Coney Island History Blog - News
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. 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

Free Events on History Day at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park & The Coney Island History Project
Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

History Day at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park Coney Island History Project

On History Day, visitors may take a peek inside the Astroland Rocket, previously sealed shut for 45 years!

Enjoy live music, entertainment and history at the 4th Annual History Day at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, home of the landmark 1920 Wonder Wheel, and at the Coney Island History Project. The free event will be held from 1-6pm on Saturday, August 9. The rain date is August 10.

The theme of this year’s festivities is the return of the Astroland Rocket, one of the first of the “imaginary” space voyage simulators constructed during the Space Race. Astroland Park’s 1962 Rocket was brought back to Coney Island in June 2014 by the History Project and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, where its new home is next to the Wonder Wheel. The Rocket will be restored as a multimedia exhibit covering the history of flight-themed attractions in Coney Island.

History Day will blast off with a dedication ceremony at the Rocket at 2pm, Visitors are invited to take a peek inside the space-age icon, previously sealed shut for 45 years! Tang & MoonPies will be served to the first 500 guests. DJ George Marchelos and The Rockinghams will play retro ’60s music and space-themed songs from 11am-6pm.

Premiere screenings of Charles Denson’s new film “The Rocket Has Landed” will be held at the Coney Island History Project from 1-6pm. The 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 rocket was installed as the first space-themed ride at Astroland Park in 1962 before being moved to a rooftop location on the Boardwalk that made it a landmark for millions of Coney Island visitors over a period of several decades. Four years after it was donated to the City, the Coney Island History Project spearheaded a successful effort to return the rocket to Coney Island where it is now on display at Wonder Wheel Park.

Bill Sharkey

Bill Sharkey playing his Jaeger & Brommer street organ at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Pavilion on the Boardwalk

Returning for an encore performance on History Day are organ grinders from the Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors Association (AMICA) and the Carousel Organ Association of America (COAA) playing both antique and home-built hand-cranked musical organs. From 1pm-6pm, visitors will have the chance to crank some of the organs and experience a thrill from days gone by.

Queens residents Vincent and Maryam Morgan will play their Castlewood 20-note crank organ. The Morgans are president and treasurer of the Lady Liberty Chapter of AMICA, whose members enjoy musical instruments such as player pianos, orchestrions, nickelodeons, band organs and music boxes. The membership is from New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania and southern Connecticut.

Ian Fraser, 13, of Staten Island, is the youngest member of AMICA and COAA. His 1881 Celestina Organette was made by the Mechanical Orguinette Company of New York at their factory in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. This type of organ was one of the best selling models of its day and was the equivalent to today’s iPod. It allowed the most popular music of the time to be played again and again. It was a first in the history of music.

Ian Fraser History Day Deno's Wonder Wheel Park

Ian Fraser, 13, of Staten Island, playing his 1881 Celestina Organette manufactured in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Bill and Rita Sharkey of Long Island will play a street organ made in Germany by Jaeger & Brommer, whose craftsmanship is based on a 200-year tradition of organ building in Waldkirch. It plays a 20-note paper roll by turning the hand crank located on the side of the organ.

Will and Joanna Schultz are traveling from Pennsylvania with their 26-note Universal John Smith crank organ. Will worked 2-1/2 years to build it entirely from scratch using wood from a scrap pile and designed his own cabinet.

Also from Pennsylvania is Mark Pall, whose interest in building hand-cranked organs grew out of his background as a church organist. He will play a John Smith organ that he built and redesigned himself.

The rally is curated by band organ restorer and magician Bob Yorburg, who is Vice President of COAA. He will perform his interactive show “Professor Phineas Feelgood’s World of Magic” at 4pm in Dreamland Plaza adjacent to the Coney Island History Project.

The organ rally and magic show are free to the public and will be held at the Coney Island History Project, Dreamland Pedestrian Plaza on 12th Street and in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Gazebo on the Boardwalk.

History Day at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and Coney Island History Project

Free entertainment on History Day includes Professor Phineas Feelgood’s World of Magic at 4pm in Dreamland Plaza (W 12th Street) adjacent to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Islad History Project

On History Day, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park will have a special display of historic artifacts and signage from Spook-A-Rama, the park’s legendary dark ride, which opened in 1955. The first 500 people who ride the Wonder Wheel will receive a limited edition commemorative button as a gift. The Wheel opens at 11am on History Day.

