Coney Island History Blog - News
April 13: Preview the History Project’s Season on Coney Island’s Opening Day
Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

The Face of Steeplechase

You’re invited to preview the Coney Island History Project’s exhibition center season on Coney Island’s Opening Day. 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the Coney Island History Project! Ten years ago our oral history project began with a portable recording booth and proved to be so popular that we later expanded to a permanent location. Stop by our exhibit center to view historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island’s colorful past and preview selections from upcoming exhibits.

Located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, the Coney Island History Project will be open on Palm Sunday, April 13th, and again on Easter Sunday, April 20th, from 1:00PM till 6:00PM. Our regular exhibition season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, from 12 noon. Admission is free of charge.

Palm Sunday is the official season opener for Coney Island’s rides and attractions. The Opening Day celebration starts at 11AM with the annual tradition of the Blessing of the Rides at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park by Pastor Debbe Santiago of Coney Island’s Salt and Sea Mission, and is followed by the Egg Cream Christening of the Cyclone’s front car at 12 noon. Our special guest at the Coney Island History Project will be the legendary Cyclops from Deno’s Spook-A-Rama dark ride. Visitors are invited to take a FREE souvenir photo with the Cyclops or an original Steeplechase horse from the ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. Hope to see you at the festivities!

Under the Wonder Wheel on West 12th Street

THE FACE OF STEEPLECHASE

Our first special exhibit of the season, opening on Memorial Day Weekend, will be “The Face of Steeplechase: The Evolution of an Icon,” in honor of the 50th anniversary of the closing of Steeplechase Park (1897-1964) and the 100th anniversary of the death of Steeplechase creator George C. Tilyou (1862-1914).

Tilyou’s “Funny Face” dates back to the early days of Steeplechase, where the famous visage appeared on signs, murals and ride tickets. Today in Coney Island, you can see variations of the Funny Face – on signs, beer labels, t-shirts, etc. “Tillie” is the New Jersey variation of Coney Island’s Funny Face and was painted in the ’50s at Asbury Park in homage to the Coney original!

Coney Island West End 1974

CONEY ISLAND’S WEST END: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHARLES DENSON

By popular demand, one of the slide shows we’ll have in our exhibit center this season will feature never-before-seen images of the West End from Charles Denson’s archive and photos that he took in the 1970s. “The West End of Coney Island is a vibrant and resilient community that’s survived many challenges over the last few decades,” said Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson. “I grew up there and documented the wave of urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s that transformed our community and changed the lives of its residents. This slide show tells the story of the area going back to 1600s.”

Titled “The History of Coney Island’s West End and the Presence and Contributions of African Americans in Coney Island from the 1600s to the Present,” the photos were shown for the first time in February at a Black History Month celebration and panel co-hosted by Mathylde Frontus of Urban Neighborhood Services and sponsored by U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries, City Councilman Mark Treyger, State Senator Diane Savino, State Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, Emblem Health and the Alliance for Coney Island.

Mangles Kiddie Whip Car Coney Island History Project

WILLIAM F. MANGELS: THE WIZARD OF 8TH STREET

An exhibit on the work of Coney Island-based ride inventor and amusement manufacturer William F Mangels (1867-1958) will open in August. Mangels invented rides such as the Tickler and the Whip and built the mechanisms for countless roller coasters and carousels, including the B&B Carousell, which was brought back to Coney Island last year. Among the classic rides in Deno’s Kiddie Park are a Mangels Pony Cart and Fire Engine. Mangels’ former shop building on West Eighth Street is now an office of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Photo of the Week: Coney Island History Project at Archives Field Day
Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Coney Island History Project at Archives Field Day

Archivists came together at the 92nd St Y for the first-ever Archives Field Day on March 22nd. The event was sponsored by the Archivists Roundtable of Metropolitan New York. Visitors were invited to solve a series of questions using primary sources from the National Archives, NY-Historical Society, Girl Scouts USA, Coney Island History Project and other organizations. This year’s theme was Sports and Leisure.

