian event to carry their will below the channel of the water.

--Brooklyn Eagle, Wednesday, November 5, 1845

The newspaper was not amused when someone ran it underwater with evidently no trouble, in this early example of sarcasm:

City Intelligence.
...The wires for the Coney Island Telegraph are said to have been relaid under water at the Fulton ferry, though upon examination we cannot discover that such is the case. If it be so, the contractor for the work must be one of that most distinguished body known as the Futilitarians. So preserving a pipe-layer will have the pleasure of re-laying his wire once a week at least.

--Brooklyn Eagle, Thursday, November 13, 1845

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mystery on Coney Island - 1845 - Mrs. Lemira Harris - SOLVED!

(Additions to this blog entry evening of 4/26)

The next article comes right after an article about a young man who died of lockjaw.

MORE MYSTERY.--The body of a young woman was found yesterday near the Coney Island House. She must have been a victim to violence of some kind or other, from the fact that she was buried in her ordinary dress, and apparently hurried into her grave with the greatest rapidity. She had on a brown silk dress.

--Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Saturday, August 30, 1845

The Coney Island House appears to have been to a hotel, per The American Experience. Or more specifically, per one of the signs on Coney Island circa 2007:

Built in 1829 in West Brighton Beach, the Coney Island House was the area's first hotel.

Sounds like a rumor got started, because the actual body found didn't match the initial story at all.

A SLIGHT MISTAKE.--The "mystery" said to have transpired at Coney Island turns out to be more "mysterious" than was at first reported. Although the lover of the marvellous cannot be gratified by the fact that the body found in the sand was that of a young and beautiful lady, in a "brown silk dress," their wonder will be likely still to "grow" that a revolutionary hero, or one of Kidd's piratical company, should have so long remained a hidden treasure on the Island. The following is the official report of the coroner of Gravesend in relation to this "mysterious" event:

"The coroner of Gravesend was called to view the body (reported to be that of a female,) found on Coney Island in a sand hill near the house of James Cropsey. From the evidence presented, it appeared that the remains were those of an old revolutionary soldier ; or more probably one of Capt. Kidd's men, left to take care of the Pirate's treasures supposed to be deposited in the sand hill. The bones of the body were all found, and a part of the skull was quite bleached, having lain above ground, exposed to the action of the weather. Deceased had on a pair of boots made in the fashion of the last century, having very sharp toes, &c. The oldest inhabitants of the neighborhood never heard of any one being buried there. Under these circumstances the jury rendered the following verdict : The decayed remains of a human body, this day found on Coney Island, are those of some person unknown, of whose fate or manner of death we have no knowledge or information. Inquest taken this 30th day of August, 1845, before me, James Cozine, Coroner."

--Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Monday, September 1, 1845

Yes, more pirates on Coney Island!

An article over a month later seems rather sad.

CURIOUS CASE.--A young man was in Brooklyn yesterday making inquiries relative to an account of a female said to have been found buried at Coney Island. The Brooklyn paper containing it had found its way to Vermont, and induced his visit. The female in question it will be recollected, turned out to be the relics of a revolutionary soldier. The object of the young man's inquiries was in this wise. His sister, Mrs. Lemira (wife of Sylvester) Haris, a ...(illegible)... the country every direction has been scoured. She had a trunk of clothing and $50 in money with her, and was destined for Manchester, Vt. to visit her parents. The affair is involved in the most impenetrable mystery.

--Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Saturday, October 18, 1845

Isn't that sad? A brother searching for his missing sister?

I was so curious as to what in the world happened to this woman...was she killed? How sad for her family searching for her, just trying to find closure. I'd Googled before posting this, trying to find some hint, but couldn't find a thing. Then right after this posted this morning, I searched Google one more time, and look what I found! She seems to have gone missing August 13; this article is from early September (and appears to have been published numerous places):

MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF A LADY.--On the 13th instant, (now two weeks since,) Mrs. Lemira M. Harris, wife of Mr. Sylvester Harris, of Coeymans, and daughter of Mr. Martin Sloenm, of Manchester, Vt., took passage from Coeymans on board the American Eagle, with the intention of passing the night with relatives or friends in this city or Troy, and of proceeding the following morning in the stage to Bennington.

Having acquaintances here and in Troy, and having occasionally made short visits here and there, no alarm was experienced by her husband and family at Coeymans, or her parents at Bennington, until by mutual letters and inquiry her departure and her non-arrival were ascertained.

Since then, the most anxious search has been made by her husband and father, and no trace of her has been discovered. The last that is known of her is that she was on board the American Eagle steamboat, and that she probably reached this city. Every place between this and Bennington has been thoroughly searched.--There are now the worst apprehensions for her fate.--There is scarcely a doubt that she has been murdered, or has been abducted and is held in concealment.

