Coney Island History Blog - News
“Coney Island Creek: An Uncertain Future,” A Film by Charles Denson,
Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

“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.

Coney Island Vets on Veteran’s Day
Tuesday, November 11th, 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.

Remembering Stewart “Stewie” Glass, Longtime Coney Island Game Operator
Thursday, October 30th, 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.

National Carousel Association Brass Ring Award to Coney Island History Project
Tuesday, October 14th, 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.

October 29: Coney Island Creek After Sandy, Talk & Film Presentation by Charles Denson
Monday, October 6th, 2014

Coney Island Creek

SAVE THE DATE October 29, 2014, the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, for “Coney Island Creek After Sandy: Planning for the Future.” Will the Creek be a community asset or a liability? A talk and film presentation by Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project, will be held at the Coney Island Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library at 6pm. The Wednesday evening event is free and open to the public. The Coney Island Library is located at 1901 Mermaid Avenue at the corner of West 19th Street.

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.

The Coney Island History Project would also like to introduce our new sister Twitter account @ConeyCreek. Please follow it in addition to @ConeyHistory for history, news and event info for Coney Island Creek.

Coney Island History Project Walking Tours & Visits Offered Year-Round
Friday, September 26th, 2014

Coney Island History Project Walking Tour led by Amanda Deutch

The Coney Island History Project’s exhibit center season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day, but we continue to offer walking tours and group visits to our exhibit center year-round. Our unique tours are based on History Project Director Charles Denson’s award-winning book “Coney Island: Lost and Found,” the interviews from CIHP’s Oral History Archive, and other primary sources. Through the end of October, Coney Island History Project Walking Tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 pm by advance reservation only. Beginning in November tours start an hour earlier, at 1pm, and are also by advance reservation. Tickets are $20. The 1-1/2 hour tour is wheelchair accessible.

All tours are weather permitting. If a tour is cancelled due to the weather forecast, ticket orders will be refunded. Advance purchase of tickets via our online reservation site is required for the fall and winter series. If you have a question or you would like to schedule a private tour or group visit, please email events@coneyislandhistory.org

Coney Island History Project Group Visit

The History Project’s Coneyologist Club hosts visits by children from the community like this group from Coney Island Houses

Thru Oct 26: William F. Mangels Exhibit at Green-Wood’s Historic Chapel
Sunday, September 21st, 2014

William F Mangels

Objects on loan from the Coney Island History Project

William F. Mangels, the “Wizard of Eighth Street,” was a pioneering ride inventor and amusement manufacturer who was among the first inductees into the Coney Island History Project’s Hall of Fame. This fall, Mangels and his work is being celebrated with a special exhibit at the Chapel at Green-Wood Cemetery, where he is interred. “William F. Mangels: Amusing the Masses on Coney Island and Beyond” features a vintage shooting gallery, ride cars, and carousel artifacts, as well as an array of posters, photographs, videos and memorabilia on loan from public and private collections.

Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson was a consultant for the exhibit and loaned artifacts from his archive. On September 6, a group tour on the Green-Wood trolley organized by the Green-Wood Historic Fund and conducted by Charles Denson visited the Coney Island History Project exhibit center, the Mangels’ Fire Engine and Pony Cart rides in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, and other sites associated with Mangels. His former shop building on West Eighth Street is now an office of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Group from Green-Wood visit Mangels’ Fire Engine Ride at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park

According to Mangels’ bio on our Hall of Fame page, he immigrated from Germany in 1883 at age sixteen and by 1886 had a small machine shop in Coney Island where he made cast-iron targets for shooting galleries. Mangels then began studying patents and inventing mechanisms for rides. In 1901 he patented an improved version of the overhead jumping-horse suspension for carousels, the standard mechanism still used on most carousels today. He also invented rides such as the Tickler and the Whip and built the mechanisms for countless roller coasters and scenic railways.

The Mangels exhibit is on view daily from 12-6pm at Green-Wood Chapel through October 26. Admission is $5.00.

