Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive

Share and preserve your memories by recording an oral history with the Coney Island History Project. We are recording audio interviews in English, Russian, Chinese, Spanish and other languages with people who live or work - past or present - in Coney Island and adjacent Southern Brooklyn neighborhoods or have a special connection to the place. For inspiration, listen to some of the oral histories in our online archive. Interviews may be recorded in-person or via phone. You may schedule an appointment via our website.

posted Sep 4th, 2019 in News and tagged with Oral History Archive, oral history, Oral Histories,...

Coney Island History Project

Coney Island historian Charles Denson joined WNYC's All Of It on August 20 to talk about the Coney Island History Project's latest exhibit, Salvation by the Sea. You may listen to the segment here. The show was guest-hosted by Nancy Giles. 

Photo credit: The Sea Breeze Hospital on Surf Avenue at West 29th Street, circa 1890s. (Coney Island History Project )

 

Loop the Loop Edwin Prescott

Happy Roller Coaster Day from the USA to the UK! National Roller Coaster Day commemorates Edwin Prescott's August 16, 1898 patent for a vertical Loop the Loop. The looping coaster was built in 1901 on Surf Avenue in Coney Island where the 1927 Cyclone roller coaster is now. Early this morning in the UK, Tricia Vita of the Coney Island History Project talked roller coasters and Coney Island with Paul Ross' Late Late Early Early Show on talkRADIO in London. Give a listen: 

 

 


Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive

Summer always goes by too fast! With only four more weekends till Labor Day, the Coney Island History Project announces a series of themed history weekends at our exhibition center to pique your interest in sharing your Coney Island stories. For inspiration, listen to some of the oral histories in our online archive before you visit. You may also listen to excerpts from the History Project's oral history archive at the exhibition center via our new SoundStik audio handset. 

Interviews are recorded in person during exhibition center hours- Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays thru Labor Day, 1-7 PM - or by appointment year-round. We have recorded interviews in English, Russian, Cantonese, Mandarin, Spanish, Turkish and Italian!

SCHEDULE AN ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW:

August 10 and 11, Under the Boardwalk and On the Beach... Favorite memories, outings with family & friends, first trip to Coney Island--even if it's today--because memories are in the making.

August 17 and 18, Childhood Days... Carousel and kiddie ride memories, being tall enough to ride the Cyclone or Parachute Jump for the first time, your very first memory of Coney Island.

August 24 and 25, Neighborhood Coney Island... Did you grow up or live here? Visit family or friends who live here? Have a summer job in the amusement area or work in the neighborhood?

August 31 and September 1-2, Romantic Coney Island! Did you meet your true love in Coney Island, go on your first date or fall in love here?

The Coney Island History Project is located at 3059 West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, just a few steps off the Boardwalk. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films, and this season's special exhibit "Salvation by the Sea." Admission is free of charge.

Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive
Listen to excerpts from the Coney Island History Project's oral history archive at the exhibition center via our new SoundStik audio handset.

Lead photo: Jiangxin Jin recording an oral history for the Coney Island History Project with Yi Xin Tong, an artist from China's Mount Lushan who has lived in Gravesend for six years. He describes Coney Island Creek as "the place that I can feel closest to home in New York."  Photo: Coney Island History Project

National Night Out

This Tuesday, August 6th, is National Night Out, an annual event that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie. Coney Island's 60th Precinct, PSA #1, and Transit District 34 are hosting this year's block party on our block - West 12th Street between Surf Avenue and the Boardwalk. Enjoy music, free food, bounce houses, vendors, giveaways and more from 5-8 PM. The Coney Island History Project will open our exhibition center for the event and give away souvenir buttons while supplies last. The 60th Precinct National Night Out is sponsored by Deno's Wonder Wheel and Investors Bank.

posted Aug 5th, 2019 in Events and tagged with National Night Out, Night Out New York, Night Out,...

City of Water Day

Wildlife Conservation Society volunteers visit with Charles Denson at the History Project's exhibit table; group photo of City of Water Day attendees; and Charles Denson frees a live horseshoe crab found tangled in monofilament fishing line.

On July 13, the Coney Island History Project exhibited at the 5th annual City of Water Day in Kaiser Park. Our table offered our "CreekWalk" walking tour brochures for Kaiser Park and Calvert Vaux Park, as well as the illustrated panels from the History Project's Coney Island Creek exhibit. Hundreds of community members spent a day on the shoreline of Coney Island Creek, learning about the history, future, and ecology of the once neglected waterway. The educational event was sponsored by the Coney Island Beautification Project and the Waterfront Alliance.
 

posted Jul 19th, 2019 in News and tagged with City of Water Day, Coney Island Creek, Kaiser Park,...

Coney Island History Project

Red, white and blue-clad visitors at the Coney Island History Project on July 4th. 

In the tradition of Coney Island's sidewalk photo studios of the past, visitors to the Coney Island History Project are invited to take free souvenir photos with Cy, the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, and Coney Island's only original Steeplechase horse. Browse through our Flickr album to see photos from the Coney Island History Project's 15th anniversary season and previous years.
 