Each puzzle solved earned visitors a stamp in their Archives Field Day Passport and a chance to win prizes, including ride passes for Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. For more photos, visit our flickr set. In 2008, the Archivists Roundtable of Metropolitan New York honored the Coney Island History Project with the ARTS Award for Innovative Use of Archives.

February 17: Slideshow & Panel Celebrate Black History Month in Coney Island
Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

On the Beach, Coney Island. 1934

Coney Island residents and friends are cordially invited to celebrate Black History Month with us in Coney Island on February 17th. The Coney Island History Project and Urban Neighborhood Services are hosting a slideshow presentation by Charles Denson followed by a panel discussion with long-time community members. Titled “The History of Coney Island’s West End and the Presence and Contributions of African Americans in Coney Island from the 1600s to the Present,” the slideshow will feature never-before-seen images from Charles Denson’s archive and photos that he took in the 1970s.

U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Coney Island’s first African American Congressman, will be a special guest. The event is sponsored by City Councilman Mark Treyger, State Senator Diane Savino, State Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, Emblem Health and the Alliance for Coney Island.

Dinner will be served after the presentation.

WHEN: Monday, February 17, 4-6PM

WHERE: PS 329, 2929 West 30th Street, Coney Island

Coney Island, West End 1974

“I am personally excited to work with Charles Denson to bring this very important event to the residents of Coney Island,” said Mathylde Frontus, founder of Urban Neighborhood Services, a community-based non-profit founded in 2004 that offers supportive programming on topics such as health and wellness, academic achievement, and other relevant subjects. “African Americans have a long and rich history of contributing to the vibrancy and well-being of this peninsula and I believe that Charlie’s slideshow combined with the first-hand accounts of long-time Coney Island residents will really elucidate this all the more.”

“The West End of Coney Island is a vibrant and resilient community that’s survived many challenges over the last few decades,” said Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson. “I grew up there and documented the wave of urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s that transformed our community and changed the lives of its residents. This slide show will tell the story of the area going back to 1600s.”

Black History Month, Coney Island

Please share this event flyer with your friends and neighbors. All are welcome to celebrate Black History Month with us in Coney Island on February 17th.

Black History Month, Coney Island

Ten Years and Counting: A Decade of History and Education
Monday, January 6th, 2014

Coney Island History Project

2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the Coney Island History Project! Ten years ago our oral history project began with a portable recording booth located on the boardwalk. The colorful booth-on-wheels, dubbed the “Memory Booth,” had an air-conditioned recording studio illuminated by a skylight. Wooden “wings” opened from the booth to display our mission statement and historic photographs. We parked our booth in front of the Aquarium’s education center during the day and in front of Astroland at night. Our program proved to be so popular that we later expanded to a permanent location.

Memory Booth

Coney Island History Project Memory Booth, 2005

The History Project was founded by Carol Hill Albert and Jerome Albert in honor of Dewey Albert, creator of Astroland Park, and opened its exhibit center below the Cyclone in 2007. In 2011 we moved to our current home beside the Wonder Wheel at the invitation of the Vourderis family, owners of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. During the last decade we’ve recorded the oral histories of many departed Coney luminaries whose stories would have been lost forever. The voices of Jack Ward, Jimmy McCullough, Matt Kennedy, and Joe Rollino and others can be found in our archive.

Charles Denson and Carol Hill Albert

Carol Hill Albert and Charles Denson in the Memory Booth, 2005

The Coney Island Hall of Fame pays tribute to pioneers and visionaries whose creativity and ingenuity helped shape and define Coney Island over the past century and was inaugurated on West 10th Street opposite the Cyclone roller coaster in 2005. Our exhibits have included “Land Grab: A History of Coney Island Development,” “Woody Guthrie’s Coney Island Years,” “The Astroland Archives Photography Exhibit,” “Coney Island Icons,” “Luna Park Revisited,” “The Dreamland Fire Centennial,” and “Coney Island Bathhouses: A Lost Culture.” In 2012, we presented the first solo show by local photographer Abe Feinstein, who has been documenting his neighborhood for more than 50 years.

