Coney Island Blog - News


Dennis Corines, Paul Georgoulakos, Gerry Menditto, and Charles Denson, 2010.

Gerry Menditto, "Mr. Cyclone," never rode on the coaster that he operated for nearly 35 years. "I don't like drops," he said.  He diagnosed problems by sound, listening to the vibrations made by motors, belts, lift chains, bearings, and wooden supports, and he and his crew repaired or replaced anything that didn't sound right. Gerry became operations manager of the Cyclone roller coaster in 1975 after Astroland Park acquired the lease and he worked there until the park closed in 2008. The coaster was in poor shape when he took over and he began a complete restoration of the ride. His Cyclone crew was made up of Coney Island folks, more than a few being Gerry's childhood friends, people he could trust to keep the landmark ride operating safely. His calm, soft-spoken manner was at odds with the commotion and deafening screams encountered during 14-hour shifts on the Cyclone's platform. He earned the love and respect of those who worked for him.

The Coney Island History Project Exhibit Center and recording studio were located underneath the Cyclone for a number of years, and the sounds of the coaster can be heard in the background of many oral histories. Our office window looked out onto the main hill and loading platform where we could see Gerry at his wooden booth keeping an eye on the crowds lined up in the maze, waiting their turn to board the cars. We had a ringside seat at one of the best shows in Coney Island. 

Gerry retired soon after Astroland closed, but could not stand to be away from Coney Island. A few years ago he took a job managing the Gargiulo's parking lot, which gave him an opportunity to be back among his old friends and colleagues. It was always a joy to stop and a visit with him before work on summer mornings. He was back where it all began.

After a short hospital stay, Gerry Menditto passed away from COVID complications on January 5th 2022. His family is planning a memorial later this spring.

- Charles Denson


Gerry and the Cyclone crew in 1998.


Gerry and Astroland owner Carol Albert at Gargiulo's Restaurant, 2008.

 


Gerry keeping an eye on things at the Cyclone.

 


Gerry and the Cyclone crew, 2007.

 


At work in the Cyclone shop.

 


Gerry greeting admirers at the Cyclone on opening day.


Gerry working the tracks on the Cyclone, circa 1976.

posted Jan 8th, 2022 in By Charles Denson and tagged with

Happy Holidays


Happy New Year from the Coney Island History Project! Stay safe and well this holiday season. Many thanks for your support in 2021, whether you became a member or contributor, shared your story for our archives, visited our exhibition center or outdoor exhibits, attended a Zoom event, listened to our podcast or oral histories, or engaged with us on social media. We’re all in this together!

During the pandemic we initiated new programs and presentations including Mermaid Avenue, Then and Now and Coney History Show and Tell via Zoom (soon to be released in video form). New recording technology developed during the last two years enabled us to improve the quality of virtual recording after we temporarily suspended in-person interviews at our exhibit center. I was once again able to teach environmental history at the City Parks Foundation’s Coastal Classroom on Coney Island Creek at Kaiser Park. The last class was held in July, shortly before construction of the ferry dock began. Our down time has been productive as we plan and curate next season’s exciting indoor and outdoor exhibits.

We're especially grateful to the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the New York City Council, Council Member Mark Treyger, and Humanities New York for funding our programs during this second challenging year of the pandemic.

Special thanks to Carol Albert for her ongoing support of our mission. Carol co-founded the Coney Island History Project with Jerome Albert in honor of Dewey Albert, the creator of Astroland Park. We also thank the Vourderis family, operators of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, for providing us a home, and for their interest in preserving Coney Island's history.

Your donation or membership today will help support our 501(c)(3) nonprofit's free exhibits, oral history archive, and community programming as we enter our 18th year. Through December 31, 2021, donors may deduct up to $300 in charitable contributions whether or not you itemize your 2021 tax return.
We’re counting the days until we meet again in Coney Island for the 2022 season! 

Charles Denson 
Executive Director

Coney Island History Project

More than 400 oral histories are available for listening in the Coney Island History Project’s online archive. Please listen, share, and if you or someone you know would like to record a story remotely via phone or Zoom, sign up here. We record interviews in English, Russian, Chinese, and other languages with people who have lived or worked in Coney Island and adjacent neighborhoods or have a special connection to these places. Among the 2021 additions to our archive are the following interviews recorded by Mary Conlon, Charles Denson, Julia Kanin, Shavon Meyers, and Tricia Vita.

Nasim Almuntaser is a 2021 Brooklyn College graduate who grew up working in his Yemeni-American family's bodega in Brighton Beach. The history and education major plans to become a history teacher. He describes the special relationship and sense of community that a bodega owner has with store patrons and shares his experiences during the pandemic and the Bodega Strike of 2017.

Tara Altebrando shares memories of getting engaged on the Wonder Wheel in 2004. She talks about how iconic places in Coney Island inspired and provided a backdrop for her 2011 novel Dreamland Social Club. During the pandemic, Tara and her husband Nick began adapting the novel into a stage musical with her 13-year old daughter singing the part of the main character.

