Coney Island Blog - Events

Trailer Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland

Official Trailer: Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008

On Saturday, February 28th, Charles Denson will present a slide talk on the Coney Island History Project's mission and origins as part of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art's Coney Island Symposium: An Intersection of Art and Identity. The exhibit Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008, which opened on January 31st at the Wadsworth, features more than 140 paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, posters, architectural artifacts, carousel animals, ephemera and film clips. The symposium begins with a keynote address by Exhibition Curator and Chief Curator Robin Jaffee Frank, followed by a series of panel discussions and special presentations.

Charles Denson has been a consultant and a member of the exhibit's project team for the past six years and has contributed numerous ephemera and prints from his personal archive, as well as writing a chapter for the exhibit's catalog. He also recorded descriptions of artwork for the show's audio tour. Selections from the Coney Island History Project's vast archive of oral history recordings were used in the "Step Right Up!" interactive listening station that accompanies the show.

"Robin Jaffee Frank first contacted me in 2009, during the show's earliest planning stage," Denson said. "At our first group meeting at the Yale University Art Gallery in 2010, Robin revealed her ambitious plan for a show that explored Coney Island in a way that had never been attempted before. Her Coney Island theme included artifacts, prints, film, sheet music, and the best examples of modern art as well as the classical paintings that depict the earliest years of Coney Island, a subject that I had always found fascinating. I am extremely honored to be a part of this exhibition."

Charles Denson and Robin Jaffee Frank

Charles Denson and Robin Jaffee Frank, 2012

Among the artifacts in the Wadsworth exhibit is the 1955 Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, which was a popular attraction at the Coney Island History Project's exhibit center for the past two years. According to a review of the Wadsworth show in the Hartford Courant, "The five-foot-tall wall-mounted sculpture, loaned to the exhibit by the family who runs Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, is installed at the entrance to the exhibit galleries, flanked by two creepy paintings by Arnold Mesches, in which Cy presides over sinister-looking amusement parks."

The Coney Island exhibit is on view in Hartford through May 31, 2015 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.

Cyclops Wadsworth Athenuem

Deno's Wonder Wheel Park's Stacy Vourderis visiting the park's Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, which is part of the Coney Island exhibit at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT

posted Feb 23rd, 2015 in Events and tagged with art, Charles Denson, Coney Island,...
CIHP_HolidayCard2014

Happy Holidays from the Coney Island History Project!

It's going to be an historic New Year's Eve in Coney Island as the 8,000 LED lights of the landmark Parachute Jump ring in the New Year, followed by the first fireworks show of 2015. This free, family-friendly event marks the beginning of a new tradition and is sponsored by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, NYC Council Member Mark Treyger, and the Alliance for Coney Island.

The Coney Island History Project exhibition center will open for the season on Coney's Opening Day, which is Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015. In the meantime, we continue to offer weekend walking tours that include a private visit to the History Project's exhibit center. During the winter, the 1-1/2 tours are offered Saturdays and Sundays at 1pm by advance reservation only. Visit our online reservation site to purchase tickets for the year-round walking tours or email events@coneyislandhistory.org for info on booking a group or school visit.

During this busy holiday season, please take a moment to sign Council Members Mark Treyger and Chaim Deutsch's public petition calling on the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the historic Riegelmann Boardwalk as an official Scenic Landmark. Currently, there are a total of nine Scenic Landmarks in New York City, including Prospect Park, Eastern Parkway and Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn.

"For nearly a century, Coney Island's wooden boardwalk has provided the public with a rustic observation platform, a cool, soft, raised promenade that captures ocean breezes and affords a respite from New York City's hard concrete jungle. Much like the unfortunate destruction of Penn Station before it could be landmarked, the 'concrete solution' to the Boardwalk's maintenance problems is shortsighted and ill advised. This historic structure must be protected and preserved," said Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project and author of Coney Island: Lost and Found.

posted Dec 24th, 2014 in Events and tagged with Boardwalk, Coney Island, Happy Holidays,...
Coney Island Creek

SAVE THE DATE October 29, 2014, the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, for "Coney Island Creek After Sandy: Planning for the Future." Will the Creek be a community asset or a liability? A talk and film presentation by Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project, will be held at the Coney Island Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library at 6pm. The Wednesday evening event is free and open to the public. The Coney Island Library is located at 1901 Mermaid Avenue at the corner of West 19th Street.