Group from Green-Wood visit Coney Island History Project

Group from Green-Wood visit Coney Island History Project

Saying Goodbye to Summer and Cheers to the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops!
Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Spook-A-Rama Cyclops Bon Voyage Party

Dennis, Steve and Stacy Vourderis, Charles Denson and Adele Cohen raise a champagne toast to the Cyclops at Bon Voyage Party. September 7, 2014. Photo © Coney Island History Project

On September 7th, the Coney Island History Project wrapped up the summer season and celebrated its 10th anniversary with a Bon Voyage Party for the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, which has been on display at CIHP’s exhibit center for the past two years. Fans of the nearly 60-year-old Coney Island icon turned out to snap souvenir photos, sip ghoulade and eat eyeball cookies. More than 150 guests signed a goodbye card.

Among the bon voyage wishes adorned with hand-drawn hearts and a lipstick kiss were “Oh Cy (sigh!). You’re the One Eye (“I”) Adore. Have a great trip.” and “I grew up with you. Can’t wait for your return!” The Vourderis family, owners of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, home of Spook-A-Rama, wrote “We’ll keep an eye on you all the way from Brooklyn…until you return here.” Winners of a contest and their guests were treated to a rare behind-the-scenes tour of the classic dark ride led by Wonder Wheel Park’s D.J. Vourderis and the Coney Island History Project’s Charles Denson.

Two days later, the Cyclops was carefully packed by art shippers and his journey from amusement park to art world began. “Cy” will be part of the exhibit “Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008,” which will be on view at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut from January 31 – May 31 2015, before traveling to the San Diego Art Museum and the Brooklyn Museum.

Spook-A-Rama Cyclops

The journey begins! The Spook-A-Rama Cyclops being packed by art shippers at the Coney Island History Project for shipment to the Wadsworth Atheneum. Horn and ears were custom-cushioned. September 9, 2014. Photo © Charles Denson

Sept 21: Charles Denson’s Documentary “The Rocket Has Landed” Screens at Coney Island Film Festival
Friday, September 19th, 2014

Astroland Rocket

The Astroland Rocket at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park on History Day, August 9, 2014. Photo © Coney Island History Project

On Sunday, September 21, Charles Denson’s new documentary “The Rocket Has Landed,” is screening at the Coney Island Film Festival. The 18-minute film tells the story of the Astroland Rocket and its journey back to Coney Island after being damaged by Hurricane Sandy while in storage on Staten Island. The Coney Island History Project, Astroland owner Carol Albert, and Stacy and Steve Vourderis of Wonder Wheel Park join forces to bring the Rocket back to Coney Island, where it is now on display next to the Wonder Wheel. The Rocket documentary premiered at the History Project on History Day, when the space-age amusement attraction was opened to the public for a walk-through for the first time in 45 years.

At the Coney Island Film Festival,”The Rocket Has Landed” is part of Program 16 featuring several Coney Island-themed films at 6pm. Tickets are $8. Advance ticket purchase is recommended. The screening venue is Sideshows by the Seashore at Coney Island USA, 1208 Surf Avenue, ground floor.

Coney Island Folk Art Icon Going to Art Museum, Behind-the-Scenes Tour of Spook-A-Rama
Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Spookarama Cyclops

The 1950’s Cyclops from Spook-A-Rama at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park is on exhibit at the Coney Island History Project through September 7, when the sculpture will be shipped to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford. Photo © Coney Island History Project

Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project cordially invite you to a Bon Voyage Party for the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops on Sunday, September 7, from 12pm-6pm. The 1950s folk art icon is leaving Coney Island for the first time in his life to be part of Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, a traveling exhibit organized by Robin Jaffee Frank, chief curator and Krieble Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, which opens in January. Our beloved “Cy” will tour museums across the country through 2016 in the company of artwork by some of America’s most distinguished artists.

“The sculpture is unique, one-of-a-kind, a throwback to the hand-made craftsmanship and creativity that made Coney the center of the amusement universe,” said Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson, who has been a consultant for the exhibit since 2010 and wrote an essay for the forthcoming catalogue.

