Coney Island History Project

Happy New Year to our members, funders, and friends and many thanks for your continued interest and support! Looking back on highlights of 2018 at the Coney Island History Project as we welcome 2019, our 15th anniversary season, our year-round activities include walking tours, oral history interviews, and cultural enrichment programs at schools and senior centers in the community. We can't wait to see everyone again when the History Project's free exhibit center re-opens April 14, 2019, for Coney Island's Opening Day. 

The Coney Island History Project was founded in 2004 by Carol Hill Albert and Jerome Albert in honor of Dewey Albert, creator of Astroland Park. Our mission is to record, archive and share oral history interviews; provide access to historical artifacts and documentary material through educational exhibits, events and a website; and honor community leaders and amusement pioneers through our Coney Island Hall of Fame. Emphasizing community involvement, the History Project teaches young people about local history and develops programs in conjunction with local schools, museums, senior centers, and other organizations. 

We are grateful to the Albert family for their ongoing support, and to the Vourderis family, operators of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, for providing us a space and for their interest in preserving Coney Island's heritage. The Coney Island Project is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, New York City Councilman Mark Treyger, and our members and contributors. Printed materials made possible with funds from the Destination: Brooklyn Program, funded by the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and NYC & Company Foundation, administered by Brooklyn Arts Council.

posted Jan 1st, 2019 in News and tagged with Happy New Year, New Year, Coney Island History Project,...

Coney Island Then and Now Reminiscence Box

In 2018, the Coney Island History Project designed and debuted “The Art of Reminiscing,” a reminiscence and art program for senior centers. It combines the telling of personal stories, sharing local history, and writing and collaging to make a communal “Reminiscence Box” as a culminating activity. Over the past several weeks, our reminiscence facilitator Tricia Vita and teaching artist Nancy Prusinowski enjoyed working with a group at JASA Luna Park Senior Center. We’re excited to share photos of the progress of the “Coney Island, Then…and Now Reminiscence Box,” which was completed on December 24th!  Many thanks to Council Member Mark Treyger, for supporting our community enrichment programming. Thank you to Adrienne Slomin,  Director of JASA Luna Park Senior Center, located down the block from the History Project, for inviting us to workshop the program.

In a series of sequential sessions, participants had the opportunity to arrange personal photos, historical images, text and objects to create a Reminiscence Box which portrays the story of their community "now and then" in a three dimensional and visual art form. The Luna Park-themed Reminiscence Box took its inspiration from “Coney Island, Then….and Now,” a poem written by Luna Park resident and senior center member Carole Karpel. Built on the former site of the original Luna Park (1903-1944), one of Coney Island’s famous amusement parks, Luna Park housing complex was named after the park and affords a panoramic view of the current amusement rides and attractions as well as the beach and the ocean. The top section of the box features the first part of the poem, the “then,” flanked by windows looking out on vintage scenes of Luna Park’s illuminated gate, spires and attractions.

The windows represent the time-traveling view of the JASA Luna Park seniors who created the box and their interest in the history of the site. Three of them are original tenants, having moved in with their families when the housing complex first opened in 1962. Their group photo is on the windowsill along with a vase of flowers and shells. The lower section of the box showcases the “now” part of the poem. It features the buildings of Luna Park Houses, the Wonder Wheel, and the beach, with the group gathered under a beach umbrella, plus the view of the Parachute Jump from an apartment window.  The outside of the box is decorated with vintage images of old favorites--Nathan’s, Faber’s Fascination, a carousel horse and other emblems of Coney Island affixed like antique luggage labels. The Reminiscence Box was donated to the JASA Luna Park Senior Center, where it will remain on display as a tangible record of the project.

posted Dec 26th, 2018 in News and tagged with Reminiscing, Reminiscence, Coney Island,...

Coney Island History Project

May your days be merry and bright... 

Happy holidays from the Coney Island History Project, celebrating our 15th anniversary in 2019!

posted Dec 24th, 2018 in News and tagged with Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year,...

Gene Ritter

We're sad to learn that our friend Gene Ritter, a Coney Island native, environmental advocate, commercial diver, and educator, passed away on November 19 at the age of 59. Gene battled his illness for so long and with such a vengeance that it's hard to believe that he's left us. He fought bravely, and it didn't seem possible that he could ever lose the battle.

My last phone conversation with Gene took place a few days before he died. We were trying to work out an issue concerning Coney Island Creek. Both of us had strong differences of opinion but were seeking the same goal. After a while I changed the subject and told him that I'd just seen the documentary about the successful Thailand cave rescue of the trapped students, and I asked him, as an experienced professional diver, what he thought about how the rescuers were able to put aside their differences and pull off the most unbelievable rescue in history. He told me that his kind of diving was different but he'd faced similar conditions.

