Coney Island’s Dreamland only operated for seven years between 1904 and 1911, but during that time it established itself as one of the most ambitious amusement parks ever constructed. The brainchild of a former senator named William H. Reynolds, the site included a labyrinth of unusual rides and attractions lit by an astounding one million electric light bulbs. Visitors to Dreamland could charter a gondola through a recreation of the canals of Venice, brave gusts of refrigerated air during a train ride through the mountains of Switzerland or relax at a Japanese teahouse. They could also watch a twice-daily disaster spectacle where scores of actors fought a fire at a mock six-story tenement building, or pay a visit to Lilliputia, a pint-sized European village where some 300 little people lived full time. Dreamland featured everything from freak shows and wild animals to imported Somali warriors and Eskimos, but perhaps its most unusual offering was an exhibit where visitors could observe premature babies being kept alive using incubators, which were then still a new and untested technology. The infants proved a huge hit, but they and many other attractions had to be evacuated in May 1911, when a fire—ironically triggered at a ride called the Hell Gate—leveled the property and shut Dreamland down for good.
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