Coney Island Blog - Events

New Year's Day Wonder Wheel

On January 1st, weather permitting, Deno's Wonder Wheel will be open for the first-time ever on New Year's Day and begin a countdown to the Wheel's 100th anniversary in 2020! The Coney Island History Project will be on hand to record New Year's greetings at the Wonder Wheel for our Oral History Archive

Our interviewers will be stationed at the entrance and exit of the Wheel. Stop by and record your New Year's message free of charge from 11am-2pm at this special Oral History Event. The audio greetings will be preserved in our Oral History Archive with a selection available for listening online. 

On New Year's Day, the Wheel will open from 11am-2pm for only $5 per ride with 50% of the proceeds being donated to the Coney Island Polar Bears' charity Camp Sunshine. The Wheel will also open New Year's Eve for the first time ever, weather permitting, with FREE Rides from 9pm to 11pm. Borough President Eric Adams has announced that Coney Island's countdown to 2016 will include an array of family-friendly events in addition to the Parachute Jump's digital "ball drop" and fireworks. 

Don't forget to bring your quarters: The animated windows on West 12th Street which house our neighbors Miss Coney Island ("25 cents to Fall in Love") and "Coney Island Always" ("25 cents to Smile") will also be open on New Year's Day.

Last fall the Coney Island History Project was delighted to welcome a group of tourists from Miami for whom the highlight of their visit was meeting Grandma's Predictions at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. Each guest came with an envelope with two quarters for a prediction and took a photo with the park's legendary 1920's fortune-telling machine. The park is now closed for the season, but we're looking forward to New Year's Day 2016, when the Wonder Wheel is set to open for the first time in its history, to kick off the countdown to the Wheel's 100th anniversary in 2020!

Meet us at the Coney Island History Project on West 12th Street under the Wonder Wheel for year-round walking tours and group visits. Our unique 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. Through the fall and winter, Coney Island History Project Walking Tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30 pm by advance reservation only. Tickets are $20. The 1-1/2 hour tour is wheelchair accessible. Group tours may be booked any day of the week.

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. 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. Both during the holidays and year-round, you may also purchase gift certificates for Coney Island History Project Walking Tours.

posted Nov 30th, 2015 in Events and tagged with Walking Tour, Group Tour, Group Visit,...

"Boardwalk Renaissance," a new art show based on a chapter in Charles Denson's book, Coney Island Lost and Found, is opening at City Lore Gallery on November 5th. "When I wrote the chapter about the "Artists' Renaissance of the 1980s" I wanted to pay homage to the arts groups that kept Coney in the public eye during a low point in the 1980s," Charles Denson said. " I was especially drawn to what Philomena Marano and Richard Eagan were creating with the Coney Island Hysterical Society and their Spookhouse exhibit in the old Dragon's Cave on the Bowery. I felt that their creative efforts should be recognized as an important part of Coney 's history."

Steve Zeitlin, Executive Director of City Lore and an early participant in Coney Island USA events in the 1980s, met with Marano, Eagan and Denson last summer and they planned an exhibit that would illuminate the artistic and preservationist activities of the artists who found a home in Coney Island during a tumultuous decade. "Some of the artwork displayed in my book can be seen in this exhibit," Denson said, "As Coney Island becomes more corporate it's important to remember what was accomplished in the past by committed and talented individuals working on a small scale. They made a huge difference."

"Boardwalk Renaissance: How the Arts Saved Coney Island," City Lore Gallery, 56 East 1st Street, NYC 10003. Opening November 5, 7-9pm. Exhibit extended through May 8, 2016.  Gallery open Wed - Fri. 2pm - 6pm and Sat - Sun. 12pm - 6pm.  Free admission.

Photo Copyright Hazel Hankin
Coney Island Hysterical Society's Richard Eagan and Philomena Marano with the World of Wax Musee's Lillie Santangelo in 1982. Photo ©  Hazel Hankin.