Among the artifacts on view at the Coney Island History Project exhibit center are an original Steeplechase horse from the ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name, the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops from Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, hand-painted figures from Astroland’s Musik Express, a Mangels Fairy Whip Car made in Coney Island in the early 1900s, and vintage signs and game pieces. Admission to the exhibit center and film screenings is free of charge. The Coney Island History Project will be open from 12-6pm on History Day.

Jeff Wilday Coney Island History Project

Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and Coney Island History Project

3059 West 12th Street, Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY 11224

D, F, N or Q train to Stillwell Terminal

Phone: 347-702-8553 (Coney Island History Project)

Phone: 718-372-2592 (Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park)

http://www.coneyislandhistory.org/

http://www.wonderwheel.com/

August 9: History Day at Wonder Wheel Park & Coney Island History Project
Monday, July 14th, 2014

History Day

Save the Date! Saturday, August 9th, 2014, from 1pm – 6pm, is the 4th Annual History Day Celebration at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project.

History Day festivities include free live entertainment, music and history. This year, we’re also planning a special event to celebrate the return of the Astroland Rocket, the 1960s space-age icon which came home to Coney Island in June and has landed next to the Wonder Wheel in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Stay tuned for details of this exciting event to be announced soon!

Returning for an encore performance on History Day are organ grinders from the Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors Association (AMICA) and the Carousel Organ Association of America (COAA) playing hand-cranked musical organs from around the world. Throughout the day, visitors will have the chance to crank some of the organs and experience a thrill from days gone by. The rally is curated by band organ restorer and magician Bob Yorburg, who will perform his interactive show “Professor Phineas Feelgood’s World of Magic.”

The organ rally, magic show and other performances TBA are free to the public and will be held at the Coney Island History Project, Dreamland Pedestrian Plaza on 12th Street and in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park.

On History Day, the Coney Island History Project will feature special exhibits as well as historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films from our archive. Among the artifacts on view are an original Steeplechase horse from the ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name, the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops from Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, hand-painted figures from Astroland’s Musik Express, a Mangels Fairy Whip Car made in Coney Island in the early 1900s, and vintage signs and game pieces. Admission is free of charge.

The Astroland Rocket Has Landed Back Home In Coney Island!
Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

1960s Space Age icon and First Ride in Astroland Park Brought Back by Coney Island History Project and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park

Astroland Rocket Wonder Wheel Park

Astroland Rocket Back Home in Coney Island — Next to the Wonder Wheel in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park! Photo © Charles Denson. June 4, 2014

The famed Astroland Rocket Ship, one of the first and only surviving early amusement park “simulators,” returned home to Coney Island today after five years in storage at Staten Island’s Homeport. It debuted in 1962 at Astroland Park as one of the first of the “imaginary” space voyage simulators constructed during the Space Race. The Rocket 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. After Astroland closed in 2008, Carol and Jerry Albert, owners of Astroland Park, donated the Rocket to the City, which promised to make it a centerpiece of the new, revitalized amusement and entertainment district.

Astroland Rocket June 3, 2014

Astroland Rocket loaded up at Staten Island’s Homeport ready to go home to Coney Island. Photo © Charles Denson. June 3, 2014

In November, the Coney Island History Project answered an RFP by the City’s Economic Development Corporation to bring the Astroland Rocket back to Coney Island. Our proposal was accepted and a few days ago we assumed ownership of the Rocket. Just after midnight, the Rocket began its journey home from Staten Island 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 paid the cost of moving the Rocket back to Coney Island.

“The Rocket has finally landed back home in Coney Island where it belongs. Thanks to the History Project and Carol Albert for making it happen,” said Steve Vourderis, co-owner of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, who with his wife Stacy spearheaded the park’s annual History Day. They hope to make the Rocket the centerpiece of this year’s celebration on August 9.

“The Coney Island History project has found a safe new place to house the Rocket at Wonder Wheel Park,” said Carol Hill Albert, co-founder of the History Project with Jerry Albert, whose family owned and operated Astroland Park from 1962 until its closing in 2008. “Stacey and Steve Vouderis are the proud new caretakers of this classic ride which they will restore and will be used as an exhibition space.”

