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.

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.

October 31st, 2013

Merryl Kafak and Charles Denson

The New York State Marine Education Association presented the Herman Melville Literary Award to Charles Denson at their annual conference. “NYSMEA is pleased to recognize Charles Denson’s contributions to marine education through the Coney Island History Project,” said Dr. Meghan Marrero, President of NYSMEA. “His books, audio walking tours, and other works are important and timely. The NYSMEA Herman Melville Literary Award is a well-deserved honor.”

The award is presented to a member or non-member who has made a major contribution to the world of maritime literature and/or art. Mr. Denson has documented the Coney Island Creek for over 40 years and is working on a book and film about the waterway. In the photo above, he is at the award ceremony with Dr. Merryl Kafka, NYSMEA board member and co-founder of the Rachel Carson HS of Coastal Studies in Coney Island.

“Coney Island as a resort began not on the ocean but on the banks of the Creek nearly two hundred years ago,” says Denson. “The first hotel, restaurant and amusement park opened on the banks of Coney Island creek, and the history goes back nearly 400 years. The creek has great potential.” Last year, Charles Denson and the Coney Island History Project received a grant from the Partnership for Parks to create CreekWalk, a self-guided walking tour brochure and a series of informational plaques installed on the creek side of Kaiser Park.

Coney Island Creek Self-Guided Tour

October 25th, 2013

The Storm by Charles Denson

This month, on the 1st anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, Charles Denson’s “The Storm” is screening at the Brooklyn Art Council’s Scene:Brooklyn Film Series on a program with Sandy-themed documentaries on October 29. On the West Coast, the film will be shown October 26 at the Berkeley Video and Film Festival, where it won a Grand Festival Award.

Mr. Denson’s 20-minute documentary shows rare and dramatic footage of the storm coming ashore on the evening of October 29, 2012, as well as preparations for the storm, the surge at Coney Island and Sea Gate, and the storm’s aftermath. It begins with footage of Hurricane Donna striking Coney Island shot by his mother in 1960. Mr. Denson rode out Sandy in Sea Gate, where his apartment and car were destroyed by the storm surge.

“I thought, ‘nobody’s filming this. I’ve got to record this,'” Denson said in an interview in the Brooklyn Paper when the film premiered at last month’s Coney Island Film Festival. “I realized, it’s very different when you actually experience something and put your life on the line to record something,” Denson said.

Scene Brooklyn 2013

Tuesday, October 29: From the Floodlines, BAC’s Scene: Brooklyn Film Series Venue: Galapagos Art Space, 16 Main Street, DUMBO Doors Open at 7pm, Screening 8pm – 9:40pm –This year’s BAC film series runs from October 25-October 29 and features films and media art inspired by or relating to Sandy and its aftermath. –Tickets are $10. Info here. Saturday, October 26: Berkeley Video and Film Festival Venue: East Bay Media Center, 1939 Addison St, Berkeley Arts District Screening at 5:50pm –Ticket info here.

The Storm by Charles Denson

September 27th, 2013

Coney Island History Project Walking Tour

The Coney Island History Project’s exhibit center season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day, but we continue to offer walking tours 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

Coney Island History Project

September 24th, 2013

Coney Island Dune

Remember the dunes that were created by the US Army Corps of Engineers on West 15th Street after Sandy? “Coney Island Dune: Leaving Sandy Behind” by Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson is a lyrical look at the temporary sand dunes. The sand was cleaned and then returned to the beach by the Parks Department after having been collected from the streets where it had been swept by the storm. You can see the film on Denson’s Coneyologist channel on YouTube. Also on view are “Requiem for the Astrotower,” “Woody Guthrie’s 100th Birthday, Celebrated at Coney Island” and “Secrets of the Universe,” a short that premiered at the 2010 Coney Island Film Festival.

September 16th, 2013

The Storm by Charles Denson

Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson rode out Superstorm Sandy in Sea Gate, where his apartment and car were destroyed by the storm surge. On Sunday, September 22, his documentary “The Storm” is premiering at the Coney Island Film Festival. The 20-minute film shows rare and dramatic footage of the storm coming ashore on the evening of October 29, 2012, as well as preparations for the storm, the surge at Coney Island and Sea Gate, and the storm’s aftermath.

“The Storm” is part of Program 16, featuring several Coney Island-themed films, at 6pm. Tickets are $7. Advance ticket purchase is recommended. The screening venue is Sideshows by the Seashore at Coney Island USA, 1208 Surf Avenue, ground floor.

On September 22, prior to the film screening, the Coney Island History Project exhibit center will be open special hours, from 3-5pm. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island’s colorful past. The exhibit center is located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Admission is free of charge.

August 21st, 2013

Jimmy McCullough

When Jimmy McCullough visited the History Project to sit for an interview a few years back, I felt that I was in the presence of Coney royalty. He was a man of few words, quiet and hardworking and, like most of the Coney old-timers, someone who rarely left his business during the season. Jimmy was related to three of Coney’s pioneer families: the Tilyous, Stubbmanns, and McCulloughs. When the McCullough’s Kiddie Park lease was not renewed by Thor Equities last year, the McCullough’s little park on the Bowery was forced to close, becoming another one of Thor’s vacant lots in the heart of Coney Island. 2013 is the first year since 1862 that there has not been a Tilyou descendant operating in Coney Island.

