Drugs, hookers and a roller coaster: Inside Coney Island’s lecherous past


When LaMarcus Adna Thompson, a textile manufacturer in the Midwest, quit his job to start building amusement rides for fairs, he had loftier goals than just providing people with a good time. His original, 6-mile-per-hour, 5-cents-a-ride Switchback Railway, built in 1884, would be so fun it would drive thrill-seekers away from the “vice and crime” poisoning society at the time. And what better place to debut such an invention than in the world’s most debauched adult playground of the era: Coney Island. Before the Wonder Wheel or Cyclone — and long before a day at the beach became a national pastime — Coney was a “four-mile-long, half-mile-wide coastal citadel of grime, crime, intoxication and fornication.” That’s according to the new book “The Amusement Park: 900 Years of Thrills and Spills, and the Dreamers and Schemers Who Built Them” (Black Dog & Leventhal). “Coney Island was where anything goes,” author Stephen M. Silverman told The Post. “It epitomized Sodom.” Preachers railed against it. Journalists chronicled its sins. Even its food generated controversy: When the hot dog debuted in 1867, peddlers had to rebrand the sausage-on-a-bun as “Coney Island Chicken” to assuage customers who thought they were eating actual canines.