Few legends have had as many deaths as Coney Island…with the possible exception of Shakespeare’s Cleopatra. Upon being recalled to Rome, the vainglorious Mark Antony is cautioned by his first officer Enobarbus that the equally vainglorious Queen of Egypt will die if he left her. He tells Antony:
Cleopatra, catching but the least noise of this, dies instantly; I have seen her die twenty times upon far poorer moment. I do think there is mettle in death which commits some loving act upon her; she hath such celerity in dying. (1.2.120: ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA)
While Coney Island may not be as famous as Cleopatra, nor as historically and fictionally significant, it somewhat shares the Queen’s glittering appeal in the realm of legend and in her alleged talent for death and resurrection. Next summer, the mostly eulogized amusement park will once again be restored to life with assorted new attractions and revitalized publicity. Last month, just when anguished devotees were about to fall on their nostalgic swords, Coney Island’s memorialized ruins and immortalized memories were saved from the wrecking ball. For a paltry $95.6 million, New York City purchased 6.9 acres prime acres of Coney Island from whirling dervish developer Joe Sitt (Thor Equities).
The city plans to create a year-round destination that includes a 12 1/2-acre outdoor amusement park within a 27-acre amusement and entertainment district.
The project also includes new restaurants, movie theaters, retail and the city’s first new roller coaster since the Cyclone was built in 1927. The plan also includes nearly 5,000 units of housing, including 900 units for low- and moderate-income families, officials said.
The project was expected to create more than 25,000 construction jobs and 6,000 permanent jobs, city officials said.
“When tourists come to New York we want Coney Island to be on their must-do list right next to Times Square and the Empire State Building,” [NYC Mayor Michael] Bloomberg said. “We’re trying to find things in all five boroughs to make sure the economic development that tourism brings is shared by everybody.” Zimbio
For years, Sitt proudly sat on the trash heap of his covetously acquired Coney Island property, dreaming of replacing it with a luxurious resort . Dawdling attractions and lingering mementos were cleared away to make way for Sitt’s envisioned phoenix which failed to rise from the ashes. While Sitt was dreaming, the amusement area had shrunk to an unprofitable and mostly neglected three acres of irresolution. “Bloomberg said the cost of not buying the land was too steep and that leaving the tract empty for another decade would have amounted to lost jobs, tax revenues and housing.” [Zimbio] However, Coney Island may go from beloved legend to white elephant and the plaything of one financial emperor to another; the price for nostalgia a very costly sentiment indeed.
Sooner than be led captive through the streets of Rome by Octavian (later Caesar Augustus), Cleopatra finally succeeded in killing herself and remaining permanently dead. Through the centuries, countless millions have been enchanted by the sparse facts but even more by the countless fictions regarding the doomed yet dynamic Queen; her legendary mystique outlasting the entire reign of the Ptolemy Dynasty and extending far beyond that kingdom.
What if Octavian had arrived in time to prevent Cleopatra’s last hurrah? One of our most charming legends would probably have been relegated to a more exacting and less flexible history. A high price to pay for a lost tragedy.