The Coney Island History Project's special exhibition for the 2018 season, opening on Memorial Day Weekend, is "Coney Island Creek and the Natural World." Coney Island is best known for its magnificent artifice, a manufactured reality and fantasy world that replaced the vibrant natural environment of sand dunes and salt marshes that existed before development began 200 years ago.
Very little of that environment has survived. The towering sand dunes were flattened, and the wetlands were filled in for development leaving the island vulnerable to storms. Even the island's world-famous beach is artificial, created with sand hydraulically pumped from offshore shoals. 19th century painters and photographers were able to capture images of a beautiful landscape that was about to be transformed forever as an isolated sandbar was transformed into the "World's Playground."
Ironically, the much-maligned estuary known as Coney Island Creek has become a key to understanding what was lost to development and what can be restored for future generations. The creek and its parks represent the true essence of Coney Island. Once a pristine salt marsh consisting of more than 3,000 acres of wetland habitat, Coney Island Creek was the original attraction at Coney Island, attracting anglers, hunters, writers, and artists to hotels along the creek's shoreline.
For the 2018 season we are planning a multi-media exhibit, curated by Charles Denson, called "Coney Island Creek and the Natural World" consisting of maps, photographs, posters, art, artifacts, oral history, and video. Among the rare treasures on display is Coney's "first admission ticket," the wooden 1823 sign from the Creek's Shell Road toll house advertising the rates for horse and rider and coaches. It is Coney Island's oldest surviving artifact and part of our permanent collection.
The exhibit describes the flora and fauna of the island's environment as well as recent environmental projects that are restoring habitat once lost to development and pollution. Through the lens of history, art, and ecology, we will explore Coney Island's transformation and why it's important not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
The Coney Island History Project exhibition center is open free of charge on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day from 1:00PM-7:00PM. We're located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, just a few steps off the Boardwalk. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past. Visitors are invited to take free souvenir photos with the iconic Spook-A-Rama Cyclops and an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. The History Project is open year-round for our weekend walking tours and group visits, and for oral history interviews.