Coney Island Blog - News

Coney Island History Project

The calligraphy reads from left to right- "Kang Ni Dao" - Chinese for Coney Island. Photo of Lu Zhao and Sylvia Ching Man Wong for the Coney Island History Project.

Happy Lunar New Year 2020! Listen online to stories recorded in Cantonese and Mandarin for the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive with Coney Island, Gravesend and Bensonhurst residents who arrived here as immigrants or refugees. The interviews are transcribed in Chinese, translated into English, and available for online listening and reading on our website.

Calligraphy artist Lu Zhao was born in 1942 in Toishan in China’s Guangdong Province. He immigrated to New York in 1989 and lives with his family in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Mr. Zhao says that his path to mastering calligraphy began as a five-year-old and he started painting portraits when he was eight. His first teacher was Jinyu Zhao, a member of his extended family who taught him to write on scrolls, choose copybooks, and the relationship between paper, brush and ink. Mr. Zhao's service to the community includes volunteering to create the funeral scrolls for Police Officer Wenjian Liu in 2015.

Thanks to Council Member Mark Treyger, New York City Council and New York City Department of Cultural Affairs for supporting our multilingual programs.

posted Jan 22nd, 2020 in News and tagged with Lunar New Year, Happy Lunar New Year, oral history,...

Happy Holidays from the Coney Island History Project

Happy Holidays and Warm Wishes for the New Year from the Coney Island History Project. We're thrilled to be celebrating our 16th anniversary and Deno's Wonder Wheel's centennial in 2020! 

As we look back on 2019, we're grateful to our members, funders, and friends for your continued enthusiasm and support, and proud of all that we've accomplished during the past 15 years. Special thanks to Carol Albert, who co-founded the Coney Island History Project with Jerome Albert in honor of Dewey Albert, creator of Astroland Park, for her ongoing support, and to the Vourderis family, operators of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, for providing us a home and for their interest in preserving Coney Island's heritage.

Highlights of our 2019 season include the special exhibition "Salvation by the Sea: Coney Island's 19th Century Fresh Air Cure and Immigrant Aid Societies," which was featured in the Brooklyn Eagle and on WNYC's All Of It. Visitors from the NYC metro area, across the country and around the world took part in themed history weekends at our free exhibition center and snapped souvenir selfies with the iconic Spook-A-Rama Cyclops and Coney Island's only original Steeplechase horse.

When immigrants sailed into New York Harbor at the turn of the last century, the first thing they saw wasn't the Statue of Liberty, it was the towers and bright lights of Coney Island. Our 8th Annual Coney Island History Day presented with Deno's Wonder Wheel Park celebrated Coney Island's immigrant heritage with performances of Russian classical ballet and Ukrainian folk dance, Afro Haitian drumming, Chinese traditional dance, songs in the Turkish and Rumeli tradition, and a Mariachi band.  You can watch a video recap of Coney Island History Day here.

In 2019, we recorded over 50 oral histories in English, Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese and Spanish with people who have lived, worked or played in Coney Island and adjacent neighborhoods of Southern Brooklyn. More than 350 oral histories are available for listening in our online archive and at our exhibition center via our new SoundStik audio handset.

Our free Immigrant Heritage Walking Tour of Coney Island was conducted in English and Mandarin for Immigrant Heritage Week, organized by the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, and for Jane's Walk, organized by the Municipal Art Society. The Coney Island History Project exhibited at City of Water Day in Kaiser Park sponsored by the Coney Island Beautification Project and the Waterfront Alliance and did presentations about Coney Island Creek at Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies and the City Parks Foundation's Coastal Classroom.

Your donation or membership today will help support our 501(c)(3) nonprofit's free exhibition center, oral history archive, and community programming as we enter the new decade. We can't wait to see you again when the Coney Island History Project opens on April 5, 2020, for Coney Island's Opening Day! 

Charles Denson 
Executive Director 

Santa on the Boardwalk

You never know who you'll meet on the Boardwalk, "Coney Island's Fifth Avenue." On last weekend's Coney Island History Project Walking Tour, we were greeted by Santa and his girlfriend! With only 4 days til Christmas, may we suggest our walking tour tickets as stocking stuffers. We'll provide a cheerful gift card and tours are offered year round.

Coney Island Polar Bears in the 1990s. Photo © Tom McGann

Coney Island Polar Bears in the 1990s. Photo © Tom McGann.

New in the Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive: Listen to Coney Island Polar Bear president Dennis Thomas recount the history and lore of the 116-yr-old Coney Island Polar Bear Club, the oldest winter bathing club in the United States.  President of the club for the past 12 years, Thomas starting swimming with the Bears in the 1970s and became a member in the '80s. Join the Bears for 2020's Annual New Year's Day Polar Plunge! Info and registration: http://polarbearclub.org. Photo: Tom McGann, Coney Island Polar Bears in the 1990s, with Dennis Thomas on the far right.

Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive

Share and preserve your memories by recording an oral history with the Coney Island History Project. We are recording audio interviews in English, Russian, Chinese, Spanish and other languages with people who live or work - past or present - in Coney Island and adjacent Southern Brooklyn neighborhoods or have a special connection to the place. For inspiration, listen to some of the oral histories in our online archive. Interviews are recorded year-round in-person or via phone or Skype. You may schedule an appointment via our website.

posted Sep 4th, 2019 in Events and tagged with Oral History Archive, oral history, Oral Histories,...

Coney Island History Project

Coney Island historian Charles Denson joined WNYC's All Of It on August 20 to talk about the Coney Island History Project's latest exhibit, Salvation by the Sea. You may listen to the segment here. The show was guest-hosted by Nancy Giles. 

Photo credit: The Sea Breeze Hospital on Surf Avenue at West 29th Street, circa 1890s. (Coney Island History Project )

 

Loop the Loop Edwin Prescott

Happy Roller Coaster Day from the USA to the UK! National Roller Coaster Day commemorates Edwin Prescott's August 16, 1898 patent for a vertical Loop the Loop. The looping coaster was built in 1901 on Surf Avenue in Coney Island where the 1927 Cyclone roller coaster is now. Early this morning in the UK, Tricia Vita of the Coney Island History Project talked roller coasters and Coney Island with Paul Ross' Late Late Early Early Show on talkRADIO in London. Give a listen: 

 

 

City of Water Day

Wildlife Conservation Society volunteers visit with Charles Denson at the History Project's exhibit table; group photo of City of Water Day attendees; and Charles Denson frees a live horseshoe crab found tangled in monofilament fishing line.

On July 13, the Coney Island History Project exhibited at the 5th annual City of Water Day in Kaiser Park. Our table offered our "CreekWalk" walking tour brochures for Kaiser Park and Calvert Vaux Park, as well as the illustrated panels from the History Project's Coney Island Creek exhibit. Hundreds of community members spent a day on the shoreline of Coney Island Creek, learning about the history, future, and ecology of the once neglected waterway. The educational event was sponsored by the Coney Island Beautification Project and the Waterfront Alliance.
 

posted Jul 19th, 2019 in News and tagged with City of Water Day, Coney Island Creek, Kaiser Park,...

Coney Island History Project

Red, white and blue-clad visitors at the Coney Island History Project on July 4th. 

In the tradition of Coney Island's sidewalk photo studios of the past, visitors to the Coney Island History Project are invited to take free souvenir photos with Cy, the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, and Coney Island's only original Steeplechase horse. Browse through our Flickr album to see photos from the Coney Island History Project's 15th anniversary season and previous years.
 

Mermaids still keep watch over Mermaid Avenue.

Woody Guthrie's 1950 song "Mermaid's Avenue" suggests that there's never been a mermaid on Mermaid Avenue, or at least that he's never seen one:

But there’s never been a mermaid here
On Mermaid Avenue
No, I’ve never seen a mermaid here
On Mermaid Avenue
I’ve seen hags and wags and witches;
And I’ve seen a shark or two
My five years that I’ve lived along
Old Mermaid’s Avenue

But Woody was mistaken. Just a few blocks from his home on Mermaid Avenue six stone mermaids could be found peering down from the roof of a one-story brick retail building, keeping watch over their namesake avenue. I remember the mermaids well from my childhood. At that time Mermaid Avenue was still a major shopping district with a lot of interesting architecture, but most of the buildings would be lost to urban renewal in the 1970s. 

The History Project recently received a request asking if the mermaids were still there:

"I remember a building on Mermaid Avenue on the southwest corner, and it was a one story commercial building.  The facade was a series of mermaid busts that ran along the building just below the roofline. What was interesting about these mermaids was that they were bare breasted, and they were all pinching their right nipples. My question is, would you know if there was any significance to the mermaids' pose, and is it possible that there are any photos of the building available."

Yes, the mermaids are still there! A little weathered and partially covered by signs and wiring, they still watch over the street that Guthrie once called home. All but one has lost her tail and, as far as the unusual pose, perhaps they are just a little bit shy and are trying to cover up. Here are some recent photos of the sculptures. We won't reveal the location as it's more fun to discover them on your own.

– Charles Denson

A beautiful mermaid above a beauty shop on Mermaid Avenue.

The only Mermaid Avenue mermaid that still has her tail.

A mermaid strikes a pose on Mermaid Avenue.

 

 

posted May 3rd, 2019 in By Charles Denson and tagged with Mermaid Avenue