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Archive for June, 2011

Mermaid Avenue at West 28th Street, Coney Island. June 25, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

In Woody Guthrie’s delightful song about Coney Island’s Mermaid Avenue, where he lived in the 1940s and ’50s, the songwriter says that he’d never seen a mermaid here. Neither have we. But at last night’s screening of “The Prince of Mermaid Avenue” at the South Brooklyn Youth Consortium at 2811 Mermaid, ATZ asked a couple of kids in the summer program if they were mermaids.

The avenue of neighborhood shops, churches and residences is just one block north of the Coney Island amusement area’s main drag, Surf Avenue. So close, yet a world away. At dusk we spotted this poster for “A Coney Good Time” at the bus stop at West 28th Street.

While there may not be any mermaids on Mermaid Avenue, there once was a prince: The documentary “The Prince of Mermaid Avenue” is about Jimmy Prince, who retired after 60 years at Mermaid Avenue’s Major Market. Charles Denson’s film is screening again today, June 30, at 2 pm at the Coney Island Library, 1901 Mermaid Avenue at West 18th Street.

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June 9. 2011: Photo of the Day: Mango Vendor in Coney Island

June 6, 2011: HBO’s Bored to Death Brings Susquehanna Hat Co. to Coney Island

May 3, 2011: Photo of the Day: Street Art by RAE in Coney Island

October 28, 2010: Photo Album: Requiem for Coney Island’s Shoot Out the Star

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We’ve been a fan of Mangels’ Whip and Sellner’s Tilt-A-Whirl since our days as a carny kid, so naturally we’re excited about the debut of the MegaWhirl. Called the “MegaWhip” during its development phase, the new ride is said to combine the thrill of the Whip and the Tilt in a whole new way. MegaWhirl inventor Jonathan Gordon of Gordon Rides tells ATZ that the prototype is the culmination of two-and-a-half years of work.

The prototype designed by Gordon Rides and built by Larson International is set up on the factory floor at Larson’s headquarters in Plainview, Texas. A group of American Coaster Enthusiasts touring the new National Roller Coaster Museum adjacent to Larson were invited to try out the MegaWhirl and appear in the YouTube video shown above.

“I wanted to do this since I was a little kid. I spent summers as a ride mechanic at Rye Playland,” recalls Gordon, who grew up in Westchester County and went to Playland Park as a boy, where he rode the Whip and other classics. “That influenced me quite a bit,” he told ATZ. “The rides were beloved and they’re just not around anymore.” Gordon also worked in the superintendent’s office at Playland before going to engineering school and blazing his own trail as an independent ride designer. He holds numerous patents in roller coaster and ride design, including one on a “multi-track multi-vehicle interactive roller coaster.”

Unlike the Whip, the cars of the MegaWhirl spin all the way around- 360 degrees – in a random curve pattern that could be mild or intense. The ride has a footprint of 50 feet by 50 feet and an hourly capacity of 480. The only criticism of the ride has been that it could be a little faster than 4 m.p.h. The designer says he is willing to customize the speed. “If someone wanted the prototype, we could have it up and running this summer,” says Gordon, though he thinks it’s more likely the ride will debut next season. Which amusement park will give the first MegaWhirl a home?

UPDATE May 1, 2012:

Two of four trucks carrying the prototype of the MegaWhirl arrived yesterday in Coney Island! See “MegaWhirl Ride Prototype to Debut in Coney Island” (ATZ, May 1, 2012)

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May 9, 2012: MegaWhirl Prototype Under Construction in Coney Island

February 1, 2011: Bring Back the Whip! A Birthday Gift for William F Mangels

September 4, 2010: Go Up, It’s Great! Coney Island’s & Deno’s Wonder Wheel

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

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“One graphic that stopped me in my tracks was a Victorian view of Coney Island’s Astroland Park in its heyday with the sound of the Cyclone Roller Coaster pervading the soundtrack,” writes David Winograd in his review of “Alice in New York” for the iPad. It stopped us too: The Astroland Rocket has rejoined Papa Burger atop Paul’s roof. In the interactive drawing by Petra Kneile, one of 27 in the new e-book, the cars of the spinning Wonder Wheel go topsy turvy as the Red Queen and Alice fly through the air.

You can take a look at the animations in this video by the book’s co-creator Chris Stevens of Atomic Antelope. “Alice in New York” celebrates the 140th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.”

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June 19, 2011: Coney Island Summer Reading: The Wonder City

June 14, 2011: Coney Island Summer Reading: Dreamland Social Club

December 8, 2010: Children’s Book Tells Coney Island Carousel Carver’s Story

September 27, 2009: Coney Island 1969 by Edwin Torres: Fave Poem from Parachute Festival

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Imagine making your stage debut on the Coney Island Boardwalk before thousands–no, wait–zillions of people, as well as the Wonder Wheel and the Parachute Jump. If you’ve got talent, this could be your lucky break: Jen Gapay of Thirsty Girl Productions, the creator and producer of the Coney Island Talent Show, has posted an open call for contestants for this year’s contest. The talent show’s four categories are Creative Kids 9-12 years old, Creative Kids 13-17 years old, Circus Freaks and Sideshow Geeks, and Song and Dance. July 15 is the deadline for applications for the July 30 show.

