Coney Island Blog - News

Coney Island History Project Destination>Brooklyn

We’re excited to announce the debut of the Coney Island History Project's new multilingual brochure representing our organization’s cultural activities in 10 languages - Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, English, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Urdu. The languages selected are among the top ones spoken by ELLS (English Language Learners) in New York City schools. Reflecting the wonderful "Melting Pot" character of Brooklyn, the brochure was made possible with funds from the Destination>Brooklyn award. Promoting borough tourism, the program is funded by the Office of the Borough President Eric L. Adams and NYC & Co. Foundation, and administered by the Brooklyn Arts Council.

The idea for a multilingual brochure grew out of the History Project’s location in the heart of Coney Island. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers of every ethnicity as well as visitors from across the country and around the world walk by our free exhibit center on their way to the beach and boardwalk. Although we have signs that say “FREE,” it may not be clear to non-English speaking guests what kind of attraction we have and that there is no charge for admission. On many occasions, we’ve had very young children trying to interpret what we are saying for their parents or grandparents, with varying degrees of success.

"Our Exhibit Center is located at one of the most diverse crossroads in the entire city," says Coney Island History Project Executive Director Charles Denson. "We welcome visitors and immigrants from all over the world and make them feel at home by inviting them in and answering questions about Coney Island's history and future. Coney Island is truly the city's melting pot, where people from all walks of life can get together and enjoy fun and a day at the beach."

The new brochure has the word "WELCOME!" on the front as well as the following text in English and the nine selected languages:

“The Coney Island History Project is a not-for-profit organization that documents Coney Island’s legendary past and encourages appreciation of the neighborhood of today. Our exhibition center is located on West 12th Street at the entrance to the Wonder Wheel, just off the Boardwalk. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps and films on weekends and holidays from late May through the summer. Admission is free of charge. Share and preserve your memories of living, working or playing in Southern Brooklyn by recording an interview for our Oral History Archive. Visit to listen to interviews recorded in English and other languages and to learn more about our programs.”

The Coney Island History Project’s website has a Google translate feature so that visitors may view a translated version of our site in more than 100 languages. In addition, our online Oral History Archive has audio interviews recorded in English, Chinese, Russian, Spanish and Turkish. We continue to expand the multilingual character of our archive by seeking bilingual interviewers to conduct oral history interviews with immigrants who live or work in Southern Brooklyn.

Distribution of the Coney Island History Project’s multilingual brochure to libraries, community organizations and businesses is in progress and it is now available at the following locations:

Coney Island

Boardwalk: Brooklyn Beach Shop

Mermaid Avenue: Brooklyn Community Services, Coney Island Library, J&R Pharmacy, Mermaid Prime Meat, Wilensky's Hardware

Surf Avenue: Alliance for Coney Island, Coney Island Visitors Center in Stillwell Terminal

West 12th Street: Coney Island History Project, Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park

West 15th Street: New York State Senator Diane Savino, 2872 W 15th St

West 37th Street: Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island, Coney Island Seaside Innovative Senior Center, 3001 W 37th St.


Bay Ridge: Arab American Association of New York, 7111 5th Ave.

Bensonhurst: New York City Council Member Mark Treyger, 2015 Stillwell Ave.

Brighton Beach: Brighton Beach Library, 16 Brighton 1st Rd.

Downtown: Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon St.

DUMBO: Asian American Arts Alliance, 20 Jay St.; Brooklyn Arts Council, 20 Jay St.

Gowanus: Fifth Avenue Committee, 621 Degraw St.

Gravesend: Ulmer Park Library, 2602 Bath Ave.; United Chinese Association of Brooklyn, 78 Quentin Rd.


International Center of Catholic Charities Community Services, 80 Maiden Lane

NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, 31 Chambers St.

Porto Rico Importing Co. Coffee Store, 201 Bleecker St.

If you would like copies of the Coney Island History Project’s multilingual brochure at your business or organization or to make an appointment to record an oral history interview, please email


posted Aug 16th, 2017 in News and tagged with Multilingual, Awards, Brooklyn Tourism,...

Celebrate Historic Coney Island!

