"Coney Island Creek: An Uncertain Future," a film by Charles Denson, was recently screened at Coney Island Library and is now up on Denson's Coneyologist channel on YouTube. Featuring interviews with stakeholders including local residents, ecologists, anglers, birders, divers, park volunteers, teachers, and the Brooklyn Parks Commissioner. The 18 minute video is part of a longer documentary film project currently underway.

"I grew up near Coney Island Creek and began photographing it in the 60's when the waterway was at its lowest point, polluted and neglected, but I always knew there was something special about the creek and that it would survive," Denson says in the film's introduction. Today, the future of Coney Island Creek is uncertain. Will it be an asset or a liability? The city is currently funding a feasibility study to decide whether to dam up the creek by building a tidal barrier with culverts, a move that would most likely turn the waterway into a toxic cesspool and do little to prevent flooding. Will Coney Island Creek become a restored wetland that prevents flooding or will it become a hazard to the community? Informed community input is vital.
(Posted on Nov 25, 2014)
Nature's Fury

Charles Denson and David Harvey, Senior VP of Exhibitions, American Museum of Natural History, at the November 10 exhibition preview and reception of "Nature's Fury: The Science of Natural Disasters"

I was extremely honored to participate in the Nature's Fury exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History. During the last two years I've been approached by numerous media outlets that wanted to license my footage of Hurricane Sandy and have turned them all down. I feel that this dynamic and informative exhibit is the right venue and was honored to be asked to contribute my documentation of the storm. This exhibition is a wake-up call for anyone living in New York City's flood zones, especially Coney Island.

Nature's Fury

A close up of Coney Island Creek on the interactive map at "Nature's Fury: The Science of Natural Disasters" at the American Museum of Natural History. The creek is the subject of Charles Denson’s forthcoming documentary about the historic waterway. Photo © Charles Denson

NATURE’S FURY: THE SCIENCE OF NATURAL DISASTERS, November 15, 2014 - August 9, 2015 From earthquakes and volcanoes to hurricanes and tornadoes, nature’s forces shape our dynamic planet and often endanger people around the world. Nature’s Fury will uncover the causes of these natural disasters, explore the risks associated with each, and examine how people cope and adapt in their aftermath. Interactive displays and animations will help visitors understand how natural phenomena work. By monitoring earthquakes around the world in real time, manipulating a model earthquake fault, generating a virtual volcano, standing within the center of a roaring tornado, and watching the power of Hurricane Sandy via an interactive map of New York City, visitors will learn how scientists are helping to make better predictions, plan responses, and prepare for future events. Nature's Fury

Interactive map of New York showing flooding during Hurricane Sandy. "Nature's Fury: The Science of Natural Disasters" at the American Museum of Natural History. Photo © Charles Denson

(Posted on Nov 16, 2014)
Coney Island Veteran's Day photo by Charles Denson

Coney Island Vets on Veteran's Day: Stan Fox, Vietnam 1966-67, Qui Nhon. Bobby Tropper, Vietnam 1967-69, Tay-Nihn. Fox, who volunteers with the Coney Island History Project, operated the Playland penny arcades in Coney Island from the 1940s through the 1980s. Tropper is a game operator on Jones Walk. Photo © Charles Denson.

(Posted on Nov 11, 2014)
RIP Stewart Stewie Glass

RIP Stewart "Stewie" Glass, Coney Island game operator for the past 50+ years. He passed away after suffering a heart attack. For the past two seasons, Stewie ran a balloon game on the Bowery. The basketball game in Charles Denson's 2007 portrait was in the Grashorn Building on Surf. A graveside service will be held at Mount Lebanon Cemetery, Iselin, New Jersey, on Thursday at 1:00pm.

(Posted on Oct 30, 2014)
Coney Island Creek Talk Oct 29

On October 29, 2014, the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project, will present "Coney Island Creek After Sandy: Planning for the Future." The talk and film screening will be at the Coney Island Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library at 6pm and is free and open to the public. The Library is located at 1901 Mermaid Avenue at the corner of West 19th Street.

