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posted on May 5th, 2007
Dear Mr. Coney Island...
When did the Coney Island Parachute Jump last operate?
- Coney Fan

Hello Coney Fan,

The Parachute Jump never operated after the closure of Steeplechase Park on September 19, 1964. The information in the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission Designation Report, claiming that the Jump operated until 1968, is inaccurate and is based on a newspaper article that the commission's researcher read about an accident at the site. The accident did not take place on the Parachute Jump. It occurred at a small go-kart track that circled the base of the abandoned Parachute Jump until 1971.

What's particularly amusing about the researcher's mistake is the media's embellishment of the years that the Parachute Jump supposedly operated after Steeplechase closed. Dramatic news stories have been spun about a declining Jump falling into disrepair, including detailed descriptions of the rickety ride finally being forced to close in 1968.

The commission's report also lists Norman Kaufman as the Parachute Jump's last operator. Kaufman, who operated an amusement fairground and parking lot on the Steeplechase site after the park was demolished, has always found this curious. "No, I never operated the Parachute," he said in 2003 when asked about the flawed report. "The historical consultant wrote that. She got it all wrong. The Garto brothers had a go-kart ride around the Parachute. I had nothing to do with that. I had nothing to do with the Boardwalk. The Garto brothers rented the base from Fred Trump and ran a go-kart ride."

Why is this information relevant? With restoration of the ride being proposed, it's important to get the facts straight. The Parachute Jump was an incredibly difficult ride to maintain and operate, and it had a perfect safety record. The commission's false image of the ride operating for several years with a ragtag crew implies that it could easily be restored and operated in its original form without much effort.

Although it's possible that the Parachute Jump could operate again, the ride's landmark designation would require it to be restored to its original form: a free fall with real chutes. The cost of restoration might prove to be prohibitively expensive, as the ride would require a highly trained and experienced crew to maintain it in the manner that the Tilyou family did until its closure in 1964. Besides the obvious insurance and liability concerns is another factor to consider: the Parachute Jump never made money for the Tilyous. Part of the reason can be traced to its location. Stiff ocean breezes kept it closed much of the time. Until these problems can be resolved, the landmarked Parachute Jump will continue in its role as a symbol of Coney Island survival and resurrection.