Coney Island History Blog - News
Great Grandson of Founder of Coney’s First Amusement Park Visits History Walls
Thursday, August 20th, 2015

Paul Boyton

Doesn’t Craig Dudley, great grandson of Paul Boyton, look like his famous ancestor? Boyton built Coney Island’s first enclosed amusement park – Sea Lion Park- in 1895. Erected on what would later become the original Luna Park, Sea Lion Park was a small collection of rides featuring the Shoot-the-Chutes water ride and the Flip-Flap looping coaster. Live sea lions also entertained visitors. Craig visited last weekend and posed for a souvenir photo with Charles Denson in front of the Coney Island History Project’s History Wall honoring his great grandfather. The History Walls are at Surf Pavilion on Stillwell Avenue.

History Walls Coney Island History Project

The five kiosk exhibit is an offshoot of the Wall of Fame that the History Project opened in 2005 on West 10th Street next to Astroland. Our goal was to honor the unsung visionaries, impresarios, inventors, craftsmen, and artisans whose creativity and ingenuity helped shape Coney Island. The project was later expanded to include landmarks and architectural history. Among the 15 honorees first inducted a decade ago and featured on the History Walls are Dr. Martin Couney, whose Coney Island incubator exhibit saved over 5,000 young lives; Lt. Commander James Strong, who built the Parachute Jump; Granville T. Woods, the African-American inventor of electric roller coasters; and Lady Deborah Moody, who founded the town of Gravesend. Visit our album on flickr to see more photos of the Walls.

Videos from 5th Annual History Day at Coney Island
Sunday, August 16th, 2015

Coney Island City Councilman and former history teacher Mark Treyger spoke fervently about the history of America’s First Playground at the 5th Annual History Day at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and State Senator Diane Savino also spoke about Coney Island’s history and its future at the opening ceremony.

Dancers from Brooklyn Swings danced the Charleston in honor of the Wonder Wheel, which is celebrating its 95th anniversary this season, and the Bop, in tribute to the 1955 spook-A-Rama dark ride.

We were honored to have Commendatore Aldo Mancusi, founder of the Enrico Caruso Museum, and his wife Lisa join us for History Day. Visitors who hand-cranked a tune on this Hofbauer street organ from the museum received a souvenir certificate commemorating the 95th anniversary of the Wonder Wheel.

Photos of the Week: Red, White & Blue-Clad Visitors on July 4th
Monday, July 6th, 2015

Coney Island History Project

On July 4th, visitors came from as far as Australia and as near as New York City’s five boroughs dressed in patriotic attire. They wore liberty-themed T-shirts; the Stars and Stripes; and red, white and blue from head to toe. Here are just a few of the souvenir photos that we snapped at the Coney Island History Project on Independence Day. Visit our flickr page to see the complete set.

Coney Island History Project

The History Project’s exhibition center is open Saturdays, Sundays and holidays through Labor Day. Visitors are invited to take free souvenir photos with “Skully,” a veteran of the Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama, and an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. New hours are 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

Coney Island History Project

“Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore” Opens May 23
Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920

Our first special exhibit of the season, opening on May 23, will be “Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920.” Stereoview photography of Coney Island began in the 1860s, providing the earliest documentation of the resort. This exhibit features original stereoview photo cards, antique stereo viewers, and enlargements of some of the oldest photographic images of Coney Island.

Long before television, radio, movies, and the internet, the main form of family home entertainment was an exciting new technology called stereoview photography. Most homes could afford a simple wooden hand viewer and a collection of stereoview cards that covered every subject imaginable.

The cards were actual photographs shot with a stereo bellows camera and pasted on a cardboard backing. The viewer split the card, creating a 3-D image, something that had never been possible before.

Coney Island was one of the earliest subjects photographed. During the 1860s Coney Island consisted of a tiny resort centered on Coney Island Creek at the terminus of Shell Road. The Coney Island Tollhouse, Wyckoff House and Oceanic Hotel were prominently featured in these vintage stereoviews, as was Coney Island Creek itself. Hunting, fishing and rowing on the creek were the main attractions in the resort’s early days.

