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Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

The Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge drew 3,000 swimmers and 10,000 spectators, and raised nearly $90K for Camp Sunshine. January 1, 2016. Photo © Norman Blake

Coney Island drew an astounding total of more than 28,000 visitors to its new New Year’s Eve Celebration and long-established New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge. The district’s City Councilman Mark Treyger tweeted the official tally that “Over 15,000 people turned out to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Coney Island!” Temps in the 40s and the promise of free rides, sideshow performances and fireworks helped triple attendance for the New Year’s Eve Party at the Parachute Jump, which was started by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and is in its second year. The free, family friendly celebration was sponsored by the Borough President along with Councilman Treyger and the Alliance for Coney Island.

On New Year’s Day, the Parks Department estimated there were 10,000 spectators at the Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge. “We had almost 3,000 swimmers participate in the plunge this year,” Polar Bear Club president Dennis Thomas tells ATZ. “I am sure it is a record. The past few years we have been averaging a little over 2,000 swimmers.” What’s more, the funds raised by the Polar Bears for Camp Sunshine have far exceeded their goal of last year’s total of $70K. Nearly $90K has been received so far, with donations still being accepted here. If the trend continues, next year the Bears could break $100K for the camp, which hosts children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

The novelty of major rides –the Wonder Wheel, B&B Carousell and Thunderbolt roller coaster– being open on New Year’s Eve and offering a free spin was a big draw. When we got here around 8:30pm, the atmosphere was festive but the crowd was still sparse, evoking memories of the first years of the Mermaid Parade, before it grew into the world’s largest art parade. Around 11:15, the vast majority of revelers began to arrive and gather around the dazzlingly lit Parachute Jump, Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower, for Coney’s countdown to 2016.

Deno’s Wonder Wheel’s white cars rode approximately 2,000 people for free on New Year’s Eve, with the line snaking towards the boardwalk. On New Year’s Day, just over 500 tickets at $5 per ride were sold, with 50% of the proceeds — $1262.50 — donated to the Polar Bears’ charity Camp Sunshine. Over 400 cups of hot chocolate were handed out to guests. Will winter rides become an annual tradition? That depends: Coney’s outdoor rides operate “weather permitting,” and luckily this year’s weather permitted the first-ever New Year’s spin.

As for the Polar Bear Plunge, Thomas says the event has been growing every year. “Part of the increase in funds may be due to increasing number of plungers, but, again, all donations are voluntary and no one has to pay to participate, and some don’t,” he notes. “Participation by teams from Coney Island Brewery, Peggy O’Neill’s and Reyka Vodka helped with the fundraising. Generally, Coney Island is back on the map as a NYC destination like it hasn’t been in decades. People are not fearful about coming anymore, and the summers have been so popular, maybe some of that is rubbing off on the winter plunge there as well.”

Happy New Year to and from Coney Island! Stay tuned for a photo album of some of the best pix of this year’s plunge.

Thunderbolt Luna Park NYC

Crowds line up to ride Luna Park’s Thunderbolt for free on New Year’s Eve. December 31, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

December 29, 2015: Coney Island to Ring in 2016 with Parties, Free Rides, Light Shows, Fireworks, Polar Bear Plunge

December 11, 2015: Dance with Miss Coney Island on New Year’s Day

January 2, 2014: Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge’s Best Dressed of 2014

January 2, 2010: Photo Album: Coney Island Boardwalk, New Year’s Day 2010

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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

One of the eight-foot by seven-and-a-half-foot lighted stars from Astroland’s Surf Avenue gate is in the National Air and Space Museum among other space-age icons, but the second one could be yours for Christmas. Along with pieces of Dante’s Inferno dark ride, the Bonanza shooting gallery, and a variety of signage, the star is among the last vestiges of the Coney Island amusement park being offered for sale. Mark Blumenthal, Astroland’s longtime operations manager, has overseen the sale of the rides since the park closed and was dismantled at the end of 2008. If you’re interested in acquiring an Astro artifact, you can email Blumenthal at astrolandmark[at]aol[dot]com.

Dante's Inferno demon

Dante’s Inferno demon on crane, Astroland Park in Coney Island- Photo © Tricia Vita. December 26, 2008.

