Archive for Coney Island

What’s Up at Coney

Posted in AMERICANA, Coney Island, Contemporary Variety, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Magicians/ Mind Readers/ Quick Change, PLUGS, SOCIAL EVENTS with tags , , , , , , on March 13, 2017 by travsd

We all associate Coney Island with summer (it’s a beach and amusement park after all), but it may be a lesser known fact that there’s stuff happening at Coney Island USA all through the winter season as well. For example, most every Sunday Gary Dreifus presents his kid friendly Magic at Coney show. I was mightily entertained by Mr. Dreifus’s feats in yesterday’s show, as well as those of his special guests Magical Vince and Phil Crosson.  Here’s next week’s line-up:

The magic show takes place in the Coney Island Museum,  open on weekend throughout the winter. The museum has recently been spruced up with some new displays and wall text


Koo Koo the Bird Girl and her jolly friend (okay, he’s dressed like a jester, but I don’t know how jolly he is).



“Slapstick Used By Angelo the Midget at the Steeplechase Blowhole”

And now there is a whole new Hot Dog section of the museum featuring items like:


These stained glass windows are from the original Feltman’s Restaurant, birthplace of the hot dog

Thence (the real pull for the day) a special preview event for the new exhibition Five Cents to Dreamland: A Trip to Coney Island, created and curated by the New York Transit Museum. 

A 1998 sideshow banner by the one and only Marie Roberts!

A genuine vintage Strength-Tester mallet.


CIUSA Founder Dick Zigun (center): with Concetta Bencivenga, director of the NYTM; and John di Domenico, who serves on the boards of both organizations


Coney’s own Patrick Wall, Your Mix-Master


CIUSA board members James Fitzsimmons and Dr. Jeff Birnbaum, with Birnbaum’s son


Coney Island USA’s annual gala is happening in just two weeks, March 25! An all-star cast celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Mermaid Parade with a Corral Jubilee! Follow this magical portal for tickets and details! 


The Coney Island Secession Movement!

Posted in Amusement Parks, BROOKLYN, Coney Island, CULTURE & POLITICS with tags , , , on February 13, 2017 by travsd


Yesterday, after I posted my piece about the various contemporary secession movements (hint: none of them are in the middle of the country), Dick Zigun, Coney Island’s Unofficial Mayor protested that I had left out his own movement to make a separate nation of Coney Island. Tut tut tut! Never you fret!  In reality, I only wanted to set this proposal apart so that I could give it the serious consideration it deserves.

As you can see from the map above, Coney Island was once completely surrounded by water, hence its name. The stream on its north side was then partially filled in, giving the neighborhood its modern contours, outlined in white on the map. Zigun’s proposal would dig out those streams again to resume the physical separation, or build a Trumptastic wall. Actually, his entire program, laid out in the attached article, is approximately as coherent and sane and just as Trump’s plans for America.

Coney Island on its own could be the American Monaco. A People’s Playground for the People. Why, a separated Coney Island would be more American than America! Hot dogs for every meal! Middle aged men with pot bellies walking side-by-side with women in bikinis — and that’s in church! And everyone would have fun all the time, except the people on the other side of the tracks, who are all living in poverty!

And Dick has all the qualifications necessary to run a county by contemporary standards. A hat! A sash! A drum to beat! And a following among the biker community!  For Dick Zigun’s full proposal, which I fully endorse, go here. 

Born to Lead

Born to Lead

Much Circus News This Week!

Posted in Circus, Contemporary Variety, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , , on February 10, 2017 by travsd


Just a few oddments of circus news I’ve gotten in recent days, so it made sense to loop ’em together.

  • As we wrote here, the Big Apple Circus went under earlier this year. As reported by the Wall Street Journal yesterday the good news is that Compass Partners LLC has purchased the BAC’s assets at auction earlier this week and the circus will live on in some new form, perhaps even under the same name. Read the full article here. 
  • Good news for lovers of circus history. Illinois State University’s Milner Library is digitizing 300 circus route books from its Circus and Allied Arts Collection and making them available online. Read the full article in Smithsonian Magazine here.
  • Five members of the Flying Wallendas were badly injured Wednesday when they fell off a high wire while rehearsing their eight person pyramid with the Sarasota Circus. Say a prayer for the swift recovery of these brave performers! The story is here. 
  • The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus will be coming to Brooklyn for the last time in just two weeks. They open at the Barkleys Center on February 23. Tickets for their two week farewell engagement will undoubtedly go quickly. You can get them here.
  • Some news from Coney Island USA. Their annual gala, a “Coral Jubilee” celebrating the 35th year of the Mermaid Parade, will be on March 25. I’ll be the keynote speaker at their annual Congress of Curious People, April 21. My topic: “When Did the Circus Become Un-American?”
  • Lastly, as those in the know know, the theme of this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival is Circus Arts. Our good friends at the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus have been invited to participate. But they need your help! The unplanned trip to bring their show down to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. is by definition un-budgeted for. You should help support them in any case (with the ancient art of circus in precarious danger everywhere you turn), but now’s a particularly good time to send some coin to the Bindlestiffs. Do so here.