Coney Island History Project: Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920

Late 19th century images included the Elephant Hotel, the first roller coasters, and a variety of humorous bathing attire. Our exhibit features modern enlargements of these early images, as well as the cards themselves. Commercial stereoviews continued to sell well into the 1930s.

While this form of stereo technology may seem primitive by modern standards, visitors to our exhibit can peer through an antique stereoviewer and experience the earliest days of Coney Island as it was transformed into the “Playground of the World.”

“Please join us on this journey into the heart of Coney Island and leave the digital world behind,” says Charles Denson, curator of the exhibit and director of the Coney Island History Project.

This program is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and our members and contributors.

Coney Island History Project Exhibit Center, Steeplechase Horse and Giant Skull

Located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, the Coney Island History Project is just a few steps off the Boardwalk. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island’s colorful past. Visitors are also invited to take free souvenir photos with an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name and “Skully,” a giant skull that is a veteran of Coney’s Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama.

The History Project’s exhibition center season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. New hours are 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

Join our unique walking tours based on Charles Denson’s award-winning book Coney Island: Lost and Found, the interviews from CIHP’s Oral History Archive, and other primary sources. Visit our online reservation site to see the walking tour schedule and purchase advance tickets online or book a group tour.

Coney Island Creek: It’s My Estuary Day, ConeyIslandCreek.org, Video Tour
Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

It's My Estuary Day

You’re invited to It’s My Estuary Day on May 30 from 10:00AM-4:00PM, a day of service, learning and celebration along Coney Island Creek in Kaiser Park! The rain date is Sunday May 31.

Events will include a coastal clean-up, tables representing environmental organizations, demonstrations of water chemistry techniques, oyster monitoring projects, underwater robotics, diving demonstrations, and eco-chats with scientists and ecologists.

Participants include: NYCDOE * NYC Department of Environmental Protection * New York State Department of Environmental Conservation * NYC Partnerships for Parks * NYC Department of Sanitation * New York Aquarium * New York State Marine Education Association (NYSMEA) * Coney Island History Project * US Navy Sea Perch Project * Billion Oyster Project * The Historical Diving Society * Coney Island Beautification Project * Atlantic Engineering * Brooklyn Marine Alliance * Captain Mikes Diving * Cultural Research Divers * The Northeast Diving Equipment Group * Parachute Literary Arts * Union Divers Local 1556 * IS 228 * John Dewey High School * PS 188 * Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies

Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project will give a talk and tour of Coney Creek at It’s My Estuary Day. Visitors may also take a self-guided walking tour by following the markers created for the Coney Island CreekWalk by the History Project with the support of Partnerships for Parks.

Last month, Charles Denson launched http://www.coneyislandcreek.org, his new website about Coney Island Creek. “I felt that it was important to create a site that provides a resource for people interested in discovering the creek’s history and ecology, and its potential for the future.” he said. “It’s important for the public to be informed and have a voice as the city is conducting a feasibility study to mitigate future flooding in the area and the waterway might be transformed in many ways in the near future.”

The site will have videos, photo essays, maps, interviews with community members, news, and historical photographs and information. Among the first videos on the new site is this kayak tour of the Creek at high tide.

History Project Seeks Southern Brooklyn Immigrants for Oral History Interviews
Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

Antonetta DelCore

Italian immigrants celebrating the Feast of the Assumption of Mary on the beach with Antonetta DelCore, “Queen of Coney Island” from the 1940s until her death in 1973.

Today as always, visitors of every age, race, color, and country of origin mingle on Coney Island’s beach and boardwalk. In the late 19th and early 20th century, it was German, Italian and Greek immigrants, now it’s Russian, Chinese, Pakistani and Haitian families, among others, who have settled in Coney Island and the adjacent neighborhoods of Gravesend, Bensonhurst and Brighton Beach.

