Three years ago today, our friend Cesar Rafael, a Coney Island amusement operator since 1979, passed away. This oral history was recorded by Charles Denson for the Coney Island History Project in 2005. "My heart will always be in Coney Island," says Cesar who got his start working with the late Jimmy Balloons and Ronnie Guerrero. He talks about running rides in the 1980's and '90s, dealing with gangs, the city's mishandling of crime, owning his own arcade, and being forced out by development.
Today in Coney Island History: On March 2, 1889, Congressional statute established a lighthouse at Norton's Point on the western end of Coney Island. 2011 photo by Charles Denson from the Coney Island History Project Collection.
Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project, has photographed the Coney Island Lighthouse and Sea Gate for over 45 years and this 2013 trailer for his film uses personal photographs, videos, and archival images from his archive.
In honor of Black History Month, we're sharing interviews recorded for the Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive. Check out our online archive, which is catalogued by place, period, theme and language, to discover additional interviews.
Listen to historian Eric K. Washington talk about E.J. Perry, an African-American silhouette cutter who had concessions at Luna Park and Dreamland. Washington's research and writings brought the long forgotten Perry, once known as "America's most famous silhouette cutter," into the public eye once again. Recorded by Kaara Baptiste in 2016.
Longtime resident and community activist Ronald Stewart had lived in Coney Island more than 50 years at the time of this interview. He recounts being forced out by urban renewal aka "urban removal" and the various places he has lived in Coney Island including an Ocean Parkway rooming house, a bungalow on Neptune Terrace, a succession of apartments and eventually his own home. Recorded by Charles Denson in 2007.
David Head is a retired NYC Transit worker and former chairman of the Black History Committee for TWU Local 100. Head has championed the accomplishments of the inventor Granville T. Woods (1856-1910). Among Woods' many electrical patents was one for the world's first electric roller coaster, which was demonstrated in Coney Island a century ago. In 2008, the corner of Stillwell & Mermaid Avenues was named Granville T. Woods Way in his honor and he was inducted into the History Project's Coney Island Hall of Fame. Recorded by Charles Denson in 2016.
In February we honor Coney Island ride inventor and amusement manufacturer William F. Mangels (born February 1,1867- died February 11, 1958). His rides have given pleasure to many generations and continue to do so today.
Remember the Whip? This circa 1920 Mangels Fairy Whip Car in the Coney Island History Project collection is on display at our exhibition center and your kids can ride the circa 1950s Mangels Fire Engines and Pony Carts at Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park. "The Wizard of 8th Street" is among the pioneers and visionaries in our Coney Island Hall of Fame.
The calligraphy reads from left to right- "Kang Ni Dao" - Chinese for Coney Island. Photo of Lu Zhao and Sylvia Ching Man Wong for the Coney Island History Project.
Happy Lunar New Year 2020! Listen online to stories recorded in Cantonese and Mandarin for the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive with Coney Island, Gravesend and Bensonhurst residents who arrived here as immigrants or refugees. The interviews are transcribed in Chinese, translated into English, and available for online listening and reading on our website.
Calligraphy artist Lu Zhao was born in 1942 in Toishan in China’s Guangdong Province. He immigrated to New York in 1989 and lives with his family in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Mr. Zhao says that his path to mastering calligraphy began as a five-year-old and he started painting portraits when he was eight. His first teacher was Jinyu Zhao, a member of his extended family who taught him to write on scrolls, choose copybooks, and the relationship between paper, brush and ink. Mr. Zhao's service to the community includes volunteering to create the funeral scrolls for Police Officer Wenjian Liu in 2015.
Thanks to Council Member Mark Treyger, New York City Council and New York City Department of Cultural Affairs for supporting our multilingual programs.
Happy Holidays and Warm Wishes for the New Year from the Coney Island History Project. We're thrilled to be celebrating our 16th anniversary and Deno's Wonder Wheel's centennial in 2020!
As we look back on 2019, we're grateful to our members, funders, and friends for your continued enthusiasm and support, and proud of all that we've accomplished during the past 15 years. Special thanks to Carol Albert, who co-founded the Coney Island History Project with Jerome Albert in honor of Dewey Albert, creator of Astroland Park, for her ongoing support, and to the Vourderis family, operators of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, for providing us a home and for their interest in preserving Coney Island's heritage.