7th ANNUAL HISTORY DAY at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and The Coney Island History Project

FREE EVENTS ALL DAY! 12:00PM – 5:00PM. Enjoy Music, Entertainment, Art & History!

Saturday, August 5th

Coney Island History Day

Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, 3059 West 12th St (Denos D. Vourderis Place)

-Dress in 1920’s garb for a FREE ride on the landmark 1920 Wonder Wheel! From 12-5PM.

-The Coney Island History Project has designed History Plaques for 17 classic rides and attractions in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Visitors may pick up a free copy of the brochure “History Tour of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park” and sign up for a Self-Guided Walking Tour of the numbered history plaques at each site. Brochures will be available on History Day at Deno’s Wonder Wheel, the “Say Boo” Photo Booth across from Spook-A-Rama and the “Say Cheese” Photo Booth next to the Tilt-A-Whirl from 12PM and at the Coney Island History Project from 1PM.

Deno's Carousel

-Two Guided Walking Tours of the history plaques at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park will be led by the Coney Island History Project.  Tours are at 12PM and 3PM and are free but space is limited. Register for the tours on Coney Island History Project’s Eventbrite page.

 -Walk inside the 1960s Astroland Rocket and see a movie! The Rocket returned to Coney Island in 2014 and found a new home beside the Wonder Wheel. From 12-5PM.

History Day

Dreamland Plaza, West 12th Street adjacent to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park

-Opening Ceremony on the Dreamland Plaza Stage followed by Free Entertainment. From 2-5PM

-Singer/songwriter Jen Houston writes quirky melodic alt-country tunes with a whimsical retro sound. Her Coney Island song “No One Here But Us Bones," which she performed inside Spook-A-Rama for a music video, won first prize at the 2015 Coney Island Film Festival

-DJ Dan Kingman will take you on a nostalgia trip with music from the 1920s through the 1980s and lead singalongs.

-Special Surprise Guests!

- A display of Coney Island History Project banners and kiosks emblazoned with Coney Hall of Fame honorees including George C. Tilyou, founder of Steeplechase Park; Dr. Martin Couney, who saved the lives of thousands of premature infants at his Coney Island baby incubator exhibit; Marcus C. Illions, developer of the Coney Island style of carousel carving; and Lady Deborah Moody, who in 1645 founded the town of Gravesend, which included Coney Island, becoming the first woman to found a colony in the new world.

Spookarama Cyclops

West 12th Street Entrance to Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park

-Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park is currently home to art and signage by Dan Casola (Spook-A-Rama), Greg Lamarche (Coney Island lettering between Kiddie Park and Wheel), The Wizard (Carousel, Sky Fighter, Ticketbooths), Tommy Holiday (Signage) and the late Barbara Listenik (Pony Carts, Thunderbolt). Meet Brooklyn  artists --sign painter Tommy Holiday, artist and muralist Danielle Mastrion and 9-year-old Lola the Illustrator -- at their newly painted walls featuring the Wonder Wheel, Spook-A-Rama Cyclops, and the Skull from Stop the Zombies! They will be joined by legendary artist and Sea Gate resident Sam Moses, who did the elaborate lettering on Danielle and Tommy's mural. Sam has been painting since the 1970s and did great signs like the frozen letters on Denny’s Ice Cream Shop. From 1PM-4PM.

-Enjoy a Children’s Playground in the People’s Playground! Free Balloons, Games, Bubble Machine, Storytime and Stilt Walker. From 1PM-4PM.

Childs medallion at Coney Island History Project

Coney Island History Project, West 12th St next to the entrance to Deno’s Wonder Wheel

- FREE Admission! View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and film, and the special exhibit “Neptune Revisited: Terra Cotta Relics from the Childs Building, Last of Coney Island's Boardwalk Palaces" at the Coney Island History Project exhibition center. A selection of original polychrome pieces from the Childs Restaurant Building is on display along with archival photographs, ephemera, and an illustrated timeline of the history of the building and its restoration. From 12-7PM.

-Take free souvenir photos with an original Steeplechase horse, from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name, and the iconic Cyclops head from Deno's Wonder Wheel Park's Spook-A-Rama, Coney Island's oldest dark ride. See Coney Island’s oldest surviving artifact, the 1823 Toll House sign dates back to the days when the toll for a horse and rider to “the Island” was 5 cents! From 1-7PM.