William F. Mangels: Fun-Maker

Posted in Amusement Parks, BROOKLYN, Coney Island, German, Impresarios with tags , , , , , , , on February 2, 2017 by travsd


Today is the birthday of William F. Mangels (1867-1958). Born in Germany, Mangels moved to the U.S. in 1883 and became a bicycle repairman. His understanding of wheels, gears, chains, and sprockets let to work on carousels, which led to the formation of his own carousel manufacturing company. Mangels also invented his own original rides, such as “The Whip” and “The Tickler”. He also authored the book The Outdoor Amusement Industry: From Earliest Times to the Present. His headquarters was of course Coney Island. Go here for some pix and description on an exhibition about him we caught at Green-Wood Cemetery a few months back. But, confidentially, I think it’s pretty funny that a guy who made amusement park rides was named “Mangels”. Because…ya know.


Charles Feltman: Inventor of the Hot Dog

Posted in Amusement Parks, Coney Island, FOOD & DRINK CULTURE with tags , , , , on November 8, 2016 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Charles Feltman (1841-1910), Coney Island entrepreneur, restaurateur, inventor of the hot dog. To be much more accurate (as few seldom are) he is the inventor of the hot dog roll. His was the idea of placing the sausages of his native Frankfurt on long buns so you could eat them while walking around. The concept is so fundamental to us now we can’t imagine a world in which they didn’t exist.

Feltman made a fortune on his invention. Then one of his employees, Nathan Handwerker made a fortune of his own by selling a cheaper hot dog and calling it Nathan’s. Hard to tell which is the more American story!

The Feltman’s brand was revived a few months ago. Their web site is here.

Earlier this year, I was strolling around Green-wood Cemetery and came upon this, and that is the genesis of this post:


For Talk Like a Pirate Day: Trav S.D.’s “Sea of Love”

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Burlesk, Coney Island, Contemporary Variety, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Indie Theatre, LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE, ME, My Shows, Summer Solstice/ Mermaid Parade with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2016 by travsd


All things considered we give our plays short shrift here (and elsewhere,I think) and one of our New Year’s resolutions is to make amends by plugging them aggressively. The best way to make your New Year’s resolution come true is to get to work on it several months early.

Fortunately, we have a handy “way in” to talk about one of my plays today, it being INTERNATIONAL TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY and all. Trav S.D.’s Sea of Love is basically an extended “talk like a pirate” nautical riff, structured as a series of crashing ocean waves. It has had many lives.

It began as a two-hander about a couple on a date, which I began developing as a student at Trinity Rep Conservatory in 1987. It begins with the galling premise of a prudish young man rebuffing the scary advances of a highly open and sexual female co-worker whose trippy monologue provided its original title, Love Embrace at 50 Fathoms. It was a Gilligan and Ginger scenario, if you will.


A couple of years later (1989) I attended the Coney Island Mermaid Parade for the first time, and that inspired me to take the play where it eventually went, an over the top fantasy scenario, where the date is first invaded by the young man’s equally sexual and forward mother “Mrs. Paul”, and then the ghost of his pirate father “Long John”. This version was produced at the now defunct Vortex Theatre, and featured my good friend Sarah McCord Williams as “Gidget” and her then-boyfriend Brian Price as the hero “Bildad”. Coney Island performer Sailorman Jack opened the show with a set of sea chanteys.

In the early ’90s I directed yet another version at the old Village Gate, which is now Le Poisson Rouge. I think at this stage I had the effrontery to call it Wet Dreams, which is gross, but actually fits the theme.


Tony Millionaire designed the postcard for the 2002 edition

Then in 2002 came what I consider the definitive version of Sea of Love, at the Ohio Theatre’s Ice Factory Festival. For this one, I pulled out all the stops. I introduced a dance chorus number, choreographed by the one and only Julie Atlas Muz, and featuring several key burlesque dancers as the “Naughty Nereids”, including the legendary Bambi the Mermaid (THE Coney Island Mermaid Parade Mermaid), Kate Valentine (a.k.a Mistress Astrid), Lin Gathright (a.k.a. Miss Bunny Love) and others. The lovely Moira Stone sang my song “Love of the Ocean” for a curtain raiser.