The Coney Island History Project is seeking Southern Brooklyn immigrants to record oral histories for a new program debuting this year. As part of the New York City Council’s citywide Cultural Immigrant Initiative, we are conducting interviews with immigrants and foreign-born New Yorkers in English as well as languages such as Chinese and Russian.

Please email events[AT]coneyislandhistory[DOT]org for info or to schedule an appointment if you or someone you know would like to share a story. Interviews may be conducted at our recording studio or your home or office, as well as at senior centers and community centers, where we will be presenting slide talks about the history of immigrants in Coney Island.

This program is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger.

May 12: Panel Discussion on “Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1860-2008″
Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

Red Grooms, Weegee 1940, 1998-99, acrylic on paper, Private Collection. Image Courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York; © 2013 Red Grooms/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Red Grooms, Weegee 1940, 1998-99, acrylic on paper, Private Collection. Image Courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York; © 2013 Red Grooms/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

On May 12th, the New York Public Library will host a conversation inspired by Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008, the exhibit at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and the Yale University Press publication of the same title. The panelists are the exhibit’s curator Robin Jaffee Frank (Wadsworth Atheneum), Charles Denson (Coney Island History Project), Terry Carbone (Brooklyn Museum), Charles Musser (Yale University), and guest artist Red Grooms.

The Art Book Series event will be held from 6:00pm-8:00PM at the 42nd Street Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. The event is free to the public. Auditorium doors open at 5:30PM.

Charles Denson has been a consultant and a member of the exhibit’s project team for the past five years and has contributed numerous ephemera and prints from his personal archive, as well as writing a chapter for the exhibit catalog.

The exhibit Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland is on view in Hartford through May 31 before traveling to the San Diego Museum of Art, July 11, 2015 – October 13, 2015; Brooklyn Museum, November 20, 2015 – March 13, 2016; and the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, May 11, 2016 – September 11, 2016. It features more than 140 paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, posters, architectural artifacts, carousel animals, ephemera and film clips.

Photos of the Week: Coney Island History Project on Coney’s Opening Day
Wednesday, April 15th, 2015

Coney Island History Project

Polar Bear Club Member Eddie Mark and Coney Island City Councilman Mark Treyger pose for a souvenir photo with ‘Skully,’ a veteran of Spook-A-Rama and the Spookhouse, and the newest addition to our exhibit center.

After special hours on Palm Sunday and Easter, the History Project is currently open for weekend walking tours and group visits. Visit our online reservation site to see the walking tour schedule and purchase advance tickets online. For info on booking a group tour, email events@coneyislandhistory.org.

Coney Island History Project

This 3-year-old, one of our youngest visitors, and his dad are regulars at Coney Island Always, the miniature animated amusement park in the window next door.

The Steeplechase Park fan seen below poses with our original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave the park its name. Visit our flickr page to view more photos from Opening Day and Easter

Our regular exhibition season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. New hours in 2015 will be from 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

Coney Island History Project

March 29: Coney Island’s Opening Day, History Project Exhibit Center Preview of 2015 Season
Monday, March 23rd, 2015

You’re invited to preview the Coney Island History Project’s exhibition center season on Coney’s Opening Day. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island’s colorful past and preview selections from upcoming exhibits. Among the new additions for Opening Day is “Skully,” a Giant Skull which came from the Coney Island Hysterical Society‘s Spookhouse, formerly the Dragon’s Cave dark ride, and later found a home at Spook-A-Rama, thanks to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park’s Vourderis family. Like the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, which was previously on display at the History Project, the Skull’s eye sockets light up, and will soon move again with a little electrical work.

Coney Island History Project Exhibit Center

Dark ride veteran ‘Skully’ poses for his first souvenir photo at our exhibit center with Steve Vourderis, Denos Vourderis and Charles Denson. Take a selfie with him on Opening Day!