For updates on History Day and other Coney news, follow the Coney Island History Project on Facebook, Instagram and twitter. Follow Deno's Wonder Wheel Park on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.

Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project

3059 West 12th Street, Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY 11224

D, F, N or Q train to Stillwell Terminal

Phone: 347-702-8553 (Coney Island History Project)

Phone: 718-372-2592 (Deno's Wonder Wheel Park)

Pet Photo Day at the Coney Island History Project

Chico and ZZ Riding the Steeplechase Horse at the Coney Island History Project on Pet Day.

On Saturday, June 10, take a FREE SOUVENIR PHOTO of your SMALL PET "riding" the Coney Island History Project's Steeplechase Horse or antique Kiddie Whip Car during exhibit center hours. Free admission, 1-7pm.

We're joining in the fun as Deno's Wonder Wheel Park celebrates its 7th Annual Pet Day. Dogs, guinea pigs, snakes, turtles and other pets are invited to ride Deno's Wonder Wheel from 12-7 for free when accompanied by their human and enter a Pet Costume Contest at 2pm!

Mackie rides the Whip Car at Coney Island History Project

Mackie Rides the Whip Car at the Coney Island History Project on Pet Day

posted Jun 7th, 2017 in News and tagged with Coney Island History Project, Pet Photo Day, Pet Day,...

Terra Cotta Relics from the Childs Building

The Coney Island History Project's special exhibition for the 2017 season, opening on Memorial Day Weekend, is "Neptune Revisited: Terra Cotta Relics from the Childs Building, Last of Coney Island's Boardwalk Palaces." A selection of original polychrome pieces from the Childs Restaurant Building will be on display along with archival photographs, ephemera, and an illustrated timeline of the history of the building and its restoration.

Childs Restaurant Building on the Coney Island Boardwalk has a remarkable history that spans nearly a century. Completed in 1924, and originally the flagship location for the Childs Restaurant chain, the building has served as a candy factory, a book warehouse, and a roller rink. The fireproof building also acted as a firebreak during the disastrous fire of 1932, stopping the flames and saving the amusement area from destruction. Childs survived years of isolation at the westernmost fringe of Coney Island's amusement zone as everything else around it closed down and was demolished.

The landmark building's colorful, nautical-themed terra-cotta façade, marble columns, and multi-arched entranceway, have charmed and mystified Boardwalk visitors for nearly a century. One of the most striking images on the building is a medallion of King Neptune with gold crown and trident, rising from the sea, dripping with seaweed, and gazing out as if serving as guardian of the Boardwalk. The Childs Building, now connected to the adjacent Ford Amphitheater, recently underwent a magnificent, multi-million dollar restoration and has once again reopened as a restaurant. Last May, prior to the opening of the Amphitheater, Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson made a short film about the building's history and future, which may be viewed here.

The building's restoration included replication and replacement of the beautiful but seriously damaged terra-cotta decorations that covered the facade. Hundreds of replications were lovingly hand-painted and hand finished by the Boston Valley Terra-Cotta Company in Buffalo, New York. Visitors to the Coney Island History Project can now get an up-close view of many of the original polychrome terra-cotta pieces that were removed, including the King Neptune medallion and a medallion showing an image of the Boardwalk and building that was hidden away for decades on an interior wall of the restaurant.

Childs Building Medallion at Coney Island History Project

Original Terra cotta medallion showing an image of the Childs Building from an interior wall of the restaurant is on view in the Coney Island History Project exhibit. The medallion is 48 inches in diameter. Photo by Charles Denson

 The Coney Island History Project exhibition center is open free of charge on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day. 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 Coney Island's only original Steeplechase horse, from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. Among the rare treasures on display is Coney Island's oldest surviving artifact from the dawn of the "World's Playground." The 1823 Toll House sign dates back to the days when the toll for a horse and rider to "the Island" was 5 cents!

posted May 18th, 2017 in Events and tagged with Childs Building, Childs Restaurant, Terra Cotta,...

The Spook-A-Rama Cyclops at the Coney Island History Project

When the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops left Coney Island in 2014 for a national tour of art museums as part of the NEH-funded Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art exhibit "Coney Island Visions of an American Dreamland," the identity of the artist who created this fabulous piece of folk art remained unknown. Until now. 

