Jamaica Bay and the Rockaways

The Daily Plant : Friday, May 23, 2003


On Wednesday, Mayor Bloomberg announced what New Yorkers have been waiting all winter to hear: the City’s beaches are ready for the summer season. All of the City’s beaches officially open this Saturday and will remain open through Labor Day weekend. Joined by Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Council Member Domenic Recchia, and numerous community groups, the Mayor kicked off the beach season at Coney Island, one of the City’s most famous spots for summer fun. At the event, the Mayor presided over a swearing-in ceremony for lifeguards and announced the start of Beach Bus, a special summer service to Coney Island. The celebration also marked the 80th anniversary of the Coney Island Boardwalk and the 100th anniversary of the construction of the now defunct Luna Park amusement center.

Although trips to the beach are now standard summer fare, swimming in the ocean was once considered a novel activity, approached with a certain degree of fear. When Coney Island’s beaches were first gaining in popularity, in the 1850s and 60s, sea bathing was thought to "leach away the essential salts of the body," and so bathers were advised to wear full-length bathing dresses made of wool or twilled flannel. Dark colors were recommended, as they helped to "retain the heat of the body and…prevent a too rapid evaporation." Medical experts also advised beach-goers to wear broad-rimmed hats, to protect against the sun; and shoes, to protect against the crabs. Signs on the beach saying, "Bathers Without Full Suits Positively Prohibited by Law" reminded bathers of the importance of proper attire. In 1883, when trips to the ocean were beginning to be considered de rigeur, the Coney Island Directory issued a list of "bathing rules." Proper swimming attire was described as consisting of "two parts…a pair of pantaloons and a blouse; the latter should not fit too tightly, the sleeves fastened loosely at the wrist and slits cut in the garment just below the armpits; a belt attached to the blouse to retain it at the waist. The pantaloons should not be buttoned too tightly to the ankles, as circulation would thereby be impeded." Men were urged to enter the water resolutely and briskly to waist level, while women were warned to enter slowly, so as to avoid bouts of hysteria.

At Wednesday’s kick-off, Commissioner Benepe reviewed Parks & Recreation’s own list of bathing rules. Beach-goers were reminded to swim only from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., when lifeguards are on duty, and to help keep the beaches clean by placing all litter in trash receptacles. Last year, Parks & Recreation’s 14 miles of beach were visited by over 10 million people. In addition to Coney Island, the City’s beaches include Orchard Beach in the Bronx; Brighton and Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, Rockaway Beach in Queens and Midland Beach, South Beach, and Wolfe’s Pond Beach in Staten Island. Accessible by public transportation, the City’s beaches are still one of the cheapest, easiest ways to get away and cool off—and as the weather heats up, Parks & Recreation will be ready for business


Written by Hannah Gersen with historical research by Paul Thomsen


"It is better to be a fool than to be dead."

Robert Louis Stevenson


Directions to Jamaica Bay and the Rockaways

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