“We’d like to sell the ride as a whole,” Blumenthal said of Dante’s, which consists of the giant demon’s head and torso from the façade, props, track and cars in storage trailers. “But if someone has a home for the pieces, we’d entertain the idea of selling them.” Dante’s Inferno was made by the Italian manufacturer Soli and brought to Astroland in 1971, according to a tribute on Laff in the Dark’s website. More than a dozen stunts created by Lou Nasti’s Brooklyn-based Mechanical Displays in the 1990s are also for sale.

At the Brooklyn Museum, the Cyclops head from Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park’s Spook-A-Rama dark ride, which is going into its 66th year of operation in Coney, is on display as part of the exhibit Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland. Can Dante’s demon make a similar transition from the amusement park midway to the art world? Or what about bringing it home to Coney and exercising a little creative reuse?

Also being offered for sale is the old-timey Bonanza shooting gallery, where you could shoot the piano player. You may recall it was located on the Surf Avenue side of the park next to Gregory & Paul’s. Manufactured by Taylor Engineering, Bonanza shooting galleries first debuted in 1958 and this one was brought to Coney Island by Gregory in the mid-’70s.

“It was redone a couple of years before we closed,” says Blumenthal. “It’s the old technology,” referring to the fact that vintage Bonanza galleries used photocell sensors activated by a bright light source, usually from the rifles. That’s why there were multiple signs saying “No Photography” and why we have no photos. You can catch a glimpse of it in the following video. Refurbished galleries such as “The World’s Largest Bonanza Gallery.” currently on the fair circuit, use an infrared beam of light instead of flashing light.

As we noted in a post in 2013, Astroland’s rides have found homes in Costa Rica, South America, Australia, New Jersey and Brooklyn. Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park brought back the Barbieri Bumper Cars and Scrambler, and together with the Coney Island History Project, the 1960’s Astroland Rocket, which once perched on Gregory & Paul’s rooftop as an advertisement.

Signage from Astroland’s Surf and Boardwalk entrances to the park, as well as the arcade are also for sale.”I miss it, but a lot of us miss it,” Blumenthal says of Astroland. “Now it’s part of history.”

Astroland arcade sign

Astroland arcade sign. Photo © Tricia Vita. July 25, 2008

Related posts on ATZ…

June 4, 2014: Astroland Rocket Finds New Home Beside the Wonder Wheel

July 17, 2013: Astroland Rides Find Homes in Brooklyn, Costa Rica and Australia

March 16, 2012: Rest in Peace: Jerry Albert, Co-Founder of Coney Island’s Astroland Park

December 16, 2010: Blast from the Past: LFO’s Summer Girls Music Video

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Coney Island Hysterical Society

Richard Eagan, Gene Manzione and Philomena Marano at the Spookhouse in Coney Island, 1984. Photo Courtesy of Coney Island Hysterical Society.

Wouldn’t it be cool to take over a derelict amusement ride and refurbish it as an art project? “Boardwalk Renaissance: How the Arts Saved Coney Island,” a new exhibit at City Lore, celebrates a time in the mid-1980’s when a group of young artists were able to do just that.

In 1981, Brooklyn artists Richard Eagan and Philomena Marano co-founded the Coney Island Hysterical Society because they were “Hysterical” at the rate that the amusement rides and attractions were shutting down. One of their projects was the transformation of the disused Dragon’s Cave ride on the Bowery into the Spookhouse, billed as “a ride through gallery in the dark – a unique blend of art and amusement.” Admission was $1.00-$1.50, which wasn’t bad considering a ride on the Cyclone cost two bucks back then.

Boardwalk Renaiisance

The art of Spookhouse at Boardwalk Renaissance, an exhibit at City Lore thru March 13, 2016. Photo © Tricia Vita

Artwork by Eagan and Marano, and scenic designs by Bill Stabile, as well as paintings by Marc Kehoe and photos by Hazel Hankin documenting the Spookhouse’s 1984-1986 run are on view at City Lore. According to a vintage poster, the ride featured works by 15 artists plus students of I.S. 291, and “Reconstruction and Revitalization” by a crew of eight. Ten artists were invited to paint each of the original 1940’s Messmore & Damon cars. Among them was Nancy Prusinowski, who reminisced with ATZ about shunning a spooky theme in lieu of a pastoral scene similar to that on a carousel chariot. The eye-catcher was a Cupid holding a Nathan’s hot dog, a hat tip to Nathan’s, which owned the building and was across the way.