The Cyclops - or "Cy" as we affectionately call him - has returned home to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and beginning Memorial Day Weekend will be on display at the Coney Island History Project along with documentation of the artist who created the iconic sculpture and its mesmerizing moving eye nearly 60 years ago. 

Thanks to the reminiscences of a former neighbor, who recalled the artist building the figure in his yard, the Coney Island History Project has learned that he was Dan Casola (1902-1990), a Coney Islander known to us by reputation as a highly regarded painter of sideshow banners. Less well known is that he made mechanized props and painted signs for a number of Coney Island attractions including the 1950's dark ride Spook-A-Rama, created wax figures for Lillie Santangelo's World in Wax Musee, and painted the mural over the bar at Club Atlantis on the Boardwalk. Born in Italy, Dan Casola's family emigrated to New York when he was a child. He lived and worked in Coney Island until the late 1970s when he retired to Arizona. 

Interviews with Dan Casola's daughter Patricia Casola and son Wesley Casola recorded by Charles Denson for the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive provide details of their father's life as a freelance artist. Patricia Casola describes him as a tinkerer and a self-taught man who told her, "I learned by doing this," when she asked where he got his skill and inspiration. Says Wesley Casola, who recalls his father creating the Cyclops from plywood, chicken wire and sheets of celastic, "it'd be nice for him to get some credit for it."

The Spook-A-Rama Cyclops at the Coney Island History Project

Thousands of visitors have taken souvenir photos, videos and selfies with the Spook-A-Rama Cyclops at the Coney Island History Project. The Cyclops eye moves back and forth and glows red at night. Photo: Coney Island History Project

The artist had a penchant for maintaining multiple studios, including two in the family's home on Stillwell Avenue and a secret studio behind Spook-A-Rama, where they brought him dinner. Boxes full of glass eyeballs for the taking and free rides were some of the perks of being Danny's kids. The artist's appropriation of household items such as his wife's black brassiere and his children's wind-up toys for his spooky creations was legend. The interviews are available for online listening on the Coney Island History Project's website.

The circa 1955 Spook-A-Rama, located in Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, is Coney Island's oldest operating dark ride. In September 2011, the Cyclops, a Coney Island legend that had originally sat atop the roof of Spook-A-Rama but had not been seen for decades, came out of retirement to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the Coney Island History Project. After being stabilized it became the centerpiece of our induction ceremony and a popular attraction at the History Project exhibition center from 2012 through 2014. 

As part of the traveling exhibit "Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland," the Cyclops traveled for the past two years in the company of artwork by some of America's most distinguished artists to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, San Diego Art Museum, Brooklyn Museum and San Antonio Museum of Art. 

The Spook-A-Rama Cyclops at Brooklyn Museum

The Spook-A-Rama Cyclops on view in "Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland" at the Brooklyn Museum in 2016 with Charles Denson's photo of Cyclops atop Spook-A-Rama as a backdrop and Arnold Mesches' painting "Anomie 2001: Coney" featuring the Cyclops. Photo: Brooklyn Museum 

"The sculpture is unique, one-of-a-kind, a throwback to the hand-made craftsmanship and creativity that made Coney the center of the amusement universe," said Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson. 

The Spook-A-Rama Cyclops will be on view at the Coney Island History Project exhibition center located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, just a few steps off the Boardwalk. The History Project is open Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day from 1-7pm. Admission is free of charge. 

posted May 15th, 2017 in History and tagged with Spook-A-Rama, Cyclops, Artist Unknown,...

The Good:
Local schools are taking a new interest in Coney Island Creek and its relationship with the surrounding community. As part of the History Project’s education outreach program, we seek to partner with schools whose curriculum incorporates local history and environmental issues. This spring I gave two history and ecology presentations to local students and was surprised to find increasing concern about our endangered waterways.

