Coney Island History Project

The Coney Island History Project’s free exhibition center will be open for Labor Day Weekend, including Monday, from 1 – 7 PM, for our last weekend of the summer season. Stop by and take a selfie with Cy, the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, and our original Steeplechase Horse. Also on view is a special exhibition of photography by Barbara Rosenberg and Coney Island’s oldest surviving artifact, the 1823 Toll House sign. It dates back to the days when the toll for a horse and rider to “the Island” was five cents.

After Labor Day, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and Luna Park remain open weekends and school holidays through the end of October. The History Project's outdoor exhibitions at Deno's are on display in the lower park adjacent to the Wheel during park hours.

A new permanent exhibit of history panels celebrating the 60th anniversary of Astroland is in front of the Astroland Rocket, directly across from the bumper cars. You can also see an exhibit of colorful history banners telling the remarkable story of the Wonder Wheel and the family that operates Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. The banners are located on the Wheel's walkway adjacent to the History Project, as well as below Deno's Phoenix Roller Coaster on West 12th Street. The exhibits are free and on view through October 30 during park hours. Hours of operation are subject to change depending on weather conditions.

Stay tuned for announcements of free events sponsored by the Coney Island History Project in September and October!

Astroland Rocket

MANY NYSCA Capacity Building Grant

We’re pleased to announce the Coney Island History Project has been awarded a grant for capacity building from the Museum Association of New York (MANY) in partnership with the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA). Capacity building grants up to and including $5,000 were awarded to 102 grantees in New York State.

The Coney Island History Project is using the funding to hire a part-time community engagement coordinator to do outreach to support our community based programming. The coordinator will recruit and qualify potential narrators interested in recording oral histories and participating in group reminiscence events, both remotely and in person. See our ad on for more details and to apply for the job.

"We are thrilled and grateful for this opportunity to expand our outreach into the Coney Island community," said History Project Executive Director Charles Denson, "especially after two difficult years caused by the pandemic."

“The arts and culture sector is facing a multi-year recovery process after two years of unimaginable challenges,” said Mara Manus, Executive Director, NYSCA. “We are grateful to MANY for their stewardship of this opportunity that will ensure New York State museums continue to grow and thrive. We send our congratulations to all grantees on their awards.”

“We thank NYSCA for this partnership and this opportunity to rapidly distribute much-needed funding to New York’s museums,” said Erika Sanger, Executive Director, MANY.

Partnership Grants for Capacity Building are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.

Salman Rushdie at the Coney Island History Project

Salman Rushdie with his son and Suketu's sons at the Coney Island History Project, 2009

We are saddened by the horrific attack on author Salman Rushdie and wish him a speedy recovery. Rushdie is a big fan of Coney Island. When he visited in 2009 with CIHP board member Suketu Mehta, he spent the morning at the History Project before riding the Cyclone, strolling the Boardwalk, and having a beer at Ruby's Bar. It was a memorable visit. The attack on Rushdie is an attack on freedom of expression for all writers. We hope to see more of his insightful books, essays, and opinions in the future.


posted Aug 16th, 2022 in By Charles Denson and tagged with

Coney Island Stories Season 2 Episode 6

"Growing Up in the 1980s," the new episode of Coney Island Stories, has dropped. Listen and subscribe via your podcast app or the podcast page on our website.

Season Two’s theme is “Growing Up in Coney Island” through the decades, from the 1930s to the 21st century. In Episode Six, narrators who grew up here in the 1980s, or grew up coming to Coney Island from nearby neighborhoods, share their stories. They remember living in Gravesend Houses and O’Dwyer Gardens, high-rises overseen by the New York City Housing Authority, as well as apartments on West 19th Street and in Brightwater Towers.  Astroland Park, Fabers Fascination Arcade, and Ruby’s Bar and Grill were their playgrounds.

Coney Island during the 1980s is best symbolized by Greek immigrant Denos Vourderis’s purchase of the 1920 Wonder Wheel, the amusement area’s oldest continuously operating ride and the founding of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. Another ray of hope in 1980’s Coney Island was the Astella Development Corporation’s plan to build low-rise attached homes on vacant lots slated for high-rise projects that were abandoned when the city went broke in the 1970s. Astella developed or renovated nearly one thousand single-family, owner-occupied homes on city-owned land in the 1980s.

The oral histories in Episode Six are with Alito Hernandez, Shavon Meyers, Zohra Saed, Eric Safyan, and Jeffrey L. Wilson. The interviews were conducted by Kaara Baptiste, Charles Denson, Leila Goldstein, and Tricia Vita between 2017 and 2021. This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions.

