The “Beautiful Spectacle” of Skating Carnivals
January 14, 2019
Long before Prospect Park Alliance opened the LeFrak Center at Lakeside, the park’s state-of-the-art skating rink, Brooklynites would wait for temperatures to drop and then flock by the tens of thousands to Prospect Park’s 60-acre Lake to enjoy this winter recreation, with crowds as many as 20,000 skaters on peak days.
A Brooklyn Daily Eagle article from February 7, 1881, reports:
The ice on the Prospect Park lake is eighteen inches thick. Yesterday it was crowded all day, and by the afternoon the surface was rather badly cut up by the steel runners of the skaters. The ice is swept at night after the skaters leave and flooded a little, so as to make a smooth, even surface in the morning. The skaters are allowed to remain until 11 o’clock on all except Sunday nights, when the ice is cleared at about 9 o’clock.
With so many people flocking to the ice, and with periodic warm spells midwinter, the scene at the Lake was often chaotic. Collisions between skaters and slips through thin patches of ice were not uncommon, and “keepers” uniformed in blue kept watch over the crowds.
By the early 1900’s, the city was staging “skating carnivals” as reported on in the January 2, 1915, edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
Brooklyn was treated to a new and beautiful spectacle last night, when the Park Department permitted a skating carnival to be held on the Prospect Park lake. In the light of the full moon and with a thousand Chinese lanterns strung around the big body of water, 10,000 men, women and children flitted to and fro on the flashing steel runners. Some of them even danced on the ice.
Photo of lanterns around frozen Prospect Park lake, c. New York Historical Society.
In the 1930’s and ’40’s, as all kinds of ice sports became increasingly popular, these “carnivals” became daytime sporting events with thousands watching from the shore, including ice hockey matches between teams from Brooklyn Technical High School and Manual Training High School (later called John Jay High School), speed-skating races and figure-skating displays. The carnivals even had an Ice Carnival King and Queen.
The 1936 Ice Carnival King and Queen, c. Prospect Park Archives.
Today, New Yorkers can experience with thrill of gliding over the ice throughout the season at Prospect Park’s LeFrak Center at Lakeside. And while skating on the Lake is no longer permitted, Lakeside’s two rinks are just yards from the water’s edge, and visitors need only a bit of imagination to relive those festive nights over 100 years ago.