Mrs. H. was a highly respectable resident of Coeymans; about 23 years of age; of good appearance; and had with her about $50 in money, a gold watch, and a large trunk of clothing.--[Argus.

[We have reason to believe that these apprehensions, so far as the life of the Lady referred to is concerned, are quite groundless. If, as is understood, another individual, of the other sex, with whom the Lady was acquainted, has also disappeared, it is probable that they will ultimately be heard of together.]

--The Cabinet, Tuesday Evening, Sept. 2, 1845

from (you can search for "sylvester harris" lemira)

So in a footnote, this 1845 newspaper as much as published for the world to see, "Mrs. Harris skipped out on her husband with another man." Wow.

Suddenly I wonder if the family looking so earnestly for her were not just seeking closure and/or Lemira's return...but if they were also seeking vindication of the family's honor. This was 1845 and I have no idea what Lemira's family was like, but I'm sure some families would have rather had a dead daughter than an adulterous one.

On the other hand, the article doesn't really bring closure; it just raises more questions as to if Lemira might be alive.

But a year later, in a nearly illegible little note in the Albany New York Evening Journal (and perhaps elsewhere):

Decisions in Chancery.

Made by Hon. Amare (?) J. Farmer, Vice-Chancellor of the Third Circuit, Sept 18, 1846....

Sylvester Harris vs. Lemira Harris. Amos Dean for compt. Decree dissolving marriage contract.

--Albany New York Evening Journal, Saturday Evening, Sept. 19, 1846

from (you can search for "sylvester harris" lemira)

Again, this was the 1840s. Divorce. WOW.

So that's kind of a sad ending...but the same newspaper issue had a headline "Trial of E.M.C. Spencer for the Murder of his Wife." So I don't know--I think it could have been a lot worse!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

First Amusement Structure on Coney Island - Pavilion, Pier - 1845

The Pavilion at Coney Island.

Within a few days past Alonzo Reed, Esq. of the Fort Hamilton House, assisted by Capt. Beilby, as chief (and sole) engineer, has pitched an elegant and spacious tent, or pavilion, in the very midst of the territory of Coney Island ! Nay more; he has actually constructed a pier, which juts into the sea, and connects itself with the Pavilion by means of a long platform, upon which three can walk abreast if they do not carry too much sail, and one if top-heavy. Whether this bold movement received the concurrence of Governor Gil. Davis, or was performed in utter derogation of his authority, we cannot say ; but we take it for granted that a magistrate so powerful and renowned would scarcely permit an inroad of the sort upon his territory without giving it the sanction of that "imperial nod" in which himself and the "Grand Krout" excel. Be this as it may : the Pavilion is there, and desperate is the attack made through its agency upon the clams, quahaugs, and other shell fish with which the kingdom abounds.

The formal opening of the Pavilion took place on Saturday last, in presence of Mayor Talmage, Ald. Benson, and other representatives of the government of New York and Brooklyn, and about one hundred gentlemen who represented nobody but themselves. The steamboat Iolas, which had been set apart for the occasion, left New York at 5 o'clock, and reached the pier in about an hour. What took place on board we are unable to say, as we--in consideration of the high wind, and a constitutional antipathy to the white caps which result from it--took the overland route. Suffice to remark that all hands reached the spot in good season, and were cordially welcomed and liberally entertained (in advance of the chowder) by the proprietors. An excellent band of music had been provided for the occasion, and while the tables were being spread, kept a number of the more jovial doing waltzes and quadrilles.

About the dinner was announced, and shortly a feu de joie of corks and a ringing of steel upon china, gave notice that the signal was responded to. Choweder, in abundance, was immediately forthcoming, and dishes of roasted clams followed suit.--The excitement continued half an hour or more when some one--whose clams had been disposed of, and who did not remember that his fellows were less active gave--

"Our worthy host, Alonzo Reed, Esq.--long life and success to him."

Mr. Reed replied briefly, and concluded by giving--

"Success and prosperity to New York and Brooklyn."

Mayor Talmage replied. He thanked the gentleman (sic) for their warmth in acknowledging the toast, and said that although Brooklyn, with New York upon one side and the territory of Governor Davis on the other, had heretofore exhibited that repose which was peculiar to infancy, it was apparent that she had now cast off her leading strings and would henceforth walk by herself. [This allusion to ferry matters was understood in the right quarter, though not, we presume, by the company in general.] He concluded by proposing--

The Mayor and Corporation of New York....

Ald. Benson proposed "Success to New Jersey."...

...and the following--which is rather too good to be lost--by Dr. Houston:

The worship of Woman : the only idolatry which Heaven excuses--may we never be too great sinners....

