The Museum of Extraordinary Things – Coney Island, New York – Alice Hoffman

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Why a booktrail?

Delve into the world of freak shows and magical illusions as we go back to the early days of Coney Island and the New York sites of magic, intrigue and murder…

Story in a nutshell

A story with magic in the air and freak shows in the side streets. Where a web fingered mermaid, Coralie, works in her father’s museum of extraordinary things collecting unusual artifacts and even stranger people to showcase to the masses.

With the public fascination for all things gothic, gruesome and fantastical, the museum grows but disaster is not far behind and Coralie wishes for something more.

At the same time, A jewish immigrant struggles to escape his past and explores the city’s underbelly as a photographer and later detective of sorts. He is skilled at finding the unexpected and delving into places of the city no one dares to go.

When he and the web fingered mermaid meet, theirs is a tale of the most strange and intriguing of all.

Place and setting

The Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire , Asch building The building was located at 23–29 Washington Place in Greenwich village neighborhood of Manhattan. It’s now part of NYC university and is known as the brown building. Manhattan - 10th Avenue/Amsterdam Avenue Known as Death avenue for the violence, deadly tram rides and the general sense of unease Hudson river Where Coralie loves to swim and where she feels her most free Central Park “Once a boggy area good only for goats and piggeries and later populated by squatters....had been made into an opulent playground for the residents of the residents of the luxurious town houses of the East Side” The Coney Island Dreamland fairground The site of the fair was located where the NYC Aquarium is now at the corner of Surf Avenue and West Eighth Street Huber’s Dime museum on East 14th street - http://showhistory.com/show-type/dime-museum This is a great site for seeing the magical and mystical side of New York! Known at the time for being a purveyor of the strange and unique
The Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire , Asch building
The building was located at 23–29 Washington Place in Greenwich village neighborhood of Manhattan. It’s now part of NYC university and is known as the brown building.
Manhattan – 10th Avenue/Amsterdam Avenue
Known as Death avenue for the violence, deadly tram rides and the general sense of unease
Hudson river
Where Coralie loves to swim and where she feels her most free
Central Park
“Once a boggy area good only for goats and piggeries and later populated by squatters….had been made into an opulent playground for the residents of the residents of the luxurious town houses of the East Side”
The Coney Island Dreamland fairground
The site of the fair was located where the NYC Aquarium is now at the corner of Surf Avenue and West Eighth Street
Huber’s Dime museum on East 14th street – http://showhistory.com/show-type/dime-museum This is a great site for seeing the magical and mystical side of New York!
Known at the time for being a purveyor of the strange and unique

Coney Island 1911

The world of gothic horror, the freak shows, Wolfman and the conjoined twins which people flock to see,marvel and mock.

You would think it would be impossible to find anything new in the world, creatures no man has even seen before, one-of-a-kind oddities in which nature has taken a backseat to the coursing pulse of the fantastical and the marvelous.

But it’s not as we delve straight in the world that Alice Hoffman has recreated with use of fiction and even more fantastical fact. Coney island 1911 – Two things happened that year in real life and this book weaves them in to a magical tapestry that is as fantastical and magical as the freak shows it describes that you may not think any of this could be true.

But then fact is often stranger than fiction

The Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire – Asch Building, Washington place

Eddie is the photographer who documents the horror of this night when so many people died. This was  real life disaster which shows the brutal conditions of the time when factory workers would lock workers inside to prevent them taking breaks.

The chaos and demand for greater safely stands and workers unions showed the scale of the disaster, the working conditions of the time and the busy chaotic and harsh working life in New York at that time.

In some ways,the museum of Extraordinary Things seemed much safer.

The Dreamland Amusement Park fire on Coney Island on May 27, 1911.

William H. Reynolds, a state senator at the time designed the park to compete with Luna Park  as entertainment in 1911, as Coralie and her father realise, is changing and people want different things.

This park was to be bigger and better than anything and would feature a a railway that ran through a Swiss alpine landscape, fake Venetian canals and a miniature world with dwarf inhabitants

The Museum of Extraordinary things

But its the world of the freak shows, of the circus acts and the strange people which the people of New York shunned in society but paid to look at in a show which sparkles, crackles off the page to the sound of the fair ground music in the background –

There before me were the treasures my father had collected over the years: the had with eight fingers, the human skull with horns, the preserved remains of a scarlet -colored bird called a spoonbill

Yet I knew that life spent inside a museum is not a life like any other

Coralie Sardie has live in this world of wonder and gothic horror and her father later makes her part of the exhibition herself. She joins the long list of acts from the conjoined twins, to the Wolfman who enjoys the wonders of Walt Whitman and Jane Eyre for the way in which the novel reflects his own feeling of being locked away and mocked by society. Such people have feelings and it’s heartbreaking to read how society made them into circus freaks to be mocked. How must it felt to have been cast aside and mocked because of a disability or deformity?

A world of wonder, magic and gothic curiosity abound.

Bookish musings

A love story with a very unique and fantastical background. One to marvel and exclaim at. There is so much in this novel that it is like being at a fair ground with your eyes darting left and right, something happening on the side lines, the wonder of not knowing what to expect.

A fantastical read and an even greater journey into Coney island and its many faces in 1911. What a world of exquisite detail Alice has created and how strange that some is true!

The story of Coralie and Eddie is the main thread but the story of the island and its entertainment – the museum, Coralie’s fate and the horror of how society treated some of its most vulnerable really is quite shocking.

The characters are extremely memorable and everyone from the wolfman to Mitts the dog is well rounded and full of life. Hermit Jacob Van De Beck is sly but extremely funny at times and his views on events is an eye opener!

A new world and a wholly immersive experience to marvel at!

2 thoughts on “The Museum of Extraordinary Things – Coney Island, New York – Alice Hoffman

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman (2/5) | Taking on a World of Words

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