Brooklyn has a rich history. The iconic borough has world recognizable landmarks, many renowned people have called it home, and it boasts its own, world famous, amusement park—Coney Island. You may not know that the resort started its life as a landfill, a stark contrast to the tourist magnet of today. Like Brooklyn, Coney Island has its own fascinating past, a historical portrait that the Brooklyn Museum has decided to paint with its new exhibit.
Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008 takes visitors to a very different Coney Island, one not somewhere else but some when-else in time. Showcasing a 147-year-old story, this exhibition begins with a room displaying old photographs. These beautiful images capture candid moments across the island’s beaches and resorts: happy faces, romance, thrill seekers, and the rides themselves dot the surrounding walls. There are many eye-catching moments to behold.
Museum galleries can often make people feel as though they are looking from the outside in—like they are peaking through a tiny kaleidoscope sized wormhole—just managing to glimpse history, but not in Visions of an American Dreamland. Here you are dropped in amongst the past, allowing you to walk freely and look upon all its wonders with your own eyes. This is achieved thanks to the kind of items exhibiters are featuring. One room may have the real shooting range targets eager individuals once took aim at in hopes of winning prizes, while another may hold video footage of cinematic giants like Buster Keaton larking around on rides—but this alone does not make the experience great. Carousel horses complement the aforementioned displays; further-more, enormous banners used to advertise sideshows of the time are majestically draped above. It is the combination and contrast of all these things that sets just the right tone.
In addition to all of this, the Brooklyn Museum has implemented a rather unique educational tool. If the information on hand does not quench your thirst for knowledge, then you can discover even more fascinating facts through the use of the museum’s free app. One simply takes a photo of something that catches the eye before sending it to a team of educators with a question via Bluetooth. This starts a dialogue between the attendee and a historian, giving each guest access to a personal tour guide. While attending the exhibit I made use of this app. For over an hour I sent photos and questions, all the while receiving informative and polite responses. The app is not just for Visions of an American Dreamland; however, it can also be used with any section of the museum.
Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008 is one of my favorite museum exhibits I have attended in recent memory. It provides great insight into the history of Brooklyn’s most beloved playground. Those captivated by history, Coney Island, or Brooklyn itself will find this snapshot of time and culture captivating. There are only a few days left to experience this historical journey. The gallery will close its doors after March 13, so hurry!
For more information go to https://www. brooklynmuseum .org/exhibitions/coney_island_amer ican_dreamland
Photos: Dean Moses