Altogether, it was a very pleasant evening, and we trust that Messrs. Reed & Beilby will be amply rewarded for their enterprise. The steamboats Iolas and Wave ply thither half a dozen times a day ; and all who value the refreshing sea-breeze will of course make it a point to run down often, taking their wives and children along. If they do not care to remain all day in the Pavilion, there is ample room and verge enough on the long beach of pure sand, where the white caps are continually dancing around and beckoning the timid, as it were, to their healthful embrace ; and where the solemn music of the "deep, deep sea" is chanting a perpetual requiem to the millions that sleep in its embrace.

N.B.--Sportsmen can take their guns along if they are fond of sand-birds.

--Brooklyn Eagle, Monday, July 28, 1845

So per this article, the Pavilion actually opened Saturday, July 26, 1845.Brooklyn: An Illustrated History says the Pavilion actually opened in 1844, but this article doesn't seem to match with that.

It may be too much to claim this is the beginning of the amusements era at Coney Island (and the beginning of the end of its time as a natural getaway). But I think this might be a milestone. Charles Denson's Coney Island Lost and Found claims it is Coney Island's "first 'amusement'". On the other hand, The American Experience claims that Samuel Colt, inventor of the six-shooter, erected an "observation tower" on Coney that year. Of course, the timeline on that same site claims he erected a "telegraph tower," which doesn't sound like an amusement at all...

Follow-up story (interesting change of spelling there, and also interesting grammar).

Reid, of the Fort Hamilton House, gives a ball at Coney Island, in the Pavilion, this evening.--Nothing can be more agreeable, provided it don't (sic) rain.

--Brooklyn Eagle, Thursday, August 7, 1845

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Steamship Great Britain at Coney Island - August 10, 1845

Besides the story itself, this article cites how people have been going to Coney Island on Sundays in particular since at least 1845.

From the New York Morning News of August 11.

Yesterday, at noon precisely, the great monster steamer, the "Great Britain," was telegraphed, and the anxiety which has been visible in this city for some days past in relation to her became at once intense. The word passed from mouth to mouth that this extraordinary vessel was entering our harbor, and thousands rushed to the Battery, the Brooklyn heights, and every other spot which would afford a favorable view of her, as she proceeded to her dock in the East River. As is usual on Sundays a large part of the population of this city has resorted to Staten Island, Coney Island, and other places favorable for relaxation and healthful exercise, and as a consequence a greater number were gratified with a sight of the Great Britain than could have been at any other time. All the piers, too, from the Battery to the Atlantic steamship pier, at the foot of Clinton street, were likewise crowded by anxious thousands whose wonder and astonishment was loudly expressed as they saw and comprehended her vast proportions and beautiful sailing qualities. At each of her six masts was flying the flag of some European nation, and one which was a combination of the English and the United States, in beautiful unity....

--Le Courrier de la Lonisiane - August 19, 1845

Per the fascinating history at, the ship evidently was an early use of screw propulsion, and was initially designed to transport passengers across the Atlantic in luxury. It was used to transport troops, retrofitted into a sailing ship, and eventually used to haul coal.

Incredibly, the ship is now a museum!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hot Weather - 1845

HOT WEATHER.--The "oldest inhabitant" is quite unable to find a parallel for this most extraordinary and oppressive weather. For three or four days past the heat has been steadily increasing, and the thermometer ranging higher and higher, until it indicates about one hundred degrees in the shade! Think of that, ye rusticators at Saratoga, Niagara, Coney Island, Rockaway, Greenport, and other cool retreats? Think that while you are inhaling the fresh mountain air, or the pure sea breeze, and tickling your palates with food taken directly from the earth or the ocean, your less fortunate brethren are prespiring (sic) amid the glare of brick walls, eating liquid butter, and sighing for the breeze which is not. In fact, the only desirable occupation at the present time is the driving of an ice-cart. Seated upon a block of the shining "Rockland," and listening to the plash and tinkle of the rills that flow from it, it is indeed a most enviable position, and one which a prince might covet. But, unhappily, we cannot all engage in that business ; and hence the majority are compelled to suffer. We beg our friends not to taunt us with the admonition, "keep cool"?....

--Brooklyn Eagle, Monday, July 14, 1845

The article mentions that the actual high at Wall Street was 99, which was the highest temperature recorded in the 8 years of record-keeping.

Frankly, by April, the Phoenix area is usually well over 99, and in July and August, the 110s are fairly common. Though in fairness, we have low humidity overall, and certainly we have air conditioning. Still...a Coney Island breeze would be nice, even now...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Methodist Church Pic Nic Excursion - 1845

[Reported for the Brooklyn Eagle.]

Local Items.