Star Flyer copyright Astroland Archives Coney Island History Project

“Outer space simulators have played a prominent role in Coney’s amusement history,” said Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project and author of Coney Island: Lost and Found. “It began when Thompson and Dundy brought ‘A Trip to the Moon’ to Steeplechase Park in 1902 and culminated in 1962, at the height of the space race, with Astroland’s Moon Rocket . The ride provided visitors with an exciting taste of intergalactic travel. The Astroland Rocket has now returned to a place of honor beside the landmark Wonder Wheel, where it will be restored as an exhibit showcasing Coney Island’s fascination with space travel.”

The restoration of the Rocket, which was seriously damaged during Superstorm Sandy, will be overseen by Steve Vourderis and it will become an educational exhibit designed by Charles Denson. The Rocket exhibit will cover the history of flight-themed attractions in Coney Island, encompassing science, amusements, photos and films.

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.

Astroland Moon Rocket © Coney Island History Project

“The Face Of Steeplechase” Opening May 24 at the Coney Island History Project
Monday, May 19th, 2014

The Face of Steeplechase, Coney Island History Project

The Coney Island History Project’s first special exhibit of the season, opening on Memorial Day Weekend, will be “The Face of Steeplechase Park: Gams, Garters, and Stockings!” A look behind the smiling face of Steeplechase Park features rare photographs and artwork from the park’s opening to its demolition, 1897-1966.

Opening 50 years after the closure of Steeplechase Park and 100 years after the death of the park’s founder, George C. Tilyou, the exhibit at the Coney Island History Project explores the underlying success of the park and the evolution and meaning of its idiosyncratic logo — the “Steeplechase Funny Face.”

Tilyou, an expert at crowd psychology, began his career as a young boy selling bottles of sand to visitors at his father’s beachfront bathhouse and restaurant during the 1860s. Decades later, he created Steeplechase Park, Coney’s most successful and long-lived amusement park.

The park’s quirky trademark was the grinning “Funny Face,” an enigmatic symbol of the park’s underlying theme of merriment, hilarity, and, most importantly, sex. The much-imitated face underwent numerous revisions during the park’s run. Sometimes it was a gleeful, maniacal visage; at other times, it appeared as inscrutable as the Mona Lisa. Was the face a mask for Tilyou or did it represent his true personality? This exhibit examines the many variations through the decades.

Highbrow and lowbrow culture existed simultaneously at Steeplechase. The 15-acre park was an enclosed wonderland composed of classical architecture and formal gardens tended by brightly uniformed employees. But underlying it was a theme of sex and titillation, a beguilingly Victorian version of sexuality and romance expressed by a leg or petticoat exposed by a tumble or a hidden jet of air. The experience was simultaneously innocent and kinky.

The Insanitorium Steeplechase Park, Coney Island History Project

Tilyou forced the visitor to be part of the show. His main attractions were designed to offer the public a combination of voyeurism and exhibitionism, to put them onstage and make them part of the act. The Insanitorium (originally called the Blow Hole Theater), the Barrel of Love, the Human Roulette Wheel, and the Bounding Billows were contraptions created to break down inhibitions by luring visitors into disorienting traps where anyone “could end up in an intimate arm-and-leg tangle with complete strangers.”

Looking back, 50 years after the park closed, it’s difficult to believe that something like the Blow Hole Theater, with its hallucinatory stage set, electric paddle-wielding clown, and skirt-lifting air grates, lasted as long as it did. Many of the park’s attractions could not exist in today’s litigious, politically correct culture. The only survivor of this bizarre period remains the iconic Funny Face, the symbol of an innocent and repressed world.

“The Face of Steeplechase” is curated by Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson. The exhibit is on view from May 24 through September 1 (Labor Day), 2014. The Coney Island History Project’s exhibition center is located under Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park’s iconic entrance sign at 3059 West 12th Street, just a few steps off the Boardwalk. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island’s colorful past and special exhibits. Our popular Steeplechase Horse from the ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name is on display along with Spook-A-Rama’s Cyclops from Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, hand-painted figures from Astroland’s Musik Express, a Mangels Fairy Whip Car made in Coney Island in the early 1900s, and vintage signs and game pieces.

The exhibit center is open Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day, from 12 noon till 6pm. Admission is free of charge.

The Face of Steeplechase, Coney Island History Project

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.

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