Stone (right), with Sarah Jane Bunker, who played Gidget, backstage at the Ohio

Stone (right), with Sarah Jane Bunker, who played Gidget, backstage at the Ohio

And I added another wave of craziness in the person of the Great God Poseidon, played by Robert Pinnock wearing nothing but a thong and a green afro wig. Jeff Lewonczyk played Bildad’s mother Mrs. Paul (in drag, natch), and Bildad was to be played by the multi-talented writer-comedian (and former Fox commentator) John Devore. 

I was extremely jazzed to play the part of the pirate — in fact, that was kind of the whole point (see the publicity photo at top). But just before opening night Devore suffered a tragic death in the family, and (as I have had to do so often in the past), I had to understudy for him, re-envisioning the pirate by having Adam Swiderski and Dan Maccarone play the body (at different shows), with Pinnock supplying the voice offstage through a microphone. Then we closed out the show by having the entire cast sing the Donovan song “Atlantis”.

As too often happens when I write/direct/produce/ and star in something, little (sometimes major) things fall through the cracks. All too often it has happened that I forgot to arrange for photographs of the production! Thus there is no photographic record of this  show. I have video of it, but it’s kind of rough (at least my copy is), and so I really only have memories.

And then there was additional life. In 2007 we did a commemorative reading of the play at Coney Island USA, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the parade.

And then that terrific resource Indie Theater Now made it available to purchase! It’s yours to peruse and (hopefully) produce at this link:

Coney Island Dreams, Coney Island Schemes

Posted in Amusement Parks, AMUSEMENTS, BROOKLYN, Coney Island, CULTURE & POLITICS, Summer Solstice/ Mermaid Parade with tags , , , , on June 18, 2016 by travsd


We’re skipping the annual Mermaid Parade this year. We’re disinclined to be Judges at present, and as Judges is the only way we go.

I’ve grown disenchanted. While Coney Island is always on the move and (for the last couple of decades) on the mend, I’ve never been able to fully embrace the thing standing in front of me — what I am really seeking is the Coney of the past or future, for it is both a sliver of what it was, and a mere shadow of its own potential.

From its peak attendance during World War Two, the world’s premiere fun zone got slammed by a succession of developments in the post-war era that eroded its fabled status as America’s Playground: air conditioning made local folks less desperate to get to the beach; trains, plains and automobiles made other beaches and amusement parks much easier to get to; suburbanization saw people moving out of NYC (a trend that began to reverse a couple of decades ago). The scale and number of attractions at Coney dwindled. Crime went up; quality of life in the area went down. Like I say, it’s been improving as a destination for years, thanks to the advent of a number of fun-centers: Coney Island USA (1980), the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team (2001), the light installation on the Parachute Jump (2006), Luna Park (2010), the return of B & B Carousell (2013), and the opening of the Coney Island Amphitheatre (2016). And one of the area’s last remaining eyesores, the long-shuttered Shore Hotel has finally been purchased, with plans to turn its beautiful theatre into a new entertainment venue.

All things remaining the same, I predict that this trend will continue. Not only have there long been (admittedly controversial) plans by real estate developers to build new residential towers in the area, but the population of Brooklyn overall continues to increase. The frontier of that growth is still several neighborhoods away, but one can imagine that process continuing to the point that the outward edge gets closer and closer to South Brooklyn, potentially bringing thousands of new regular visitors. Me, if I had dough to invest, public or private, I would bet on the long term future of Coney Island.

I’ve been day-dreaming about what that long term future might look like for decades. Here are some of my fool notions:


Coney Island lies at the far edge of New York City, the end of several subway lines in fact. When I lived in Greenpoint, it took me an hour to get there. If you live in another borough, it takes even longer. Once upon a time, that distance was an attraction. People wanted to “get out of the city”. In its earliest phase as  destination (early to mid 1800s) the area was actually full of beachside hotels. In the heyday of the amusement parks (roughly 1904-1944), the “benefit” vs. “the cost” (in time) of making the excursion was much more clear-cut and obvious. As the attraction of the area diminished, the journey became less worth making. (Now that I live in Park Slope, I go there many times a summer. When I lived in Greenpoint, it was once or twice a year at most). We’ll get to the attractions in a minute, but I also think it needs to be far easier to get to Coney Island. The two go hand in hand.Here are some thoughts about other possibilities:


Speedboat Water Taxi

Pictured above is the Shark, which tools around New York harbor, departing from South Street Seaport. I’ve taken this ride with my kids. It’s great fun. Express speedboat service to Coney Island, if not shorter than a train ride, would at least have the benefit of being exhilarating — a ride unto itself.


Scenic Trolley

Years ago Brooklyn treasure Bob Diamond lobbied hard to revive a trolley line in Brooklyn, with the specific goal of increasing transportation options to Red Hook, an area which remains preposterously cut off from the rest of the city, despite being quite close as the crow flies. He couldn’t muster the support and his trolley collection now lies rusting. I took the picture above at the Red Hook waterfront a few weeks ago. San Francisco and New Orleans still operate such lines because they didn’t make the foolish, short-sighted decision to junk them in the mid twentieth century like most other cities. And tourists love them. New York has trashed all its track however. Like I say: “dreams”.