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, March 29th, and again on Easter Sunday, April 5th, from 1:00PM till 6:00PM. Our regular exhibition season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. New hours will be from 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

Our first special exhibit of the season, opening on Memorial Day Weekend, will be “Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920.” Stereoview photography of Coney Island began in the 1860s, providing the earliest documentation of the resort. This exhibit features original stereoview photo cards, antique stereo viewers, and enlargements of some of the oldest photographic images of Coney Island.

Coney Island Stereoviews at Coney Island History Project

Join our unique walking tours 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. Tours and group visits to the exhibit center are given year-round. Visit our online reservation site to see the walking tour schedule and purchase advance tickets online or book a group tour.

Palm Sunday is the official season opener for Coney Island’s rides and attractions. The Opening Day celebration starts at 10:30AM on the Boardwalk with the annual tradition of the Blessing of the Rides at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park by Pastor Debbie Santiago of Coney Island’s Salt and Sea Mission. Built in 1920 by the Eccentric Ferris Wheel Company, Deno’s Wonder Wheel is celebrating its 95th season with a free ride on Opening Day for the first 95 riders. At the 1927 Cyclone, where the first 100 people on line ride for free, the annual Egg Cream Christening of the roller coaster’s front car is at 12 noon. The Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone are official New York City Landmarks.

At the Coney Island History Project, visitors are invited to take a FREE souvenir photo with “Skully” or our original Steeplechase horse from the ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. Hope to see you at this year’s festivities!

February 28: Charles Denson Talk at Wadsworth Atheneum’s Coney Island Symposium
Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Trailer Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland

Official Trailer: Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008

On Saturday, February 28th, Charles Denson will present a slide talk on the Coney Island History Project’s mission and origins as part of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art’s Coney Island Symposium: An Intersection of Art and Identity. The exhibit Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008, which opened on January 31st at the Wadsworth, features more than 140 paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, posters, architectural artifacts, carousel animals, ephemera and film clips. The symposium begins with a keynote address by Exhibition Curator and Chief Curator Robin Jaffee Frank, followed by a series of panel discussions and special presentations.

Charles Denson has been a consultant and a member of the exhibit’s project team for the past six years and has contributed numerous ephemera and prints from his personal archive, as well as writing a chapter for the exhibit’s catalog. He also recorded descriptions of artwork for the show’s audio tour. Selections from the Coney Island History Project’s vast archive of oral history recordings were used in the “Step Right Up!” interactive listening station that accompanies the show.

“Robin Jaffee Frank first contacted me in 2009, during the show’s earliest planning stage,” Denson said. “At our first group meeting at the Yale University Art Gallery in 2010, Robin revealed her ambitious plan for a show that explored Coney Island in a way that had never been attempted before. Her Coney Island theme included artifacts, prints, film, sheet music, and the best examples of modern art as well as the classical paintings that depict the earliest years of Coney Island, a subject that I had always found fascinating. I am extremely honored to be a part of this exhibition.”

Charles Denson and Robin Jaffee Frank

Charles Denson and Robin Jaffee Frank, 2012

Among the artifacts in the Wadsworth exhibit is the 1955 Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, which was a popular attraction at the Coney Island History Project’s exhibit center for the past two years. According to a review of the Wadsworth show in the Hartford Courant, “The five-foot-tall wall-mounted sculpture, loaned to the exhibit by the family who runs Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, is installed at the entrance to the exhibit galleries, flanked by two creepy paintings by Arnold Mesches, in which Cy presides over sinister-looking amusement parks.”

The Coney Island exhibit is on view in Hartford through May 31, 2015 before traveling to the San Diego Museum of Art, July 11, 2015 – October 13, 2015; Brooklyn Museum, November 20, 2015 – March 13, 2016; and the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, May 11, 2016 – September 11, 2016.

Cyclops Wadsworth Athenuem

Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park’s Stacy Vourderis visiting the park’s Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, which is part of the Coney Island exhibit at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT

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