Enjoy this video recap of our 8th Annual Coney Island History Day at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project. This year’s event, on June 9th, celebrated Coney Island’s immigrant heritage with performances of classical ballet and Ukrainian folk dance by the Russian Ballet Theater School of Russian Ballet; Afro Haitian drumming by Gaston “Bonga” Jean-Baptiste; songs in the Turkish and Rumeli tradition by Jenny Luna; traditional Chinese dance by New York Music and Dance Organization; and mariachi music by Mariachi Real de Mexico de Ramon Ponce. 

Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project spoke of the historic role that Coney Island has played in welcoming immigrants: “When immigrants sailed into New York Harbor at the turn of the last century, the first thing they saw wasn’t the Statue of Liberty; it was the towers and bright lights of Coney Island,” Denson said.

“Twenty million immigrants came through New York between 1880 and 1920. Immigrants fleeing persecution and seeking freedom didn’t find it right away. Instead they found life in stifling tenements, and backbreaking labor. Most worked long hours, six days a week. Coney Island became their escape. At Coney Island they found fresh air and affordable recreation. Coney Island became the pressure valve for New York City.”

The Coney Island History Project's programs are supported in part by public funds from the NYC Dept of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the NYC City Council, New York City Councilman Mark Treyger, and our members and contributors. 

posted Jul 1st, 2019 in Video Posts and tagged with

Mermaids still keep watch over Mermaid Avenue.

Woody Guthrie's 1950 song "Mermaid's Avenue" suggests that there's never been a mermaid on Mermaid Avenue, or at least that he's never seen one:

But there’s never been a mermaid here
On Mermaid Avenue
No, I’ve never seen a mermaid here
On Mermaid Avenue
I’ve seen hags and wags and witches;
And I’ve seen a shark or two
My five years that I’ve lived along
Old Mermaid’s Avenue

But Woody was mistaken. Just a few blocks from his home on Mermaid Avenue six stone mermaids could be found peering down from the roof of a one-story brick retail building, keeping watch over their namesake avenue. I remember the mermaids well from my childhood. At that time Mermaid Avenue was still a major shopping district with a lot of interesting architecture, but most of the buildings would be lost to urban renewal in the 1970s. 

The History Project recently received a request asking if the mermaids were still there:

"I remember a building on Mermaid Avenue on the southwest corner, and it was a one story commercial building.  The facade was a series of mermaid busts that ran along the building just below the roofline. What was interesting about these mermaids was that they were bare breasted, and they were all pinching their right nipples. My question is, would you know if there was any significance to the mermaids' pose, and is it possible that there are any photos of the building available."

Yes, the mermaids are still there! A little weathered and partially covered by signs and wiring, they still watch over the street that Guthrie once called home. All but one has lost her tail and, as far as the unusual pose, perhaps they are just a little bit shy and are trying to cover up. Here are some recent photos of the sculptures. We won't reveal the location as it's more fun to discover them on your own.

– Charles Denson

A beautiful mermaid above a beauty shop on Mermaid Avenue.

The only Mermaid Avenue mermaid that still has her tail.

A mermaid strikes a pose on Mermaid Avenue.

 

 

posted May 3rd, 2019 in By Charles Denson and tagged with Mermaid Avenue

Seaside Home

The Coney Island History Project's special exhibition for the 2019 season, opening on Memorial Day Weekend, Saturday, May 25th, is "Salvation by the Sea: Coney Island's 19th Century Fresh Air Cure and Immigrant Aid Societies."

During the late 1800s and early 1900s Coney Island served as a place of salvation for European immigrants fleeing poverty and persecution. Charitable Summer Seaside Homes for the poor, supported by the city's wealthy, provided impoverished immigrant mothers and children with a respite from steaming, disease-filled tenements.  
 
At the same time, Coney's expanding amusement business provided business opportunities for immigrants of small means. This exhibit explores a little-known era of Coney Island's history by examining the role that the beachfront played in saving lives and providing a livelihood for the waves of immigrants that fled their homelands to seek freedom and new lives in America. Our exhibit tells the story through photos, articles, maps, and oral history.  

Salvation by the Sea at the Coney Island History Project

2019 marks the 15th anniversary of the Coney Island History Project! Since the History Project's inception in 2004 with a portable recording booth on the Boardwalk and the inaugural season of our exhibition center in 2007, we have proudly offered "Free Admission for One and All!" at our exhibits and special events. Our exhibition center is open free of charge on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day. We're located at 3059 West 12th Street, adjacent to the 12th Street entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, just a few steps off the Boardwalk.

View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past.  Share and preserve your Coney Island memories by recording an interview for our Oral History Archive. Take free souvenir photos with the iconic Spook-A-Rama Cyclops and Coney Island's only original Steeplechase horse, from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. Among the rare treasures on display is Coney Island's oldest surviving artifact from the dawn of the "World's Playground." The 1823 Toll House sign in our collection dates back to the days when the toll for a horse and rider to "the Island" was 5 cents!