I recently finished reading Kevin Baker's Dreamland. I was hoping it had some information on Jack Bostock's Coney Island circus. One of the characters in my play, The Tiger Play, apprenticed as an animal trainer with Bostock. It had a few pages on Bostock, with the attitude that he was crazy to tame lions and tigers at all, once a lion had lost him his hand.
The novel was okay, though I had a hard time getting into it at first (the Yiddish seemed really forced to me- I can't actually describe why). I haven't read the other two novels in this trilogy- Paradise Alley (about the Draft Riots) and Strivers Row (about a young Malcolm X).
My favorite part of the book was his historical notes at the end- where things I've read about actually were in Coney island. The house in Annie Hall, built under the rollercoaster? That was actually the Kensington Hotel, and the Thunderbolt roller coaster was built over it in 1926. The roller coaster and house were demolished in 1983, and they stood on the empty lot next to the Cyclones' stadium.
Those incubator babies on the boardwalk in Atlantic City on Boardwalk Empire? That practice originated at Coney Island- showing the babies in the incubators for a small fee. That way the parents didn't have to pay for the babies' care. Supposedly, Cary Grant (back when he was still Archie Leach) was one of the Infantorium's barkers.
The "first enclosed amusement park" in the US was Sea Lion Park, on 12th Street (now apartment buildings). Next to that was the wooden hotel built in the shape of a 150 foot high elephant.
Luna Park (which even impressed Maxim Gorky)was where Astroland and Deno's Wonder Wheel are now. Dreamland itself was where the Aquarium is now. The Aquarium used to be in Castle Clinton in lower Manhattan, until Robert Moses shut it down and moved it to Brooklyn after World War II.