Last July’s First Annual Coney Island Talent Show – “A spectacle of sunshine and lollipops on the Boardwalk!”–was the most successful new Coney event of the season. It featured singers, dancers, magicians and jugglers, as well as a contortionist, a sword swallower, and Justin Bieber and Jackie Gleason impersonators. Here’s a video featuring clips of some of last year’s contestants. The world-class hula hooper in the vid is not a contestant by the way. She is Miss Saturn, who co-hosted the show with the World Famous BOB.

Gapay says the contest’s Circus Freaks and Sideshow Geeks category welcomes all variety and novelty acts, including circus and sideshow performers plus drag and celebrity impersonators. Song and Dance includes both solo performers and troupes. The top three contestants in each category will win cash prizes—$250, $100 and $50— as well as passes to participating Coney Island attractions. There’s a “special mystery prize” for the best-dressed person in each category. Sponsors of the contest include Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, Luna Park, the Brooklyn Cyclones, Nathan’s, the New York Aquarium, the City’s Parks Department and the Coney Island Development Corporation.

Contestants are requested to fill out an application on the contest’s website and post a video of the act they plan to perform. Seven lucky contestants in each category will be selected by local talent scouts to compete in the July 30th show on the Boardwalk.

Here’s Phineas, a comic daredevil who was awarded one of the first prizes at last year’s First Annual Coney Island Talent Show. Can anybody top this?

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July 10, 2011: Photo Album: Vidbel Old Tyme Circus Opens in Coney Island

May 11, 2011: Coney Island 2011: Summer Photography Workshop

April 27, 2011: Coney Island 2011: Free Movie Screenings on the Beach

June 17, 2010: Coney Island Fireworks Show: Every Friday Plus 5 Saturdays

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When Circus Vidbel opens in Coney Island on July 4, one of the featured acts will be the famed Zamperla-Zoppe Bareback Riders, whose skill as equestrian acrobats goes back six generations to two illustrious Italian circus families. The brothers Olissio, 32; Gino, 23; and Ermes, 19, will be performing here all summer in Vidbel’s ring with Ambra Zerbini and their Percheron draft crosses and a Paso Fino.

Asked if the Zamperla-Zoppe brothers were related to the ride manufacturing Zamperlas from Vicenza who operate Luna Park, Olissio said they were third cousins, but have never met. “I very much look forward to meeting them,” he added, and was delighted when we told him that Alberto and his son Antonio were frequently seen in Coney Island.

ATZ spoke with Olissio by phone from Louisiana, where the Zamperla-Zoppes were winding up a three-month tour with Ringling’s Gold Unit, which played Coney Island for the past two summers, but bowed out this year. Earlier this month, we confirmed with Valerio Ferrari, CEO of Zamperla’s Central Amusement International, the operators of Luna Park and Scream Zone, that CAI would be bringing in the Circus Vidbel for a one-year deal.

Zamperla-Zoppe Riders. Photo via Cavallo Equestrian Arts - Ma'Ceo

“I’m terrifically excited to be coming to Coney Island, I’ve done some shows with Vidbel before,” Olissio Zoppe told ATZ. The brothers have also performed either individually or as a troupe with Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, Gilles St. Croix’s Cheval Theatre, Olissio’s equestrian extravaganza “Fratelli,” Orlando’s Arabian Nights Show and at numerous state fairs and Renaissance festivals.

According to Olissio, the Zamperla family began to branch out a couple of generations ago when Alberto Zamperla’s grandfather, also named Alberto, built the family’s first ride.  Said Ollisio, “Way back, his father Antonio had a circus and they also had a traveling movie theatre inside the tent.” Olissio recalled that his late grandfather, Napoleone Zamperla, was visited in Florida by Alberto Zamperla’s father Antonio, the founder of the ride company. They were first cousins, Olissio said. Now the circus equestrian side and the amusement ride manufacturing side of the Zamperla family will be reintroduced to each other this summer in Coney Island.

The video above shows the Zamperla-Zoppe Riders’ bravura reunion performance before an audience of fans and friends in Sarasota, the home of the American circus and the brothers’ hometown.  They perform somersaults from one galloping horse to another and other daring feats with passion and authenticity that truly seem to come from another century. Their website speaks of “celebrating a tradition that stems from the Golden Age of the Roman Empire. A tradition as grand as the Coliseum that was built to contain it. An eternity ago it thrived, but for centuries since, it was but an empty shell. However, that which once left spectators breathless and amazed, the very Heart of Rome, lives on today.”

Napoleone Zamperla (1926-2009) and his family performed the Roman Bareback Riding Act. Photo via Cavallo Equestrian Arts

The Circus Vidbel will also feature Susan Vidbel-Ashton, aerial cloud swing and lyra acts; Mike Ashton, foot juggling and live music; The Fabulous Darnells Magic and Dog Acts; Tevin Delmonte, Rolla Bolla and Clowning; Peggy Mills and Nino Murillo, Archery; and Guiming Meng, Vase Juggler.

