Coney Island Blog - Events

Woody Guthrie's Birthday Celebrated in Coney Island

Happy 102nd Birthday, Woody Guthrie! This weekend, in honor of the folk hero's July 14th birthday, the Coney Island History Project will screen "Woody Guthrie's 100th Birthday, Celebrated at Coney Island," a short film by Charles Denson. The film may be viewed on Saturday and Sunday, July 12th and 13th, from 12pm -6pm, at the History Project's exhibit center. Admission is free of charge.

Charles Denson's film was made on July 14, 2012, when the activist songwriter's daughter Nora Guthrie and family members including grandchildren, along with musicians Billy Bragg and Steve Earle and actor Tim Robbins (seen in above photo) made a pilgrimage to Coney Island, where Guthrie lived on Mermaid Avenue for a decade.

The film will be screened next year at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College when the Klezmatics' "Woody Guthrie's Wonder Wheel Tour" performs there on March 8, 2015. This week, the arts center is commemorating Guthrie's birthday with a special discount offer for the Klezmatics' show, which features songs written during Guthrie's Coney Island years such as "Mermaid's Avenue." Use code WOODY20 and save $10 per ticket. The offer expires on Woody's birthday.

In 2008, Woody Guthrie was honored at the Coney Island Hall of Fame ceremony at the Coney Island History Project along with an exhibit "Woody Guthrie's Coney Island Years." History Project director Charles Denson also put up the commemorative plaque, seen in the photo above, at 3520 Mermaid Avenue, where the Guthries lived from 1943 to 1952. The building was demolished in 1972. When Guthrie died in 1967, his ashes were spread in the ocean one block from here, at the foot of West 36th Street.

City of Water Day

Join Partnerships for Parks, City Parks Foundation and the Coney Island History Project on Saturday, July 12, for City of Water Day in Kaiser Park!

11am - 11:45am: Explore the history of Coney Island Creek with historian Charles Denson, who has documented the Creek for over 40 years and is working on a book and film about the waterway. In 2012, the Coney Island History Project received a grant from Partnerships for Parks to create CreekWalk, a self-guided walking tour brochure and a series of informational plaques installed on the creek side of Kaiser Park.

11:30am - 1pm: Participate in T'ai Chi and other fitness activities

11:30am - 2pm: Talk about transportation. How do you get to the waterfront?

11:30am - 2pm: Meet some of the groups working in Kaiser Park. Design your ideal park and plan for the future of your neighborhood

11:30am - 2pm: Dig in to a vertical garden with Coney Island Beautification Project

Location: Kaiser Park entrance on Neptune Avenue and 31st Street

A citywide project of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, the City of Water Day Festival is a free day-long celebration of the world-class potential of the water that surrounds us and brings us together.

The Face of Steeplechase, Coney Island History Project

The Coney Island History Project's first special exhibit of the season, opening on Memorial Day Weekend, will be "The Face of Steeplechase Park: Gams, Garters, and Stockings!" A look behind the smiling face of Steeplechase Park features rare photographs and artwork from the park's opening to its demolition, 1897-1966.

Opening 50 years after the closure of Steeplechase Park and 100 years after the death of the park's founder, George C. Tilyou, the exhibit at the Coney Island History Project explores the underlying success of the park and the evolution and meaning of its idiosyncratic logo -- the "Steeplechase Funny Face."

Tilyou, an expert at crowd psychology, began his career as a young boy selling bottles of sand to visitors at his father's beachfront bathhouse and restaurant during the 1860s. Decades later, he created Steeplechase Park, Coney's most successful and long-lived amusement park.

The park's quirky trademark was the grinning "Funny Face," an enigmatic symbol of the park's underlying theme of merriment, hilarity, and, most importantly, sex. The much-imitated face underwent numerous revisions during the park's run. Sometimes it was a gleeful, maniacal visage; at other times, it appeared as inscrutable as the Mona Lisa. Was the face a mask for Tilyou or did it represent his true personality? This exhibit examines the many variations through the decades.

Highbrow and lowbrow culture existed simultaneously at Steeplechase. The 15-acre park was an enclosed wonderland composed of classical architecture and formal gardens tended by brightly uniformed employees. But underlying it was a theme of sex and titillation, a beguilingly Victorian version of sexuality and romance expressed by a leg or petticoat exposed by a tumble or a hidden jet of air. The experience was simultaneously innocent and kinky.

