Archive for March, 2011
April 16-17: Our New Exhibit Center Opens at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park
Thursday, March 31st, 2011


The Coney Island History Project is moving into a new exhibition center below the Wonder Wheel and will be open for a preview on Coney Island’s opening weekend of the 2011 season. “We’re grateful to the Vourderis family, operators of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, for providing us a space and for their interest in preserving Coney Island’s heritage,” said historian and History Project director Charles Denson. “Our recording studio will be open for people to record their Coney Island memories.”

The new exhibition center will be open 1 to 6 pm on Saturday, April 16 and Sunday, April 17. Admission is free of charge. On Sunday, starting at 11 am with the 33-year-old family tradition of the “Blessing of the Rides,” Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park will host an opening day celebration. Hope to see you at the festivities!


Stop by our exhibition center to view historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island’s colorful past and preview selections from our 2011 season. This year’s exhibitions will feature never-before-seen vintage films and photos, folk art treasures, and rediscovered wonders from Wonder Wheel Park. Our popular Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name will be on display again, along with a rare Mangels “Fairy Whip” car and the original Coney Island toll house sign from 1823. Colorful banners depicting honorees of the Coney Island Hall of Fame will also be on display on Jones Walk in Wonder Wheel Park.

You’ll find the Coney Island History Project’s new exhibition center under the Wonder Wheel’s iconic entrance sign on Denos D. Vourderis Place (West 12th Street), just a few steps off the Boardwalk. Our regular exhibition season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day. Hours are 1 to 6 pm on Saturdays, Sunday and holidays. The exhibit center is open year-round by appointment for schools and groups. For additional info, e-mail

100th Anniversary of the Dreamland Fire: Exhibition & Walking Tours
Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

The Aftermath of the Dreamland Fire

On May 27, 1911, a huge fire illuminated the sky and sent fire companies from all over Brooklyn rushing to Coney Island. Dreamland Park was ablaze. Unlike Steeplechase Park or the Bowery which were rebuilt after being destroyed by fire, Dreamland would be no more. “The catastrophic fire happened in 1911 but its lingering aftermath still affects Coney Island land use policy a century later,” said Charles Denson. “As soon as the ashes cooled, the city took over the site and has been claiming beachfront parcels ever since.”

When the Coney Island History Project opens on Memorial Day Weekend, we’ll commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Dreamland Fire with an exhibition of photos and a themed walking tour. Historic images of Dreamland before and after the fire will be juxtaposed with the site as it is today and how it developed over the last hundred years. The exhibit will be illuminated by oral history interviews with the 101-year-old son of the Coney Island police chief on duty that night and the granddaughter of the Coney Island fire chief who fought the blaze.

Charles Denson, History Project director and the author of Coney Island: Lost and Found, will lead a walking tour on Friday, May 27. To receive advance info on the tour, which will be by reservation, please sign up for our e-mail list.

Listen Online to Memories of People Who Worked & Played in Coney
Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

John Rea revisits Coney with son Jace

We have several new interviews on our website featuring people who have worked in Coney’s amusement-related businesses, often from a very young age. Their families made a living here for decades and Coney left an indelible impression on their lives. You can find and listen online to selected interviews in our Oral History Archive via our searchable database, which is organized by theme, place, period and interviewee.

John Rea, currently an advertising professional and adjunct professor at the School of Visual Arts, began his career as a teenage sign painter in Coney Island. He also talks about working for his father in Peluso Machine and Iron Works Shop, which manufactured replacement parts for Coney’s rides.

Jimmy McCullough

Jimmy McCullough is a longtime operator of Coney’s carousels, including the B & B Carousell, and the current operator of the kiddie park on the Bowery. Working in Coney Island is a family business going back generations for Jimmy, who is a great grandson of Steeplechase founder George C.Tilyou. He has also worked in partnership with his daughters to operate traveling rides starting with the SkyWheel in Toronto.

Michael Onorato is the son of James Onorato, who was the general manager of Steeplechase for 36 years. Michael remembers the park in vivid detail and describes growing up there, including a start-to-finish account of going on the Parachute Jump.

John Dorman

Coney Island’s Philip’s Candy Store has moved to Staten Island, but owner John Dorman recalls his decades open for business in the Stillwell Avenue terminal. The shop originally opened in 1930 in that location, but Dorman began working there in 1947, when he was 17. He recalls some of the changes he saw over the decades he worked in Coney Island.

During the season and throughout the year, people are invited to record their Coney Island memories for our Oral History Archive. We hope you’ll stop by or make an appontment to share your story. You may schedule an interview in advance by emailing

Charles Denson Debuts “Coneyologist” Channel on YouTube
Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Screenshot from “Seasons of the Cyclone” Photo © Charles Denson

“Seasons of the Cyclone” by History Project director Charles Denson is a close-up look at the Cyclone roller coaster that takes you inside the motor room and lets you walk the tracks. You can watch the video on Denson’s new “Coneyologist” channel on YouTube. Also on view is “Secrets of the Universe,” a six-minute short that premiered at last year’s Coney Island Film Festival.

If you haven’t visited the History Project’s Facebook page yet, please drop by and “like” us. You can follow us year round on Facebook, twitter, flickr and our blog Ask Mr Coney Island.

© 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.