Yesterday was devoted to the pleasures of a pic nic excursion by the Sunday School of the Washington street Methodist Church; and bright and early some hundred or two persons, of all ages and sizes, arose with expectancy and enthusiasm to engage in the sports of the day...At eight o'clock divers omnibusses laden with their happy freight were seen wending their way from among the motley throng of the crowded city, and making all convenient speed to the silent shades of the forest trees. Having debarked, there commenced a scene of childish fun and frolic which was really edifying to the uninitiated to witness. The older heads, too, who discreetly superintended the doings of the occasion, were not slow in throwing to the winds their dignity and catching the youthful inspiration...

We drove down to Coney Island ; took a view of the illimitable ocean ; listened a while to its solemn roar ; "cooled off" in the delightful breezes which continually play upon the land at that favored place, and returned home in the shades of evening, refreshed and desperate with a resolution to repeat the day's enjoyment at the earliest opportunity.

--Brooklyn Eagle, Friday, July 11, 1845

The article is fun to read, to see what people considered a really fun afternoon 150+ years ago.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Auction Notice - Gig and Harness for Coney Island

AUCTION NOTICE--R.J. TODD will sell at auction in his sales rooms, 88 Fulton st., on Saturday evening, June 28, at early candlelight, a large lot of 2d hand household and kitchen furniture, which cannot be longer stored on account of the improvements going on in the store, and table cutlery, clocks, feather beds and mattresses, with various other articles; also, without any reserve, a gig and harness--just the thing for Coney Island.
je27 2t

--Brooklyn Eagle, Friday, June 27, 1845

I assume the Coney Island reference is saying the gig and harness would be good for taking the misses or whoever to Coney Island in the summer, as people liked to do in July and August in particular? But I guess he could also be claiming the furniture would be good for one's summer residence? What do you think?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Coney Island Stage - 1844

CONEY ISLAND & BROOKLYN STAGES.--CROPSEY & CARLL'S line.--The above line of stages will commence running on Monday, April 15, 1844, from Coney Island to Brooklyn, No. 12 Fulton street, passing through Flatbush, Flatlands and Gravesend, every day, (Sundays excepted,) as follows: Leave Coney Island at 7 o'clock A.M.; leave Brooklyn, 12 Fulton street, 4 1/2 o'clock P.M.

Coney Island being an old established watering place, situated on Long Island, 10 1/2 miles from New York, bordering on the Atlantic Ocean, directly in front of Sandy Hook, and having a full view of the shipping passing in and out of the harbor of New York, makes it a very desirable spot in the summer months. For health and sea bathing, and convenience to New York by stage, it cannot be surpassed by any other watering place. Coney Island, April 11th, 1844.

ap15 tf NICH'S W. VANDUYNE, Agt

--Brooklyn Eagle, Thursday, April 18, 1844

Such ads continue almost daily through Monday, November 25, 1844, frankly making skimming the Brooklyn Eagle difficult.

At first I was surprised that the stage didn't run on Sundays, until it became clear that the stage was to take people FROM Coney Island to the city of Brooklyn and back. Coney Island was a very popular place to hang out on Sundays!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

"Governor" Gil Davis and the Civil War

In regards to the previous entry, which made me wonder who this "Governor" Gil Davis was...

Not long after that entry came a letter to the editor, Part 3 in what seems to be some kind of debate between two readers.

Were I a resident of New York, and had I, up to this time, felt somewhat doubtful about the security of Real Estate in Brooklyn, and did I now place implicit faith in the first communication, put forth by "A Citizen," I would sooner invest my money in lots in that part of "Coney island" under the government of the celebrated "Gil Davis" (so immortalized, I think, by Joe Sykes) than touch a foot of Brooklyn soil.

--Brooklyn Eagle, September 15, 1843

In an excerpt from A Memoir of Charles Hallock published in The American Angler, Hallock seems to be hearkening back to the good old days at Coney Island:

"...I learned to build a correct fire, and cook shell-fish on iron hoops, as practiced at Coney Island in the old days when it was only a waste of sand dunes and salt grass, and Gil Davis was 'governor.' "

From other searches it appears "Governor" Davis was a leader among the clam-diggers, self-proclaimed governor of Coney Island. The New York Times obituary for Davis' son Gilbert F. Davis has some excellent information. Evidently Davis was known for his apparently very witty satirical or "burlesque" map that sounds almost like an editorial cartoon against the land speculation of the day. No wonder he was beloved! The article implies he died circa 1870.

This New York Times editorial from November 12, 1860, claims that Gil Davis "dissevered" Coney Island from the US prior to the Civil War! (The editorial appears to be facetious, noting that Virginia's then-governor Henry A. Wise vowed he wouldn't stay in the Union after Lincoln was elected, so they're wondering if maybe he went to Coney Island.)

