Coney Island is a neighborhood in Brooklyn with Seagate to its west; Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach to its east; and Gravesend to the north.
Coney Island became a resort after the Civil War with major hotels and public and private beaches, followed by horse racing, amusement parks, and less reputable entertainments such as Three-card Monte, other gambling entrepreneurs, and prostitution.
Charles I. D. Looff, a Danish woodcarver, built the first carousel at Coney Island in 1876. From to 1885 to 1896, the Coney Island Elephant was the first sight to greet immigrants arriving in New York, who would see it before they saw the Statue of Liberty.
Nathan's Famous original hot dog stand opened on Coney Island in 1916 and quickly became a landmark. An annual hot dog eating contest has been held there on July 4th since its opening, but has only attracted broad attention and international television coverage during the last decade.
After World War II, contraction began seriously from a series of pressures. Air conditioning in movie theaters and then in homes, along with the advent of automobiles, which provided access to the less crowded and more appealing Long Island state parks, especially Jones Beach, lessened the attractions of Coney's beaches. Luna Park closed in 1946 after a series of fires and the street gang problems of the 1950s spilled over into Coney Island. The presence of threatening youths did not impact the beachgoing so much as it discouraged visitors to the rides and concessions - the staples of the Coney Island economy. A major blow was struck in 1964 when Steeplechase Park, the last of the major parks, closed.
Coney Island is also the location of the New York Aquarium. In 2001, KeySpan Park opened on the former site of Steeplechase Park to host the Brooklyn Cyclones minor-league baseball team.
Coney Island still maintains a broad sandy beach from West 37th Street at Seagate through the Coney Island and Brighton Beach to the beginning of the community of Manhattan Beach, a distance of approximately 2½ miles. The beach is continuous and is served for its entire length by the broad Riegelmann boardwalk. A number of amusements are directly accessible from the land side of the boardwalk, as is the New York Aquarium and a variety of food shops and arcades.
The Coney Island Polar Bear Club is a group of people who swim at Coney Island throughout the winter months, most notably on New Year's Day when additional participants join them to swim in the frigid waters.
The Mermaid Parade, which takes place on Surf Avenue and the boardwalk, featuring floats and various acts, has been produced annually by Coney Island U.S.A. — a non-profit arts organization which is dedicated to preserving the dignity of American popular culture. The group, which was established in 1979, also produces the Coney Island Film Festival, Burlesque At The Beach, and Creepshow at the Freakshow (an interactive Halloween-themed event), and houses the Coney Island Museum.