Coney Island Blog - History

Steeplechase Park

Today in history, Steeplechase Park (1897-1964) closed forever.  Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson described the closing ceremony in the chapter titled "The Death of Steeplechase Park" of his book Coney Island: Lost and Found:

"Steeplechase Park closed at the end of the season on Septmeber 20, 1964. Marie Tilyou, Bill Nicholson, and Jimmy Onorato were together  at the traditional closing as the park's bells were slowly tolled once for every year of operation. The sound system played 'There's No Business Like Show Business' and then 'Auld Lang Syne.' Thousands of lights were switched off slowly, row after row, on each toll of the bell. As it turned out, the park went dark for the last time. Bill Nicholson left the closing ceremony with Tilyou and her friends and walked to the Clam Bar for drinks."

Marie Tilyou was the daughter of Steeplechase Park founder George C. Tilyou. Bill Nicholson was the executive secretary of the Coney Island Chamber of Commerce and  Jimmy Onorato was the park's manager, and for a time, its president. 

Photo courtesy of Dan Pisark. 

posted Sep 20th, 2021 in History and tagged with photo of the day, Steeplechase Park, Coney Island,...

Under the Boardwalk

#ThrowbackThursday: Umbrellas for rent and soda for sale under the Boardwalk at West 23rd Street and the Boardwalk. 1950s photo from the Coney Island History Project Collection.

Listen to the Beach Days episode of our Coney Island Stories podcast!

Jimmy McCullough

On National Carousel Day, we pay tribute to Jimmy McCullough (1929-2013), who learned the carousel business from his father and began his career working on Coney Island's Steeplechase and Stubbman carousels. Listen online to his oral history recorded by the Coney Island History Project in 2009.

Working in Coney Island was a family business going back generations for Jimmy, who was a descendent of both the Tilyou and the Stubbman families. He worked on a total of four carousels in Coney Island including the B&B Carousell, which he bought from his cousin Willy Bishoff. Jimmy and his family owned and operated numerous small amusement parks and carousels in Coney Island, including the historic carousels that are now in Prospect Park and Flushing Meadows Park. After McCullough's Kiddie Park was forced to close when its lease was not renewed by Thor Equities, 2013 became the first year since 1862 that there has not been a Tilyou descendant operating in Coney Island. 

Photo Credit: Charles Denson

posted Jul 25th, 2021 in History and tagged with Carousels, National Carousel Day, Jimmy McCullough,...

Mermaid Ave Then and Now

You're invited to join us on Zoom for "Mermaid Avenue, Then and Now," a virtual tour with historian Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project, on February 23rd.

We'll look at how Coney Island's Mermaid Avenue shopping district, where most of the storefronts were in three-story brick buildings constructed in the 1920s, was transformed by a destructive urban renewal project launched in 1949. Today the "Avenue," as residents called it, is recovering but remains a shadow of its former self. Denson grew up a block from Mermaid Avenue and will show his photo documentation of the street as it changed during the 1960s and 1970s, and as it appears today. 

The Coney Island History Project also invites anyone with Mermaid Avenue stories to sign up to record an oral history about their experiences on Coney’s famous Avenue. Some of the oral histories in our archive about Mermaid Avenue’s mom and pop businesses founded by immigrants past and present are featured in Episode 4 of our Coney Island Stories podcast.

Charles Denson grew up in Coney Island and began documenting his neighborhood as a boy, a passion that continues to this day. He is the author of four books: Coney Island's Wonder Wheel Park; Wild Ride: A Coney Island Roller Coaster Family; Coney Island and Astroland; and Coney Island: Lost and Found, named 2002 New York Book of the Year by the New York Society Library. 

Tuesday, February 23 at 7:00 PM. FREE.
Advance registration is required. You will be sent the Zoom link two days before the event.

Register Here

 

 

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.

posted Feb 11th, 2021 in Events and tagged with Mermaid Avenue, Then and Now, Virtual Tour,...

