A Question for the Coney Island History Project:

I saw the movie Wonder Wheel and my son asked me if it was a true picture of the times.  I had one difference. When the shots of the ocean came on I said that it was not how it looked back then.  I remember the ropes and barrels.  I was considered a good swimmer because I could swim to the third barrel.  What year were they removed?

- Cynthia Tyson

Hi Cynthia,

I also remember the barrels from my childhood! When we moved to Coney Island in 1956 they were still there, a line of colorful, striped, floating wooden barrels attached to a rope that went back to the beach. I really enjoyed playing on them. The rope was buried far up the beach and then attached to an anchor in the ocean located about halfway the length of the rock jetties. Every bay in the West End had them! You could cling to the rope or wrap yourself around the barrel. They were a lot of fun and you could prove yourself by swimming out to the last one.

I can't remember when they stopped installing them, maybe around 1960? There was talk that they gave swimmers a false sense of security and that inexperienced swimmers would swim out too far to get to the third one. Safety ropes were part of the Coney Island beach for more than a century, but the barrels seemed to have appeared sometime in the 1950s. Most likely they were discontinued to save money or maybe because of vandalism. If anyone knows the reason, please let us know.

We have very few photos of the barrels but the ones below from the 1950s give an idea of what they were like. Notice the three swimmers clinging to the rope! A sign on the lifeguard chair refers to them as "safety lines," and tells swimmer not to "bathe" past the last one. They seem so much smaller than what I remember as a child. I remember missing them when they disappeared.

- Charles Denson

posted Jul 10th, 2020 in By Charles Denson and tagged with

Sea Lion Park Coney Island History Project Collection

Paul Boyton's Sea Lion Park in 1895. © Coney Island History Project Collection.

One hundred and twenty-five years ago today, on July 4, 1895, Paul Boyton opened Coney Island's and North America's first enclosed amusement park, Sea Lion Park, paving the way for Coney's other great parks, Steeplechase, Luna Park, and Dreamland. Erected on what would later become the original Luna Park, Boyton's park was a small collection of rides featuring the Shoot-the-Chutes water ride and the Flip-Flap looping coaster. Live sea lions entertained visitors. Visit our Oral History Archive to listen to an interview with Craig Boyton Dudley, great-grandson of Paul Boyton.

Sadly, the 125th anniversary year of Coney Island amusement parks and the 100th anniversary of the Wonder Wheel is the first time ever that Coney Island's world famous parks have been closed for the 4th of July holiday. Coney's historic parks, Steeplechase and Luna Park, remained open during World Wars I and II, as well as the 1918 flu pandemic. This year, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and Luna Park, which traditionally open for the season on Palm Sunday, are temporarily closed due to statewide regulations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

We're looking forward to the August 3rd publication of Charles Denson's book Coney Island's Wonder Wheel Park honoring the Wheel's 100th anniversary. Containing hundreds of never-before-seen photographs, plans, and ephemera, including rare images from the Vourderis family archive and the Coney Island History Project archive, and interviews with the family of the original designer and builder of the Wonder Wheel, the book is part of Arcadia's Images of America series.

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 Avenue in the 1950s for the Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive. Goldstein and Fox operated businesses in Coney Island's amusement area for over 60 years.

Listen to their stories and those of Jimmy Prince of Major Meats and Steven Feinstein of Wilensky Hardware,  whose Mermaid Avenue businesses survived  into the 21st century.  Major Meats closed when Jimmy retired in 2009.  Wilensky Hardware is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2020.   You're invited to share your Coney Island memories at coneyislandhistory.org/oral-history-archive.

posted Jun 25th, 2020 in Video Posts and tagged with Coney Island, Mermaid Avenue, 1950s,...

Richard Termini's earliest memories are of playing under the El on New Utrecht Avenue in Bensonhurst, where his family operated Termini's Bakery. Founded by his grandfather Giuseppe 'Joe' Termini in Manhattan in the early years of the 20th century, the bakery soon moved to Brooklyn, where it prospered and fed the extended family until closing in 1985. Richard recounts memories of baking with his grandfather and of neighborhood residents lining up to cook their Thanksgiving turkeys in the store's brick oven. His parents Carmella Turturro and Richard Termini met in Coney Island in the 1940s at Ravenhall Baths, where he has fond memories of being taken as a child. As a six-year-old in 1962, he rode the Astroland Rocket, an experience that inspired a lifelong interest in designing and building high power rockets. Now living in Australia, Richard shares his impressions of the last time he visited Coney Island in August 2001.

Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive

We're thrilled that the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive is featured in The New York Times virtual things to do "At Home" section!

You can still enjoy Coney Island this season thanks to the Coney Island History Project. Listen to New Yorkers recount their experiences at the treasured amusement park and beach. And if you have your own beloved memory of Coney Island, you can submit it to the project’s archive.

When: Anytime

Where: coneyislandhistory.org/tags/oral-history-archive

Sign up to schedule a an interview via phone, Skype or Zoom here.

posted Jun 15th, 2020 in News and tagged with Oral History Archive, oral history, Oral Histories,...

Today, June 7th, 2020, was to have been the Coney Island History Project and Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park's 9th Annual History Day celebration on the Boardwalk with performances by musicians and dancers paying tribute to Coney Island's immigrant heritage. Instead, we are living through history, with a worldwide pandemic, racial justice movement, and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Future historians will think about society as pre- and post-2020. In the meantime, please enjoy this video compilation of our 2019 History Day, with performances by Irina Roizin's Brighton Ballet Theater School of Russian Ballet, Haitian drummer Gaston "Bonga" Jean-Baptiste, Mariachi Real De Mexico de Ramon Ponce, Jenny Luna's songs in the Turkish and Rumeli traditions, and Julia Liu's New York Music and Dance Organization, with DJ Dan Kingman, Deno Vourderis, and Charles Denson.

posted Jun 7th, 2020 in News and tagged with Coney Island, Coney Island History Project, History Day,...

Happy 100th Birthday, Deno's Wonder Wheel from the Coney Island History Project! Join Charles Denson in this video sing-a-long of a 1920's song celebrating the joys of the Wonder Wheel to the tune of The Sidewalks of NY.  He discovered the song while researching Coney Island's Wonder Wheel Park and the lyrics are in the soon-to-be published book. We had planned to invite everyone to sing it at the now to be rescheduled Memorial Day Weekend Celebration. 

posted May 23rd, 2020 in News and tagged with

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day from the Coney Island History Project! Enjoy this photo collage of some of the mothers and grandmothers who visited our exhibition center in past seasons with their kids and grandkids.

posted May 10th, 2020 in News and tagged with

Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive

During these days of social distancing, you're invited to share and preserve your Coney Island memories by recording an oral history via phone or Skype.

Our audio interviews are conducted 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.

Sign up for an appointment or listen to some of the more than 360 interviews in our online archive.

posted May 1st, 2020 in Events and tagged with oral history, Oral History Archive

Ruthie and Shorty, Astroland Park, 2006

Ruth Magwood, our friend who passed away last week, loved lighthouses. Her house across the street from Coney Island Creek Park was filled with lighthouse photos and books and statues. She loved Coney Island, having lived and worked there for 47 years. Ruthie worked the front office at Astroland Park until it closed in 2008. Her partner, Walter "Shorty" Arsenault, who passed away in 2011, was the long-time manager of Astroland's kiddie park. Her son Indio was a Coney Island sideshow performer before moving to Austria.  Ruthie was a regular at Ruby's and Peggy O’Neal’s, a great storyteller with an ironic sense of humor.  Her other sons and family members lived near her home in Coney Island's West End. During her years at Astroland, Ruthie photographed the park's events and created numerous photo albums that are now part of the Coney Island History Project Archive.

Ruthie always lived near the water and had roots in Gerritsen Beach. She lived all over Coney Island before buying a nice home by the park many years ago. Her health suffered terribly after Hurricane Sandy's storm surge destroyed her house. She rebuilt her home right after the storm but had to move out and rebuild a second time due to new zoning restrictions. The pitfalls of rebuilding and the abject failures of the Build It Back program caused her to lose her life savings. 

The constant stress of dealing with endless beauracracy, red tape, and questionable contractors caused heart problems and her health failed. Yet Ruthie carried on as an advocate for the community. Last summer, when it was rumored that the city was planning to move a ferry dock to Kaiser Park rather than West 33rd Street, she spoke out at a protest at the Kaiser Park fishing pier. Poor health didn't stop her from protecting the park as Ruthie cared deeply about her Coney Island community. We will miss her. She was one of a kind. (Her son Adam will announce a memorial service to be held sometime in the future.)

— Charles Denson

(Since the demonstration last August, it's been found that the Kaiser Park location requires dredging that will release toxic materials into Coney Island Creek. See link.)


posted Apr 9th, 2020 in By Charles Denson and tagged with In Memoriam