Share your memories of Coney Island and Southern Brooklyn!

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.



As a kid in the early’60s my grandma lived on Mermaid Ave. We’d take the D train to visit her down at Coney. I remember seeing steeplechase and the Cyclone, which I was deathly afraid of the latter. Nathan’s was always a big treat to get clams and hotdogs. I have very fond memories of those days.

Reading through the history and viewing the pictures was a blast. Many I have direct memories of and it reminds me how connected I still am 63 years later. Not only did my mother work at the Brooklyn Hebrew Home for the Aged as a nurse, my father was the switchboard operator there, that's how they met. I do remember being in the lobby and I could be wrong but if it was left over from the Hotel, that would explain my recollection of long red velvet curtains. I was 5, I think.

My first 9 months we lived on W. 27th street but in March of 1957 we moved to the Marlboro Projects. Only a mile and half from Coney Island, we watched the Tuesday 9pm fireworks from there. My father died when I was 9 but he took me to Steeplechase Park and we rode the Steeplechase, me hanging on behind him when I was 6 or so. I remember inside the pavilion and the big slides. My mother had a friend there and we visited her apartment. They chatted in the small kitchen while I was memorized by Diver Dan on the TV!

I also have a photograph of my mother, grandmother, grandfather, great uncle, great aunt and her 2 daughters at the beach. My mother was 4 and the 1st born. People look at that photo and point to her with her blond curly hair and say, "Is that you?" I tell them, "look again at the headband on my cousin's wearing". It was 1928!

When I lived in the Projects, I was very independent and at 10 or 11 years old, I took a cruiser bike and 2 friends and we walked (the bike had a slow leak that I filled at every gas station we passed) and it was likely either spring or fall, not crowed. So I put the bike on the boardwalk and we went to the water. I took off my socks but one was carried away with the tide. Upon us leaving, my bike was no longer on the boardwalk. I had to explain to my mother how I lost a sock and a bike. Coney Island was beginning to decay and needless to say, not safe. She wasn't a happy camper.

As a 15 year old, my girlfriend and I would peruse the rides in the late fall and few were open. If we had a buck or 3 we would go into the fun houses and laugh and scream. Really, the Cyclone, Thunderbolt and Roundup were mainstays. I was braver then! At 16, I had a friend whose parents owned a concession stand there. They had to lock their bedroom door because while they were at work, she could steal cash they had in there.

My father followed my aunt into the Parks Department as a civil servant. This helped me get my first summer job: a First Aid Attendant on Brighton and CI Beach. CI Beach was riddle with garbage and the sand glistened from broken glass. I got paid a LOT compared to my friends who worked 2 job each. I worked with the hunky lifeguards and it was one of the highlights of my youth. The Lifeguard stations were under the boardwalk and were scary but fun. I worked the beach for 4 summers. We sent a lot of injured people to CI hospital who either cut themselves or stupidly jumped off the peer.

One of my favorite films, however difficult to watch was Requiem for a Dream which depicted the drug addled CI and life as a tenant in those beach-side apartment buildings, off season. Bleak.

I don't "get home" too often, the last time I was at CI was 3 months before 9-11. My friend from here only wanted to "see the Lady" and go to Nathans. Poor thing did not know how to properly eat a "frank" and put both mustard and catsup on it! But of course I took her to L&B Spumoni Gardens. I now live near a restaurant called Spumoni and frankly, it's 2nd rate.

I've live in L.A. for nearly 40 years but you can take the girl outta B'klyn, you cannot take the B'klyn outta the girl!

This is my story of growing up on the NYC subway system and CI was a huge part of that experience. Thanks for listening!

Grew up and lived on west 29th in the apartment house 2876 west 29th-- played many sport games on the b lock between mermaid and neptune and had many friends. We also had a mens club called the TYGONS and had a club house in a basement house on the same block. If any of my friends see this please e mail me would love to hear from you. I now live in BELLE HARBOR QUEENS... JOEL or Joey

I was born at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital and brought home to 30 Stern Walk in Coney Island. My uncle owned the novelty shop next to the carousel. We use to go there to watch the Mardi Gras and get our shakers and leis. We often watched the odd people and fire eaters and the smallest man and fattest Woman then go to Nathan’s - a family member and across the street to get custard and Bonomo Turkish taffey Nathan’s was the best. Sometimes we walked to watch my dad play handball on courts next to the boardwalk or drive to get Mrs Stahls Knishes meat Brighton Privates!!!!!!