I was using the story as a metaphor for how we could cooperate, but Gene shot right past it and got to the point. "If you panic, you die," he said. Bottom line. He said that when you're facing hopeless conditions, disorientated, with zero visibility, you can still find your way out as long as you don't panic. Gene never panicked. He was always focused on achieving his mission, no matter who or what stood in the way.

In 2016, I recorded a wide-ranging conversation with Gene for the Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive. He talked about growing up in Coney Island and night diving as a teen, Mark V diving in Kaiser Park, and the thrill of finding historic artifacts including the Dreamland Bell, the pilings of Dreamland Pier and live shells from World War II in Gravesend Bay. You can listen to the interview in our online archive.

Gene didn't have a lot of time to waste. He accomplished so much in his life and achieved great success as an environmental advocate and educator. Everyone who crossed his path was impressed with his passion and his drive for what he believed in. Those who participated in Gene's Coney Island Creek events became enlightened and encouraged. His work with Cultural Research Divers, NYSMEA, Making Waves, and STEM programs brought a new awareness to thousands of students and community members. I am honored to have worked with him on so many projects over the years. He will be missed. 

—  Charles Denson

A wake will be held on November 23 from 2:00-4:00PM and 7:00-9:30PM at McCourt & Trudden Funeral Home, 385 Main Street, Farmingdale, NY. The funeral Mass will be on Saturday, November 24 at 10:45AM, at St. Kilian Roman Catholic Church, 485 Conklin Street, Farmingdale. 

Gene Ritter

Gene Ritter

Gene Ritter

 

posted Nov 21st, 2018 in By Charles Denson and tagged with Gene Ritter, In Memoriam, obituary,...

The Surf Avenue Gate in the 1890s.

Coney Island recently lost one of its most historic landmarks when the Surf Avenue entrance to Sea Gate, with its gracefully sweeping wooden archway, was unceremoniously demolished to make way for a new streamlined gateway.

The eclectic wood-shingled Victorian, with its exquisite arches and domed towers, was built in 1897 as the grand entrance to a new community that sprang up at Norton's Point at the western tip of Coney Island. In 2012 the storm surge from Hurricane Sandy caused irreparable damage to the structure, forcing the relocation of the offices of the Sea Gate Association and the Sea Gate Police Department, which had occupied the building for more than a century.

Over the decades, the gateway suffered unfortunate alterations that resulted in the loss of the towers, wooden shingles, and other distinguishing features of the original design. The archway, however, remained intact until September 2018 when it was brought to the ground and crushed by an excavator.

When I was growing up in Coney Island Houses, my bedroom window faced the old gateway down at the end of Surf Avenue, and I remember the illuminated archway and Coney Island lighthouse behind it serving as reassuring nightlights against the black sky and the ocean beyond. In 1999 I was permitted to climb inside the arch (then used by the Sea Gate Association for storage, and accessible through a small trapdoor) to view the intricate maze of wooden trusses that supported the span. It's a shame that the building could not be saved and restored as this kind of architecture will never again be seen in Coney Island.

—  Charles Denson

The Gate circa 1900.  © Charles Denson Archive

The  altered Gate, 2002 Photo by Charles Denson

The Gate is now a fence, October 1, 2018 Photo by Charles Denson

The Gate suffered severe damage in Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Charles Denson, Oct 2012

The new streamlined gate will include historic references to the old structure. Photo by Charles Denson

 

posted Nov 13th, 2018 in By Charles Denson and tagged with

Mathylde Frontus

The Coney Island History Project congratulates Mathylde Frontus on her remarkable victory in the New York State Assembly race! We have worked with Mathylde on projects in the past, including a presentation about Coney Island’s African-American History, and on Coney Island Anti-Violence measures.  For our Oral History Archive, we interviewed Mathylde in July last year about growing up in Coney Island as the eldest child of Haitian immigrant parents who instilled a love of learning and community service. The interview can be listened to online here.

posted Nov 8th, 2018 in News and tagged with Mathylde Frontus, New York State Assembly, Election,...

Astroland Remembered Photo Contest

In September, we asked you to share your favorite photos of yourself, family, friends or fans at Astroland taken anytime from 1962 through 2008 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Astroland Park’s closing. Thanks to all who took the time to look through their albums and enter the Astroland Remembered Photo Contest and for voting for your favorites! Photos ranged from childhood snapshots on kiddie rides to professional quality photographs of the park’s memorable attractions and poignant last day. We’re pleased to announce the winning photos, which will be exhibited at the Coney Island History Project next season on Coney Island's Opening Day – April 14, 2019. Congratulations! The People’s Choice and Jury’s Choice winners will receive a signed copy of Charles Denson’s book Coney Island and Astroland and tickets for the Coney Island History Project Walking Tour.