In March, New York Aquarium Director Jon Dohlin and New York Seascape Program Officer Mai Murphy invited me to participate in a workshop presentation at the Aquarium’s Education Hall for a high school ecology group called the Wildlife Conservation Corps. Students taking part in the program, led by Aquarium artist-in-residence Christy Ghast, are filming, directing, and editing a new video that follows one piece of plastic trash from the time it’s collected from local marine waters backward to the place where it came out of the ground as petroleum. The piece of plastic was gathered from Coney Island Creek during a recent cleanup. My presentation covered the history of the creek, the dangers of “floatable” pollution on the creek and what can be done to prevent it in the future.

Charles Denson, top right, with the Wildlife Conservation Corps at the New York Aquarium. Photo by Eric Kowalsky

My second program took place in April at PS 90, just up the block from the Coney Island History Project. I was surprised to learn that PS 90 is now known as the Magnet School for Environmental Studies and Community Wellness. Students from kindergarten to fifth grade are studying advanced topics such as “balanced ecosystems, the effects superstorms, and properties of water.”

I was supposed to work with fourth grade students, but after a meeting with the teachers I was asked to give a talk to nearly the entire school in the auditorium. I was amazed at the intensity of interest in local history and the issues affecting Coney Island Creek. The students had no idea that a hotel in the shape of an elephant was once located across the street from the school’s site, and that the school is built on top of a tributary of the creek that still flows below the street. They also learned the origins of pollution and how ignorance led to the destruction of the 3,000-acre salt marsh that once surrounded the creek. I left them with the message that they are the ones who will be the future stewards of the Coney Island Creek estuary, and that what they are learning has great practical importance for the future of the community.

A big thank-you to Councilmember Mark Treyger for supporting our education programs!

The Bad:
Several days before the “It’s My Estuary Day” event was scheduled to take place at Kaiser Park, researchers at Kingsborough College revealed that Coney Island Creek’s fecal coliform levels were far above normal and in fact were registering 13 times above safe levels. The EPA’s allowable level is 200 parts per 100 millimeters, and the creek was registering an average of 2,600 parts per 100 millimeters. The samples were collected near Calvert Vaux Park at the mouth of the creek. Fecal coliform exposure can cause symptoms including nausea, stomachache, diarrhea, and fever, as well as serious illnesses. This is incredibly bad news for park visitors who swim, fish, and kayak in the waterway.  It shows how much work is needed to find the sources of pollution and to clean the creek in order for it to be safe for the surrounding communities.

The Ugly:
On May 3, the Brooklyn Daily reported that several community members they interviewed claim to have become sick from swimming at the mouth of Coney Island Creek and demanded that signs be posted warning against swimming. The real tragedy is that signs will do nothing to clean the creek and people will continue to swim at the beautiful beach at Coney Island Creek Park. What’s needed is a concerted effort to restore the creek to its natural state as a beneficial wetland environment. The most positive affect from posting signs and banning swimming is to raise community awareness about the waterway’s vulnerability and the city’s continuing use of the creek as an open sewer for the Southern Brooklyn watershed.

At a Community Board 13 meeting I attended in March, NYCEDC officials confirmed that “filtered water” from new sanitary sewer excavations in Coney Island would be pumped into the creek for the next two years. The new sewers will service nearly 5,000 units of new high-rise housing surrounding the amusement area as part of the city’s 2009 rezoning plan. Two years ago “filtered water” from a long-neglected storm sewer outlet being cleaned at West 33rd Street created a noxious black stream that surrounded swimmers and anglers at the mouth of the creek. No warning signs were posted during the work. At the CB 13 meeting, the EDC representatives said they’re planning to use old permits that allow them to circumvent the new, stricter water-quality regulations covered by new MS4 permits. It’s hard to believe that this new groundwater pumping into the creek will not negatively affect water quality.

When a Coney Island Creek storm sewer at West 33rd Street was recently cleaned after years of neglect, a black stream of pollutants was poured into the waterway. More "filtered water" will be pumped into the creek this summer as part of new sewer construction in Coney Island. Photos by Charles Denson

In other news, the creek’s future remains in doubt as the Army Corps of Engineers still hasn’t announced when or if the massive flood control barrier proposed for the creek will be built. The creek was recently bypassed for ferry service, dashing hopes for a faster way for residents and visitors to travel to and from Coney Island. Major decisions are now being made that affect the lives of the 60,000 people who live alongside the creek, and community members need to step up and be part of the process.

