Coney Island. It’s a staple of New York summers, the picture of Brooklyn tourism, with popsicles and Nathan’s hot dogs and kids in swimsuits laughing up and down the shoreline. “If Paris is France, then Coney Island, between June and September, is the world,” commented 24-year-old George C. Tilyou, words now immortalized in the colorful mural on the boardwalk.
But when the summer turns to fall, which turns to winter, the kids go back to school, the shops close up and the snow begins to blanket the city. The once-packed boardwalk is left deserted. Coney Island in the winter exists much like it does in vintage photos; frozen in time, eerie, lasting, and ephemeral all at once.
There’s a bit of a walk from the subway tracks to Surf Avenue. In the summer months, it’s filled with people, excitement rippling through the crowd as they approach the dramatic entryway to the station, which opens onto the gaudy yellow exterior of the Nathan’s on the corner.
When the sun is shining and the weather is hot, children can grab their parents’ hands and drag them down Stillwell Avenue, catching glimpses of the towering Wonder Wheel on the right, the view blocked off only by the splashes of color from the countless other rides in the amusement park.
But in February, the walk to the boardwalk is entirely deserted. The wind howls and swirls of snow whip against your face and your boots are barely enough to tackle the slushy mess that puddles around the curbs. But the boardwalk, nearly untouched by harsh car wheels and stomping feet, is covered in a thick layer of snow, extending out across the sand and gently being swept into the ocean at the very edge.
The iconic Wonder Wheel and Cyclone sit behind closed chain links fences, the famous Paul’s Daughter is shuttered, and actual ice drips from the sign for COLD BEER SODAS.
Three young men are in a corner finishing up a snowman. A few brave souls stand out on the pier, captivated by the icy waves. A solitary woman walks by, dignified against the storm, shielded by an umbrella.
A lone palm tree stands out on the beach, bending under the snow on its leaves. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s real or plastic; it’s dead.
Still, there’s something very much alive about the space. Christmas lights are strung across a closed pathway into the park, oblivious to their surroundings. The wooden Cyclone still stands tall, confident in its immortality. Souvenir shops are closed, boarded shut, grey in the light of dusk and snowy clouds, but somehow bright with promises of joyful memories for generations of carefree children.
The falling snow slid right off the colorful boardwalk mural, leaving the words visible and reminding the few passersby that June would once again bring the crowds and the Paris metaphors.
And as beautiful as those crowds are, as beautiful and timeless and classic as the sights and smells of the summer months, Coney Island’s haunting beauty in the winter months satisfy the soul in an entirely different way.
All photos taken with black & white film / developed by Accurate Photoshop