Back on tracks: Experience the history of Coney Island travel

People’s Playground: The Transit Museum’s “Five cents to dreamland” exhibit shows off the many ways that people used to get to Coney Island.
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Take a trip to yesterday!

A new exhibit whisks Brooklynites back in time to see how their sunshine-loving ancestors traveled to Coney Island. The New York Transit Museum’s “Five Cents to Dreamland: A Trip to Coney Island” gives visitors a taste of commuter life from the horse-drawn carriage to the super speedy subway days, says the show’s curator.

“The idea is the show is tracing what a trip to Coney Island was in different time periods,” said Rob Del Bagno.

Beach bums can now jump on the F, Q, D, and N trains to get to the seaside amusement park, but it was once a more arduous journey. Sun seekers once journeyed to the island via horse and buggy, trundling across a creek paved with oyster shells until 1823, when engineers built a bridge to the mainland, according to Del Bagno.

Exhibit guests can view pictures and mementos from the neigh-days, and as well as photos from the 1840s, when people voyaged from Manhattan to Coney via steamboat. The vessels were a popular way to see the sights, said Del Bagno, but railroads sped up the process in the 1860s, making the trip quicker than ever, and leading to a boom in amusement parks that led to the nickname “Sodom by the Sea.”

The introduction of the subway system in 1918 made getting to the People’s Playground a breeze — people could zoom to Coney Island on the trains for five cents a pop, causing the beaches to fill with thousands of New Yorkers in their bathing caps, according to Del Bagno.

“It became the place that everybody could afford to go,” he said. “It became more and more popular.”

Transit enthusiasts can relive that subway trip to Coney on the museum’s two-hour-long “Nostalgia Ride” to the island on July 31. A train from the 1930s will zoom visitors from the Transit Museum to the beach and back. Del Bagno said the trains — which still boast the same ads and interiors from their era — are just as good as they were 80 years ago, and actually go faster than modern cars because they do not have to stop at stations along the route.

“Five Cents to Dreamland: A Trip to Coney Island” at New York Transit Museum (Boerum Place at Schermerhorn Street Downtown, Open through Dec. 4, Tue–Fri, 10 am–4 pm, Sat, Sun, 11 am–5 pm. $7.

Nostalgia Ride to Coney Island July 31 at 11 am. $50 ($25 kids). Tickets must be bought in advance here.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Sean F from Bensonhurst says:
Ah! Those were the days when a $50 train ride only cost a nickel!

My grandfather was a motorman on the Sea Beach line. I remember going with him to the Coney Island depot to pick up his paycheck, grabbing a Nathan's dog, and riding some rides.
July 27, 2016, 10:33 am
Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. from BS, BK, NY, US says:
I went to the NYTM: It is a "game-changer" since the bicentennial.
July 27, 2016, 7:28 pm

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