Charles Denson, a Coney Island native, has been documenting the Creek for over 40 years and is working on a book and film about the waterway. He has given numerous lectures and presentations concerning the Creek at venues that include the New York Aquarium, The Coney Island Library, Kingsborough College, Brooklyn College, and at various locations in the Coney Island community. In 2013 Denson received the Herman Melville Award from the New York State Marine Education Association for his contributions to marine education through his work.

The Coney Island History Project would also like to introduce our new sister Twitter account @ConeyCreek. Please follow it in addition to @ConeyHistory for history, news and event info for Coney Island Creek.

posted Oct 6th, 2014 in Events and tagged with Charles Denson, Coney Island, Coney Island Creek,...

Coney Island History Project Walking Tour led by Amanda Deutch

The Coney Island History Project's exhibit center season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day, but we continue to offer walking tours and group visits to our exhibit center 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. Tickets are $20. 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 events@coneyislandhistory.org

Coney Island History Project Group Visit

The History Project's Coneyologist Club hosts visits by children from the community like this group from Coney Island Houses

posted Sep 26th, 2014 in Events and tagged with Brooklyn, Coney Island, Coney Island History Project,...
History Day at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park Coney Island History Project On History Day, visitors may take a peek inside the Astroland Rocket, previously sealed shut for 45 years!

Enjoy live music, entertainment and history at the 4th Annual History Day at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, home of the landmark 1920 Wonder Wheel, and at the Coney Island History Project. The free event will be held from 1-6pm on Saturday, August 9. The rain date is August 10.

The theme of this year's festivities is the return of the Astroland Rocket, one of the first of the "imaginary" space voyage simulators constructed during the Space Race. Astroland Park's 1962 Rocket was brought back to Coney Island in June 2014 by the History Project and Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, where its new home is next to the Wonder Wheel. The Rocket will be restored as a multimedia exhibit covering the history of flight-themed attractions in Coney Island.

History Day will blast off with a dedication ceremony at the Rocket at 2pm, Visitors are invited to take a peek inside the space-age icon, previously sealed shut for 45 years! Tang & MoonPies will be served to the first 500 guests. DJ George Marchelos and The Rockinghams will play retro '60s music and space-themed songs from 11am-6pm.

Premiere screenings of Charles Denson's new film "The Rocket Has Landed" will be held at the Coney Island History Project from 1-6pm. The film tells the story of the Astroland Rocket and its journey back to Coney Island after being damaged by Hurricane Sandy while in storage on Staten Island. The rocket was installed as the first space-themed ride at Astroland Park in 1962 before being moved to a rooftop location on the Boardwalk that made it a landmark for millions of Coney Island visitors over a period of several decades. Four years after it was donated to the City, the Coney Island History Project spearheaded a successful effort to return the rocket to Coney Island where it is now on display at Wonder Wheel Park.

Bill Sharkey

Bill Sharkey playing his Jaeger & Brommer street organ at Deno's Wonder Wheel Pavilion on the Boardwalk

Returning for an encore performance on History Day are organ grinders from the Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors Association (AMICA) and the Carousel Organ Association of America (COAA) playing both antique and home-built hand-cranked musical organs. From 1pm-6pm, visitors will have the chance to crank some of the organs and experience a thrill from days gone by.

Queens residents Vincent and Maryam Morgan will play their Castlewood 20-note crank organ. The Morgans are president and treasurer of the Lady Liberty Chapter of AMICA, whose members enjoy musical instruments such as player pianos, orchestrions, nickelodeons, band organs and music boxes. The membership is from New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania and southern Connecticut.