I couldn't find any story about the secession except a 1962 publication of unknown accuracy, listed as public domain. The date of 1861 doesn't mesh with the New York Times date of 1860, but from the story, it sounds like there was a lot of talk around election time, which would have been November. So it's possible the declarations started in 1860 finally came to a head in 1861.

Clamdiggers Seceded, Too

A local incident of the Civil War which escaped the history books but which is true nevertheless, was the secession of a large group of organized clamdiggers at the west end of the island. It happened in 1861, shortly after the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln, although that event, it is understood, had nothing to do with it.

The center of the disturbance that led up to the so-called secession was along the south side of the island from the Rockaways westward as far as Coney Island. It started when clamdiggers in that area asked the State of New York to provide adequate protection from bands of New Jersey-ites and residents of New York City who were raiding their clam beds. When State protection failed to materialize, the local clamdiggers organized into an armed force under the leadership of one Gil Davis who had long been known as the "Governor" of Coney Island.

Several shooting affrays between "Governor" Davis' night patrols and the clam pirates in which the gunners maintained an arms agreement to use only birdshot, produced minor casualties on both sides. During the election campaign of 1860 the clam-diggers issued a decree to local political bosses of both major parties declaring "No protection; no votes." With Southern states threatening secession from the Union, it was only natural that "Governor" Davis should make a similar threat to Albany, but not to Washington.

As more and more clamdiggers joined the Union army and left for the front, leaving fewer clamdiggers to patrol the clam beds, the pirating increased, as also did the shooting. It may have been the inaugural ceremonies of President Lincoln in Washington on March 4, 1861, that prompted "Governor" Davis (no relation to Jeff) to notify Governor Morgan at Albany that Coney Island and outlying sections had seceded from the state ending his proclamation with the words, according to one version: "Henceforth we are Unionists, but not New Yorkers."

Governor Morgan's prompt response was to send a detail of militia to Coney Island to suppress the uprising and place Davis under arrest. The detail actually found no uprising, nor Davis either. He was not at home nor in any of his usual haunts. Inquiries as to his whereabouts brought the same reply: "Guess he's gone clamming." If so, he kept right on clamming day and night for more than a week, at the end of which time the militiamen had left the area, and the whole affair came to an end.

"But," "Governor" Davis was later quoted as saying, "We won our point. That militia gave those Jersey pirates such a scare that they never again bothered our clam beds."

--Long Island Forum Volume 25 (Direct link to this issue at )

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Governor Bouck on Coney Island

The Governor's Excursion.
This morning Governor Bouck, accompanied by his aids Cols. Hamilton and Brown, and escorted by the Mayor, members of the Common Council, judges of the Courts, and a goodly sprinkle of citizens, started on an excursion to Fort Hamilton and Coney Island. After visiting the fort, and examining its battlements and fixtures, the party will proceed to Coney Island, long famous in history for the excellence of its shell-fish, and destined to stand out prominently hereafter as one of the few places where clams an be obtained in perfection. Here the company will dine; but as dinner was bespoken for only twenty, we can imagine the surprise and lamentation of "mine host" when he observes seventeen carriage loads of hungry gentlemen coming straight down upon him, with appetites sharpened by the refreshing seabreeze, and curiosity excited by the reputation of his house. Still, we do not anticipate either a famine or a fast.

Before returning to the city, the party will visit the Greenwood Cemetery--which the Governor is very anxious to see; and also the residence of Mr. Senator Lott, at Flatbush, where His Excellency will have an opportunity of gazing upon the trim Dutch girls that flourish in that ancient and peaceful community.

--Brooklyn Eagle, Tuesday, July 18, 1843

Green-Wood cemetery in New York was "founded in 1838 as one of America's first rural cemeteries." Evidently it was very beautiful back then. Judging from these photos, I think it still is, even though the city has grown up around it.

In the article from the following date, the newspaper narrated Governor Bouck's actual adventures, "inasmuch as the Governor stated, in substance, that it was about the happiest day of his life (always excepting, of course, the day upon which he got married)". He started with the pleasant cemetery, then Fort Hamilton, where a lot of ladies were present....

Here the Governor (who is empathetically a lady's man) was greeted by another collection of the fair, and after passing a few compliments (which he is able to do either in Dutch or English) the carriages were brought up and the cavalcade moved on to Bath...

The next stopping place was Coney Island, which, as every body knows, is ruled by Governor Gil Davis. Governor Gil, by the way, has been duly notified of the contemplated irruption by Governor Bouck and his followers, and conjured by the blood of his ancestors, the richness of his wines, and the exceeding redness of his nose, to protect his dominions. But he did not see fit to answer the summons--probably not having received a "nod" from the "Grand Krout." Of course the invaders obtained full possession ; but, with a magnamity unparalleled in modern warfare, they generously relinquished the island to "Gil.'s" representative after satisfying their appetites upon the quahaugs, lobsters, and other articles of rare excellence that vegetate [?] in those diggings. It is proper to add that all this was done with the aid and abatement of one Cropsey, with whose fame the world is filled...