Express Tour Bus

I took this photo a few days ago with this very blog post in mind. These tour bus thingies are all over the city. The idea would be express service, with only a couple of key stops, and perhaps a tour guide prepping the passengers with a little historical background on the route. It’s better than NOT doin’ it!



By all accounts, Coney Island’s attractiveness as a destination was greatest between the years 1904 and 1911, when its three main amusement parks, Steeplechase, Dreamland and the original Luna Park combined to make Coney Island a veritable fairyland on the scale we nowadays associate only with the Disney theme parks, and were every bit as magical. Their fabulousness was too great to describe here, and is well covered in myriad other sources. The point is that now they are gone. Dreamland burnt in 1911, Luna in 1944, and Steeplechase was demolished by the villainous Fred Trump in 1964 (at a moment when the World’s Fair up in Queens probably made it seem more okay than it was). The area the parks occupied stretched past where the New York Aquarium is now, and across the street past where the housing projects are. After Steeplechase closed, some smaller parks remained: Astroland (which closed a few years ago), Denos’ Wonder Wheel Amusement Park (which remains), and several independent ride and booth operators.

Now admittedly for years, I’ve been too easy an audience for Coney Island’s amusement parks. I’ve never been to a large, modern amusement park on the scale of Six Flags. Prior to Coney Island, I’m pretty sure I’d only ever been to two amusement parks, both of them tiny: Rhode Island’s now defunct Rocky Point, and Connecticut’s equally miniscule Quassy. So I’ve always been an easy date when it comes to contemporary Coney: “What do you mean? This place is great!”  But I understand that modern visitors expect a lot more.

Believe it or not, on more than one occasion, the folks from Disney crunched the numbers on opening a park out there, but they couldn’t make it work to their satisfaction. Among other things, they felt potential for parking facilities were inadequate and for something on the scale they envisioned they imagined people driving in from far-flung regions. And the infrastructure on Coney Island (things like sewer and water) is quite bad and would need city investment. But since we’re dreaming, a HUGE amusement park out there would be just Jim Dandy wouldn’t it? You’d need to rezone, and you’d need to either move, or build around the housing projects, but nothing is impossible. And think of the local people it would employ

Some specific things I personally would like to see out there in an expanded amusement district:

  • At least one amazing dark ride. There are 2 or 3 truly pathetic ones out there right now. They’re enjoyable, but they’re over in 1 or 2 minutes. Ten minutes — that’s more like it!
  • More sideshows and performing arts! Coney Island USA is cool, but back in the day (say the 1920s and 30s), Coney was a place with NUMEROUS sideshows and similar places operating simultaneously. Each competing with the others for business and thus keeping the level of quality high. And a Ripley’s Odditorium would be nice.
  • Tented circus! At various times over the years, Ringling Bros., Cole Brothers, Big Apple Circus, and other organizations have pitched a tent out at Coney. I want a circus out there every summer!
  • Wax Museum! They used to have them out there back in the day. At least one would be amazing, especially with a Hall of Horrors! At the very least, a Madame Tussaud’s franchise.
  • A “Bowery” or “Bourbon Street”. There are a couple of little places on Surf Avenue and a couple on the boardwalk, and this is what suggested this to me. What it would be is a strip of live music venues, saloons, burlesque houses and the like, either on Surf Ave, or better yet, one block back on Mermaid Ave. (so that it can be as naughty as it needs to be, but away from the family audiences.)
  • Cinemas. This seems a modest thing and yet I don’t think there are any for miles around there. A first run multi-plex with a “movie palace” architectural vibe would be nice. But also an old time revival house that shows silent and old time movies — Joe Franklin used to operate one of those nostalgia theatres out there years ago.
  • Racetrack! This is one of the crazier dreams, but it’s not random. Before it had amusement parks, Coney Island was the site of several horse racing tracks. That is why Steeplechase amusement park had that as its theme. One of the late Horace Bullard’s plans for Coney included casinos etc on the model of Atlantic City. What I’m envisioning is something like Belmont or Aqueduct, set back aways from Coney, perhaps in neighboring Gravesend or Sheepshead Bay.
  • Brooklyn Dodgers! Yeah, that’s right! Trade the minor league Cyclones franchise in and replace it with a major league team. Brooklyn has never been the same since the Dodgers left! Put it in South Brooklyn!

Oh, I got more ideas — way more ideas than that about how to improve Coney Island, if I only had a billion dollars. No point in dreaming small! If you wanna hear more, ask me! Even better — back me! I ain’t shy!




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