On October 14, Charles Denson will give a talk and video/slide presentation about Coney Island Creek and the three NYC Parks that encompass its western end. The talk, sponsored by Partnerships for Parks and the Catalyst Program for Community Building, will be held at the Parks Department headquarters at the Arsenal in Central Park. Denson has documented Coney Island Creek for more than 40 years and is completing a book and documentary about this historic and endangered estuary.

The Coney Island History Project has partnered with Partnerships for Parks to create a self-guided walking tour brochure and markers for the Coney Island CreekWalk at Kaiser Park, installed in 2012. Charles Denson has also led walking tours and workshops for students at the City Parks Foundation's Coastal Classroom. Our newest Catalyst-funded project is signage for Calvert Vaux Park and an educational booklet. 

The Oct 14th program "Catalyst Dialogue: Parks as Space for Community Change" will highlight how community members have transformed park spaces into outdoor classrooms, active waterfronts and community spaces. In addition to the Coney Island History Project, presenting groups include GreenShores NYC, Bronx River Alliance, and City Life is Moving Bodies. The event is from 6:30-8:30 pm and is free of charge. The Arsenal Building is located at 830 Fifth Avenue.

Photo: CreekWalk Markers installed at Coney Island Creek in Kaiser Park in July 2012 were designed and created by Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project with a grant from the Catalyst Program. Photo © Coney Island History Project.

Coney Island History Project

We were excited to see write-ups about the Coney Island History Project in Sing Tao, the world's largest Chinese newspaper! The articles are about the Coney history slide talk we gave on September 2nd at the United Chinese Association of Brooklyn in Gravesend. Archivist Jen Garland presented the talk, which was interpreted into Cantonese for us by Rodney Lau, former senior translator at the United Nations. Thank you to Paul Chan, Senior Center Director, for inviting us, and to Terri Jeu, Program Manager, for facilitating our visit.

The program is part of our outreach efforts in Southern Brooklyn where we are recording oral history interviews  with immigrants and foreign-born New Yorkers in English as well as languages such as Chinese, Russian and Turkish. This program is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger.

Sing Tao Daily


Photo Showing Restoration of 1823 Toll House Sign, Coney Island’s Oldest Artifact, Now on View at Coney Island History Project

Among the treasures on display at the Coney Island History Project’s exhibit center this season is Coney Island’s oldest surviving artifact from the dawn of the “World’s Playground.” The 1823 Toll House sign dates back to the days when the toll for a horse and rider to “the Island” was 5 cents!

The earliest settlers of Coney Island knew better than to build at the ocean’s edge. In the early days, development began along Coney Island Creek, where violent winter storms were less likely to wash away structures. Coney Island remained isolated until March 1823, when the Coney Island Road and Bridge Company constructed a bridge and toll house on Coney Island Creek at what is now Shell Road. The Coney Island Causeway toll road opened for business in early 1824 and horse-drawn carriages were soon speeding south to the beach.

James Cropsey and Daniel Morell operated the toll house until 1839. John Lefferts took over as toll-taker until 1876, when Andrew Culver bought the property for his Prospect Park and Coney Island Railroad, the predecessor of today’s Culver Line. Coney’s first hotel, the Coney Island House, opened on a sand dune a short distance away on the current site of McDonalds’s restaurant on Neptune Avenue. This small triangle of land witnessed the beginning of Coney Island as a resort.

The Toll House stood at the corner of Shell Road and Coney Island Creek for over a century before the City demolished it in 1929 during a street-widening project. The sign was rescued by Coney Island ride inventor and amusement manufacturer William F. Mangels, who put it on display in his American Museum of Public Recreation on West 8th Street and Neptune Avenue. Mangels collection was sold in 1955 and the sign was purchased and restored by the Coney Island History Project in 2007.


1823 Toll House Sign on View at Coney Island History Project Exhibit Center, on West 12th Street under the Wonder Wheel

Today, the 192-year-old sign, often described as Coney Island’s “first admission ticket,” is on view for the first time since 2010 at the History Project’s exhibit center. It complements this season’s special exhibit “Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920.” Stereoview photography of Coney Island began in the 1860s, providing the earliest documentation of the resort. This exhibit features original stereoview photo cards, antique stereo viewers, and enlargements of some of the oldest photographic images of Coney Island including Coney Island Creek itself.

