Fire, Phantoms, and What Didn’t Make it into The Only Harmless Great Thing

March, 1904:

It’s midnight on Coney Island, and that’s fair eerie enough to make any man say jump.

Places that are bustling during the day take on a strange kind of desolation when all the lights are out and the crowds have scattered homeward. Luna Park, Coney Island’s crown jewel, is no exception. The Electric Tower is dark, its twenty thousand incandescent bulbs snuffed for the evening. The flexible metal floors of the Witching Wave are becalmed, the Canals of Venice emptied of canoodling lovers. Further down Surf Avenue, at Steeplechase and the newly opened Dreamland, Hell’s Gates are closed for the night and the Fall of Pompeii’s hourly eruptions have subsided. No more trips to the moon, no more undersea adventures. Moonlight turns the park’s spires and minarets into a ghostly sliver and ebony shadowland.

But even dreamlands need builders, and so the streets aren’t completely deserted even at ...