2013 saw our recovery from Hurricane Sandy and the opening of two new exhibits: “The Curious Playland Arcade Art of Larry Millard” displayed several salvaged Millard murals as well as a full photo documentation of his work from the walls of the Playland building, which was demolished in February. We also celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Vourderis family’s operation of the Wonder Wheel with a photographic history of the famous landmark.

The Curious Playland Arcade Art of Larry Millard

“The Curious Playland Arcade Art of Larry Millard” Exhibit, 2013

In August, the 3rd Annual History Day presented by Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project was the inaugural event at the new Dreamland Plaza on West 12th Street. The free event included a Coney Island history trivia contest, an interactive magic show, and performances by organ grinders from the Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors Association (AMICA) and the Carousel Organ Association of America (COAA) as well as the opportunity for visitors to hand crank the organs.

History Day, Coney Island History Project

Prof. Phineas Feelgood’s World of Magic at History Day, Dreamland Plaza, August 2013

History Project director Charles Denson’s Sandy documentary “The Storm” premiered at the Coney Island Film Festival in September and was screened at the Brooklyn Art Council’s Scene: Brooklyn Film Series commemorating the 1st anniversary of Sandy. In October, the New York State Marine Education Association (NYSMEA) presented the Herman Melville Literary Award to Charles Denson for his contributions to marine education through the Coney Island History Project, his books and his preservation efforts for Coney Island Creek.

CreekWalk Coney Island Creek

A series of informational plaques designed and created by Charles Denson were installed on the creek side of Kaiser Park, 2012

The 2014 season promises to be our most exciting yet. In late December our proposal for the return of the Astroland Rocket was approved by the City and we’re now planning an extensive exhibit about the rocket and space-themed Coney attractions of the past. Ownership of the historic Rocket will be transferred to the History Project and the Vourderis family will provide a permanent home for it in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park.

Astroland Rocket

Coney Island: The “Star Flyer” Rocket debuted in Astroland in 1962

From the balloons, blimps and biplanes of the early days of aviation to the Astroland-sponsored airshows by the Thunderbirds, Golden Knights and Blue Angels, flight demonstrations have drawn crowds to Coney Island.The Rocket exhibit will cover the history of flight-themed attractions in Coney Island, encompassing science, amusements, photos and films. Ever since Thompson and Dundy brought “A Trip to the Moon” to Steeplechase Park in 1902, space travel and aeronautics have been a fantasy theme in Coney’s amusement parks. When the Star Flyer Rocket debuted in 1962 as the first ride in Coney’s new space-age theme park, it was called the “Cape Canaveral Satellite Jet” (TIME), “The Spaceship Auditorium” (Billboard) and the “Cannonball Adderly Rocket” in anticipation of Adderly dedicating the rocket for Astroland’s official opening on July 1, 1962. The rocket was rechristened the “Astroland Moon Rocket” in 1963.

PS 16 field trip

PS 16 Students Visit the Wonder Wheel on Field Trip to Coney Island History Project, May 2013

This year we hope to continue our school programs, bringing Coney Island history to local schools and giving educational tours. Last year we were invited to work with sixty students at PS 226 and an after-school program at PS 16. We produced a film based on their artwork and poetry. Our unique walking tours continue to be offered year-round, attracting current and former New York residents as well as visitors from across the country and around the world.

We are now revamping our web site and online oral history archive. While the new site is under construction, some pages will be intermittently unavailable. Please be patient during the redesign, once it is complete you will see many new features, including the Director’s Blog.

souvenir photo Coney Island History Project

Visitors pose for souvenir photo with the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops at Coney Island History Project, August 2013

Happy Holidays from the Coney Island History Project!
Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Happy Holidays from the Coney Island History Project

Bringing the Astroland Rocket Home
Friday, November 22nd, 2013

The Coney Island History Project has answered the City’s RFP and submitted a proposal to bring the Astroland Rocket back to Coney Island. If our proposal is accepted we will assume ownership of the Rocket and plan to move it to a location near our exhibit center in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park provided by the park’s owners, Steve and Dennis Vourderis. History Project co-founder and Astroland owner Carol Albert has offered to pay the cost of moving the Rocket back to Coney Island.