Ian Fraser, 13, of Staten Island, is the youngest member of AMICA and COAA. His 1881 Celestina Organette was made by the Mechanical Orguinette Company of New York at their factory in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. This type of organ was one of the best selling models of its day and was the equivalent to today's iPod. It allowed the most popular music of the time to be played again and again. It was a first in the history of music.

Ian Fraser History Day Deno's Wonder Wheel Park

Ian Fraser, 13, of Staten Island, playing his 1881 Celestina Organette manufactured in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Bill and Rita Sharkey of Long Island will play a street organ made in Germany by Jaeger & Brommer, whose craftsmanship is based on a 200-year tradition of organ building in Waldkirch. It plays a 20-note paper roll by turning the hand crank located on the side of the organ.

Will and Joanna Schultz are traveling from Pennsylvania with their 26-note Universal John Smith crank organ. Will worked 2-1/2 years to build it entirely from scratch using wood from a scrap pile and designed his own cabinet.

Also from Pennsylvania is Mark Pall, whose interest in building hand-cranked organs grew out of his background as a church organist. He will play a John Smith organ that he built and redesigned himself.

The rally is curated by band organ restorer and magician Bob Yorburg, who is Vice President of COAA. He will perform his interactive show "Professor Phineas Feelgood's World of Magic" at 4pm in Dreamland Plaza adjacent to the Coney Island History Project.

The organ rally and magic show are free to the public and will be held at the Coney Island History Project, Dreamland Pedestrian Plaza on 12th Street and in Deno's Wonder Wheel Gazebo on the Boardwalk.

History Day at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and Coney Island History Project

Free entertainment on History Day includes Professor Phineas Feelgood's World of Magic at 4pm in Dreamland Plaza (W 12th Street) adjacent to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Islad History Project

On History Day, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park will have a special display of historic artifacts and signage from Spook-A-Rama, the park's legendary dark ride, which opened in 1955. The first 500 people who ride the Wonder Wheel will receive a limited edition commemorative button as a gift. The Wheel opens at 11am on History Day.

Among the artifacts on view at the Coney Island History Project exhibit center are an original Steeplechase horse from the ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name, the Spook-A-Rama 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. Admission to the exhibit center and film screenings is free of charge. The Coney Island History Project will be open from 12-6pm on History Day.

Jeff Wilday Coney Island History Project

Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and Coney Island History Project

3059 West 12th Street, Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY 11224

D, F, N or Q train to Stillwell Terminal

Phone: 347-702-8553 (Coney Island History Project)

Phone: 718-372-2592 (Deno's Wonder Wheel Park)

http://www.coneyislandhistory.org/

http://www.wonderwheel.com/

History Day

Save the Date! Saturday, August 9th, 2014, from 1pm - 6pm, is the 4th Annual History Day Celebration at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project.

History Day festivities include free live entertainment, music and history. This year, we're also planning a special event to celebrate the return of the Astroland Rocket, the 1960s space-age icon which came home to Coney Island in June and has landed next to the Wonder Wheel in Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. Stay tuned for details of this exciting event to be announced soon!

Returning for an encore performance on History Day are organ grinders from the Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors Association (AMICA) and the Carousel Organ Association of America (COAA) playing hand-cranked musical organs from around the world. Throughout the day, visitors will have the chance to crank some of the organs and experience a thrill from days gone by. The rally is curated by band organ restorer and magician Bob Yorburg, who will perform his interactive show "Professor Phineas Feelgood's World of Magic."

The organ rally, magic show and other performances TBA are free to the public and will be held at the Coney Island History Project, Dreamland Pedestrian Plaza on 12th Street and in Deno's Wonder Wheel Park.

On History Day, the Coney Island History Project will feature special exhibits as well as historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films from our archive. Among the artifacts on view are an original Steeplechase horse from the ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name, the Spook-A-Rama 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. Admission is free of charge.

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.