To end on a good note, it now appears that the fines levied against the Beach Haven complex for dumping 200,000 gallons a day of raw sewage into the creek will go to fund creek-related mitigation. This remediation precedent is an important step that hopefully will guide the creek to a cleaner future!

– Charles Denson

Upcoming Coney Island Creek events:
It's My Estuary Day at Kaiser Park has been rescheduled for June 3
City of Water Day at Kaiser Park, July 15

posted May 10th, 2017 in By Charles Denson and tagged with Coney Island Creek, PS 90, New York Aquarium,...


You're invited to the 3rd annual It's My Estuary Day on Saturday, May 6  June 3,  from 8:00AM-3:00PM, a day of service, learning and celebration along Coney Island Creek in Kaiser Park! The free event will include underwater robotics, oyster monitoring, diving demonstrations, water chemistry techniques, seining, microscope viewing of plankton, displays by environmental organizations, host talks, coastal clean up, lunch and networking. The rain date is Sunday, June 4.

CreekWalk photo copyright Charles Denson

Stop by the Coney Island History Project's table to learn about our programs and pick up a free copy of the Coney Island CreekWalk at Calvert Vaux booklet and a brochure about the CreekWalk at Kaiser Park produced by the History Project for Partnerships for Parks. We'll have bilingual interviewers in attendance to record your stories about the neighborhood and the Creek for our Oral History Archive. Visitors may also take a self-guided walking tour by following the markers created by Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project for CreekWalk at Kaiser Park.

Featuring over 40 partner organizations, this annual community event is organized by the Cultural Research Divers, BMSEA (Brooklyn Marine STEM Education Alliance), and NYSMEA (NY State Marine Education Association), and hosted by Making Waves, a coalition of stewards caring for Coney Island Creek and Kaiser Park.

posted Apr 26th, 2017 in News and tagged with It's My Estuary Day, Estuary Day, Kaiser Park,...

Coney Island History Project Celebrates Immigrant Heritage Week

April 17-23 is Immigrant Heritage Week in honor of April 17, 1907, when more immigrants entered the U.S. through Ellis Island than any other day in history. Listen to immigrant stories and share yours with the Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive. We record interviews in English and other languages with immigrants who live or work in Southern Brooklyn.  Sign up here to make an appointment to record your story in person or over the phone.

posted Apr 21st, 2017 in News and tagged with Immigrant Heritage Week, immigrant, Immigrant narratives,...

Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive

Among the additions to the Coney Island History Project's online Oral History Archive in 2017 are the following interviews recorded by Amanda Deutch, Charles Denson, Kaara Baptiste, Leslee Dean, Mark Markov, and Samira Tazari. Please listen, share, and if you or someone you know would like to record a story, sign up here.

Steve Larkin has vivid anecdotes about working for Bob Myers, "The Chairman of the Boardwalk," at a Coney Island beach chair and umbrella rental company in the 1970s. Getting working papers when he turned 14 and working his way up from "schlepping chairs" to being a cashier was a rite of passage. 

Charles Robert Feltman, great-grandson of Feltmans Restaurant founder and hot dog inventor Charles Feltman, tells the family history, describes what Coney Island was like in the 1940s, and reveals why the family is no longer in the hot dog business.

Grace Lo has been a homeowner and community activist in Coney Island's West End since 1989. "At that time we were immigrants who took a chance to live in what people said was not a good neighborhood," Lo explains. "We wanted to make the community better."

Harold J. Kramer and Linda Kramer Evans share their family history and childhood memories of visiting their Great-Aunt Molly and Great-Uncle George. The couple owned and operated Coney Island's Thunderbolt and lived in the house under the roller coaster which was later immortalized in Woody Allen's 1977 film Annie Hall. 

Brooklyn resident Ronald Wimberly is a storyteller, cartoonist and designer whose graphic novel Prince of Cats is partly set in Coney Island. His retelling of Romeo and Juliet mixes comics, hip-hop and Shakespearian poetry, which he describes as "a take on '80s New York as if it were five years after The Warriors." 