Astroland Remembered Photo Contest

People’s Choice Winner: Emmy Chindemi, “Early 70’s Kiddie Park”

“I was born in Brooklyn and yes, that is me and my sister sitting on the bear, I’m the one in the front my sister Joann is behind me. I believe I was 7 years old. My parents would always take us to Coney Island, I have a lot of favorite rides I loved, but the one thing I remember was the giant astronaut, in fact I might have a picture of me and my sisters sitting on his boot.”

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Astroland Remembered Photo Contest

Jury’s Choice Winner: Lou Dembrow, “Astroman”

“The closing of Astroland was an event that moved me deeply. I made a movie about Jimmy Prince and I experiencing it. “Astroman” embodies Coney Island’s democratic spirit of FREE TO BE ME! I began seriously photographing Coney Island in 2007. Harvey Stein, my teacher at the International Center of Photography, took us there in the 90's.”

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Astroland Remembered Photo Contest

Honorable Mention: Bruce Sherman, “Photo taken in the mid to late 60's, Kiddie Park area”

“My mother reminded me that I was three months old when we moved to Coney Island. My father took this photo of me at Astroland in the mid to late ‘60s. My brother Perry used to work in Astroland operating the Skyride. My mother was so scared of the ride she used to squeeze my hand while we were riding.”

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Astroland Remembered Photo Contest

Honorable Mention: Omar Robau, “Shooting Gallery”

"Walking through Astroland was always a novelty for me. No matter how many times, and there were so many, I would always feel that sense of nostalgia in the present. Coney Island, as a whole, felt like that to me. As if the past was in constant connection with the present and the future. This photo represents the variety of people with the variety of reasons for them enjoying Astroland on a variety of levels. For me, it ran deep for some unknown reason. An unknown but strong kind of love. Walking through there today still gives me that nostalgic feeling because the presence of Astroland, can still be felt there."

posted Oct 24th, 2018 in News and tagged with Astroland, Astroland Park, 10th Anniversary,...

Coney Island History Project Multilingual Brochure

The Coney Island History Project is seeking part-time interviewers to conduct audio interviews for an oral history project in the Southern Brooklyn neighborhoods of Coney Island, Bensonhurst and Gravesend.

Interviewers must have professional or academic training and experience in oral history, interviewing or radio reporting. They will conduct, record and edit audio interviews in English or another language for which we require interviewers such as Russian, Chinese, and Spanish. Interviewers are paid by the hour for the interview and editing. Additional work transcribing and translating the interview is also available. This project is ongoing and scheduling is flexible. Interviews along with transcripts are posted on our online oral history archive at https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/oral-history-archive. For info on our oral history program, see the article in the Fall 2018 issue of the U.K. Oral History Journal [PDF - page 25].

Desired skills:

- Fully proficient in English and at least one other language such as Russian, Chinese (Cantonese or Mandarin), and Spanish, or another language for which we may require interviewers

-Training and experience in oral history, interviewing or radio reporting

-Provide samples of previous interviews or audio recordings

-Experience with recording equipment and digital editing

-Ability to work independently

-Excellent written and communication skills

HOW TO APPLY

Please send cover letter, resume, links to previous interviews or audio recordings to coneyislandhistory[AT]gmail[DOT]com

posted Oct 21st, 2018 in News and tagged with oral history, bilingual, interviewers,...

Coney Island History Project Walking Tour

Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson leading a workshop and walking tour for teachers as part of the Brooklyn Public Library's Brooklyn Connections, a professional learning program for educators

Stroll through Coney past, present and future with the Coney Island History Project Walking Tour! This year, visitors from near (New York City, Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey), far (California, Florida, Louisiana and Oregon) and around the world (Costa Rica, England, Germany and Spain) joined our weekend tours. Among the groups for whom we conducted special tours this season were the Brooklyn Public Library's Brooklyn Connections, a professional learning program for educators; the Historic Districts Council’s Six to Celebrate, a preservation advocacy initiative; and Transition Network, a national organization for women over 50. School groups, company outings, and private groups celebrating reunions and birthdays also joined us for special tours.

Offered year-round, our 1-1/2 hour, wheelchair accessible tour includes a private visit to the Coney Island History Project's exhibit center. Tours are based on History Project director Charles Denson's award-winning book Coney Island: Lost and Found, the interviews from our Oral History Archive, and other primary sources. Visit our online reservation site to see the walking tour schedule and purchase advance tickets online. Tickets are $25 and help support the free programming of the Coney Island History Project, a 501c3 not-for-profit organization.

All Coney Island History Project Walking Tours are weather permitting. If a tour is cancelled due to the weather forecast, ticket orders will be refunded. If you have a question or you would like to schedule a private tour or group visit, please email events [AT] coneyislandhistory [DOT] org.

posted Oct 21st, 2018 in Events and tagged with Tours, Walking Tour, Coney Island,...