The Big Top will  set up on the City’s Stillwell parcel across from the new Scream Zone. According to the press release on the Circus Fans of America website, performances are scheduled from July 4 through Labor Day. Shows are Tuesday through Friday at 4, 6, and 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 3 and 6 pm. The circus has Monday off. Tickets cost $10 and will be available for purchase before showtime.

Update, July 17…

The circus will be here only through Sunday, July 17th and then will be hitting the road again. Discounted tickets are now available online
http://coneyisland.eventbrite.com/

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July 10, 2011: Photo Album: Vidbel Old Tyme Circus Opens in Coney Island

June 3, 2011: Vidbel Circus Coming to Coney Island in One-Year Deal

August 31, 2010: Snapshots of the Coney Island Illuscination

June 17, 2010: Coney Island Fireworks Show: Every Friday Plus 5 Saturdays

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It seems unbelievable, but in 1954, Murray Handwerker of Nathan’s Famous leased an embalmed whale and put it on display next to his Coney Island eatery to attract customers. The seventy-ton, seventy-five foot finback was on show for two months when a heat wave struck and “A Whale in Bad Odor” began driving away customers, according to news reports at the time. Neighboring business owners called the Health Department, which issued summonses for maintaining a nuisance.  It ended up with Handwerker having to pay people to cut up the whale and tow it out to sea.

This odd tidbit of Coney Island history was one of the inspirations for “The Wonder City,” an ambitious new graphic novel by Justin Rivers and Courtney Zell that re-imagines the history of New York City starting with Peter Minuit’s purchase of Manhattan. Subtitled “The Great Whale of Coney Island,” the first volume in a planned six-volume series is a captivating mix of history and mythology. “Where does myth end and history begin? What if there was no difference between the two?” asks Rivers, a playwright and educator whose literary influences include Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Set in New York City in 1942, the story begins with the delightfully named and drawn “gumshoe” Velma Graydon turning up at the Brooklyn home of the Tulip family. She is ready to spend a large sum to acquire the Parelzaad, a centuries-old charm that six-year-old Lizzie Tulip nonchalantly wears around her neck. Velma is told the heirloom was a gift from the girl’s Dutch grandmother and is not for sale.

But Velma is persistent and unable to let the sought-after charm out of her sight. The next day, she follows Lizzie and her brother Owen on an outing to Coney Island. The Wonder Wheel, which graces the cover of the book, and Grandma’s Predictions, the fortunetelling machine under the Wheel, play a part in the story, along with a dead whale on display as a sideshow attraction and a live whale whose appearance causes havoc in Coney Island.

Courtney Zell’s drawings have a quirky edge and convey emotion and intrigue. As the story unfolds and the mystery deepens, we learn that Velma belongs to a group called The Light Keepers who have long searched for the Parelzaad.  Velma’s research has uncovered documents that trace the charm’s origin to 17th century New Amsterdam. “My father said the charm brought prosperity to his crop,” wrote a resident of the Dutch colony in 1661. “It is our hope that you take it and bring prosperity back to our great city, the symbol of our worldly triumphs and a testament to our survival in the wilderness.”

ATZ first learned about “The Wonder City” last year via the website Kickstarter, where Rivers and Zell posted snippets of the novel-in-progress that piqued our curiosity. “The advice we’ve received from comic publishers is that the economy is bad for new comic book projects right now,” they wrote. “And the best way to get our book noticed is to self publish and get the book out there ourselves. And we’re determined to do it!” The project was successfully funded to the tune of $5518 by 62 backers, who received hand-pulled prints, signed copies of the book and the chance to be drawn into the comic as thank-yous.

The finished book was self-published this month and is on sale for $10 on the Wonder City website, etsy and Amazon.  A book release party and comic book creators meet-up is set for Wednesday, June 29, at 7 pm, at The Bell House, 149 7th Street in the Gowanus area of Park Slope, Brooklyn.

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June 14, 2011: Coney Island Summer Reading: Dreamland Social Club

January 8, 2011: Boardwalk: Photos by Meredith Caliento, Spoken Word by Michael Schwartz

December 8, 2010: Children’s Book Tells Coney Island Carousel Carver’s Story

September 27, 2009: Coney Island 1969 by Edwin Torres: Fave Poem from Parachute Festival

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Brooklyn-based band Barefoot Walking’s first music video “Mermaid Day Parade” was filmed on Coney Island’s beach, Wonder Wheel and Sideshows by the Seashore’s stage. The song is from their first album “Running with Sprinklers,” which was released last year. On June 18th at 8pm, after the Mermaid Parade, lead singer Livia Beasley and the band will be singing their songs at Cha Cha’s, the “Home of Wild Women and Wise Guys” on the Coney Island Boardwalk.

Cha Cha’s Mermaid Day Party begins at 3:30 pm with Killer Joe’s classic rock and blues. Frederick the Victorious takes the stage at 7 pm. $5 cover charge pays for first drink.

Also on the Mermaid weekend schedule at Cha Cha’s: Punk Rock Show with 11 bands on Sunday, June 19th, from 2-10 pm. No cover, no minimum.

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January 8, 2011: Music Video: Strange Powers by the Magnetic Fields

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