Oral History Archive

Hello! Share and preserve your Coney Island memories by recording an oral history interview over the phone or via Zoom. We are also recording interviews, both in English and other languages, with people who live, work, or grew up in adjacent neighborhoods of Southern Brooklyn. Sign up or listen to some of the more than 400 interviews in the Coney Island History Project online archive.

Giving Tuesday

Become a member of the Coney Island History Project on Giving Tuesday! Your tax-deductible contributions support our free programming including our exhibit center, podcast and oral history archive. 

To join online, choose a category and receive a thank you gift visit our Membership and Support page. We're grateful to all of our members, funders, and friends for your continued enthusiasm and support, and proud of all that the Coney Island History Project has accomplished this year and during the past 17 years.

Astrotower

Happy Hanukkah from the Coney Island History Project! The Star of David illuminated Astroland's Astrotower during Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, until the park closed in 2008. Next year, 2022 will be the 60th anniversary of the 1962 opening of Astroland! If you worked at the park or were a visitor and have Astro stories to share, we'd love to record your oral history for our archive. Audio interviews are conducted via phone or Zoom. You may schedule and interview here

posted Nov 28th, 2021 in News and tagged with Star of David, Astrotower, Astroland,...

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from good old and new Coney Island and the Coney Island History Project! 

posted Nov 25th, 2021 in News and tagged with Thanksgiving, Happy Thanksgiving, Coney Island,...

Wonder Wheel Banner Exhibit

The Coney Island History Project exhibition center closed for the season after Labor Day, but you can still see “Celebrating 100 Years! The Wonder Wheel and the Immigrant Dream,” our free outdoor exhibition of banners at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park through October 31.

The exhibit tells the remarkable story of the Wonder Wheel and the Vourderis family who operate Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. The colorful history banners are located on the Wheel's walkway adjacent to the History Project, as well as below Deno's new Phoenix Roller Coaster on West 12th Street. “It's a riveting story about families, immigrant initiative, love, and hard work,” says History Project director Charles Denson. Admission to the park is free. Visit Deno's website for park hours.

Coney Island’s 2021 season was the History Project’s tenth year at Deno’s Wonder Wheel after moving from our original location beneath the Cyclone roller coaster in 2011. Since the Coney Island History Project was founded in 2004 by Carol Hill Albert and Jerome Albert in honor of Dewey Albert, founder of Astroland Park, we have proudly offered "Free Admission for One and All!" at our exhibits and events. We are grateful to the Vourderis family for hosting our history exhibits in locations around their park, and to the Albert family for their ongoing support as the Coney Island History Project continues its mission of recording oral histories with people who lived, worked, and played in Coney Island.

After being closed in 2020 due to the pandemic, we are grateful that Coney Island was able to open this year and that the History Project’s combination of indoor and outdoor exhibits brought us through this challenging season successfully. During the “off season,” History Project staff are busy recording oral histories and producing a new season of our Coney Island Stories podcast. You’re invited to browse our website, which in addition to our Oral History Archive includes our Podcast, the blog Ask Mr. Coney Island, selections from our Collection, and Coney News and Events. Follow us on social media for news of upcoming events like our popular Coney Island History Show & Tell via Zoom.

Photo Credit: Coney Island History Project 

posted Oct 12th, 2021 in News and tagged with Wonder Wheel, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island,...

Oscar Bluemner Coney Island

Last June, Wendy Ikemoto, Curator of American Art at the New-York Historical Society, asked me to write a short descriptive label for a painting in a new exhibition at the Society. When I saw the image she sent me, I was shocked. The painting was beautiful, but also one of the saddest images I’d ever seen. The timing of the request was amazingly serendipitous. In 1904 the painter Oscar Bluemner captured the natural world of Coney Island Creek shortly before it was destroyed by development of the "World’s Playground." Exhibiting this painting could not be more timely, as history is now repeating itself.

Right now, Coney Island Creek’s most vulnerable, recovering shoreline, a tiny cove located at Kaiser Park, is being callously destroyed and degraded by a dubious ferry project. It’s as if the painting appeared as a cry for help, shouting from the past, asking us to save a last remnant of Coney Island’s natural world.

The city’s ferry dock, currently under construction, will end a half century of environmental improvements at Kaiser Park. Future operation of the ferry at this site will eliminate public access, degrade water quality, destroy natural habitat, and end educational and recreational use of the shoreline. City officials have pushed this project through by using a flawed and false narrative. It did not have to be this way.

Bluemner’s painting provides us with a warning. It depicts the "nursery of the sea,” thousands of acres of vibrant salt marsh environment shortly before it was filled and lost forever. The caption I wrote cannot adequately describe the sense of loss I felt when I first saw the painting:

This sublime view of Coney Island Creek’s lost marshland is poignant. Shortly after this scene was painted, the gaudy “magnificent artifice” rising in the background would overwhelm and replace the natural world. The true essence of Coney Island has been captured here beautifully but sadly. I still spend time on Coney Island Creek searching for hidden remnants of this scene that can be resurrected and appreciated. -- Charles Denson

Scenes of New York City: The Elie and Sarah Hirschfeld Collection. New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, October 22, 2021 - February 27, 2022.