Filmmaker Joyce Chopra grew up in Coney Island and Sea Gate in the 1930s and ‘40s. Her grandparents owned Kalina's Baths. Chopra describes how she got the acting bug at Lincoln High School while performing in a play with Lou Gossett Jr. She went on to direct groundbreaking documentaries and feature films including Joyce at 34 (1972) and Smooth Talk (1985, Grand Jury Prize, Sundance Film Festival).

Lolita Divilova lives in Coney Island, where she is active in the community as a member of Community Board 13 and the board of Brightwater Towers Condominium. A native of Baku, Azerbaijan and a former Moscow resident, Lolita and her family immigrated to New York in 1993, settling on Ocean Parkway, where many people from Baku then lived. They bought an apartment at Brightwater Towers in 2012.

Flatbush native Alan Fine shares memories of summers spent at Washington Baths Annex with his family as a boy in the 1950s. "I knew everybody," he says of the popular bathhouse, which was on the boardwalk next to the Childs Restaurant . It was there he first met his wife of 53 years, Helene, when they were children.  When the Annex was demolished in 1973, Alan went back looking for the slab of concrete on which he’d carved their initials in a heart.                 

Sea Gate resident Ellina Graypel is a singer-songwriter who grew up in Belarus. Performing and composing in both English and Russian, she also translates American songs into Russian, and Russian and Belarusian songs into English for American audiences. In 2021, Ellina was honored with the Women of Distinction Award by the New York State Assembly and Assembly Member Mathylde Frontus.

When Reverend Cliff Herring married a couple on Coney Island’s Cyclone roller coaster in 2007, the NY Daily News called him “the Roller Coaster Reverend” and “a card carrying member of the American Coaster Enthusiasts.” He talks about the essentials of a roller coaster wedding, why the Cyclone is the epitome of a roller coaster, and a mock wedding on the Cyclone in 2002 for the ride's 75th anniversary.

Raised in Bay Ridge, Natalie Johnson has memories of going to Ravenhall Baths in the 1950's and '60s until it closed after a 1963 fire. She recalls her family’s roomy walk-in locker, which was equipped with a mirror, seating, shelves and hooks where they left their swimsuits overnight. On the way home, they went on the rides at Steeplechase Park. "It was a wonderful way of life," she says.

Jen Kepler is an educator at New York Aquarium and a passionate observer of Brooklyn wildlife. The Brooklyn native recalls aspiring to work at the Aquarium ever since her childhood visits to see the beluga whales and the Aquatheater Show.  Jen says she found her calling "teaching people about what I love” and vividly describes species of ducks, gulls, and birds one can see on Coney Island Beach and at Steeplechase Pier.

David Louie tells what it was like to grow up and live in Coney Island in the 1950s through the '70s. His family owned Wah Mee, a popular Chinese restaurant on Mermaid Avenue. David's father emigrated from China in the 1920s and owned and operated several restaurants in New York. The family lost the Mermaid Avenue home and restaurant they owned during the city's urban ronslaught of the 1970s.

Zohra Saed is a poet, editor, and translator who was born in Afghanistan and immigrated to Brooklyn with her family as a child in the 1980s. She grew up in the Uzbek-Turkestani community on Ocean Avenue in Sheepshead Bay and roamed Neptune Avenue in Brighton Beach. Zohra reads two of her poems, "Brooklyn" and "Neptune Avenue," which vividly evoke scenes of her childhood.

Cuzzo Sosay is a musician and producer of gangster hip hop, soul music, inspirational music, and R & B who visited the Coney Island History Project this past summer. As a boy growing up in Brooklyn in the 1980s, his parents took him to Coney Island and he recalls the Hell Hole and Himalaya rides. He talks about Coney Island as musical inspiration, meditating on the beach and winter swimming.

Tony Williams and his family moved from Harlem to Coney Island when he was 13 and lived here from 1966 until the late '70s. He describes working at various rides in the amusement area as well as playing the harmonica on the Boardwalk for tips and with Bread and Puppet Theater. Tony reflects on the white flight that began in the late 1960s and the Coney Island of today.

posted Dec 23rd, 2021 in News and tagged with oral history, Oral History Archive, Oral History Project,...

Giving Tuesday

Become a member of the Coney Island History Project on Giving Tuesday! Your tax-deductible contributions support our free programming including our exhibit center, podcast and oral history archive. 

To join online, choose a category and receive a thank you gift visit our Membership and Support page. We're grateful to all of our members, funders, and friends for your continued enthusiasm and support, and proud of all that the Coney Island History Project has accomplished this year and during the past 17 years.

posted Nov 30th, 2021 in News and tagged with Giving Tuesday, Coney Island History Project, Membership,...

Astrotower

Happy Hanukkah from the Coney Island History Project! The Star of David illuminated Astroland's Astrotower during Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, until the park closed in 2008. Next year, 2022 will be the 60th anniversary of the 1962 opening of Astroland! If you worked at the park or were a visitor and have Astro stories to share, we'd love to record your oral history for our archive. Audio interviews are conducted via phone or Zoom. You may schedule and interview here

posted Nov 28th, 2021 in News and tagged with Star of David, Astrotower, Astroland,...