If the rocket comes back to the location we have chosen, the restoration of the ride would be overseen by Steve Vourderis and it would become an educational exhibit designed by History Project director Charles Denson. Stacy and Steve Vourderis, who spearheaded the park’s annual History Day, hope to make the Rocket the centerpiece of next year’s celebration.

When Astroland was closing, the Albert family had long planned to preserve the Astroland Rocket by donating it to the Coney Island History Project, the not-for-profit organization they founded in 2004. CIHP director Charles Denson is the author of Coney Island and Astroland, which uses primary sources to tell the history of the park, and the curator of the CIHP exhibit “The Astroland Archives Photography Exhibit: Back to the Future.” Mr. Denson would have liked to keep the Rocket as an exhibit, but at the time the History Project’s exhibition center was under the Cyclone roller coaster and did not have parking space for a rocket.

Astroland Rocket

The Rocket was the first ride at Astroland and it defined the park’s space age theme when it opened in 1962. As one of the first of the “imaginary” space voyage simulators constructed during the Space Race, The attraction showed simulator films of “rocket rides” while the chassis “rocked” its viewers to outer space. The Ride, which has 26 seats, lasted about three minutes, the length of the film. Originally built as the “Star Flyer,” the Astroland Rocket later sat atop the boardwalk restaurant Gregory and Paul’s.

Mr Kennedy and Coney Island
Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Coney Island Lois Wilson

In 1928, when John F. Kennedy was a young boy living with his family in the Bronx (the Riverdale section, not the South Bronx), his father, Joe, was forming RKO studios and producing a movie called “Coney Island. ” The flick starred silent picture queen Lois Wilson and was directed by Ralph Ince.

Presented by Jopseh P. Kennedy

The motion picture industry had recently moved from Brooklyn (Vitagraph Studios in Midwood) to Hollywood and most of the Coney scenes were shot in Los Angeles. Promotion for the film described it as the story of ” a young woman swept up in the romantic magic of America’s favorite fun destination. . . “

Joseph P. Kennedy sold his movie studios in the early 1930s, went into the liquor business, and then into politics as President Roosevelt’s ambassador to Great Britain. The rest is history.

Coney Island, silent film

Mark Treyger Makes History!
Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Mark Treyger

The Coney Island History Project congratulates History teacher Mark Treyger on his election as Coney Island’s new councilman. Councilman-elect Treyger begins his term sporting an impressive public service record. His campaign focused on education, the environment, tenants’ rights, and youth employment, all issues vitally important to Coney Island. But perhaps his most important attribute is an understanding of history. Mr. Treyger is a fan of the book Coney Island: Lost and Found and he will now have a hand in shaping Coney’s place in history and the future of New York.

Coming Soon to the History Project’s Website: Then and Now
Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Coney Island History Project: Then and Now

Can you identify these still existing 19th-century Coney Island buildings?

One of the new features on our soon-to-be-released revamped website will identify historic Coney Island buildings, tell their histories, and show the structure’s evolution by using before and after photos.

Happy Halloween from Mr Cyclops and the Coney Island History Project
Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Spook-A-Rama Cyclops Coney Island

Happy Halloween from Mr. Cyclops and the Coney Island History Project! During the off-season, Coney Island History Project Walking Tours include a private visit to our exhibit center. This Spook-A-Rama veteran used to be on the roof of the iconic 1950s dark ride, which was restored after Sandy and is still in operation. “We didn’t just want to be back,” said Dennis Vourderis, who owns and operates Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park with his brother, Steve, in an article in the Wall St Journal. “We wanted to be better. We wanted to stay special.” The Cyclops is on loan from the Vourderis family of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park.

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