Jimmy and his family operated numerous small amusement parks and carousels in Coney Island, including the B&B Carousell, which was purchased by the City in 2006 and returned to Coney’s Boardwalk earlier this year. Jimmy was a man of many talents who could build or fix anything mechanical and he knew the amusement business inside and out. He was a friend of the Coney Island History Project and will be sorely missed by all those who knew him and worked with him. His death brings a close to a golden age of Coney Island History –Charles Denson

Charles Denson’s interview with Jimmy McCullough is part of the Coney Island History Project’s Oral History Archive and may be listened to online here.

Services for Jimmy McCullough will be held this week. The family will receive friends at William E. Law Funeral Home, 1 Jerusalem Ave, Massapequa, NY on Thursday, August 22, 7-9PM and Friday, August 23, 2-4:30PM and 7-9PM. The funeral will be on Saturday, August 24, at 10AM at Maria Regina R.C. Church, 3945 Jerusalem Ave, Seaford, NY.

August 2nd, 2013

Organ Grinder Lola and Master Bob

A bevy of organ grinders from the Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors Association (AMICA) and the Carousel Organ Association of America (COAA) will join the History Day celebration at the Coney Island History Project and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park on Saturday, August 10, from 1pm – 6pm. The rally was curated by Bob Yorburg, a band organ restorer, magician and carousel carver, who performed at the History Project last season and restored Grandma’s Predictions for Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park.

“Hand cranked organs have appeared throughout the streets of New York and in Coney Island for nearly 100 years,” says Yorburg, who explains that cranking the organ moves a bellows that provides air to sound the pipes. A roll of paper with holes punched in it creates the music that you hear. “You would often hear people singing along to the music. This form of entertainment predates all other forms of musical reproduction including radio, television and electronic media. Now, for one day only, we are bringing back these free performances with strolling and stationary organs.”

Organ Grinder Lola and Master Bob, originally from Baden-Baden, Germany and now based in the Washington, DC area, will appear on the Dreamland Plaza stage on West 12th Street at 3pm. “We’ll perform German Moritaten, 19th century street ballads of broken hearts, murder and mayhem,” says Lola. “And, of course, the most famous Moritat of them all, ‘Mackie Messer,’ gangster rap from 1920s Berlin. Plus other fun sing-along songs in English, like the Ballad of Anne Boleyn! Great fun.”

Ian Fraser, age 12, of Staten Island, is one of the youngest members of COAA and will perform on Saturday in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Kiddie Park. He is the proud owner of a Celestina Organette, a small hand-cranked organ built in 1881 by the Mechanical Orguinette Co of New York. Ian has performed at band organ rallies at Knoebels, Quassy, Wurlitzer, and Olcott Beach.

Hofbauer Organ

Members of the New York chapter of AMICA performing on History Day include Vincent and Maryam Morgan on their Castlewood organ in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Kiddie Park; Buzz Rosa and Barbara on their Hofbauer organ and Jerry and Cheryl Maler, also on a German Hofbauer organ, in front of the Coney Island History Project; and Bill and Rita Sharkey with their Jager & Brommer Organ, alternating with Bob Stuhmer and Walter Kehoe on Accordeon, at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Gazebo on the Boardwalk.

“You will hear an art form that all but died a half a century ago,” says Yorburg. “It is now experiencing a renaissance that will be shared for free by enthusiasts. These people have restored, built and bought organs that will be shared with the public.” Throughout the day, spectators will have the chance to crank some of the organs and experience a thrill from days gone by.

July 30th, 2013

history day

Live Music, Entertainment and History!

Celebrate Historic Coney Island Saturday August 10th from 1pm-6pm by attending the Third Annual HISTORY DAY presented by Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park & The Coney Island History Project, at the new W.12th Street Dreamland Pedestrian Plaza!

History Day festivities include live Ragtime and Dixieland music by the Banjo Rascals, old timey Organ Grinders playing hand cranked musical organs from around the world, Professor Phineas Feelgood’s World of Magic, HumanToon/Street Sorcerer Kevin C Carr, and the always amazing Lady Circus! The performances are free to the public and will be held at the Coney Island History Project, the Pedestrian Plaza on 12th Street and in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Kiddie Park. This special event is free and open to the public

Mary Alice in 1920s Garb on Hisory Day at Deno's Wonder Wheel

Dress in 1920’s garb and get one free ride on the Wonder Wheel!

Test your Coney Island IQ at the Coney Island Trivia Contest at 2:45PM with historian and author Charles Denson. Prizes include ride passes for Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and souvenir postcards.

If you have a Coney Island story to share, come and record your memories for the History Project’s Oral History Archive.

A new exhibit on “The History of Deno’s Wonder Wheel: Three Generations” will open on History Day at the Coney Island History Project and continue through September. This exhibit portrays the history of Deno’s Wonder Wheel and the Vourderis family who have owned and operated it for three generations. Also on History Day, there will be a presentation about mechanical street organs and the history of organ grinders by band organ builder and restorer Bob Yorburg at the History Project. Admission to the exhibit center is free of charge.

Spook-A-Rama Cyclops

Main Event Locations:

W. 12th Street Dreamland Pedestrian Plaza
located between The History Project & The Boardwalk on 12th Street

Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park
1025 Boardwalk at Denos D Vourderis Place (W. 12th St)
Coney Island, Brooklyn 11224

The Coney Island History Project
3059 West 12th Street off the Boardwalk
Coney Island, Brooklyn 11224

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