Richard Glazer Danay

As Native American Heritage Month comes to a close,  listen to our oral history interview with Richard Glazer Danay, an artist who grew up in Coney Island and whose artwork celebrates his Mohawk iron worker ancestry. His extended family lived on West 16th Street and split their time between the Kahnawake (Caughnawaga) Mohawk reservation in Quebec and New York, where his father, uncles and cousins, as well as himself as a young man, were employed as iron workers. He was the first member of his family to be born in Coney Island.  

Photo Credit: Bingo War Bonnet from "Modern Mohawk Headdresses" series, 1995. Peabody Essex Museum Collection.

Thunderbolt Roller Coaster

Twenty years ago today, Coney Island's original Thunderbolt roller coaster was demolished. "Giuliani Razed Roller Coaster, And the Law" wrote Dan Barry in the NY Times in 2003, when "a federal jury in Manhattan ruled that the city had no justification for tearing down the Thunderbolt, and in doing so had trespassed on Mr. Bullard's property. It also determined that one city official, who was integral in the decision to demolish, had acted with 'deliberate indifference.' '' Photos of the Thunderbolt demolition in the Coney Island History Project Collection may be viewed here.

The Thunderbolt roller coaster was built in 1925 and operated until 1982. Famous as the inspiration for "The House Under the Roller Coaster" in Woody Allen's film Annie Hall, the coaster steadily decayed after its closing. In 2000, with Keyspan Park under construction next door, the city condemned the coaster as structurally unsound. Despite protests from preservationists and coaster enthusiasts, on November 17th, 2000, the Thunderbolt was demolished. 

posted Nov 17th, 2020 in History and tagged with Thunderbolt, Roller Coaster, demolition,...

Stauch's Movie Theater Coney Island

Today's #ThrowbackThursday photo shows the original Stauch’s building on Coney Island's Bowery at Stillwell being demolished in 1940 to make way for the Bobsled. It was a movie theater called Stauch's Old Time Movies in its last days. Photo from the Coney Island History Project Collection.

posted Nov 5th, 2020 in History and tagged with Stauch's, movie theater, Bowery,...

Tornado Roller Coaster

The Tornado -- Whirlwind Scenic Ride --Coney Island, NY. Postcard from the Coney Island History Project Collection.

Listen online to the Coney Island History Project's new oral history with Michael Liff. He shares stories of growing up in Coney Island and working in the amusement area as a teen in the 1970's. Working at the Tornado was his favorite job. He got to know the coaster's every dip and turn, and did everything from greasing the tracks, loading riders, and pulling the breaks to collecting money for re-rides by saying "Fifty cents to do it again!" Liff says "my love was for the Tornado" when asked to compare it to Coney Island's other legendary wooden coasters built in the 1920s, the Thunderbolt and the Cyclone. He also worked at Astroland's Diving Bell, kiddie rides, and haunted attractions, as well as the Bowery's water race games, where he learned to call people in. "I'm glad I have these memories," he says of Coney Island, which besides being a fun place to work is where he met his wife of nearly 40 years. "It gave me the opportunity to have a beautiful family. So it's something very close to my heart."

posted Oct 30th, 2020 in History and tagged with Tornado, Roller Coaster, 1970s,...

Eight years ago today Hurricane Sandy devastated Sea Gate and Coney Island. This film was shot on October 29, 2012 by Charles Denson for the Coney Island History Project.

posted Oct 29th, 2020 in History and tagged with Sandy, Hurricane Sandy, Sea Gate,...

Wonder Wheel Patent

Happy 100th Patent-Versary to Deno's Wonder Wheel! Filed in January, Charles Hermann's patent for his invention, which he said combined the thrills of a Ferris wheel with a gravity railway or roller coaster, was approved on September 28, 1920. An earlier design for what would one day become the Wonder Wheel was patented in 1915, writes Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project, in his new book Coney Island's Wonder Wheel Park.  Published by Arcadia's Images of America series, the book 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, and interviews with the family of the original designer and builder of the Wonder Wheel. 

We look forward to seeing everyone in 2021 at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park on the Boardwalk in Coney Island for the long awaited celebration of the Wheel's 100th season.
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posted Sep 28th, 2020 in History and tagged with Wonder Wheel, Deno's Wonder Wheel, Coney Island,...