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Steeplechase Park

Steeplechase Park


“Don’t be a gloomster…be a Steeplechaser!”

Steeplechase Park is one of the most famous (and most influential) amusement parks in the industry’s history. The owner, George C. Tilyou, was P.T. Barnum, Rockefeller and Teddy Roosevelt all rolled into one. The documentary “Coney Island” by Ric Burns and Richard Snow called Tilyou the, “first impresario of controlled chaos.” His park was a unique place as rich and poor & male and female patrons all mingled together within the walls. The park opened in 1897 and its feature attraction was the Steeplechase Ride, a horse race which wound around the Pavilion of Fun.

Steeplechase Park: Pavilion of Fun


Steeplechase Park- Pavilion of Fun






The Pavilion of Fun was the centerpiece of Steeplechase Park.  One of the entrances was the Barrel of Fun, which is shown here in the lower-right hand corner.  This picture shows the second Pavilion of Fun, which was rebuilt after a fire burned the original in 1907.  It was designed by architect Reynolds Hinsdale.  It stood 450 X 270 feet and cost estimates say it was around $450,000 in 1907 dollars.

Steeplechase Park- Pavilion of Fun






The Pavilion of Fun covered nearly 3 acres.  After the fire of 1907 Tilyou rebuilt the Pavilion of Fun as a “glass and steel shed.” It covered five acres and the forerunner to current indoor parks like the Edmonton Mall and the Mall of America 1914 guide listed the following attractions within the Pavilion: the Golden Stairs, the Bounding Billows, the Whirlpool, the Roof Garden, the Razzle Dazzle, the Human Roulette Wheel, the Bicycles, the Cave of the Winds, the South Pole, the Soup Bowl, the Uncle Sam, the Human Pool Table, the Down and Out and the Barrel of Love (aka School Days).”

Steeplechase Park- Pavilion of Fun






The Human Roulette Wheel.  What appears today as a lawsuit waiting to happen was one of the most popular rides in the Pavilion of Fun.  The concept was deceptively simple, riders boarded, the wheel started to rotate and the riders were tossed off…working from the outside in.  Sometimes the person on the hub stayed on for the entire ride.  According to Coney Island historian Richard Snow, Tilyou got the idea for the ride by walking along the beach and saw children being pushed on an overturned cart wheel.  You can ride a modern-day version of this ride at Germany’s famous Oktoberfest: http://youtu.be/taRvXJeTtxM .

Steeplechase Park- Pavilion of Fun






This view from the 1950’s is a great shot of the Pavilion of Fun.  In the front the Moon Rocket ride, probably from the Allan Herschell Company, the train ride, and the Steeplechase Ride.

Steeplechase Park: The Beach and Pier


Steeplechase Park- Beach and Pier






Like most places at Coney, the beach was important to Steeplechase.  You can see the park’s logo “The Funny Place” on the placards along the boardwalk.


Steeplechase Park- Steeplechase Pier

Steeplechase Park- Steeplechase Pier






The Steeplechase Pier was a docking location for steamships from New York.  The postcard on the left shows the undulating hills of the Steeplechase Ride and the second is looking south out into the Atlantic.

Steeplechase Park- Steeplechase Pier









Steeplechase Park- Steeplechase Pier, 1937






This view, dated in 1939, is looking north towards Steeplechase Park.  The Flying Turns, shown on the right, ran from 1934-1939 at this location.

Steeplechase Park- Steeplechase Pier







The Steeplechase Pier in the winter of 2003.

Steeplechase Park: The View from Surf

 Steeplechase Park





Steeplechase Park was the heart of Coney, watching the island through good and bad times from the late 1800’s to 1960. These pages will look at some postcards of the park, most from its heyday. Above is the entrance to the park from Surf Avenue.

Steeplechase Park






Steeplechase faces Surf Avenue on a quiet morning. From left to right we see the gate (note the horses on top), the ferris wheel through the gate, the Giant See-Saw and a swinging ship.

Steeplechase Park at Night






Steeplechase, like the rest of Coney, was a different world at night. Here we see the circle swings on the left, the Pavilion of Fun in the middle and the parachute drop behind it. The Pavilion of Fun was built in 1907 after the park burned to the ground. George Tilyou put many of the rides (the Human Roulette Wheel, the Hoop-La, etc.) indoors, making Steeplechase impervious to the weather. The very top of the pavilion reads, “George C. Tilyou’s Steeplechase Park.” The middle of the pavilion reads “Pavilion of Fun. Geo. C. Tilyou’s Steeplechase Park.” The large face on the building was the park’s mascot and could be found all over the park.

Steeplechase Park




The entrance to Steeplechase from the Bowery. Here the Funny Staircase (a set of stairs where either side went in alternating directions) guides visitors into the park. Look at the crowds of people who are in the Bowery and entering the exciting world of Steeplechase.