The History Project’s exhibition center season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Visitors are invited to take free souvenir photos with “Skully,” a veteran of the Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama, and an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. New hours are 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

posted Jun 24th, 2015 in Events and tagged with

Our first special exhibit of the season, opening on May 23, will be "Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920." Stereoview photography of Coney Island began in the 1860s, providing the earliest documentation of the resort. This exhibit features original stereoview photo cards, antique stereo viewers, and enlargements of some of the oldest photographic images of Coney Island.

Long before television, radio, movies, and the internet, the main form of family home entertainment was an exciting new technology called stereoview photography. Most homes could afford a simple wooden hand viewer and a collection of stereoview cards that covered every subject imaginable.

Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920

The cards were actual photographs shot with a stereo bellows camera and pasted on a cardboard backing. The viewer split the card, creating a 3-D image, something that had never been possible before.

Coney Island was one of the earliest subjects photographed. During the 1860s Coney Island consisted of a tiny resort centered on Coney Island Creek at the terminus of Shell Road. The Coney Island Tollhouse, Wyckoff House and Oceanic Hotel were prominently featured in these vintage stereoviews, as was Coney Island Creek itself. Hunting, fishing and rowing on the creek were the main attractions in the resort's early days.

Coney Island History Project: Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920

Late 19th century images included the Elephant Hotel, the first roller coasters, and a variety of humorous bathing attire. Our exhibit features modern enlargements of these early images, as well as the cards themselves. Commercial stereoviews continued to sell well into the 1930s.

While this form of stereo technology may seem primitive by modern standards, visitors to our exhibit can peer through an antique stereoviewer and experience the earliest days of Coney Island as it was transformed into the "Playground of the World."

"Please join us on this journey into the heart of Coney Island and leave the digital world behind," says Charles Denson, curator of the exhibit and director of the Coney Island History Project.

This program is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and our members and contributors.

Coney Island History Project Exhibit Center, Steeplechase Horse and Giant Skull

Located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, the Coney Island History Project is just a few steps off the Boardwalk. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past. Visitors are also invited to take free souvenir photos with an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name and "Skully," a giant skull that is a veteran of Coney's Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama.

The History Project's exhibition center season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. New hours are 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

Join our unique walking tours based on Charles Denson's award-winning book Coney Island: Lost and Found, the interviews from CIHP's Oral History Archive, and other primary sources. Visit our online reservation site to see the walking tour schedule and purchase advance tickets online or book a group tour.

It's My Estuary Day

You're invited to It's My Estuary Day on May 30 from 10:00AM-4:00PM, a day of service, learning and celebration along Coney Island Creek in Kaiser Park! The rain date is Sunday May 31.

Events will include a coastal clean-up, tables representing environmental organizations, demonstrations of water chemistry techniques, oyster monitoring projects, underwater robotics, diving demonstrations, and eco-chats with scientists and ecologists.

Participants include: NYCDOE * NYC Department of Environmental Protection * New York State Department of Environmental Conservation * NYC Partnerships for Parks * NYC Department of Sanitation * New York Aquarium * New York State Marine Education Association (NYSMEA) * Coney Island History Project * US Navy Sea Perch Project * Billion Oyster Project * The Historical Diving Society * Coney Island Beautification Project * Atlantic Engineering * Brooklyn Marine Alliance * Captain Mikes Diving * Cultural Research Divers * The Northeast Diving Equipment Group * Parachute Literary Arts * Union Divers Local 1556 * IS 228 * John Dewey High School * PS 188 * Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies

Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project will give a talk and tour of Coney Creek at It's My Estuary Day. Visitors may also take a self-guided walking tour by following the markers created for the Coney Island CreekWalk by the History Project with the support of Partnerships for Parks.