Do you remember the song My Coney Island Baby


I was "lowered" in Brooklyn, southern Brooklyn from Kings Highway to Coney Island. I have so many great memories. My Coney Island family lived on West 17th Street between Mermaid and Neptune avenues. We used to sit on the stoops and watch hundreds of visitors traveling south down to Surf Avenue...beach...boardwalk...I had an Uncle Louie Coney Islands chief electrician who always got us free passes to just about everywhere from the Bowery, rides, horror rides etc. I remember being a pin setter at Surf Lanes on Surf Avenue across from Nathans.....I have tons more thoughts....Be well Jon

I grew up in eleven different places in Brooklyn between 1939 and 1958, three were in Coney Island: 2949 West 21 Street in '48-'49 (I went to PS 80), West 35 Street in '50-'51 (I went to PS 88), and 3206 Neptune Avenue near West 32 Street in '51-'52 (I went to Mark Twain Jr. High). Four of us (Danny L, Jackie and Junior N. - I was known as 'Mickey' in those days) explored everything there was to explore my first Fall and Winter in Coney Island. We climbed what was left of Luna Park's roller coaster one tie at a time, and fished coins from under arcade machines with wire hangers to eat. I expect to publish my first memoir in 2021 but the one that includes Coney will be my second book. I've lived in many places since 1958 but I've never really left Brooklyn.

The brick building on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues (which housed the Shore theater) was originally 'the Loews Building. I don't know whether Loews actually built it but there was a Loews movie theater there - the largest in Coney Island. Two or three blocks west was another brick building - not quite as tall - know as the RKO building. That building housed the RKO Tilyou, named after the founder of Steeplechase. Much further up Surf Avenue - maybe as far as West 30th - was the Surf Theater. They had 'races' on Saturday matinées: A film short staring the characters from the 'Our Gang' movies racing everything from dog drawn bathtubs to tricycle's. Each wore a number and if your ticket stub ended in the same number as the winners number you won a free pass the the following weeks matinee. There was also a Mermaid Theater on the south side of Mermaid Avenue in the mid to high twenties. That was the cheapest and smallest of these four. It did not have a candy counter. Instead it had two candy machines. The poor woman who sold the tickets also served as an usher for Saturday matinees. It was not unusual for more than one fire exit to open as the feature started to allow friends to join the audience. These last two mentioned movie houses were not syndicated, so they did not advertise in newspapers. Instead, they printed coming attractions on posters and asked local merchants to display them in store front windows in exchange for free passes. We (my 21 Street gang) would solicit store owners for extra passes.

Railroad Avenue was a dirt alley, between Surf and Mermaid Avenues (closer to Mermaid), that ran from Stillwell Avenue to West 37the Street where Seagate started. (Seagate was a gated community in those days.) There were two railroad tracks on wooded ties and overhead power lines to accommodate the trolleys that started under the elevated trains at Stillwell Avenue and ran all day. There were no traffic lights, so the trolleys would have to slow or stop at every cross street. The trolleys were discontinued in '48 or '49 - replaced with buses on the avenues. My friend Danny's mom, Mary L., ran a candy store/lunch counter alone at the corner of West 21st Street and Railroad Avenue (Brooklyn is famous for its every day heroes).

The last Coney Island Mardi was held in 1947. The last six or seven nights leading up to Labor Day (the end of the season) were celebrated by parades complete with clowns and marching bands. Each night featured a different City Department in uniform. I remember the Sanitation Department and the Parks Department complete with heavy equipment,. Of Course the most popular were the Police Department, and the Fire Department on the last two nights. And the week ended with fire works.

Comments by my Alex are above, I can confirm living in come down as a child. I remember Steeplechase very fondly. I always remember the little old men who clicked our tickets both to enter steeplechase and go on the many rides. I loved going on the little bus and and the Ferris wheel the most. It was such fun safe times. I cried when they took it down. I also remember the delicious hamburgers and fries at Nathan's and the delicious smell of the ears of corn at the stand just opposite the doors to nathan's.

I love roller coasters. Having grown-up in Pittsburgh, I spent many school trips and summer days on the Jack Rabbit, Pippin, and Racer. When I bought a Victorian home in Ditmas Park in 1982, I started a project to rebuild the house back to near-original specs, after researching similar homes in Cape May, NJ. Each day, after professional work, I would do constructing in the evening; but my days often started with a walk or bike ride down Ocean Parkway to Coney Island, and the wonderful Cyclone. I spent lots of time speaking to the folks who would prepare the coaster in the morning, and often was the first to ride on weekdays. I loved this! After a few years, i finally completed my project and sold the house, (never to try rebuilding since). When I eventually moved to Westchester County, it became impractical to visit the Cyclone very often. But, after mentioning my passion for the Cyclone to new friends, I was blessed with their birthday gift to me in 1999 of a replica of the Cyclone. I added a cover to protect it, and now cherish memories, even if getting back to Coney Island remains somewhat elusive.

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