It’s remarkable that folks without amusement biz chops were able to preserve and operate an old Coney dark ride, even for a few years. It could not be done today. After Astroland closed in 2008, some friends were actually talking about how we could bring back Dante’s Inferno. Of course it was not feasible.

Marc Kehoe Coney Island Hysterical Society

Marc Kehoe painting ‘It’s Spooky’ mural on exterior wall of the Spookhouse, 1985. Photo courtesy of Coney Island Hysterical Society

“Those were very different times,” says Philomena Marano in an e-mail. “All the right ingredients magically fell into place: Coney Island was abandoned, Sporty Kaufman wanted out of his Dragon’s Cave Ride, we were rowdy, creative and had a vision and Nathan’s Ken Handwerker was keen on launching a revitalization. I must say that all of the time we were working on Spookhouse I was strangely aware that something like this could never happen again. In the canons of weird and bizarre ‘Projects & goals,’ it’s surely at the top.”

In a fantastic example of synchronicity, the Spookhouse also featured set pieces designed by Bill Stabile for Harvey Fierstein’s Off-Broadway play Spookhouse, which were nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Set Design in 1984. Fierstein is a childhood friend of Marano, and when the play closed the pieces were donated to Coney’s Spookhouse. When the ride closed due to rising insurance costs, the Skull and the Devil were acquired by Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and became part of Spook-A-Rama’s stable of props from defunct dark rides.

Spookhouse Bill Stabile

Scenic Designs by Bill Stabile for Harvey Fierstein’s Spookhouse on exhibit at City Lore.

Thirty years later, all that remains of the Spookhouse are two signs and two cars in private collections, and Stabile’s car, which can be seen in the exhibition, along with a replica of his Giant Skull in park paint, the original of which is on display at the Coney Island History Project as “Skully.”

“We’re happy knowing that a few items survived,” says Marano. “And although they are owned by others we maintain a strong attachment to them. Like they are still ours.”

“Boardwalk Renaissance” also spotlights Coney’s house under the Thunderbolt roller coaster, the World in Wax Musee, shooting galleries, and the early days of Coney Island USA including the first Mermaid Parade.

“Boardwalk Renaissance: How the Arts Saved Coney Island,” City Lore Gallery, 56 East 1st Street, NYC 10003. Exhibit runs through March 13, 2016. Gallery open Wed – Fri, 2pm – 6pm and Sat – Sun, 12pm – 6pm. Closed November 26-29. Free admission.

Boardwalk Renaissance

Boardwalk Renaissance, an exhibit at City Lore. November 7, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ...

March 13, 2013: Coney Island 2013: New Ghouls Mingle with Old in Rebuilt Spook-A-Rama

November 21, 2012: Coney Island Post-Sandy: Flooded Spook-A-Rama to Get New Stunts

October 26, 2010: Studio Visit: Richard Eagan of the Coney Island Hysterical Society

October 26, 2010: Studio Visit: Philomena Marano of the Coney Island Hysterical Society

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Coney Island Parachute Jump French Tricolor

Coney Island Parachute Jump –Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower– Lit at Sunset in French Tricolor. November 15, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

On Sunday we happened to be on the Boardwalk in Coney Island at the very moment the lights on the Parachute Jump were switched on. Known as Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower, the Jump is being lit in France’s tricolor to show solidarity after the Paris attacks.

Although Coney’s rides are now closed for the season, the Parachute Jump’s 8000 LEDs are lit year round with lighting schemes varying by the day. occasion and season. One of our favorite shots of the Jump is through the loop of Luna Park’s Thunderbolt roller coaster, which is on West 15th Street off the Boardwalk.