"Coney Island suffered major flooding during Hurricane Sandy, prompting a city proposal to transform Coney Island Creek by building a dam and flood gates at the creek's mouth to prevent damage from future storm surges," writes Charles Denson. "A feasibility study that will soon get underway also calls for a long-needed restoration of the creek's wetlands. The main problem with the proposed dam is that it would turn Coney Island Creek into a toxic cesspool fed by storm sewers and would do little to prevent flooding. The tidal barrier idea is an expedient fix conceived at a time of crisis but is not the best long-term solution."

Conceptual CIC Culvert NYCEDC

Conceptual Coney Island Creek Culvert. Credit: NYCEDC

"Coney Island's first attraction wasn't the beach or amusements: it was the thousand-acre tidal estuary known as Coney Island Creek. The first hotels and resorts in the 1820s grew up around this pristine tidal creek known for its hunting and fishing. The next century would see the wetlands filled and the creek fouled by industrial waste, garbage dumps, and sewage. The wetlands that protected the area from flooding were filled in and developed."

"When I began documenting Coney Island Creek in the 1960s, the waterway was at its lowest point, polluted and neglected and used as a dumping ground. The creek has improved greatly since then, the result of the Clean Water Act of 1972 and a new awareness of the creek's potential. Three beautiful parks now surround the wide entrance to the creek, and a major clean-up of the creek's narrow headwaters in 2006 removed mountains of toxic industrial sludge. It would be a shame to see these improvements reversed."

Creek Sunset

Creek Sunset. Photo by Charles Denson, August 2007

"My documentary will tell the history of Coney Island Creek and demonstrate its ecological, educational, and recreational importance to the surrounding community. The public needs to learn what's at stake and to have an informed voice in the future of this resource and an awareness of the successes and failures of past projects that have led to the city's current call for a tidal barrier. Passive, natural protections, such as oyster beds and sand dunes, will provide more reliable protection than dams and culverts."

"Two years ago I had a photo exhibit about Coney Island Creek at the Coney Island Library. It showed 40 years of my documentation. On the night of October 29, the library was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and, along with it, my photos and displays. It's a wonderful feeling to be back at the restored library and to continue my story."

Charles Denson

Charles Denson at his Coney Island Library exhibit "The Secrets of Coney Island Creek," which was swept away when the library was destroyed by Sandy

Charles Denson, a Coney Island native, has been documenting the Creek for over 40 years and is working on a book and film about the waterway. He has given numerous lectures and presentations concerning the Creek at venues that include the New York Aquarium, The Coney Island Library, Kingsborough College, Brooklyn College, and at various locations in the Coney Island community. In 2013 Denson received the Herman Melville Award from the New York State Marine Education Association for his contributions to marine education through his work. (read more)

(Posted on Oct 15, 2014)
NCA BRass Ring Award

At the National Carousel Association's 2014 convention and technical conference in New York City, the Coney Island History Project was honored with their Brass Ring Award for Service. The award was presented "for outstanding efforts in Archiving, Recording and Preserving the History of the Pioneers and Contemporaries of the Amusement Industry in Coney Island, New York."

"This award is a great honor," wrote Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson in a thank-you letter to National Carousel Association president Bette Largent. "When we founded the History Project a decade ago, Carol Albert and I set out to preserve in living memory the achievements and contributions of the many unsung heroes of Coney Island and the NCA award is an encouraging validation of our mission."

The Coney Island History Project's Hall of Fame has honored such Coney Island amusement industry icons as Steeplechase Park founder George C. Tilyou, carousel carver Marcus C. Illions, and ride inventor and amusement manufacturer William F. Mangels. Among the voices in our Oral History Archive are the late Jimmy McCullough, whose family operated numerous small amusement parks and carousels in Coney Island, including the B&B Carousell; band organ expert Max Nowicki; and Fabricon Carousel Factory founder Marvin Sylvor.

(Posted on Oct 14, 2014)