Gravesend native Donna Bianco became a police officer at age 22 and was assigned to Coney Island in the 1980s and '90s, when the neighborhood was crime-ridden and scarred with abandoned buildings. Bianco, whose mother enjoyed Coney Island in its heyday, says she learned to love her beat and its sense of history. 

Barry Yanowitz grew up in Trump Village in Coney Island where he could see the Cyclone and hear the screams of riders from his window. In the early 2000's, an interest in history drew him to photography as a way to document the changes he saw in Coney Island and the rest of New York City. He talks about being a street photographer and his favorite photographs of Coney Island.

Dionne Brown grew up in Surfside Houses, has lived in Coney Island all her life, and works here as Assemblymember Pamela Harris's Deputy Chief of Staff. Writing as D.L. Jordan, she is the author of Living Life Like It's Golden, which describes the epiphany she reached when she turned 40. The book's subtitle is "The Latter Years of My Life Shall Be the BEST Years of My Life!"

Eliot Wofse, who grew up in Luna Park Houses, shares memories of the amusement area as his boyhood playground. He reflects on his philosophy of running amusement games, which he did for a living from the 1960s through the early '80s and again in the late 2000s, and the unsustainable cost of private proprietors like himself doing business in the new, corporatized Coney Island.

Susan Hochtman Creatura recalls living in Coney Island Houses when it was new and her Jewish immigrant grandparents, who lived nearby. Her parents marveled that this New York City housing complex for working class people was located right on the beach. "They talked about how Coney Island was a paradise," she says. "They had so much fun here, they didn't feel poor." 

Yoga and meditation teacher Chia-Ti Chiu has been teaching Yoga on the Beach in Coney Island since 2014.The idea for the donation-based classes on the beach off West 19th Street originated with Coney Island's Lola Star. "Having our view be the ocean, I often refer to it," says Chia-Ti. "How can you live a life as expansive as the horizon?" 

Al Burgo, who grew up in Gravesend Houses in Coney Island's West End in the 1960s, tells stories of street games and streetwise hijinks. Burgo's first job as a boy was shining shoes on the Boardwalk, an experience that he made into the 2013 film Shoe Shine Chicken. As a teen he had a thriving business selling knishes on the beach.

posted Apr 10th, 2017 in History and tagged with oral history, Oral History Archive, Coney Island,...

Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive

Ron Rossi, whose interview is part of the NEH on the Road's traveling Coney Island exhibit, being interviewed by Natalie Milbrodt for the Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive in 2010

We're proud to announce that selections from the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive will be part of the NEH on the Road exhibit "Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland" touring the U.S. from April 2017 through March 2022.

The NEH-funded exhibit, which first opened at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and traveled to the Brooklyn Museum and San Diego Museum of Art, was adapted from its original format to make it available to smaller venues in communities large and small across the country. This new traveling exhibition from NEH on the Road will explore America's playground as a place and as an idea, examining its persistent presence in the American imagination.

Among the Coney Island History Project interviews featured in the exhibit are Beth Allen, who was an incubator baby in Dr. Martin Couney's sideshow in Luna Park; Joseph Albanese, who recalls a time when police didn't allow bathing suits on the boardwalk even though bathing suits were very modest; and Ron Rossi and Ronald Ruiz, who talk about their experiences riding the Parachute Jump, the Cyclone and Steeplechase Horse Race at Steeplechase Park. Clips from these interviews and several others will be running on a loop at one of the listening stations in the exhibition.

Upcoming venues include the Brazos Valley Museum, Brazos, TX (April 6-May 25, 2017); Ypsilanti Public Library, Ypsilanti, MI (June 16-August 11, 2017) and the Sioux City Public Museum, Sioux City, IA (November 10, 2017-January 7, 2018). Pending destinations include Hagerstown, MD; Green Bay, WI; Reading, PA; Temple, TX; Park City, UT; Hastings, NE; Buford, GA; West Branch, IA; Baton Rouge, LA; Greenville, SC; and Shawnee, KS.

NEH on the Road is a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities designed to create wider national access to the ideas, themes, and stories explored in major grant-funded NEH exhibitions. The program is funded by the NEH and run by Mid-America Arts Alliance, a non-profit regional arts organization located in Kansas City. If you would like to bring the Coney Island exhibit to a venue near you, check the NEH on the Road website for details.