Coney Island's Wonder Wheel Park

We're excited to announce the August 3rd publication of Charles Denson's book Coney Island's Wonder Wheel Park, which was originally scheduled for May 18. This year the landmark Wonder Wheel celebrates its 100th birthday, and to mark the occasion the Coney Island History Project director, and author of Coney Island: Lost and Found, has written a new book to coincide with this historic event. Coney Island's Wonder Wheel Park contains hundreds of never-before-seen photographs, plans, and ephemera, including rare images from the Vourderis family archive and the Coney Island History Project archive.

Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project exhibition center remain closed due to state executive order during the pandemic. Copies of the book, presigned by the author, will be available for purchase at the boardwalk stand in front of Deno's, where you can also buy 100th anniversary souvenirs. The souvenir stand and Deno's Sweet Shoppe and Famiglia Pizzeria are open 12-6pm daily, weather permitting. The History Project's online bookstore has temporarily suspended shipments. The book may be pre-ordered from the publisher, online retailers such as Barnes & Noble, and independent retailers.

"Historical research is really detective work and many times leads to dead ends,” writes Charles Denson about his new book. “When I began writing the Wonder Wheel's history I had to cut through the usual myths and anecdotes that surround much of Coney Island. The primary sources and records were spread out across the country. As I traced down leads I was surprised to find so many family members of the original designer and past owners who had fascinating stories and materials that they were willing to share. "

"I wrote the book on an extremely short deadline to coincide with anniversary and was designing an accompanying exhibit for the History Project when the pandemic hit, and everything ground to a halt. The book is just the first step in celebrating the centennial of Deno's Wonder Wheel, which will now take place sometime in the future. I’ve always enjoyed working with the Vourderis family, and now realize more than ever the importance of the family's resurrection and preservation of the historic landmark. Writing the book confirmed my belief that the Wonder Wheel is, and always has been, Coney Island's most remarkable attraction."

"Inside Coney Island's Wonder Wheel Park is a 1920's song celebrating the joys of the Wonder Wheel," says Denson. "It's written to the tune of the old favorite Sidewalks of New York. We planned to invite everyone to sing the song at the Memorial Day celebration of the Wheel's 100th Birthday. Since there's been a change of plans and we couldn't be together, I'm inviting everyone to sing along and wish the Wheel some love during these difficult times. If I can do it, so can you."

You can hear the song and sing along in Charles Denson's film Deno's Wonder Wheel Turns 100.

posted Jul 28th, 2020 in News and tagged with New Book, Book, Wonder Wheel,...

Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive

During these days of social distancing our online oral history archive was featured in the New York TimesTime Out NY, and Curbed New York as a cure for loneliness, a way to lose yourself in fascinating stories from the past, and visit Coney Island from afar. Among the new additions to the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive are the following audio interviews recorded by Kaara Baptiste, Charles Denson, Leila Goldstein, Julia Kanin, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Please listen, share, and if you or someone you know would like to record a story via phone, Skype or Zoom, sign up here. We record interviews in English, Russian, Chinese, Spanish and other languages with people who have lived or worked in Coney Island and adjacent neighborhoods or have a special connection to these places.

Born and raised in Coney Island, artist Richard Glazer-Danay is of Kahnawake Mohawk and Jewish descent. His family first came to Coney Island with circuses and Wild West shows in the late 1800's and early 1900's and settled on West 16th Street. There were many hard hats around his house, and he became known for using these symbols of Mohawk iron workers as inspiration for his art works.

Charles Guariglia, 77, recalls that from age 9 until he went to college, he accompanied his dad on his bread route in the summer. They delivered Stuhmer's kosher bread to the Jewish delicatessens and shops along Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island. "As I look back, it was probably the one experience that helped form me as an adult," he says. "Hard work, honesty, tell the truth at all times."

Lois McLohon posed for a Daily News photographer as a bathing beauty against the backdrop of Coney Island beach and its famous skyline in 1954. When the picture appeared as a "cheesecake photo" in the paper's centerfold, she and her friends thought it was fun. It wasn't till recent years, thanks to it being posted on the web, that the photo became iconic. "I think it captures the spirit of the times," says Lois.

Melody Andorfer recalls entering and winning Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest in 1972, the contest’s first year. She beat all competitors, men and women. Her prize was a paper crown. Melody recently contacted the Coney Island History Project with an unusual request: she wanted help getting her victory belt, the massive, jeweled prize that's now given to winners of the Nathan's contest.