Highlights of our 2019 season include the special exhibition "Salvation by the Sea: Coney Island's 19th Century Fresh Air Cure and Immigrant Aid Societies," which was featured in the Brooklyn Eagle and on WNYC's All Of It. Visitors from the NYC metro area, across the country and around the world took part in themed history weekends at our free exhibition center and snapped souvenir selfies with the iconic Spook-A-Rama Cyclops and Coney Island's only original Steeplechase horse.
When immigrants sailed into New York Harbor at the turn of the last century, the first thing they saw wasn't the Statue of Liberty, it was the towers and bright lights of Coney Island. Our 8th Annual Coney Island History Day presented with Deno's Wonder Wheel Park celebrated Coney Island's immigrant heritage with performances of Russian classical ballet and Ukrainian folk dance, Afro Haitian drumming, Chinese traditional dance, songs in the Turkish and Rumeli tradition, and a Mariachi band. You can watch a video recap of Coney Island History Day here.
In 2019, we recorded over 50 oral histories in English, Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese and Spanish with people who have lived, worked or played in Coney Island and adjacent neighborhoods of Southern Brooklyn. More than 350 oral histories are available for listening in our online archive and at our exhibition center via our new SoundStik audio handset.
Our free Immigrant Heritage Walking Tour of Coney Island was conducted in English and Mandarin for Immigrant Heritage Week, organized by the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, and for Jane's Walk, organized by the Municipal Art Society. The Coney Island History Project exhibited at City of Water Day in Kaiser Park sponsored by the Coney Island Beautification Project and the Waterfront Alliance and did presentations about Coney Island Creek at Rachel Carson High School for Coastal Studies and the City Parks Foundation's Coastal Classroom.
Your donation or membership today will help support our 501(c)(3) nonprofit's free exhibition center, oral history archive, and community programming as we enter the new decade. We can't wait to see you again when the Coney Island History Project opens on April 5, 2020, for Coney Island's Opening Day!
You never know who you'll meet on the Boardwalk, "Coney Island's Fifth Avenue." On last weekend's Coney Island History Project Walking Tour, we were greeted by Santa and his girlfriend! With only 4 days til Christmas, may we suggest our walking tour tickets as stocking stuffers. We'll provide a cheerful gift card and tours are offered year round.
Coney Island Polar Bears in the 1990s. Photo © Tom McGann.
New in the Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive: Listen to Coney Island Polar Bear president Dennis Thomas recount the history and lore of the 116-yr-old Coney Island Polar Bear Club, the oldest winter bathing club in the United States. President of the club for the past 12 years, Thomas starting swimming with the Bears in the 1970s and became a member in the '80s. Join the Bears for 2020's Annual New Year's Day Polar Plunge! Info and registration: http://polarbearclub.org. Photo: Tom McGann, Coney Island Polar Bears in the 1990s, with Dennis Thomas on the far right.
Art by August Wolfinger on the rounding boards of Coney Island's B&B Carousell. Photo © Coney Island History Project.
Today in history: Artist August Wolfinger, 'The Michelangelo of the Midway,' died on December 1,1950. His pastoral and patriotic scenes grace the rounding boards of Coney Island's historic B&B Carousell. From April through October, when the B&B is open, it's one of the stops on the Coney Island History Project Walking Tour. Although the amusement rides are now closed for the season, you can join our weekend tours year round. After Labor Day through the fall and winter, tours start at 12:30 pm. A tour is confirmed when we have a minimum of 3 reservations. Advance purchase of tickets through our eventbrite page is required since tours are limited to 20 people.
Coney Island History Project Walking Tour at B&B Carousell. Photo © Coney Island History Project.
Coney Island's soon-to-be 100-year-old Deno's Wonder Wheel and other rides are closed till spring but you can enjoy the Coney Island History Project's weekend walking tours year-round. Ticket fees help support our 501c3 nonprofit's free exhibition center and oral history program.
Tours are based on History Project director Charles Denson's award-winning book Coney Island: Lost and Found, the interviews from our Oral History Archive, and other primary sources. Visit our online reservation page on Eventbrite to see the walking tour schedule and purchase advance tickets online. Tickets for the 1-1/2 hour, wheelchair accessible tours are $25.
All Coney Island History Project walking tours are weather permitting. If a tour is cancelled due to the weather forecast, ticket orders will be refunded. If you have a question or you would like to schedule a private tour or group visit, please email events [AT] coneyislandhistory [DOT] org.