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Benny Harrison: A Life in Coney Island

A phone call from Benny always began with a private joke: “Charlie, tell me what’s new in the World’s Playground.” A bit of irony. The amusement world that Benny had known all his life was fast disappearing. He was old-school and didn’t follow Coney Island politics or gossip. Our long conversations took place in the off-season, when things were quiet. During the summer Benny worked his games 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and had no time to talk. He stayed focused on his little world on West 12th Street. After years of trading stories, I asked if he wanted to record an oral history. He said, “When I’m gone you can tell my story.” We recorded over several years. No one else could better express the ups and downs, the joy and despair of working and living in Coney Island. He had many lives, a survivor in a sometimes cruel world.

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Featured Oral History Interviews

Anthony Wang

Resident of senior housing in Coney Island was born in Shanghai and survived the Cultural Revolution

Nancy Gabriel

Memories of visiting Uncle Pete, who ran a food concession at Steeplechase Pool in the 1930s-50s

Alisa Minyukova

Brooklyn artist who emigrated from Russia as a child is drawn to Ocean Parkway and Brighton Beach

Tim Law

Bilingual educator and founder of Chinese American Social Services Center in Bensonhurst

Patrick Phillips

Memories of working at Astroland's Neptune Diving Bells in the summer of 1964

Keith Suber

Community activist and reformed gang member

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Hall of Fame

Inventors, performers, impresarios, and community leaders - these are among the many pioneers and visionaries whose creativity and ingenuity helped shape and define Coney Island over the past century. Each year, the Coney Island Hall of Fame pays tribute to a selected group of honorees. Their contributions are highlighted in an exhibit of colorful banners accompanied by illustrated text panels detailing their fascinating lives.

Featured Video

Memories of Coney Island's Mermaid Avenue in the 1950s

New on our YouTube channel: Charles Denson's Mermaid Avenue in the 1950's brings together photos from the Coney Island History Project Collection and the voices of Michael "Looch" Goldstein and Stanley Fox. They grew up at opposite ends of Mermaid Avenue and recorded their memories of the...

Ask Mr. Coney Island

Dear Mr. Coney Island...
I've been doing a search to find images, pictures and films/video and audio showing the incredible Classic Three Rotating Ring Carousel that I remembered, as a young boy, that was housed in the huge indoor Steeplechase Park. As a young boy in the 1950's I had been amazed at the mechanical complexity of such an amazing machine with its 'Three Counter Rotating Ride Rings', Beautifully Hand Carved and Lovingly Painted Motion and Still Horses, and the Powerful music that came from the Huge Mechanical Full Orchestra and Organ/Calliope. I was born and raised in Brooklyn and Coney Island was a regular venue for our family entertainment. I'm hoping you'll be the one to help restore this childhood amazement to me! Regards, namaste
- David

Hello David,

That would be the El Dorado Carousel, now located at Toshimaen Amusement Park in Tokyo. This magnificent machine was carved by Hugo Hasse of Leipzig Germany in 1902. In 1910 it was moved to Coney Island and installed in a building Surf Avenue at West Fifth Street. The carousel survived the 1911 Dreamland Fire, blistered but intact. George Tilyou brought the El Dorado to...