This program is sponsored in part by an Action Grant from Humanities New York with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

posted Aug 8th, 2022 in Events and tagged with Coney Island, Coney Island History Project, podcast,...

Remembering Astroland

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the opening of Astroland Park, Coney’s space-age attraction that debuted in 1962 at the dawn of the space race. The Coney Island History Project is celebrating the event with a new permanent exhibit of history panels installed in front of the Astroland Moon Rocket located at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park.  The Rocket is in the lower park, across from the Bumper Cars and adjacent to the Wonder Wheel.

It’s not often that an attraction leaves Coney Island and then returns. The Astroland Rocket was the first ride at Astroland. After it was retired in the 1970s, it was lifted to the roof of Gregory and Paul’s Restaurant on the Boardwalk, and served as an iconic advertisement for the Park. When Astroland closed in 2008, Carol and Jerry Albert, owners of Astroland Park, donated the Rocket to the City, which promised to make it a centerpiece of the new, revitalized amusement and entertainment district. 

The old space ship languished in a vacant lot on the shoreline of Staten Island, abandoned, forgotten, and damaged by Hurricane Sandy until rescued by the History Project and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. The Vourderis family offered space for the Rocket and History Project founder Carol Albert paid to have it moved back to Coney Island in 2014, where it found a new home and a place of honor beside the landmark Wonder Wheel.

"Outer space simulators have played a prominent role in Coney's amusement history,” said Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project. His 2015 film, The Rocket Has Landed, tells the story of Coney's fascination with intergalactic travel. “It began when Thompson and Dundy brought 'A Trip to the Moon' to Steeplechase Park in 1902 and culminated in 1962, with Astroland's Moon Rocket."

Deno's Wonder Wheel Park is open daily from 12pm until 10pm on weekdays and until 11:30pm on Fridays-Sundays through Labor Day, weather permitting. In September and October, Deno's is open weekends and school holidays. The exhibition is free and on view from July 31 through October 30 during park hours. Hours of operation are subject to change depending on weather conditions.

Remembering Astroland

Remembering Astroland

Remembering Astroland

Remembering Astroland

posted Jul 27th, 2022 in Events and tagged with Astroland, 60th anniversary, Astroland Rocket,...

Coney Island History Project Podcast Coney Island Stories

"Growing Up in the 1970s," the new episode of Coney Island Stories, has dropped. Listen and subscribe via your podcast app or the podcast page on our website.

Season Two’s theme is “Growing Up in Coney Island” through the decades, from the 1930s to the 21st century. In Episode Five, Coney Islanders who grew up in the 1970s share memories of being the original tenants of Carey Gardens and O’Dwyer Gardens, newly built high-rise developments overseen by the New York City Housing Authority. They remember the razing of entire blocks in the West End during urban renewal, pervasive crime affecting their lives, and gangs like the Homicides and the Seven Immortals inspiring the movie The Warriors. By mid-decade, New York City went broke and abandoned Coney Island. The one bright spot in the 1970s was Astroland amusement park’s two million dollar investment in new rides, including the Enterprise, named after the USS Enterprise in the TV series Star Trek, and sponsorship of air shows with the Army Golden Knights and the Air Force Thunderbirds.

The oral histories in Episode Five are with Karen Dawn Blondel, Mindy Gress, Orlando Mendez, Gene Ritter, Keith Suber, and Eliot Wofse. The interviews were conducted by Charles Denson, Amanda Deutch, Katya Kumkova, Mark Markov, and Tricia Vita between 2016 and 2022. This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions.

This program is sponsored in part by an Action Grant from Humanities New York with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

posted Jul 9th, 2022 in Events and tagged with Coney Island, Coney Island History Project, oral history,...

Jokes with Josue by Emmanuel Elpenord

On June 3rd, the Coney Island History Project presented Jokes with Josue: A Haitian Puppet Show created and performed by Emmanuel Elpenord. The free performance was at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park in the plaza below the park's Phoenix roller coaster. In the audience were first, second, and third graders from Coney Island’s P.S. 90, the Magnet School for Environmental Studies and Community Wellness down the block.

Emmanuel Elpenord is a first-generation Haitian-American actor, puppeteer, improviser and voice artist. "Jokes with Josue is a series of Haitian riddles featuring a marionette and cut-aways to toy theater scenes, all set under Haitian music," said Elpenord. “It includes a longer-form Haitian folktale or fable performed in a traditional style with some call and response games, pantomime, character voices and improvisation."

Born and raised in Coney Island, Elpenord recorded an oral history for the History Project’s archive in 2020 in which he shares memories of growing up in Sea Rise apartments and a souvenir of the Wonder Wheel. We'll be posting a video of the puppet show in the coming weeks. Additional photos by Norman Blake may be viewed here.