The Insanitorium Steeplechase Park, Coney Island History Project

Tilyou forced the visitor to be part of the show. His main attractions were designed to offer the public a combination of voyeurism and exhibitionism, to put them onstage and make them part of the act. The Insanitorium (originally called the Blow Hole Theater), the Barrel of Love, the Human Roulette Wheel, and the Bounding Billows were contraptions created to break down inhibitions by luring visitors into disorienting traps where anyone "could end up in an intimate arm-and-leg tangle with complete strangers."

Looking back, 50 years after the park closed, it's difficult to believe that something like the Blow Hole Theater, with its hallucinatory stage set, electric paddle-wielding clown, and skirt-lifting air grates, lasted as long as it did. Many of the park's attractions could not exist in today's litigious, politically correct culture. The only survivor of this bizarre period remains the iconic Funny Face, the symbol of an innocent and repressed world.

"The Face of Steeplechase" is curated by Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson. The exhibit is on view from May 24 through September 1 (Labor Day), 2014. The Coney Island History Project's exhibition center is located under Deno's Wonder Wheel Park's iconic entrance sign at 3059 West 12th Street, just a few steps off the Boardwalk. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past and special exhibits. Our popular Steeplechase Horse from the ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name is on display along with Spook-A-Rama's Cyclops from Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, hand-painted figures from Astroland's Musik Express, a Mangels Fairy Whip Car made in Coney Island in the early 1900s, and vintage signs and game pieces.

The exhibit center is open Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day, from 12 noon till 6pm. Admission is free of charge.

The Face of Steeplechase, Coney Island History Project
posted May 19th, 2014 in Events and tagged with Charles Denson, Coney Island, Coney Island History Project,...
The Face of Steeplechase

You're invited to preview the Coney Island History Project's exhibition center season on Coney Island's Opening Day. 2014 marks the 10th anniversary of the Coney Island History Project! Ten years ago our oral history project began with a portable recording booth and proved to be so popular that we later expanded to a permanent location. Stop by our exhibit center to view historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past and preview selections from upcoming exhibits.

Located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, the Coney Island History Project will be open on Palm Sunday, April 13th, and again on Easter Sunday, April 20th, from 1:00PM till 6:00PM. Our regular exhibition season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, from 12 noon. Admission is free of charge.

Palm Sunday is the official season opener for Coney Island's rides and attractions. The Opening Day celebration starts at 11AM with the annual tradition of the Blessing of the Rides at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park by Pastor Debbe Santiago of Coney Island's Salt and Sea Mission, and is followed by the Egg Cream Christening of the Cyclone's front car at 12 noon. Our special guest at the Coney Island History Project will be the legendary Cyclops from Deno's Spook-A-Rama dark ride. Visitors are invited to take a FREE souvenir photo with the Cyclops or an original Steeplechase horse from the ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. Hope to see you at the festivities!

Under the Wonder Wheel on West 12th Street

THE FACE OF STEEPLECHASE

Our first special exhibit of the season, opening on Memorial Day Weekend, will be "The Face of Steeplechase: The Evolution of an Icon," in honor of the 50th anniversary of the closing of Steeplechase Park (1897-1964) and the 100th anniversary of the death of Steeplechase creator George C. Tilyou (1862-1914).

Tilyou's "Funny Face" dates back to the early days of Steeplechase, where the famous visage appeared on signs, murals and ride tickets. Today in Coney Island, you can see variations of the Funny Face - on signs, beer labels, t-shirts, etc. "Tillie" is the New Jersey variation of Coney Island's Funny Face and was painted in the '50s at Asbury Park in homage to the Coney original! Coney Island West End 1974

CONEY ISLAND'S WEST END: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHARLES DENSON

By popular demand, one of the slide shows we'll have in our exhibit center this season will feature never-before-seen images of the West End from Charles Denson's archive and photos that he took in the 1970s. "The West End of Coney Island is a vibrant and resilient community that's survived many challenges over the last few decades," said Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson. "I grew up there and documented the wave of urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s that transformed our community and changed the lives of its residents. This slide show tells the story of the area going back to 1600s."

Titled "The History of Coney Island's West End and the Presence and Contributions of African Americans in Coney Island from the 1600s to the Present," the photos were shown for the first time in February at a Black History Month celebration and panel co-hosted by Mathylde Frontus of Urban Neighborhood Services and sponsored by U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries, City Councilman Mark Treyger, State Senator Diane Savino, State Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, Emblem Health and the Alliance for Coney Island.