Steeplechase Park: The Grounds

Steeplechase Park Chantcileer Carousel





Chanticleer Carousel: At one time there were over 25 carousels at Coney Island!  One of the most unique was the Chanticleer Carousel.  It ran at Luna Park in 1907, went back to Europe, and 1911 it moved to Steeplechase.  It was made by Orton Sons & Spooner Ltd. and was shipped back to Steeplechase for the 1910 season.  On the way back to America the ship sank, but it was in shallow water so the ride could be salvaged.

Steeplechase Park Noah's Ark






Noah’s Ark: The Noah’s Ark used to be a popular attraction at many parks. It first appeared in Venice, California in 1919 and became a standard attraction that brought in a lot of guests with its low-tech thrills. Sadly today there are only a few Arks left, one of the most famous is at Kennywood Park.This was probably built by William Dentzel (of carousel fame’s) Noah’s Ark Company, which built many of these attractions around the country.

Steeplechase Park Ferris Wheel






Ferris Wheel: Tilyou was impressed by George Ferris’s 250-foot Ferris wheel at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and tried to buy it. Unfortunately for Tilyou, the wheel had already been sold to St. Louis for their 1904 fair. Undaunted, he bought a 125-foot wheel and erected a sign at Coney that read, “On this site will be erected the world’s largest Ferris Wheel.” The wheel ran at Steeplechase for the entire time the park operated, finally giving its last rides during the 1964 season. Mary Tilyou kept the ride at the park in George’s memory.

Steeplechase Park Pool

Steeplechase Park Pool







Pool and Giant See-Saw: The tracks of the Steeplechase Ride can be seen on the far left along with flags flying from the top of the Pavilion of Fun. The ferris wheel and Revolving Air Tower are next to that, while the Giant See-Saw fills the right side. The ride was brought by Thompson and Dundy (the duo that would later build Luna Park) when they opened their Trip to the Moon cyclorama at Steeplechase. According to Edo McCullough, Tilyou’s nephew, the ride was owned by Fred Thompson and Elmer Dundy. He said that the Dundy aimed a coin at a crack in the floor and it stopped nearby. Tilyou tossed the coin squarely on the crack and won the Giant See-Saw. It operated by having four cars on each of the two small wheels. One arm would spin high in the air while the other loaded and then the arm switched positions. The operating costs quickly outgrew the limited profit (only a small number of people could ride per-hour) and Tilyou closed the ride. He then dressed it in a large number of incandescent lights which read, “STEEPLECHASE.”

Steeplechase Park Pool

Steeplechase Park Bathing Beauties






The Pool: Some views of the Steeplechase Park pool.  The postcard to the right is entitled “Bathing Beauties at Steeplechase Park”.


Steeplechase Park Chime Tower









Chime Tower: The Chimes Tower which stood, according to the postcard, in “Geo. C. Tilyou’s Beautiful Steeplechase Park” was a focal point for the park. The bells could be heard throughout the park on the hour.


Steeplechase Park Dew Drop









The Dew Drop: The Dew Drop was nothing more than a slide for adults. Guests climbed the staircase to the right and sped down the polished slide until they popped out at the bottom.  It stood over 50 feet tall.

Steeplechase Park- Revolving Airship Tower, 1905









Revolving Airship Tower: The air tower is one of those rides that we know very little about. This was not the circle swing, that was another ride.  That corresponds with this picture as the Atlantic and the Steeplechase Pier are directly behind the tower. Most black and white photos either had a full range of color added or simply a blue tint to give a sense of the sky and the ocean. If you look closely you will notice the gold glitter added to the postcard. To make some postcards stand out, many two or three-tone cards added silver and/or gold glitter during the early 1900’s.

Steeplechase Park- The Grounds







This is an interesting view of the park, looking north towards the front of the park and Surf Avenue. To help orient yourself, the Steeplechase ride is back and to the right and the Giant See-Saw is to the left.  (Photo courtesy the Library of Congress)

Steeplechase Park: The Steeplechase Ride

“Half a mile in half a minute, and fun all the way.”

Steeplechase Park Advertisement


Steeplechase Park- The Steeplechase Ride






This is an older view of the Steeplechase Ride, before the 1907 fire. After that, Tilyou built two four-horse tracks, one higher than the other. This course with eight, two-person horses ran at the park from 1898 to 1907.







This is a postcard from early in the park’s history (1908).

Steeplechase Park- Steeplechase Ride 1907






A look down the home stretch.


Steeplechase Park- The Steeplechase Ride






“The guys like it because it gives them a chance to hug the girls. The girls like it because it gives them a chance to be hugged. Everyone likes it because it is cheap fun, real fun. It realizes its motto, half-a-mile in half-a-minute and fun all the way.”

Steeplechase Park- Steeplechase Ride






The Steeplechase Ride was one of the many rides where it became acceptable for men and women to hold tight to one another in a conservative society. Single men and women often met on rides located at the entrances to the park such as the Revolving Barrel and the Funny Staircase which tossed singles into one another. Women who visited Steeplechase a lot were often on the look out for a heavier gentlemen because they almost always won the horse races.

Steeplechase Park- Steeplechase Ride