Friday, April 13, 2012

The Island Queen and Coney Island

If you were a "Baby Boomer" in Cincinnati and white (I was shocked to find out that African-Americans were kept from the park until the '60s) you went to Coney Island.  It was THE amusement park in this area.  It was located on the banks of the Ohio River, had a nice picnic grove, amusement rides, a man-made lake, and a HUGE swimming pool.  It was the place to go, and our family went once every summer with our Ryan cousins.  Little did I know that not only our parents, but also our grandparents, probably participated in this tradition.

My uncle, Tony Scardina, is pictured eating watermelon in the picnic grove area of Coney Island.
  He later married Margaret Ann Jones, my Dad's sister.
Photo Credit:  East End, Columbia-Tusculum, Linwood Facebook page

Coney Island has an interesting history.  You can read about it by clicking on this link. There were a few facts that really surprised me.  Get it's earliest start as a picnic area in 1886, the land had been purchased by two steamboat captains.  As part of their business model, guests were transported to the park by steamboat.  As the park continued to make a variety of improvements, the first Island Queen steamboat was built at a cost of $80,000 and began transporting passengers in 1896.  The boat could transport 3000 passengers at a time. Unfortunately, the original Island Queen was destroyed by fire moored in Cincinnati when fire spread from another steamboat moored along side her.

Two other steamboats were temporarily placed in service while a new Island Queen was built. This boat, built at a cost of between $300,000 and $400,000.  It was christened in 1925 and served until 1947.  It was on this boat that my parents met. From the picture below, you can see how often the boat was scheduled to make the trip a few miles upriver.

Photo Credit:  Don Prout/
Permission to share on blog requested.

From the Collection of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
Note the "lighthouse" at the entrance near the top of the ramp.

This second Island Queen has a place in the memory of almost every resident of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky between 1925 -1947. Unfortunately, like the first Island Queen, this steamboat also burned.  According to the website, the fire started when a welder's torch was lit near the oil storage tanks.

The Island Queen burning in 1947 in Pittsburgh.
From the Collection of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

A piece of Cincinnati history, and the personal history of my parents, was lost forever in that fire. Little did they know at the time the role another steamboat, the Delta Queen would play in our Jones family history.

Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Wiki:
Coney Island Central:
White, John H., 1933-. The Island Queen : Cincinnati's excursion steamer / John H. White and Robert J. White. 1st ed. Akron, Ohio : University of Akron Press, 1995.


  1. Sort of a shame all the comments are over on google+ where they won't stay with this post.

  2. Kristin,
    I agree. I'm going to copy and paste the comments here:
    From Kristin:
    We had a similar park in Detroit with a river boat. I remember a family trip my mother's parents and my cousins one Saturday in the 1950s. It's closed now. Bob-lo Island. Before a suit brought before the US Supreme Court 1948, the boat also excluded African-Americans.

    1. I was discussing this with an African-American friend on Friday. He told me his mother worked there in the 50's. They wouldn't even allow African-Americans to WORK there in the lowliest of jobs until the 50s. It's hard to accept that this stuff was the norm during my lifetime.

    2. +Kristin Williams In rereading your comment, I can't believe that a case like this had to go all the way to the Supreme Court!

  3. From Kristin Williams:
    Just found this "U.S. Supreme Court BOB-LO EXCURSION CO. V. PEOPLE OF STATE OF MICHIGAN"

    Kristin Williams Apr 15, 2012
    I think that's the only way things like this can go on - people who aren't affected don't realize it's even happening. And sometimes if they do they don't understand what it means to those who are living it.

    1. I was having a conversation with a school principal I worked with and we were comparing memories of our childhoods growing up in Cincinnati. When I brought up Coney Island, she told me that she was not able to get in there as a child. This was a contemporary of mine AND I HAD NO IDEA this was the case. What blows me away is the fact that I could live in this community and be "protected" from reality. I'm going to check out the link to that case.

  4. From Susan Clark:
    Susan Clark12:07 PM
    For those of us growing up white north of the Mason-Dixon line the issues of racism, civil rights and segregation were academic. It was a southern problem, nothing to do with "us". As distant as Vietnam - until school desegregation efforts in the 1960s brought the issues home. Then we were forced to look in the mirror. It wasn't pretty.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Great post, Kathy! Marian Spencer led the fight to desegregate Coney Island and Sunlite Pool. When I was a consultant for the Health Alliance, a colleague told me that as a child in Mt. Auburn, they had to walk past Christ Hospital to get to Cincinnati General/University Hospital/UC Medical Center because they felt African Americans were not welcomed at Christ in the early 60s.