Dreamland was supposed to be refined and elegant in its design and architecture, compared to Luna Park with its many rides and chaotic noise.
Among Dreamland's attractions were a railway that ran through a Swiss alpine landscape, imitation Venetian canals with gondolas, a "Lilliputian Village" with three hundred dwarf inhabitants, and a demonstration of firefighting in which two thousand people pretended to put out a blazing six-story building fire every half-hour.
In a bid for publicity, the park put famous Broadway actress Marie Dressler in charge of the peanut-and-popcorn stands, with young boys dressed as imps in red flannel acting as salesmen. Dressler was said to be in love with Dreamland's dashing, handlebar-mustachioed, one-armed lion tamer who went by the name of Captain Jack Bonavita.
There were also two Shoot-the-Chutes with two ramps that could handle 7,000 hourly riders, a scenic railway called Coasting Through Switzerland, gondola rides through a nighttime model of Venice, a miniature railroad, and a simulated submarine ride.
A concession called Hell Gate, in which visitors took a boat ride on rushing waters through dim caverns, was undergoing last-minute repairs by a roofing company owned by Samuel Engelstein. A leak had to be caulked with tar.
During these repairs, at about 1:30 in the morning on May 27, 1911, the light bulbs that illuminated the operations began to explode, perhaps because of an electrical malfunction. In the darkness, a worker kicked over a bucket of hot pitch, and soon Hell Gate was in flames.
Chaos broke loose as the park burned. As the single-armed Captain Bonavita strove to save his big cats with only the swiftly encroaching flames for illumination, some of the terrified animals escaped, but about 60 animals died. A lion named Black Prince rushed into the streets, among crowds of onlookers, and was shot by police.
By morning, the fire was out and Dreamland was completely destroyed and never rebuilt.
Podcast about Dreamland from the Memory Palace.