This program was supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. 

Jokes with Josue by Emmanuel Elpenord

Carlos Quinones Coney Island History Project

Among the recent additions to the Coney Island History Project's oral history archive are interviews with Carlos Quinones, a longtime resident of Coney Island who drove the Mermaid Avenue bus for many years; Sharon Tera, whose parents owned a popular Boardwalk restaurant; and Alan Kirschenbaum, one of the original tenants of Coney Island Houses.

Carlos Quinones, 72, is a Coney Island resident who lived in Gravesend Houses as a boy. He is well known in the neighborhood for his collection of classic cars. Quinones is a Vietnam War veteran and a retired MTA employee. In this oral history he shares memories of working games from age 14, placing the Puerto Rican flag atop the Parachute Jump in the 1970s, and driving the Mermaid Avenue bus. 

Sharon Tera Coney Island History Project

Born in 1947, Sharon Tera lived in Coney Island for the first 14 years of her life. Her parents, Ethel and Ise Tera, owned Ethel's Restaurant on the Boardwalk at West 19th Street. "Between my mother being Jewish and my father Japanese, we had a combination of that kind of food," Tera says. "So we had chicken noodle soup, we had clam chowder. Or you could just get fried shrimp in a hot dog bun." Tera shares childhood memories of mastering Skee-Ball at neighboring arcades, learning to develop photos at the photo studio next door, and having free run of Washington Baths and Steeplechase Park. 

Coney Island Houses Rendering 1954

Alan Kirschenbaum grew up in Coney Island Houses, where his family was among the original tenants of Coney’s first superblock high-rise housing project. They lived there from 1956 until 1966. He vividly describes the architecture and amenities of the buildings, where the windows were designed to bring in the ocean breezes, the kids played sports on the "Little Grass," and the summers seemed endless. Among his amusement park memories are Steeplechase Park's giant slide and Astroland's diving bells, rocket and trout fishing pool.

More than 400 oral histories are available for listening in the Coney Island History Project’s multilingual online archive. Please listen, share, and if you or someone you know would like to record a story via phone or Zoom, sign up here. We record oral histories in English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish and other languages with people who have lived or worked in Coney Island and nearby neighborhoods or have a special connection to these places.

Photo Credits: Charles Denson, Sharon Tera

posted Jun 22nd, 2022 in News and tagged with Coney Island, oral history, Oral History Archive,...

Coney Island Brewery Beer Can Art

A group of Coney Island artists and their friends created beer can art pieces and exhibited their work at Coney Island Brewery in the spring. Funny Face, Moveable Mermaid Can, Coney Island Is For Lovers, and See Me, Hear Me, Touch Me, Beer Me were among the titles of these ingenious 12-ounce size artworks.

The artists in the show included Angeline DelValle, Carlos Cordero, Dana Danger, Daniel Fischer, End of the Line, Erin Mathewson, Jennie Jones, Joey Bones, Obsidian and Benjamin Bard, Sam Nahra, Tom Kane, and Victoria Pitula.

We were impressed by the creativity of the artists and thank them for their generosity. Sales of the work were donated to the Coney Island History Project.

posted Jun 17th, 2022 in News and tagged with art, Artists, Coney Island,...

It's My Estuary Day at Coney Island Creek and Coney Island Ferry Update

Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project, tabled at It's My Estuary Day on Coney Island Creek in Kaiser Park, held on June 4th. The annual event is organized by the New York State Marine Education Association in partnership with the NYC Parks Department and participating organizations. Activities included a beach clean-up, underwater oyster reef observation via a remote operated vehicle, seining, and kayaking. More than 150 students from three boroughs plus Yonkers were in attendance.

It is currently horseshoe crab monitoring season at Kaiser Park and Calvert Vaux Park. The crabs are counted and tagged at the beach at high tide to assess the health and well being of this important species. If you wish to volunteer, please choose the site and date via this link and contact the site coordinator to schedule.

In late May, the City’s Economic Development Corporation met with Coney Island residents to provide updates on the Coney Island ferry project. Officials announced that plans to bring a ferry to Kaiser Park were delayed indefinitely, citing “significant sand shift" where the dock is proposed, according to an article in The City. The narrow channel approach for the ferry is dangerous and prone to shoaling and sand buildup that can cause ferries to run aground at low tide. This serious problem and others were pointed out many times at public meetings and in written comments over the last two years, but the warnings were ignored by City officials who wanted to push the project through. New locations for the ferry dock are now being considered.

Photo Credit: Charles Denson

posted Jun 9th, 2022 in News and tagged with Coney Island Creek, It's My Estuary Day, Kaiser Park,...