Paul Boyton

Doesn't Craig Dudley, great grandson of Paul Boyton, look like his famous ancestor? Boyton built Coney Island's first enclosed amusement park - Sea Lion Park- in 1895. Erected on what would later become the original Luna Park, Sea Lion Park was a small collection of rides featuring the Shoot-the-Chutes water ride and the Flip-Flap looping coaster. Live sea lions also entertained visitors. Craig visited last weekend and posed for a souvenir photo with Charles Denson in front of the Coney Island History Project's History Wall honoring his great grandfather. The History Walls are at Surf Pavilion on Stillwell Avenue.

History Walls Coney Island History Project

The five kiosk exhibit is an offshoot of the Wall of Fame that the History Project opened in 2005 on West 10th Street next to Astroland. Our goal was to honor the unsung visionaries, impresarios, inventors, craftsmen, and artisans whose creativity and ingenuity helped shape Coney Island. The project was later expanded to include landmarks and architectural history. Among the 15 honorees first inducted a decade ago and featured on the History Walls are Dr. Martin Couney, whose Coney Island incubator exhibit saved over 5,000 young lives; Lt. Commander James Strong, who built the Parachute Jump; Granville T. Woods, the African-American inventor of electric roller coasters; and Lady Deborah Moody, who founded the town of Gravesend. Visit our album on flickr to see more photos of the Walls.

(Posted on Aug 20, 2015)

Coney Island City Councilman and former history teacher Mark Treyger spoke fervently about the history of America's First Playground at the 5th Annual History Day at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and State Senator Diane Savino also spoke about Coney Island's history and its future at the opening ceremony.

Dancers from Brooklyn Swings danced the Charleston in honor of the Wonder Wheel, which is celebrating its 95th anniversary this season, and the Bop, in tribute to the 1955 spook-A-Rama dark ride.

We were honored to have Commendatore Aldo Mancusi, founder of the Enrico Caruso Museum, and his wife Lisa join us for History Day. Visitors who hand-cranked a tune on this Hofbauer street organ from the museum received a souvenir certificate commemorating the 95th anniversary of the Wonder Wheel.

(Posted on Aug 16, 2015)
History Day 2015

Enjoy live music, dancing and history at the 5th Annual History Day at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island's oldest amusement park, and the Coney Island History Project. This year's festivities are a celebration of the 95th anniversary of the 1920 landmark Deno's Wonder Wheel and the 60th anniversary of the 1955 Spook-A-Rama, Coney's last classic dark ride. The free event will be held from 1-6pm on Saturday, August 8. The rain date is August 9.

Pick up a schedule and souvenir map of the historic attractions in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park at locations throughout the park and at the Coney Island History Project. PLUS see our Stilt Walker for a 95th Anniversary Balloon!

History Day activities will be at the following locations:

Boardwalk Stage

History Day Opening Ceremony with the Vouderis family of Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, historian Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project, and Special Guests 1pm

DJ George Marchelos playing retro music 1-6pm

Brooklyn Swings performing and showing us the steps to popular dances of the 1920s and 1950s. Dance the Charleston and the Bop in a public salute to the Wonder Wheel and Spook-A-Rama! 1:30-3:30pm

Magician Bob Yorburg, performing "Professor Phineas Feelgood's World of Magic" and presenting a band organ tribute to the Wonder Wheel with friends from the Carousel Organ Association of America 4-5pm

West 12th St in front of Coney Island History Project & Walkway to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park

Special exhibit of historic Spook-A-Rama figures and signs 1-6pm

Aldo Mancusi, founder of the Enrico Caruso Museum, will bring his hand-cranked band organ and battery-operated monkey to History Day. Mr Mancusi is a member of the Carousel Organ Association of America (COAA) and Automatic Musical Instrument Collectors Association (AMICA). Crank a tune and receive a certificate commemorating History Day! 1-6pm

Be part of living history! Tell your story! The History Project will record visitors who have Coney Island stories for its Oral History Archive. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past at the History Project's exhibit center. Visitors are invited to take free souvenir photos with a 'Skully' from Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama and an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase park its name. 1-7pm

Deno's Wonder Wheel Park

Walk inside the iconic 1960s Astroland Rocket, which was brought home to Coney Island last summer and has a new home in Wonder Wheel Park! 1-6pm

Plus: The first 100 people who ride the Wonder Wheel will receive a Limited Edition Commemorative Button as a gift. Dress in 1920s garb and get one Free Ride on the Wheel! The Wonder Wheel opens at 12pm

Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, 1025 Boardwalk at Denos D. Vourderis Place (West 12th St) www.wonderwheel.com

The Coney Island History Project, 3059 West 12th St off the Boardwalk www.coneyislandhistory.org

(Posted on Jul 20, 2015)
Coney Island History Project

On July 4th, visitors came from as far as Australia and as near as New York City's five boroughs dressed in patriotic attire. They wore liberty-themed T-shirts; the Stars and Stripes; and red, white and blue from head to toe. Here are just a few of the souvenir photos that we snapped at the Coney Island History Project on Independence Day. Visit our flickr page to see the complete set.

