Coney Island on a Winter’s Day

The “People’s Playground” at its best: Coney Island on a winter’s day

I realize that bitterly cold weather doesn’t usually entice people to make an outing to the beach but I felt the urge to wrap up warm and take a long, contemplative walk somewhere desolate. Having just returned from Europe, I didn’t want to go too far afield, which is how I ended up making a day trip to New York’s Coney Island.

Coney Island is an Atlantic Ocean beach resort in Southern Brooklyn, a short subway ride away from the city. With its broad sandy beach, boardwalk and amusement parks, previously the largest in the US, Coney Island has been a popular destination for vacationing New Yorkers since the 1830s. In its heyday, the resort was referred to as “The People’s Playground”, the atmosphere of which has been portrayed in the photos of Weegee and paintings of Reginald Marsh.

I like to go to Coney Island because of the sea, the open air, and the crowds—crowds of people in all directions, in all positions, without clothing, moving—like the great compositions of Michelangelo and Rubens. – Reginald Marsh

coney island beach - atlantic ocean

The crowd of New Yorkers flocking to Coney Island in the summer today is meager in comparison to that depicted by Marsh. Nevertheless, and in contrast to him, it is precisely the crowds that have provoked my dislike of Coney Island. I recently saw the film Two Lovers, with Gwyneth Paltrow and Joaquin Phoenix, which takes place in the neighboring Brighton Beach during winter. There are relatively few scenes at the beach but the mood of the film is one of desolation and solitude. With this in mind, I decided to give it a go in the off-season!

And what a change a season can make! Seagulls have full rein of the beach at this time of year although that’s not to say it’s completely deserted. During my walk to Brighton Beach, I came across the ubiquitous dog-walkers as well as several guys with metal-detectors. Intriguing: what are they looking for and do they actually find anything?

coney island beach winter - running people

Among the more memorable beach goers that day, was the man running along bare-foot in shorts and t-shirt while another was strolling around in swimming trunks. More than likely, the latter belongs to the Polar Bear Club, that group of hardy swimmers who take to the ocean during winter, most famously on New Year’s Day. It made me cold just looking at him although it did remind me of playing in the sea off the coast of Scotland as a child. Naturally I only ever did this in the summer but it does make me think that perhaps I used to be made of sturdier stuff!

coney island beach in winter

With the dearth of people, the only sounds on the beach was that of the birds, the waves and the wind whistling through the ferris wheel of the empty amusement park, which appeared stuck in motion. With none of the usual summertime distractions, I was able to get lost in my thoughts and capture the serenity of Coney Island in the winter. And thus, I satisfied my winter beach yearning!

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