--Brooklyn Eagle, Wednesday, July 19, 1843

You can read a summary of Governor Bouck's life at the New York Times. Interesting, the article notes he was inaugurated as governor January 1, 1843, and that he "had no pleasant time" while in office!

As for Governor Gil, check back next time for him!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Pickpockets on the Sabbath


The Sabbath day passed off quietly, and our goodly city remained undisturbed. Several "distinguished pickpockets" were seen at Coney Island, but it is unknown whether they attempted the practice of their art there or not.

--Brooklyn Eagle, Monday, July 17, 1843

What does it say about the police, that they know there were pickpockets, but didn't know if they actually committed any crimes that day?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Infant Mortality


At Coney Island, on Thursday morning, the 25th inst., ARTHUR, infant son of Mr. P. Corrigan, of New York.

--Brooklyn Eagle, August 26, 1842

Unless I'm mistaken, it appears "the 25th inst." pretty much means "the 25th". has a table putting the white infant mortality rate in 1850 (the first year they have a measurement) at 216.8, versus 5.7 for the year 2000. The mortality rate is defined as infant deaths per 1000 live births per year.

Even granting that the definition of infant mortality has likely changed throughout the years, you're still looking at a 1 in 5 chance of losing your child in infancy.

Can you imagine??? I love to imagine living in the "good old days" but when it comes down to it, I'm glad God put me "when" I am.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Steamer past Coney Island

A Trip to Shrewsbury.

Mr. Editor--I left New York in the steamer Iolas, Capt. Allaire, about 8 o'clock in the morning.... On the left you behold our own splendid city with its environs, perhaps the most magnificent scene along the river. Passing on you notice "Owl's Head," situate at Yellow Hook, which is the highest eminence along the whole shore; a little further, and you come to Fort Hamilton and Fort Diamond; and beyond these you have a view of the beach of Coney Island. Now is about your time to go down into the cabin and get a glass of lemonade, from Louis, than whom a more gentlemanly bar-keeper, for a gentleman of color, there never was. After a sail of little more than two hours you arrive at the inlet, opposite the light house and telegraph of the Highlands. On entering the inlet you observe the Ocean House, with a number of sail-boats, ready to take you withersover you list....

--Brooklyn Eagle, August 13, 1842

To put the "gentleman of color" comment in perspective, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued a little over 20 years after this article.

Anyone have any idea why the Iolas sounds so familiar to me?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Getting Back to Nature at Coney Island - 1842

Public Amusements.

Most people are willing to concede that an uninterrupted devotion to business--especially if its character be such as to involve great application--is prejudicial to both mental and physical health. We all know that this is true of children, with whom study is generally a most irksome sort of business; and whoever has observed the alacrity with which they apply themselves to a given task, in order that they may sooner get at their play, must be sensible of the great importance--nay, the indispensability, of a large amount of innocent and healthful amusement, in their case, at has long since become a proverb that "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy;" and it is too late, at this day, to question its correctness.

If this be true of small children, we can see no earthly reason why it should not be equally so of large ones; for it is a fact that "men are but children of a larger growth."

I feel like that last line was used in The Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements by Woody Register, but I haven't finished the book, and couldn't find the quote. It certainly sums up Register's thesis in Chapter 1, though.

The same paragraph continues:
"When I was a child," says the apostle, "I thought as a child, I spake as a child," &c., "but when I became a man, I put away childish things."--That is, if we rightly understand the language, he no longer drove the hoop, shot marbles, flyed kites, (not even after the Wall street fashion,) hunted birds' nests, played "hookey," and chased butterflies, with eyes nearly starting from their sockets with excitement, and his long, silken tresses streaming in the breeze;--(for it was not the custom to rob the children's heads of their beautiful locks in those days,) but instead threof, traversed the mountains and vallies of Judea, communed with the God of Nature, and, catching inspiration from the multiplied objects of sublimity and beauty by which he was surrounded, became the better qualified for promulgating the pure doctrines of Christian benevolence.

But while all may not hope to follow closely in the apostle's track, they may and should snatch a few hours every day from the arduous pursuits of life for purposes of recreation....

Frankly, I don't think Paul's words go along with the idea that we need to spend some time away (and am not sure it means we shouldn't fly kites!). But anyway, the article continues to argue how great it is to get away from business and retreat to natural places.