Mangles Kiddie Whip Car Coney Island History Project

WILLIAM F. MANGELS: THE WIZARD OF 8TH STREET

An exhibit on the work of Coney Island-based ride inventor and amusement manufacturer William F Mangels (1867-1958) will open in August. Mangels invented rides such as the Tickler and the Whip and built the mechanisms for countless roller coasters and carousels, including the B&B Carousell, which was brought back to Coney Island last year. Among the classic rides in Deno's Kiddie Park are a Mangels Pony Cart and Fire Engine. Mangels' former shop building on West Eighth Street is now an office of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Coney Island History Project at Archives Field Day

Archivists came together at the 92nd St Y for the first-ever Archives Field Day on March 22nd. The event was sponsored by the Archivists Roundtable of Metropolitan New York. Visitors were invited to solve a series of questions using primary sources from the National Archives, NY-Historical Society, Girl Scouts USA, Coney Island History Project and other organizations. This year's theme was Sports and Leisure.

Each puzzle solved earned visitors a stamp in their Archives Field Day Passport and a chance to win prizes, including ride passes for Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. For more photos, visit our flickr set. In 2008, the Archivists Roundtable of Metropolitan New York honored the Coney Island History Project with the ARTS Award for Innovative Use of Archives.

On the Beach, Coney Island. 1934

Coney Island residents and friends are cordially invited to celebrate Black History Month with us in Coney Island on February 17th. The Coney Island History Project and Urban Neighborhood Services are hosting a slideshow presentation by Charles Denson followed by a panel discussion with long-time community members. Titled "The History of Coney Island's West End and the Presence and Contributions of African Americans in Coney Island from the 1600s to the Present," the slideshow will feature never-before-seen images from Charles Denson's archive and photos that he took in the 1970s.

U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries, Coney Island's first African American Congressman, will be a special guest. The event is sponsored by City Councilman Mark Treyger, State Senator Diane Savino, State Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny, Emblem Health and the Alliance for Coney Island.

Dinner will be served after the presentation.

WHEN: Monday, February 17, 4-6PM

WHERE: PS 329, 2929 West 30th Street, Coney Island

Coney Island, West End 1974

"I am personally excited to work with Charles Denson to bring this very important event to the residents of Coney Island," said Mathylde Frontus, founder of Urban Neighborhood Services, a community-based non-profit founded in 2004 that offers supportive programming on topics such as health and wellness, academic achievement, and other relevant subjects. "African Americans have a long and rich history of contributing to the vibrancy and well-being of this peninsula and I believe that Charlie's slideshow combined with the first-hand accounts of long-time Coney Island residents will really elucidate this all the more."

"The West End of Coney Island is a vibrant and resilient community that's survived many challenges over the last few decades," said Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson. "I grew up there and documented the wave of urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s that transformed our community and changed the lives of its residents. This slide show will tell the story of the area going back to 1600s."

Black History Month, Coney Island

Please share this event flyer with your friends and neighbors. All are welcome to celebrate Black History Month with us in Coney Island on February 17th.

Black History Month, Coney Island
posted Feb 12th, 2014 in Events and tagged with Black History Month, Charles Denson, Coney Island,...
The Storm by Charles Denson

This month, on the 1st anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, Charles Denson's "The Storm" is screening at the Brooklyn Art Council's Scene:Brooklyn Film Series on a program with Sandy-themed documentaries on October 29. On the West Coast, the film will be shown October 26 at the Berkeley Video and Film Festival, where it won a Grand Festival Award.

Mr. Denson's 20-minute documentary shows rare and dramatic footage of the storm coming ashore on the evening of October 29, 2012, as well as preparations for the storm, the surge at Coney Island and Sea Gate, and the storm's aftermath. It begins with footage of Hurricane Donna striking Coney Island shot by his mother in 1960. Mr. Denson rode out Sandy in Sea Gate, where his apartment and car were destroyed by the storm surge.

"I thought, 'nobody's filming this. I've got to record this,'" Denson said in an interview in the Brooklyn Paper when the film premiered at last month's Coney Island Film Festival. "I realized, it's very different when you actually experience something and put your life on the line to record something," Denson said.

Scene Brooklyn 2013

Tuesday, October 29: From the Floodlines, BAC's Scene: Brooklyn Film Series Venue: Galapagos Art Space, 16 Main Street, DUMBO Doors Open at 7pm, Screening 8pm - 9:40pm --This year's BAC film series runs from October 25-October 29 and features films and media art inspired by or relating to Sandy and its aftermath. --Tickets are $10. Info here. Saturday, October 26: Berkeley Video and Film Festival Venue: East Bay Media Center, 1939 Addison St, Berkeley Arts District Screening at 5:50pm --Ticket info here.

