Founded in 1903 by theme park impresarios Fred Thompson and Skip Dundy, Coney Island’s Luna Park consisted of a gaudy cluster of domed buildings and towers illuminated by an eye-popping 250,000 light bulbs. The park specialized in high concept rides that transported visitors to everywhere from 20,000 leagues under the sea to the North Pole and even the surface of the moon. A trip to Luna could also serve as a stand in for world travel. After a ride on an elephant, patrons could stroll a simulated “Streets of Delhi” populated by dancing girls and costumed performers—many of them actually shipped in from India—or take a tour through mock versions of Italy, Japan and Ireland. If they grew tired of walking, visitors could relax in grandstands and watch the “War of the Worlds,” a miniature, pyrotechnic-heavy sea battle in which the American Navy decimated an invading European armada. The park’s owners also cashed in on the popularity of disaster rides by staging recreations of the destruction of Pompeii and the Galveston flood of 1900. The carnage reenacted in these attractions became all too real in 1944, when Luna fell victim to a three-alarm fire that began in one of its bathrooms. The original site closed for good a few years after the blaze, but the iconic name “Luna Park” is still used by dozens of amusement parks around the globe.
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