Jim Lucarelli describes "the opportunity and the privilege" of working at Coney Island's Steeplechase Park in 1963 and 1964, the last two summers before the park closed, as a teenage ride operator at the Sports Car. He vividly recalls fighting the Ravenhall Fire from the top of a wooden coaster.

Artist Alisa Minyukova emigrated from St Petersburg to New York City with her mother and grandmother in 1981. She recalls childhood memories of St. Petersburg and Coney Island, and the common visceral memory of the Soviet Union in Brighton Beach. 

Richard Termini's earliest memories are of playing under the El on New Utrecht Avenue in Bensonhurst, where his family operated Termini's Bakery, and going to Coney Island’s Ravenhall Baths as a child. In 1962, he rode the Astroland Rocket, an experience that inspired a lifelong interest in designing and building high power rockets.

Born and raised in Coney Island, Marie Navarro says her family came here from Puerto Rico in 1957 and settled in Gravesend Houses in 1970. "Everybody knows each other," says Marie, "When you walk on Mermaid Avenue you run into family and friends and by the time you reach the station, it's 40 minutes, because you stop here, you stop there.”

Pamela Pettyjohn is a longtime Coney Island resident and president of the non-profit environmental advocacy organization the Coney Island Beautification Project. She talks about her involvement with community activities such as gardening and green spaces for public use.

Tapestry artist Leonid Alaverdov, 87, is a resident of O’Dwyer Gardens in Coney Island whose work is inspired by his native Baku, Azerbaijan, and New York City, where he immigrated in 1993. Recorded in Russian with Russian and English transcription.

Philly Tribune columnist Alonzo Kittrels shares memories of bus trips from the 1940s through 1961 to Coney Island with the Good Will Family Club founded by his grandmother. Since the trip to Coney was not limited to family members as many as five buses were required and there was a great deal of preparation and anticipation the night before.

Monica Ghee is a Coney Island native who has operated games at various locations in the amusement district on and off for the past 52 years. She recalls some of the games she has worked in the past, including the dime pitch, glass pitch, goldfish bowl, and her signature game - the high striker.

Actor Emmanuel Elpenord shares memories of growing up in Sea Rise apartments in Coney Island's West End in the 1990s and his unique souvenir of the Wonder Wheel.  He recalls auditioning for Luna Park's Nights of Horror Halloween event in 2012, in which he was cast as the Devil. "I still treasure the experience as like my little badge of carnydom in having worked at Coney Island," says Emmanuel. "I'm one of the freaks too."

These robotic chipmunks once sang their songs at the Bowery entrance to Spook-a-Rama. A 1980s fire on Jones Walk forced the closure of that section of the ride and the chipmunks were removed and placed in storage. In 2016, Steve Vourderis decided to bring them back to life for the annual History Day event sponsored by the Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project. A film by Charles Denson.

posted Jul 16th, 2020 in Video Posts 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,...

Coney Island History Project Podcast


When the NY Pause order went into effect in mid-March, the Coney Island History Project suspended all in-person events and activities and focused on creating new online content, including videos, blogs, oral histories, and additions to our online collection. We're thrilled to announce Beyond the Boardwalk, our new podcast series produced from oral histories in the History Project's archive.

Episodes 1 and 2 are immigrant stories about Coney's restaurants and food stands as told by their mom-and-pop owners and family members. Among the past and present Coney Island food businesses featured in the podcasts are Gargiulo's, Totonno's, Nathan's Famous, Pete's Clam Stop, Lido Bar & Grill, Gregory & Paul's, Paul's Daughter, and Tacos Dona Zita. An upcoming episode will feature Mermaid Avenue businesses. The podcast is produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Listen online via the Coney Island History Project's podcast pageBeyond the Boardwalk will soon be available on iTunes, Stitcher, and other podcast listening apps, with 4 episodes being released initially.

Among the new films created by Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson for his Coneyologist channel on YouTube are The Cleon Collection: Building the Boardwalk, 1922. Hyman Cleon supervised the construction of the Coney Island Boardwalk in 1922. His family recently donated Cleon's personal photographs to the Coney Island History Project. The video highlights a selection of images from the collection. 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 in Coney Island 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.

posted Jun 24th, 2020 in News and tagged with Coney Island, podcast, Coney Island History Project

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