Coney Island Parachute Jump and Thunderbolt at Sunset. November 15, 2015 .  Photo © Tricia Vita

Coney Island Parachute Jump and Thunderbolt at Sunset. November 15, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

December 22, 2014: Photo of the Day: Coney Island’s Tribute in Light to Slain NYPD Officers

November 29, 2014: Photo of the Day: Coney’s Parachute Jump & Wonder Wheel Lit for Holidays

May 19, 2014: New Thunderbolt Loops the Loop Again in Coney Island

November 20, 2013: Photo Album: Parachute Jump Lights Way to Year-Round Coney Island

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Wonder Wheel and Spook-A-Rama Skeleton

Deno’s Wonder Wheel and Spook-A-Rama Skeleton. September 7, 2015.

Happy Halloween! Thanks to the extended season and the spooky holiday falling on a Saturday, which hasn’t happened in several years, Spook-A-Rama is open on Halloween Weekend for the first time ever. Coney Island’s legendary 60-year-old dark ride adjacent to Deno’s Wonder Wheel opens at 12 noon.

November 1st is the last day of the season for Coney Island’s two amusement parks – Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and Luna Park – which are scheduled to reopen on Coney’s traditional opening day, Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016. This weekend is your last chance to go for a first date or get engaged on the Wonder Wheel and brave the Cyclone roller coaster in 2015.

Related posts on ATZ…

December 23, 2013: Coney’s Parachute Jump & Wonder Wheel Lit for Christmas

November 13, 2013: Coney Island Always: Visiting the Big CI Year-Round

March 29, 2013: Spook-A-Rama Revival: Vintage Cyclops Meets New Dragon

March 13, 2013: Coney Island 2013: New Ghouls Mingle with Old in Rebuilt Spook-A-Rama

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On Saturday, Zamperla’s much-anticipated new Enterprise-style ride, called the Endeavor, is expected to make its public debut in Coney Island, sources tell ATZ. Its inaugural spin is set to coincide with the visit of 400 amusement industry professionals attending Amusement Today‘s 18th Annual Golden Ticket Awards hosted this year by Zamperla at Luna Park and Central Park’s Victorian Gardens.

The prototype ride is already set up on West 15th Street and being inspected by the City’s ride inspector in advance of the weekend. On Wednesday, ATZ friend and beach-goer Eliot Wofse caught the Endeavor going for a test spin in the above video. If the ride looks familiar, the Enterprise was a fave at Coney Island’s Astroland from the 1970s until the early 2000’s when it was sold to New Jersey’s Casino Pier.

The Endeavor has been on Luna Park Coney Island’s map –”Coming Soon! Get ready for an experience that is out of this world” — since the park opened this spring. Sources tell ATZ the prototype has already been sold to a park in warmer climes, where it will go after an initial few weeks of operation in Coney Island. Another Endeavor will be sent to Luna Park in time for its 2016 season, the source said. This year, Luna Park is celebrating its fifth anniversary season with five new rides. The park, which has 29 rides, is also a showroom for Zamperla’s rides, 26 of which were manufactured by the Vicenza, Italy, ride manufacturer.

Zamperla Endeavor

The Endeavor, Zamperla’s new Enterprise-style ride, awaiting its debut at Luna Park. September 7, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

The Golden Ticket Awards is a two-day private event known as the Oscars of the amusement industry. The public can watch the Golden Ticket Awards Ceremony, which is being held at Gargiulo’s Restaurant, via an online simulcast beginning at 7:30pm on September 12 at this YouTube link. The ceremony will include Broadway-style entertainment produced by RWS & Associates and the presentation of awards to winners in 40 categories such as “Best Park,” “Most Beautiful Park,” and “#1 Steel Coaster.” At 10:30pm, the event’s big finale will be a fireworks show viewable from the Coney Island Boardwalk, according to Amusement Today. The City has issued a permit for a fireworks display for 9:30pm. The event is weather permitting, of course.

“The unique location of Coney Island is sure to add its own flavor to the event,” Tim Baldwin, Amusement Today‘s Golden Ticket Awards Communications Coordinator, told ATZ. “It will be our largest attendance yet of around 400 industry professionals from around the globe. Attendees are coming from numerous countries that include Sweden, The Ukraine, Germany, Italy, Ireland and more.”

In the meantime, enjoy this spin back in time on Astroland’s Enterprise.

