Reign of Coney Island’s ‘Mayor’ Ends in a Sideshow by the Sea

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Reign of Coney Island’s ‘Mayor’ Ends in a Sideshow by the Sea

Over time, Coney Island’s appeal faded. Luna Park closed in 1946, although the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel still stood. In the 1950s, as television became more popular, the crowds melted away further. In the mid-1960s, Fred Trump, the former president’s father, took control of Steeplechase Park with plans to build luxury apartments. He staged a “funeral” where bikini-clad women passed out stones and invited “mourners” to hurl them at the park’s pavilion.

The decline continued in the years that followed.

“It was rough, it was burned out, a shell of what it used to be 20 to 30 years prior,” said Adam Rinn, who grew up in the area and is Mr. Zigun’s designated successor. (He declined to comment on the conflict between Mr. Zigun and the Coney Island USA board.)

Still, some of the old allure remained, calling out to people like Mr. Rinn. He said he saw his first Coney Island show at 15. It featured Otis Jordan, “The World’s Only Human Cigarette Factory,” who rolled, lit and smoked a cigarette using only his lips.

“It was such a surreal experience,” said Mr. Rinn, 50, who went to learn how to swallow swords, eat and spit fire, walk on glass, lie on a bed of nails and hammer nails into his face. (“I guess I’d be considered a quick learner,” he said.)

Mr. Zigun links his own Coney Island infatuation in part to his roots in Barnum’s hometown, Bridgeport, Conn. Arriving in New York after earning a fine arts degree from Yale Drama School, he decided to look for something on the fringe.

“When I finished my fancy education, instead of aspiring to Broadway or a place like La MaMa in the East Village, I had this wacky idea of starting my own theater in Coney Island,” he said.

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