Last month, Charles Denson launched http://www.coneyislandcreek.org, his new website about Coney Island Creek. "I felt that it was important to create a site that provides a resource for people interested in discovering the creek's history and ecology, and its potential for the future." he said. "It's important for the public to be informed and have a voice as the city is conducting a feasibility study to mitigate future flooding in the area and the waterway might be transformed in many ways in the near future."

The site will have videos, photo essays, maps, interviews with community members, news, and historical photographs and information. Among the first videos on the new site is this kayak tour of the Creek at high tide.

posted May 13th, 2015 in Events and tagged with Charles Denson, coastal clean-up, Coney Island Creek,...
Red Grooms, Weegee 1940, 1998-99, acrylic on paper, Private Collection. Image Courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York; © 2013 Red Grooms/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Red Grooms, Weegee 1940, 1998-99, acrylic on paper, Private Collection. Image Courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York; © 2013 Red Grooms/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

On May 12th, the New York Public Library will host a conversation inspired by Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008, the exhibit at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and the Yale University Press publication of the same title. The panelists are the exhibit's curator Robin Jaffee Frank (Wadsworth Atheneum), Charles Denson (Coney Island History Project), Terry Carbone (Brooklyn Museum), Charles Musser (Yale University), and guest artist Red Grooms.

The Art Book Series event will be held from 6:00pm-8:00PM at the 42nd Street Library's Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. The event is free to the public. Auditorium doors open at 5:30PM.

Charles Denson has been a consultant and a member of the exhibit's project team for the past five years and has contributed numerous ephemera and prints from his personal archive, as well as writing a chapter for the exhibit catalog.

The exhibit Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland is on view in Hartford through May 31 before traveling to the San Diego Museum of Art, July 11, 2015 - October 13, 2015; Brooklyn Museum, November 20, 2015 - March 13, 2016; and the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, May 11, 2016 - September 11, 2016. It features more than 140 paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, posters, architectural artifacts, carousel animals, ephemera and film clips.

You're invited to preview the Coney Island History Project's exhibition center season on Coney's Opening Day. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past and preview selections from upcoming exhibits. Among the new additions for Opening Day is "Skully," a Giant Skull which came from the Coney Island Hysterical Society's Spookhouse, formerly the Dragon's Cave dark ride, and later found a home at Spook-A-Rama, thanks to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park's Vourderis family. Like the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, which was previously on display at the History Project, the Skull's eye sockets light up, and will soon move again with a little electrical work.

Coney Island History Project Exhibit Center

Dark ride veteran 'Skully' poses for his first souvenir photo at our exhibit center with Steve Vourderis, Denos Vourderis and Charles Denson. Take a selfie with him on Opening Day!

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, March 29th, and again on Easter Sunday, April 5th, from 1:00PM till 6:00PM. Our regular exhibition season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. New hours will be from 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

Our first special exhibit of the season, opening on Memorial Day Weekend, will be "Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920." Stereoview photography of Coney Island began in the 1860s, providing the earliest documentation of the resort. This exhibit features original stereoview photo cards, antique stereo viewers, and enlargements of some of the oldest photographic images of Coney Island.

Coney Island Stereoviews at Coney Island History Project

Join our unique walking tours 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. Tours and group visits to the exhibit center are given year-round. Visit our online reservation site to see the walking tour schedule and purchase advance tickets online or book a group tour.

Palm Sunday is the official season opener for Coney Island's rides and attractions. The Opening Day celebration starts at 10:30AM on the Boardwalk with the annual tradition of the Blessing of the Rides at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park by Pastor Debbie Santiago of Coney Island's Salt and Sea Mission. Built in 1920 by the Eccentric Ferris Wheel Company, Deno's Wonder Wheel is celebrating its 95th season with a free ride on Opening Day for the first 95 riders. At the 1927 Cyclone, where the first 100 people on line ride for free, the annual Egg Cream Christening of the roller coaster's front car is at 12 noon. The Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone are official New York City Landmarks.

At the Coney Island History Project, visitors are invited to take a FREE souvenir photo with "Skully" or our original Steeplechase horse from the ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. Hope to see you at this year's festivities!