Photo Credit: New-York Historical Society

Dredge in Creek

In November, Charles Denson will be presenting a short video about his 50-year documentation of Coney Island Creek at the Annual Conference of the NY-NJ Harbor and Estuary Program. He will also be a member of a panel discussion about “Vulnerable Waterways” that includes the New York Aquarium, Coney Island Beautification Project, SWIM Coalition, Coney Island History Project, and Billion Oyster Project. 

The New York - New Jersey Harbor & Estuary Program (HEP) "brings the benefits of the Clean Water Act to the people who live, work, and recreate on our shared waterways. Created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at the request of the governors of New York and New Jersey, HEP is an ongoing effort to develop and implement a consensus driven plan to protect, conserve and restore the estuary."

The conference schedule will be announced shortly at hudsonriver.org/estuary-program.

Photo Credit: Charles Denson. Swimmers next to the poisonous dredging for the ill-conceived ferry dock at Coney Island Creek. 

posted Oct 11th, 2021 in Events and tagged with Coney Island Creek, Conference, Waterways,...

Coney Island Stories Podcast

Happy International Podcast Day! “Schools of Their Own,” the new episode of Coney Island Stories, our podcast produced from oral histories in the Coney Island History Project's archive, has dropped. Listen and subscribe via Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Episode 11 shares the stories of four dedicated and innovative teachers who founded schools of their own in Coney Island and adjacent neighborhoods in Southern Brooklyn.

April Leong in the award-winning founder and principal of Liberation Diploma Plus High School, a small alternative high school in Coney Island. Dr. Tim Law established a program of free Chinese language classes for children at I.S. 96 Seth Low School in Bensonhurst. Irina Roizin realized her childhood dream of founding a ballet school, Brighton Ballet Theater School of Russian Ballet, on the campus of Kingsborough Community College in Manhattan Beach.  Misha Mokretsov is head coach and owner of Coney Island's New York Fencing Academy, located just down the block from the History Project. 

Listen to previous episodes about Coney Island's legendary roller coasters, beach, bathhouses, and restaurants and other businesses on Mermaid Avenue and in the amusement area via your fave podcast app or the podcast page on the Coney Island History Project's website.

This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions. Chinese translation by Keenan Yutai Chen. Voice overs by River Kanoff and Ali Lemer. The oral histories were conducted by Mark Markov, Samira Tazari, and Yolanda Zhang between 2015 and 2019. You can listen online to the full interviews featured in this podcast in the History Project's oral history archive

 

posted Sep 30th, 2021 in News and tagged with Coney Island Stories, podcast, schools,...

Coney Island History Project Louisiana Old State Capitol

We're thrilled that selections from the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive have been touring America since 2017 with NEH on the Road's Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland exhibit! The exhibition is now at Louisiana's Old State Capitol Museum in Baton Rouge thru October 20. The next stops are Hoyt Art Center in Pennsylvania and Manitowoc Public Library in Wisconsin before the tour concludes in March 2022 after having traveled to 18 communities in 14 states.

Among the Coney Island History Project interviews featured in the exhibit are Beth Allen, who was an incubator baby in Dr. Martin Couney's sideshow in Luna Park; Joseph Albanese, who recalls a time when police didn't allow bathing suits on the boardwalk even though bathing suits were very modest; and Ron Rossi and Ronald Ruiz, who talk about their experiences riding the Parachute Jump, the Cyclone and Steeplechase Horse Race at Steeplechase Park. Clips from these interviews and several others are running on a loop at one of the listening stations in the exhibition.

The NEH-funded exhibit, which first opened at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and traveled to the Brooklyn Museum and San Diego Museum of Art, was adapted from its original format to make it available to smaller venues in communities large and small across the country. The traveling exhibition from NEH on the Road explores America's playground as a place and as an idea, examining its persistent presence in the American imagination.

NEH on the Road is a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities designed to create wider national access to the ideas, themes, and stories explored in major grant-funded NEH exhibitions. The program is funded by the NEH and run by Mid-America Arts Alliance, a non-profit regional arts organization located in Kansas City. 

posted Sep 26th, 2021 in Events and tagged with NEH On The Road, NEH, Coney Island,...

Steeplechase Park

Today in history, Steeplechase Park (1897-1964) closed forever.  Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson described the closing ceremony in the chapter titled "The Death of Steeplechase Park" of his book Coney Island: Lost and Found:

"Steeplechase Park closed at the end of the season on Septmeber 20, 1964. Marie Tilyou, Bill Nicholson, and Jimmy Onorato were together  at the traditional closing as the park's bells were slowly tolled once for every year of operation. The sound system played 'There's No Business Like Show Business' and then 'Auld Lang Syne.' Thousands of lights were switched off slowly, row after row, on each toll of the bell. As it turned out, the park went dark for the last time. Bill Nicholson left the closing ceremony with Tilyou and her friends and walked to the Clam Bar for drinks."

Marie Tilyou was the daughter of Steeplechase Park founder George C. Tilyou. Bill Nicholson was the executive secretary of the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce and  Jimmy Onorato was the park's manager, and for a time, its president. 

Photo courtesy of Dan Pisark. 

posted Sep 20th, 2021 in History and tagged with photo of the day, Steeplechase Park, Coney Island,...