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving from good old and new Coney Island and the Coney Island History Project! 

posted Nov 25th, 2021 in News and tagged with Thanksgiving, Happy Thanksgiving, Coney Island,...

Wonder Wheel Banner Exhibit

The Coney Island History Project exhibition center closed for the season after Labor Day, but you can still see “Celebrating 100 Years! The Wonder Wheel and the Immigrant Dream,” our free outdoor exhibition of banners at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park through October 31.

The exhibit tells the remarkable story of the Wonder Wheel and the Vourderis family who operate Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. The colorful history banners are located on the Wheel's walkway adjacent to the History Project, as well as below Deno's new Phoenix Roller Coaster on West 12th Street. “It's a riveting story about families, immigrant initiative, love, and hard work,” says History Project director Charles Denson. Admission to the park is free. Visit Deno's website for park hours.

Coney Island’s 2021 season was the History Project’s tenth year at Deno’s Wonder Wheel after moving from our original location beneath the Cyclone roller coaster in 2011. Since the Coney Island History Project was founded in 2004 by Carol Hill Albert and Jerome Albert in honor of Dewey Albert, founder of Astroland Park, we have proudly offered "Free Admission for One and All!" at our exhibits and events. We are grateful to the Vourderis family for hosting our history exhibits in locations around their park, and to the Albert family for their ongoing support as the Coney Island History Project continues its mission of recording oral histories with people who lived, worked, and played in Coney Island.

After being closed in 2020 due to the pandemic, we are grateful that Coney Island was able to open this year and that the History Project’s combination of indoor and outdoor exhibits brought us through this challenging season successfully. During the “off season,” History Project staff are busy recording oral histories and producing a new season of our Coney Island Stories podcast. You’re invited to browse our website, which in addition to our Oral History Archive includes our Podcast, the blog Ask Mr. Coney Island, selections from our Collection, and Coney News and Events. Follow us on social media for news of upcoming events like our popular Coney Island History Show & Tell via Zoom.

Photo Credit: Coney Island History Project 

posted Oct 12th, 2021 in News and tagged with Wonder Wheel, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island,...

Coney Island Stories Podcast

Happy International Podcast Day! “Schools of Their Own,” the new episode of Coney Island Stories, our podcast produced from oral histories in the Coney Island History Project's archive, has dropped. Listen and subscribe via Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Episode 11 shares the stories of four dedicated and innovative teachers who founded schools of their own in Coney Island and adjacent neighborhoods in Southern Brooklyn.

April Leong in the award-winning founder and principal of Liberation Diploma Plus High School, a small alternative high school in Coney Island. Dr. Tim Law established a program of free Chinese language classes for children at I.S. 96 Seth Low School in Bensonhurst. Irina Roizin realized her childhood dream of founding a ballet school, Brighton Ballet Theater School of Russian Ballet, on the campus of Kingsborough Community College in Manhattan Beach.  Misha Mokretsov is head coach and owner of Coney Island's New York Fencing Academy, located just down the block from the History Project. 

Listen to previous episodes about Coney Island's legendary roller coasters, beach, bathhouses, and restaurants and other businesses on Mermaid Avenue and in the amusement area via your fave podcast app or the podcast page on the Coney Island History Project's website.

This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions. Chinese translation by Keenan Yutai Chen. Voice overs by River Kanoff and Ali Lemer. The oral histories were conducted by Mark Markov, Samira Tazari, and Yolanda Zhang between 2015 and 2019. You can listen online to the full interviews featured in this podcast in the History Project's oral history archive

 

posted Sep 30th, 2021 in News and tagged with Coney Island Stories, podcast, schools,...

Visitors from Chile

A group of very enthusiastic visitors from Chile visited the Coney Island History Project exhibition center on Labor Day. We typically ask people "where are you visiting from," and this year almost everyone said "here" or named a Brooklyn neighborhood or New York City borough. We love our fellow New Yorkers, but unlike past seasons, we met very few tourists from out-of-state and only a handful from other countries due to travel restrictions. It was exciting to welcome a group all the way from Chile on the last day of our 2021 season.

Visit us in Coney Island in 2022!

Photo Credit: Coney Island History Project

Coney Island History Project

We're excited to share the news that the Alliance for Coney Island’s 2021 mural project is completed and our stretch of West 12th Street has been brightened and beautified. The Coney Island History Project's gates are among the 15 locations of the NYC Department of Small Business Services' funded project. 

Artist Danielle Mastrion’s amazing mural for the History Project features the legendary Elephant Hotel, which was on West 12th Street from 1885-1896, and the Wonder Wheel’s Thrills sign. Next door, artist Erin Mathewson emblazoned the gates of the Miss Coney Island, Skin the Wire and Feed the Clown attractions with murals of games and rides, including Deno’s Carousel and Phoenix Roller Coaster.

Visit allianceforconeyisland.org/murals to see all of the project's murals from 2020 and 2021 in Coney Island’s amusement district and on Mermaid Avenue. 

Photo Credit: Norman Blake

Murals West 12th Street Coney Island

posted Aug 26th, 2021 in News and tagged with mural, Murals, art,...