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Archive for May, 2009

Cha-Chas Schedule of Events, photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita

Cha-Cha's Schedule of Events, photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

We heard all about the East Coast-West Coast rivalry between Dick Zigun’s Coney Island Circus Sideshow and John Strong’s Circus Sideshow. Almost everyone, including the sideshow operators, agrees the publicity is good for Coney Island. But we’d heard nothing at all about the Squidling Brothers Circus Sideshow coming to Coney to challenge Ringling until we saw this note scrawled on Cha-Cha’s schedule: “Every Saturday Beginning May 30, Squidling Brothers Sideshow Karnival of Kuriosities.” Since Squidling rhymes with Ringling, and Ringling Brothers Coney Island Boom a Ring Circus will be just down the Boardwalk, ATZ wondered if the name was a product of JT Thomas’s wry humor.

Turns out the Squidlings are a real, live sideshow troupe from Philadelphia who performed at Cha-Cha’s Rockabilly Fest last summer.
Their MySpace page ballyhoos a sword swallower who performs upside down on a trapeze, a human see-saw on a bed of 1,500 nails, and a clown with a homemade flame thrower built into his sword. Ringling clowns take note!

Squidling Bros Circus Sideshow & Burlesque at Cha-Chas

Squidling Bros Circus Sideshow & Burlesque at Cha-Cha's

Also on this summer’s schedule at Cha-Cha’s: Live Jazz (Mondays), Live Rock, Blues and Classic Rock (Fridays), Latin Jazz and Classic Rock (Sundays) and a Rockabilly Fest on Labor Day Weekend.

Cha-Cha’s of Coney Island, Boardwalk just east of Stillwell Ave

Cha Chas Bar & Cafe on the Boardwalk next to Shoot the Freak in Coney Island, photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita

Cha Cha's Bar & Cafe on the Boardwalk next to Shoot the Freak in Coney Island, photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

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Astrolands Bright and Shining Gate On Surf Avenue, September 7, 2008. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita

Astroland's Bright and Shining Gate On Surf Avenue, September 7, 2008. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

After Astroland closed last year, the iconic front gate with its two spinning stars was dismantled and put in storage along with the park’s rides. Next week one lucky star will travel to its new home, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. The museum announced today that Carol Hill Albert and Jerome Albert, owners of the former Astroland Park and current operators of Coney Island’s Cyclone roller coaster, have donated an eight-foot-high lighted star from the Astroland entrance gate to the Smithsonian Institution.

The Star will be displayed along with other science fiction icons such as the Star Trek Starship Enterprise in the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center after construction of Phase Two of the Center is completed in 2011 2013. According to Margaret A. Weitekamp, curator in the Museum’s Division of Space History, “The National Air and Space Museum is delighted to receive this important popular culture artifact into the national collection. Astroland embodied the widespread excitement about early human spaceflight in the early 1960s. Having a Star from the Astroland gateway, where thousands of people passed to enjoy this entertaining vision of the space age, is a wonderful example of that space craze.”

The Star, one of two from Astroland Park’s entrance on Surf Avenue in Coney Island, served as an iconic representation of Astroland’s space-age theme. The spinning stars were installed in 1963, at the height of the space race, and welcomed visitors for nearly half a century to the world renowned Astroland amusement park founded by Jerome Albert’s father, Dewey Albert.

Astroland Star on the Park's Surf Avenue Gate. Photo © Charles Denson/Courtesy of the Coney Island History Project

Astroland Star on the Park's Surf Avenue Gate. Photo © Charles Denson/Courtesy of the Coney Island History Project

photo via Coney Island History Project, flickr

Carol Hill Albert said, “The Astroland Star was chosen by my late father in law Dewey Albert as part of his new ‘space age’ themed amusement park because of its sense, quite literally of a bright and shining future ahead. Also, the star emitted light, and so much of the amusement business’ magic depends on the design and impact of its lighting, which he was of course, very familiar with. I see it as a tribute to my father in law’s astonishing sense of magic and mystery, and his visionary approach to the amusement business and its future. My husband and I are thrilled to know that this original star will become part of the Smithsonian’s distinguished collection.”

The Star section of the gate is made of steel, weighs approximately 200 pounds, and measures 6.5 feet in diameter. Each star is illuminated by 300 flashing lightbulbs (that includes both sides of the star). Astroland’s two stars were installed on a steel riser post that had a motor, which enabled the Stars to revolve.

Historian Charles Denson, the author of Coney Island: Lost and Found said, “The stars were an exciting and historic piece of Coney’s glimmering skyline and could be seen by millions of visitors arriving by subway. The sparkling star defined Astroland’s image, much as the crescent moon theme did at Luna Park, or the funny face logo did at Steeplechase Park.”

”In late 1961 Dewey Albert and his son Jerry Albert began transforming the Feltmans property into a space age theme park they called Feltmans Astro Park,” Denson says. “By the time it opened to the public in the summer of 1962 it had become ‘Astroland Park.’ After the closure of Steeplechase Park in 1964, the Albert family’s Astroland provided the anchor that held Coney Island together during the next four turbulent decades.”

A Time Magazine article from July 1963 described Coney Island’s then-new Astroland Park as “a $3,000,000 fun-and-games nexus devoted to space exploration. It has the Cape Canaveral Satellite Jet—passengers enter the rocket, fasten seat belts, then blast off with engines roaring as filmed special-effects from actual space shots conjure up a journey to the moon. The Colonel Glenn Sky Ride has 16 plastic bubbles orbiting 80 feet above the boardwalk. For downward exploration the Neptune Diving Bell encloses 30 people, drops them 35 feet down to an ‘ocean floor’ where live porpoises play.”

After Astroland Park closed in September 2008, the Astroland Rocket was donated to the City of New York to become part of the “new” Coney Island. The rest of “Astroland,” including the gate and the second Star, remains in storage, says owner Carol Hill Albert, “in suspended animation,” pending Coney Island’s future.

Astroland Star Being Removed from the Parks Iconic Front Gate. Photo © Charles Denson/Courtesy Coney Island History Project

Astroland Star Being Removed from the Park's Iconic Front Gate. Photo © Charles Denson/Courtesy Coney Island History Project

photo via Coney Island History Project, flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

December 30, 2009: Looking Back & Forward: Astroland Shrine on New Year’s Day 2009

November 23, 2009: The Contenders from A to Z: Coney Island Amusement Operator RFP

September 2, 2009: The Sad Anniversary of Coney Island’s Astroland Going Dark

May 21, 2009: Astroland Closed But Your Kid Can Still Ride the USS Astroland This Summer!

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New sideshow banners by Marie Roberts on Coney Island USA’s Building advertise this summer’s special guest freaks. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

New sideshow banners by Marie Roberts on Coney Island USA’s Building advertise this summer’s special guest freaks. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

This season at Coney Island USA’s ten-in-one circus sideshow, “Special Guest Freaks” will join the resident sword swallower, fire eater, snake charmer, escape artist and human blockhead. The new banner advertisements painted by artist-in-residence Marie Roberts are already decorating CIUSA’s building on 12th Street and Surf Avenue. The guest freaks include The Lizard Man, Jackie the Human Tripod, and England’s Mat Fraser

Coney Island Circus Sideshow, 1208 Surf Avenue at 12th Street, Coney Island

Related posts on ATZ…

January 25, 2010: March 14-17: Coney Island Sideshow Banner Painting School with Marie Roberts

December 2, 2009: Dec 12-13: Open Studio with Coney Island Artist & Banner Painter Marie Roberts

December 1, 2009: TLC’s Cake Boss Sweet on Marie Roberts’ Coney Island Sideshow Banners

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