Fire rages across the fantastical cityscape of Dreamland, the painted faces of the midgets melting in the heat as they face off against the flames from their half-sized fire truck. The drama of Hades tearing into the starry night sky is projected on the passive, sleeping mass of the ocean only yards away. A constant backing-track of crack and crackling, hissing and spitting is interrupted at intervals by the crashing collapse of large pieces of structure.
The fire started at the End of the World. More specifically, at the Devil that resides over the entrance to the End of the World. As anarchy unfolds his grin betrays the knowledge of a well-timed short circuit, only weeks before the completion of a new super fire-fighting system that would draw directly from the Atlantic. There are resident fire-fighters in Dreamland, who successfully pacify a burning building every night of the week but the heroes of Fighting the Flames know there is no glory to be had tonight and flee. When the professionals arrive on Coney Island they are frustrated by the impotence of pathetic water pressure and can do little more that watch. Even in their fireboats, with the world’s water on tap, the heat prevents them from tackling the beast and they must patiently sit, bobbing at a safe distance. People run screaming to the exit. Animals run senselessly through the streets, eyes wild, fur aflame.
In 3 hours it’s all over. 100 years ago Dreamland burnt to the ground.
In a corner of the flat waste land of charred timber planks, that only hours ago was a prized escape of spires and fairly lights, nestled between the site of the Largest Ballroom in The World and The Fall of Pompeii are the remnants of Lilliputia. A half sized city modelled on 15th century Nuremberg, Lilliputia was ‘home’ to 300 people who came from all corners of the United States, leaving fairs and travelling shows for a more permanent position. By today’s standards it already sounds a tad unethical but it gets more sinister yet. Midget city had all the key public buildings, a fire station, a town hall, parliament etc, even a section of beach but it’s not enough for the inhabitants to simply go about their ‘everyday lives’, the experimental community were given grand titles such Baron and Count and dressed up in gaudy aristocratic dress and then ‘encouraged’ into what was then considered highly distasteful conduct; infidelity, homosexuality and general anti-social behaviour were all celebrated attributes of the show. The community existed out of hours too of course and what their relationships were like in reality one can only imagine.
When the fire took the fire crew of that half-sized town fought valiantly to save their lively hood, more successfully than anyone else in the park in fact, but alas the only building left standing in Dreamland was their own fire station.
As we strive to live our modern lives in equality, Lilliputia can never exist again and, along with the rest of Coney Island of a century ago, I’m sad that I didn’t get to meet those Midgets of Dreamland.