Way We Were: A Coney Island adventure | ParkRecord.com

Way We Were: A Coney Island adventure

Hope Melville
Park City Museum researcher

Friends enjoy the beach at an unidentified waterfront park, circa 1905.
Park City Historical Society & Museum

Water amusement parks have long been a popular source of recreation. Utah’s most famous was the Saltair on the south shore of the Great Salt Lake, which opened in 1893. The Mormon Church commissioned the site to create a wholesome “Coney Island of the West” without the perceived sleaziness of the New York original.

At least one Park City resident chronicled his visit to the famous original at the time. The January 21, 1905 Park Record contains an entertaining story about Thomas Dinsmore Hill’s visit to Coney Island.

As reported by Mr. Hill, he was in New York for a few days and, having heard a great deal of Coney Island, he felt a desire to visit it. After spending time looking at the bathers sporting in the ocean, he hired a bathing room and a suit and dressed for a “bath.” While swimming offshore in the deep water, he heard a cry for help and happened upon a beautiful woman flailing about and seemingly ready to drown. He rescued the damsel and brought her to shore. He was rewarded with her gratitude, and her acceptance of his invitation to dinner that night.

Upon returning to retrieve his clothing from his bathing locker, our hero found his fine suit of clothes gone, and instead a garish and shabby replacement left behind. Having no choice, Mr. Hill donned the garish clothing and met the beautiful lady for dinner at the place she suggested. They had a very enjoyable, though expensive, dinner and concert afterwards. He pressed five dollars on the lady for her expenses home, and she accepted on condition that he give her his address so she could remit the next day, and both departed.

Mr. Hill lingered near the ocean to dream of his adventure, and watch a departing steamer. But then, as he reported:

“The sight that my eyes encountered among the people drifting from me is one that I can never forget. Nothing has ever so chilled the natural romance of my disposition. Standing with one hand holding a stanchion was a well-dressed gentlemen with a very unrefined face. I wondered how so rough looking a man came to have such excellent clothes. Turning my glance from him to a woman standing beside him what was my astonishment to see the lady whose life I had saved. A second glance at her companion’s clothes told me that they were mine. At that moment my eyes met those of the lady. She staggered back for a moment, then leaning over the rail she gave me another of her sweet smiles and kissed the tops of her fingers to me. I asked a nearby person if he knew who the woman was. He answered: That? That is the long breath diver of the museum.”

Perhaps Mr. Hill’s next visit to an amusement park was to the wholesome Saltair.

Visit the Park City Museum’s newest traveling exhibit, Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861 – 2008, to learn more about the famous attraction.

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