Coney Island's Wonder Wheel Park

by Charles Denson

The venerable Wonder Wheel, Coney Island's oldest and greatest attraction, has dominated the Coney Island skyline for more than a century. Towering over an ephemeral amusement zone long plagued by fires, floods, and ill-conceived urban renewal schemes, the magnificent steel machine has proved to be the ultimate survivor. The ride boasts impressive statistics. A combination of roller coaster and Ferris wheel, the 150-foot-tall structure weighs 200 tons, has 16 swinging cars and 8 stationary cars, and can carry 144 riders. More than 40 million passengers have taken a ride on the wheel since it was built in 1920, and during that time, it has maintained a perfect safety record. The ride is also a monument to immigrant initiative. Charles Hermann, the ride's designer, was Romanian; the original owner, Herman Garms, was German; and Denos Vourderis, who purchased and lovingly restored the aging landmark in 1983, was Greek. An official New York City landmark, the Wonder Wheel is now owned and operated by three generations of the Vourderis family as the centerpiece of their Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. The enduring saga of this iconic ride, and the family that saved it, provide a captivating chapter of Coney Island's history.

Arcadia, August 3, 2020. Paperback, 128 pages, 200+ photographs, $21.99.

Coney Island: Lost and Found

by Charles Denson

Growing up in Coney Island in the '1950s and '60s, Charles Denson experienced legendary amusements and attractions like the Cyclone and Thunderbolt roller coasters, the Parachute Jump, and Steeplechase Park. In CONEY ISLAND: LOST AND FOUND, Denson gives us an insider's look at one of New York's best-known neighborhoods, weaving together memories of his childhood adventures with colorful stories of the area's past and interviews with local personalities, all brought to life by hundreds of photographs, detailed maps, and authentic memorabilia. CONEY ISLAND: LOST AND FOUND is a heartfelt chronicle that stretches from colonial times to the island's heyday in the early 20th century and through its subsequent decline and revival, culminating in the 2001 opening of the new ballpark that brought baseball back to Brooklyn. Named 2002 New York Book of the Year by the New York Society Library, it was called "the king of Coney Island books" by juror Christopher Gray.

Ten Speed Press, 2004. Paperback, 304 pages, 300 photographs and illustrations, $29.99.


"Evocative." —Newark Star-Ledger

Recommended in "New York Bookshelf, Nonfiction" —New York Times

"Charles Denson traces CONEY ISLAND . . . in all its glory." —Birmingham News

"[A] crisply researched and tenderly rendered love letter." —St. Petersburg Times

"Many delightful details assembled in the thoughtful and handsome volume." —San Francisco Chronicle

"Denson's CONEY ISLAND is a well-researched, passionate account of his neighborhood's decline and rebirth is an invaluable addition . . . to American history." —New York's City Limits

Coney Island and Astroland

by Charles Denson

CONEY ISLAND AND ASTROLAND tells the story of Coney Island's evolution by exploring its changing architectural streetscape through never before seen images from the Astroland Archive, the Coney Island History Project Archive, and the personal collection of author Charles Denson. The book is part of Arcadia's Images of America series and was released on June 13, 2011.

According to the publisher's description, "Coney Island is a unique New York City neighborhood and a place of exciting innovation, where the roller coaster and the hot dog were introduced to the world, the glow of a million bare lightbulbs at Luna Park dazzled early visitors, and rocket rides at Astroland fueled intergalactic fantasies. Coney Island served as the pressure valve for New York, drawing millions to its famous beach on sweltering weekends. Astroland Park, created at the dawn of the space age, was the vision of Dewey and Jerome Albert. They transformed the 3-acre Feltman's Restaurant property, one of Coney Island's oldest attractions, into a futuristic amusement park that would anchor the amusement zone for the next half century. The park's ambitious opening in 1962 mirrored the wide-eyed optimism of the early 1960s and helped Coney Island survive the closure of the venerable Steeplechase Park."

Arcadia, 2011. Paperback, 128 pages, 200+ photographs, $21.99.

Wild Ride! A Coney Island Roller Coaster Family

by Charles Denson

In its heyday, Coney Island was a neighborhood of close-knit immigrant communities. German, Italian, Greek, Jewish, and Irish families came seeking a better life in the burgeoning amusement industry. Sicilian-born Joseph Bonsignore made his way to Coney in the 1920s. He saw that ambitious individual entrepreneurs owned the lucrative rides and bathhouses that drew tens of thousands of visitors. Starting small, Joe opened a penny arcade, then, one by one, acquired some of Coney's renowned landmarks - the Bobsled, Tornado, and L. A. Thompson roller coasters, and Stauch's Baths.

For his Coney Island businesses to succeed, Joe had to rely on his son, John, who put his loyalty to his family ahead of his own aspirations. Father and son worked alongside each other for four decades, sharing a dedication to their endeavors while enduring professional challenges and personal conflicts. Award-winning author Charles Denson tells the Bonsignore family story against the backdrop of exciting and turbulent times in Coney Island, "America's Playground."

Dreamland Press, 2007. Hardcover, 220 pages, 100 photographs and illustrations, $24.95.