Your last chance to take a free souvenir photo with the Cyclops at the Coney Island History Project, where “Cy” has posed with thousands of visitors over the past two years, will be the Bon Voyage Party on September 7 since the sculpture will be shipped later that week. The History Project will be open for this special event. The Cyclops is also on view during the History Project’s regular season –Saturdays, Sundays and holidays through Labor Day, September 1, from 12 pm-6pm. Admission is free of charge.

Spookarama

Spook-A-Rama, the classic dark ride at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Photo courtesy of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park

Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, home to Spook-A-Rama, Coney Island’s oldest operating dark ride, will serve ghoulade and eyeball cookies to the first 500 guests on September 7. Spook-A-Rama was carefully refurbished in 2012 after serious damage from flooding during Hurricane Sandy. Along with the restored Pretzel cars and tracks, the ride has exciting new props. Some of the old props were rescued and preserved and will be on public display on September 7 to wish their friend the Cyclops a bon voyage. Spook-A-Rama is one of 21 rides in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, which is open daily through Labor Day, then weekends and holidays through October 26.

CONTEST

Planning to come to the Cyclops’ goodbye party? Enter a contest to win the chance to go on a rare behind-the-scenes tour of Spook-A-Rama on September 7 at 11 am, before the ride opens, led by Wonder Wheel Park’s D.J. Vourderis and the Coney Island History Project’s Charles Denson. To enter the contest, tell us why you love Spook-A-Rama and want to join the tour. Submissions may be emailed to wonderwheelcat[AT]gmail[DOT]com or posted on Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/DenosWonderWheelPark). Only 10 winners will be selected. Each winner may bring one guest. Winners will be notified in advance of the tour.

Spookarama

DJ Vourderis, whose family owns and operates Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, will lead a behind-the-scenes tour of Spook-A-Rama with the Coney Island History Project’s Charles Denson. Coney Island’s oldest operating dark ride was built in the 1950s and refurbished after Hurricane Sandy


ABOUT THE CYCLOPS
In September 2011, Spook-A-Rama’s Cyclops, a Coney Island legend that hadn’t been seen in decades, came out of retirement to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the Coney Island History Project. Lula Vourderis accepted the plaque on behalf of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and the Vourderis Family.

In his speech honoring the Cyclops, Charles Denson said: “Last year I was hired as a consultant for an upcoming university art exhibition about Coney Island. While researching artwork for the exhibit we realized that the Cyclops head was an iconic and recurring image in dozens of modern artworks. The curator and I wondered if it still existed and if it could be included in the exhibition. I asked Steve Vourderis if the Cyclops had survived. He had a surprise for me. It was in storage right behind the History Project.

“After being excavated and stabilized it became the centerpiece of our induction ceremony. The Cyclops represents the creativity of Coney Island’s artisans and visionaries. In the past, anyone with a vision could create a fantasy, and you didn’t need formal artistic training to create a work of art. And you didn’t need an engineering degree to build a ride. Spook-A-Rama opened in the 1950s at a time when monster movies and Cinerama were popular. It’s a one of kind work of art, a cultural artifact handmade from ordinary bandages and plaster of Paris.”

Spookarama Cyclops

Thousands of visitors have taken souvenir photos, videos and selfies with the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops at the Coney Island History Project over the past two years. Its eye moves back and forth and glows red in the dark. Photo © Coney Island History Project

ABOUT THE TRAVELING EXHIBIT

On view at the Wadsworth in Hartford, Connecticut, from January 31 – May 31 2015, the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops will travel to the San Diego Museum of Art from July – October 2015, the Brooklyn Museum from November 2015 – March 2016. According to the Wadsworth, “Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland will be the first major exhibition to use visual art as a lens to explore the lure that Coney Island exerted on American culture over a period of 150 years.” Among the 130 objects–paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, posters, architectural artifacts, and carousel animals–supplemented by ephemera and film clips in the exhibit are works by William Merritt Chase, Reginald Marsh, Joseph Stella, Yasuo Kuniyoshi. Diane Arbus, Walker Evans, and Red Grooms.

Spookarama Cyclops

The Spook-A-Rama Cyclops at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park in 2011. Photo © Coney Island History Project

© Coney Island History Project | Contact Us | Visit Us on Flickr

NOTE: All material on the CIHP web site is copyrighted and cannot be used without permission.