Related posts on ATZ…

August 19, 2015: Battery Park’s SeaGlass Carousel Goes for Its First Spin

May 28, 2015: Coney Island Openings & Closings: Power Surge, Arcade, Rainbow Shops, Vintage Shooting Gallery

April 10, 2015: Coney Island 2015: Power Surge and Enterprise-Style Ride Set for Comeback

March 3, 2015: Coney Island 2015: The Whip Returns with a NASCAR Twist

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Ten years in the making, the much-anticipated SeaGlass Carousel at Battery Park will open to the public on Thursday, August 20th, from 1pm till midnight. Today, at a press preview, ATZ captured the unique ride’s inaugural spin in the above video. For its second go-round, we hopped aboard one of the 30 bioluminescent fish and shot an on-ride video through its porthole. Glowing Angelfish, Lionfish, and Butterflyfish changed colors as they swam by in a 360-degree aquatic dance. It is a very calming, otherworldly experience and totally unlike any other carousel or amusement ride.

George Tsypin

George Tsypin set to ride one of the fish that he designed for the SeaGlass Carousel. August 19, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Among the carousel’s riders was George Tsypin, the internationally acclaimed opera designer who created the opening ceremony for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. His latest creation is what he calls “the dancing fish.”

“I always try to do something I’ve never done before,” he remarked at the press conference. “SeaGlass Carousel allows visitors to experience a ‘mini-opera’ in which they are spectators, actors and participants.” He describes it as a reinvention of the carousel for the 21st century with the choreography of movement being the most important thing. “You can program the movement in many different ways. It’s a living organism that we tried to create.”

The fiberglass fish are a bit like a capsule, Tsypin adds, noting that you can’t ride a shark as you would a horse. “Children can feel like they’re in a secret world in their own little capsule.”

SeaGlass Carousel

Girl riding SeaGlass Carousel at press preview. August 19, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Celebrating the history of the Battery as the first home of the New York Aquarium, which was located in Castle Clinton from 1896 until 1941, the carousel was designed to simulate a dive to the bottom of the sea. “Most New York City children will not scuba dive or snorkel,” said the Battery Conservancy’s Warrie Price. “This is a simulation of them being fish.”

The SeaGlass Carousel’s iridescent fish are set on four moving turntables within a nautilus shell structure. The 46-foot grand turntable gently rotates 360 degrees. Within it are three on-board turntables, which slowly rotate 120 degrees in each direction on their own axes, adding an oscillating motion. Eighteen of the fish move up and down. “These various systems generate up to 25 axes of motion…swimming indeed,” according to the Conservancy. Since all mechanisms are located below the floor, there is no centerpole, as is customary with carousels.

SeaGlass Carousel

SeaGlass Carousel features iridescent fish set on four moving turntables within a nautilus shell structure. August 19, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Last year, the Battery Conservancy issued an RFP (Request for Proposals) for the operation and maintenance of the SeaGlass Carousel along with food and merchandise carts in Battery Park. Ride Entertainment Group’s New York division, NY Carousel, was selected to operate the ride, which after opening day will spin daily from 10am to 10pm. The cost is $5 per ride. The group also operates Fantasy Forest at the Flushing Meadows Carousel and the Forest Park Carousel in Queens, as well as Fantasy Shore at Midland Beach in Staten Island and carousels in Boston and Baltimore.

SeaGlass Carousel

Moms and kids aboard the SeaGlass Carousel at Battery Park. August 19, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Created by the Battery Conservancy together with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, SeaGlass Carousel was conceived and designed by WXY Architecture + Urban Design and their engineering teams, George Tsypin Opera Factory and Show Canada. The $16 million dollar project was funded with $8 million in public funds and $8 million in private funds. The Tiffany & Co. Foundation Woodland Gardens encircle SeaGlass Carousel.

Tiffany & Co. Foundation Woodland Gardens

The Tiffany & Co. Foundation Woodland Gardens encircle Battery Park’s SeaGlass Carousel. August 19, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Related posts on ATZ…

April 13, 2015: Video of the Day: Century-Old Forest Park Carousel Awhirl After Off-Season Overhaul

October 21, 2013: Traveler: Osteria Ai Pioppi’s Homemade Amusement Rides

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

February 26, 2010: Made in Brooklyn: The World’s Only Jet-Powered Merry-Go-Round

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