Coney Island History Project

The History Project’s exhibition center is open Saturdays, Sundays and holidays through Labor Day. Visitors are invited to take free souvenir photos with "Skully," a veteran of the Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama, and an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. New hours are 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

Coney Island History Project
(Posted on Jul 06, 2015)
1823 Toll House Sign, Coney Island’s Oldest Artifact, Now on View at Coney Island History Project

Photo Showing Restoration of 1823 Toll House Sign, Coney Island’s Oldest Artifact, Now on View at Coney Island History Project

Among the treasures on display at the Coney Island History Project’s exhibit center this season 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!

The earliest settlers of Coney Island knew better than to build at the ocean’s edge. In the early days, development began along Coney Island Creek, where violent winter storms were less likely to wash away structures. Coney Island remained isolated until March 1823, when the Coney Island Road and Bridge Company constructed a bridge and toll house on Coney Island Creek at what is now Shell Road. The Coney Island Causeway toll road opened for business in early 1824 and horse-drawn carriages were soon speeding south to the beach.

James Cropsey and Daniel Morell operated the toll house until 1839. John Lefferts took over as toll-taker until 1876, when Andrew Culver bought the property for his Prospect Park and Coney Island Railroad, the predecessor of today’s Culver Line. Coney’s first hotel, the Coney Island House, opened on a sand dune a short distance away on the current site of McDonalds’s restaurant on Neptune Avenue. This small triangle of land witnessed the beginning of Coney Island as a resort.

The Toll House stood at the corner of Shell Road and Coney Island Creek for over a century before the City demolished it in 1929 during a street-widening project. The sign was rescued by Coney Island ride inventor and amusement manufacturer William F. Mangels, who put it on display in his American Museum of Public Recreation on West 8th Street and Neptune Avenue. Mangels collection was sold in 1955 and the sign was purchased and restored by the Coney Island History Project in 2007.

1823 Toll House Sign, Coney Island’s Oldest Artifact, on View at Coney Island History Project

1823 Toll House Sign on View at Coney Island History Project Exhibit Center, on West 12th Street under the Wonder Wheel

Today, the 192-year-old sign, often described as Coney Island’s "first admission ticket," is on view for the first time since 2010 at the History Project’s exhibit center. It complements this season’s special exhibit “Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920.” Stereoview photography of Coney Island began in the 1860s, providing the earliest documentation of the resort. This exhibit features original stereoview photo cards, antique stereo viewers, and enlargements of some of the oldest photographic images of Coney Island including Coney Island Creek itself.

The History Project’s exhibition center season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Visitors are invited to take free souvenir photos with "Skully," a veteran of the Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama, and an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name. New hours are 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

(Posted on Jun 09, 2015)
Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920

Our first special exhibit of the season, opening on May 23, will be "Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920." Stereoview photography of Coney Island began in the 1860s, providing the earliest documentation of the resort. This exhibit features original stereoview photo cards, antique stereo viewers, and enlargements of some of the oldest photographic images of Coney Island.

Long before television, radio, movies, and the internet, the main form of family home entertainment was an exciting new technology called stereoview photography. Most homes could afford a simple wooden hand viewer and a collection of stereoview cards that covered every subject imaginable.

The cards were actual photographs shot with a stereo bellows camera and pasted on a cardboard backing. The viewer split the card, creating a 3-D image, something that had never been possible before.

Coney Island was one of the earliest subjects photographed. During the 1860s Coney Island consisted of a tiny resort centered on Coney Island Creek at the terminus of Shell Road. The Coney Island Tollhouse, Wyckoff House and Oceanic Hotel were prominently featured in these vintage stereoviews, as was Coney Island Creek itself. Hunting, fishing and rowing on the creek were the main attractions in the resort's early days.

Coney Island History Project: Coney Island Stereoviews: Seeing Double at the Seashore, 1860-1920

Late 19th century images included the Elephant Hotel, the first roller coasters, and a variety of humorous bathing attire. Our exhibit features modern enlargements of these early images, as well as the cards themselves. Commercial stereoviews continued to sell well into the 1930s.

While this form of stereo technology may seem primitive by modern standards, visitors to our exhibit can peer through an antique stereoviewer and experience the earliest days of Coney Island as it was transformed into the "Playground of the World."

"Please join us on this journey into the heart of Coney Island and leave the digital world behind," says Charles Denson, curator of the exhibit and director of the Coney Island History Project.

This program is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and our members and contributors.

Coney Island History Project Exhibit Center, Steeplechase Horse and Giant Skull

Located on West 12th Street at the entrance to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, the Coney Island History Project is just a few steps off the Boardwalk. View historic artifacts, photographs, maps, ephemera and films of Coney Island's colorful past. Visitors are also invited to take free souvenir photos with an original Steeplechase horse from the legendary ride that gave Steeplechase Park its name and "Skully," a giant skull that is a veteran of Coney's Spookhouse and Spook-A-Rama.

The History Project's exhibition center season is from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. New hours are 1:00PM till 7:00PM. Admission is free of charge.

Join our unique walking tours based on Charles Denson's award-winning book Coney Island: Lost and Found, the interviews from CIHP's Oral History Archive, and other primary sources. Visit our online reservation site to see the walking tour schedule and purchase advance tickets online or book a group tour.

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(Posted on May 13, 2015)