The Storm by Charles Denson

Coney Island History Project Walking Tour

The Coney Island History Project's exhibit center season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day, but we continue to offer walking tours year-round. Our unique tours are based on History Project Director Charles Denson's award-winning book "Coney Island: Lost and Found," the interviews from CIHP's Oral History Archive, and other primary sources.Through the end of October, Coney Island History Project Walking Tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 pm by advance reservation only. Beginning in November tours start an hour earlier, at 1pm, and are also by advance reservation. The 1-1/2 hour tour is wheelchair accessible. All tours are weather permitting. If a tour is cancelled due to the weather forecast, ticket orders will be refunded. Advance purchase of tickets via our online reservation site is required for the fall and winter series. If you have a question or you would like to schedule a private tour or group visit, please email coneyislandhistory@gmail.com.

Coney Island History Project

posted Sep 27th, 2013 in Events and tagged with Coney Island, Coney Island History Project, ...

The Storm by Charles Denson

Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson rode out Superstorm Sandy in Sea Gate, where his apartment and car were destroyed by the storm surge. On Sunday, September 22, his documentary "The Storm" is premiering at the Coney Island Film Festival. The 20-minute film shows rare and dramatic footage of the storm coming ashore on the evening of October 29, 2012, as well as preparations for the storm, the surge at Coney Island and Sea Gate, and the storm's aftermath. "The Storm" is part of Program 16, featuring several Coney Island-themed films, at 6pm. Tickets are $7. Advance ticket purchase is recommended. The screening venue is Sideshows by the Seashore at Coney Island USA, 1208 Surf Avenue, ground floor. On September 22, prior to the film screening, the Coney Island History Project exhibit center will be open special hours, from 3-5pm. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past. The exhibit center is located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. Admission is free of charge.

Organ Grinder Lola and Master Bob

A bevy of organ grinders from the Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors Association (AMICA) and the Carousel Organ Association of America (COAA) will join the History Day celebration at the Coney Island History Project and Deno's Wonder Wheel Park on Saturday, August 10, from 1pm - 6pm. The rally was curated by Bob Yorburg, a band organ restorer, magician and carousel carver, who performed at the History Project last season and restored Grandma's Predictions for Deno's Wonder Wheel Park.

"Hand cranked organs have appeared throughout the streets of New York and in Coney Island for nearly 100 years," says Yorburg, who explains that cranking the organ moves a bellows that provides air to sound the pipes. A roll of paper with holes punched in it creates the music that you hear. "You would often hear people singing along to the music. This form of entertainment predates all other forms of musical reproduction including radio, television and electronic media. Now, for one day only, we are bringing back these free performances with strolling and stationary organs."

Organ Grinder Lola and Master Bob, originally from Baden-Baden, Germany and now based in the Washington, DC area, will appear on the Dreamland Plaza stage on West 12th Street at 3pm. "We'll perform German Moritaten, 19th century street ballads of broken hearts, murder and mayhem," says Lola. "And, of course, the most famous Moritat of them all, 'Mackie Messer,' gangster rap from 1920s Berlin. Plus other fun sing-along songs in English, like the Ballad of Anne Boleyn! Great fun."

Ian Fraser, age 12, of Staten Island, is one of the youngest members of COAA and will perform on Saturday in Deno's Wonder Wheel Kiddie Park. He is the proud owner of a Celestina Organette, a small hand-cranked organ built in 1881 by the Mechanical Orguinette Co of New York. Ian has performed at band organ rallies at Knoebels, Quassy, Wurlitzer, and Olcott Beach.

Hofbauer Organ

Members of the New York chapter of AMICA performing on History Day include Vincent and Maryam Morgan on their Castlewood organ in Deno's Wonder Wheel Kiddie Park; Buzz Rosa and Barbara on their Hofbauer organ and Jerry and Cheryl Maler, also on a German Hofbauer organ, in front of the Coney Island History Project; and Bill and Rita Sharkey with their Jager & Brommer Organ, alternating with Bob Stuhmer and Walter Kehoe on Accordeon, at Deno's Wonder Wheel Gazebo on the Boardwalk.

"You will hear an art form that all but died a half a century ago," says Yorburg. "It is now experiencing a renaissance that will be shared for free by enthusiasts. These people have restored, built and bought organs that will be shared with the public." Throughout the day, spectators will have the chance to crank some of the organs and experience a thrill from days gone by.