Besides, in juxtaposition with all our large cities and towns, there are numerous pleasure-grounds, as yet unshorn of their primeval beauties, and which the hand of the utilitarian has not been permitted to desecrate. Thither the toiling multitude may resort, for a mere nominal sum, plunge into the very depths of natural sublimity and grandeur, and hold sweet communion with Nature, as she came from the hand of the great Architect. What would New York be without Hoboken, Staten Island, Coney Island, and Rockaway...

--Brooklyn Eagle, June 17, 1842

Amazing to think that people used to visit Coney Island to take in some of nature's beauty. OK, granted, the ocean is awfully nice, but by the early 20th century there were numerous amusement parks and stand-alone amusements, and the island was easily getting over 100,000 visitors a Sunday. Not really a restful place of primeval beauty.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Pirates on Coney Island

Yes, there were honest-to-goodness pirates that landed on Coney Island. Well, Pelican Beach, which apparently was considered part of Coney Island in 1884, at least. From an 1884 book:

Piracy. The Tragedy of the Brig Vineyard.
—Coney Island is connected with a tragedy of the sea, well-nigh forgotten by even the older residents of the vicinity, but which was the cause of intense excitement at the time. On the 9th November, 1830, the brig Vineyard cleared from New Orleans for Philadelphia with a cargo of cotton, sugar and molasses, and $54,000 in specie (all Mexican dollars), consigned to Stephen Girard, Esq., of the latter city. The officers and crew of the brig were William Thornby, Captain; Mr. Roberts, Mate; Charles Gibbs (alias Thos. D. Jeffers), Aaron Church, James Talbot, John Brownrigg, and Henry Atwell, seamen; Robert Dawes (age 18 or 19), cabin-boy, and Wansley, a young Delaware negro, steward and cook. When the brig had been five days out at sea, and was off Cape Hatteras, the negro steward informed some of the others of the money on board; and, with Gibbs, Church, Atwell and Dawes, planned to kill the captain and mate, and possess themselves of the specie. On the night of March 23d, between 12 and 1 o'clock, as the captain was on the quarter-deck, and the boy Dawes was steering, the negro Wansley came up on deck, and, obeying a pre arranged call from Dawes to come and trim the binnacle-light, as he passed behind the captain felled him with a pump-brake, and killed him by repeated blows. Gibbs then coming up, he and Wansley flung the captain's body overboard.

--A History of the town of Gravesend, N.Y. By A. P. (Austin Parsons) --see pages 37-38

They cruelly killed Roberts too! If the above book is to believed, then after the mutiny, about $23,000 of the money--and several men--were lost at sea. Gibbs, Wansley, Brownrigg and Dawes threw most of their take away, keeping $5,000. Tavern-owners John Johnson, his wife, and his brother William housed the men, not knowing they were pirates. When Brownrigg confessed to the mutiny, John and William dug up the treasure and reburied it. (Later, John and his wife re-reburied the treasure, to cut William out, but lost $1,600 of the money they buried.) Brownrigg's testimony seems to have led to Gibbs and Wansley being hanged April 22, 1831.

But that said, actual history of this incident seems sketchy, since every modern article I find seems to mention different facts. For instance, there's bit of a summary at the Brooklyn Eagle but some of the figures and dates don't match the 1884 Gravesendhistory and the article cited below. The Canarsie Courier also has interesting information, but again, contradicts both the Eagle and the above-referenced article, even stating the tavern owner is William Johnson!

Anyway, almost 10 years later, it appears, a storm uncovered the treasure. Per the Gravesend history cited above, Willett Smith and Henry Brewer reportedly discovered this treasure, though the amounts cited in the article below are substantially more than $1,600. The Brooklyn Eagle article claims that EACH man had $5,000, so who knows?

From the N. Y. Star

MONEY DIGGERS. A few days since I was in the vicinity of Coney Island and the money diggers, and learned a few particulars which may prove somewhat interesting. The place of deposite was on Pelican beach, separated from Coney Island by Plum Inlet, and adjacent Barren Island. On this latter Island was the small tavern house, kept by a person who is supposed to have shared largely in the spoils of Gibbs; but after burying them, lost his landmarks, and was unable to recover the money. The surface of about five acres of the white sand of this snowey beach has been disturbed, and at one time as many as 250 persons have been at work. These worshippers at the shrine of Pluto, were ferried over by Dutch fishermen in a small boat, at the charge of a small sum on going over, but on returning had to submit to a quadruple exaction. Charon, with his craft, made a full share of profit. About $7000 has been exsanded, and the most fortunate hunter collected $2000. There was no gold found as reported. The right of "meum et tuum" was not vested in the discovery, but decided, by a scrabble, pugnis et unginbus; strength and activity giving the larger amount to eh more successful, as with boys scrabbling for pennies. Some ludicrous scenes occurred. One digger exposed the top of a bag, when to secure it, he immediately fell face down, covering it with his body for the purpose of securing the whole contents--he availed little by his attempt; those near him extracted from under him nearly the whole of the dollars, leaving him about two hands full. A strong man, with a shovel or other implement, would keep at bay those who might be near, as he would throw out the specie and thus secure his discoveries. On the whole it was a happy thing for the seekers, as many of them are fishermen and clam-men. The coin are sought after by many as keepsakes, tending to keep alive the recollection of the horrible deeds of Gibbs and Walmsley, certainly a taste which make it agreeable to its possessors to dwell on horrors, and which must have been posessed, not in an eminent but large degree, by the physician, who could have had a piece of Walmsley's skin tanned into leather and wear it as a purse.

