||Stanley Ralph Ross
Coney Island, Brooklyn
|| Orphans of the Steeplechase
Last month, my wife and I were at the New York, New York hotel in Las Vegas
and happened into an area where they sold egg creams, for $2.25. I decided
to try one and it was delicious, made properly with Fox's U-Bet and the
right amounts of seltzer and milk. It was so reminiscent of my youth that I
sipped it for half an hour and was transported in memory and walked down
Twentieth Street in Coney Island where I mentally said hello to Patsy
Minicello, Gibby and Leroy Weiss, the De Luca brothers, Andrew, Robert and
Raymond Jones, Freddie Hutchinson and Red Goldner.
While I was sitting there smiling, Neila asked me what was the greatest
place I'd ever been to. We have traveled the world and it was impossible to
remember all the fabulous locations, but one location kept floating up. In
late May of every year, Coney Island's premiere amusement park,
Steeplechase, opened for the summer season on a Saturday morning just for
the orphans of the City of New York. The busses arrived, parked on West
Twentieth street in front of my house and the kids lined up, marched into
the Steeplechase and spent the day, until they were taken out around dinner
time and the park opened for regular paying customers.
Robert Jones, who lived next door, was six and so was I and we were best
friends. Neither of us could afford the 55 cents to go to the Steeplechase
so we decided to sneak into the line and join the orphans. Who would know
the difference? However, we knew that our parents wouldn't allow it so we
didn't tell them. The day was spectacular, free food and all the rides one
could have ever wanted and these were rides never seen before or since
When six o'clock approached, we hid in the Men's Room until the orphans left
and the adults arrived. Picture this, a little black kid and a little white
kid, best friends, holding hands so we wouldn't lose each other and enjoying
ourselves more than we'd ever have done in our young lives. Strangers
thought we were cute together and gave us money for food and tickets for
rides, whatever we wanted was ours.
Meanwhile our parents and the whole street were frantic. A few people
thought we might have been kidnapped but that theory was tossed aside when
they realized that nobody had enough money to pay ransom for two little
kids. Then they thought the same fate befell us that had taken a mutual
childhood friend, Henry, who drowned in Gravesend Bay a few weeks before and
they were ready to begin dragging the area.
Finally, one of the neighbors remembered that she had sneaked into
Steeplechase when she was a child and it might be worth a try to look there.
At about a quarter to midnight, Robert's older brother, Raymond, came into
the park, found us and dragged us outside where Robert's step-dad Reverend
Kennedy, whacked my behind as my mother was hitting Robert. We pretended we
were crying but the truth is that we were laughing as we stole glimpses at
each other. There was no amount of pain that could take away the joy we'd
had in that memorable eighteen hour day in Steeplechase, the Funny Place. If
you never got there I'm sorry.