A gale was the cause of uncovering some of the money, which was seen by one man, he was seen by another, who was attracted to the spot by seeing the first unusually industrious on the barren sand. Working till night they separated on enjoined secrecy--the latter told his wife, the wife another woman, the woman the neighbors, and finally it spread through counties.

The tavern house has been left by the ones who entertained the pirates. Barren Island is only remarkable for its being crowded with shrubby cedars, on which the crows that infest the corn-fields of Long Island find their roosting places.


The Huron Commercial Advertiser, February 28, 1840 (Google says January but looking at the paper itself, it appears to me to be February)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Yankee Sullivan near Coney Island - September 27, 1842

The story itself is full of run-on-sentences by today's standards.

Arrest of Sullivan. Yankee Sullivan, as he is nicknamed, one of the seconds of Lilly in the fight at Hastings, was arrested at Staten Island yesterday afternoon, and brought up to the city in the steamboat Iolus, and is now snug in the Tombs.

It appears that Sullivan, Lilly and Ford, have been concealed in this city ever since the fight, until Saturday morning, when they, in company with another person, stole a boat at Fulton market and put off to sea. They were first recognized on Sandy Hook by a workman at the light-house, who, coming up the Bay yesterday, in the Iolus, Capt. Allaire, stated the fact to the Captain and others, who thereupon took a spyglass and swept the Bay, when they saw a boat near the lower end of Coney Island, in which the pilot recognized the person of Ford, and the man who had seen them on Sandy Hook recognized the boat. Chase was now made, and the row-boat nearly overtaken, when she tacked and went in an opposite direction, repeating this manaeuvre several times as the steamboat neared her--the small boat of course tacking much quicker than the steamboat could. The steamboat at length let down her small boat, which put an end to her tacking manaeuvre. The fugitives then rowed hard for Staten Island, which they gained before the steamboat, and ran in different directions. Ford took a gun with him. The hallooing of those on the steamboat attracted the attention of some soldiers, who, rushing to intercept the fugitives, seized Sullivan; Ford and another escaping for the present.--Lilly, Sullivan says, was on Saturday put on board a packet ship for Europe....
...N.Y. Tribune.

American & Commercial Daily Advertiser - Sep 27, 1842

The New York Times, in a rather graphic recollection of the incident dated September 23, 1856 says that Sullivan was a supporter of Christopher Lilly in Lilly's fight against Thomas McCoy on September 13, 1842. Sullivan helped prepare Lilly for the fight, and after 120 rounds and 2 hours 43 minutes of fighting, McCoy died.

According to Life and battles of Yankee Sullivan (which admittedly may not be credible), Sullivan was tried as an accessory to McCoy's murder and, once caught, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment. He was released early but was not allowed to prize-fight. (The book also says that prize-fighting itself stopped for a few years because of McCoy's death.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sloop Bilged on Coney Island - May 1835

Here are the first two free articles I found on Coney Island:

A schooner is ashore near Shrewsberry, and a sloop was bilged on Coney Island.

--American & Commercial Daily Advertiser, May 1, 1835

A schooner is ashore near Shrewsberry, and a sloop was bilged on Coney Island.

--Manufacturers and Farmers Journal - May 4, 1835

Deja vu. I don't know enough about old-timey ships to know if one of these papers just has much older news, or if ships really stayed stuck for several days. I'm kind of guessing both.

Charles Denson's Coney Island Lost and Found explains there were settlements on Coney Island (and Gravesend) well before 1835, but my admittedly less-than-comprehensive search of Google News didn't turn up anything.

Per Google, "The Sun" of Baltimore has a pay-for-view article from January 9, 1840, that supposedly mentions someone finding $1,000 in "hidden treasure" on Coney Island. There are a couple other pay-per-view articles dated 1840, too, but I doubt any are worth buying.

About Old Tyme Coney Island

This is a blog for links to, and quotes of, old news articles and the like pertaining to Coney Island, New York, spanning from 1835 - 1922.

Dedicated to my friend Deborah, who's responsible for most of the Coney Island ephemera pictured in the title. <3