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French Spidora

La Femme Araignee. Cirque Daniellis. Paris: Aussel, ca. 1937. One-sheet. Potter and Potter Auctions

This rare and delightful 1937 French circus poster is on the auction block today at Potter and Potter’s sale. “La Femme Araignee” is an advertisement for Cirque Daniellis’ spider woman. Known as the Spidora sideshow illusion on American carnival midways, it features a young lady with the head of a beautiful girl and the body of a giant spider.

Missed it? Check out the video below of Walt Hudson’s Spidora pitch and see her for yourself. “She’s strange, she’s unusual, she’s a lovely little girl. I’m going to let you look at her. Shortly afterwards we’re going to take her off the web and feed her, and you’ll have an opportunity perhaps to see that…” Little Spidora was an attraction at Atlantic City’s Steel Pier, Hudson says. And why by the way do we not currently have a Spidora single-o in Coney Island?

Potter and Potter’s live auction is on February 6 in Chicago but the catalogue is online and you can bid on the poster now or in real time during the auction.

Update: The poster sold for $1,200 plus a 22% buyer’s premium.

Related posts on ATZ…

June 27, 2013: Photo Album: The Front of the Show at Meadowlands Fair

May 22, 2013: Art of the Day: Girl to Gorilla Showfront by Lew Stamm

September 2, 2012: Art of the Day: World’s Smallest Woman Arrives in Coney Island

November 4, 2011: Up for Auction: Ringling Bros Circus Side Show Poster

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Bobby Wicks  Roller Skating Monkey Banner

Vintage Roller Skating Monkey Sideshow Banner by Bobby Wicks. Morphy Auctions

Brooklyn-born Bobby Wicks (1902-1990) was a banner and show painter and tattooist greatly admired by his fellow artists. Wicks once told a reporter that he got his start as a boy painting signs that said “Frankfurters 5¢” for Coney Island hot dog stands. Though both his paintings and tattoo flash are hard to come by, a delightful roller skating monkey banner that he did for a carnival’s monkey speedway will be on the block at Morphy Auctions on Sunday.

The 9-1/2 foot tall by 7-1/2 foot wide advertisement was part of a banner line designed to draw people over to a midway attraction that remained popular through the 1950s and ’60s. Trained monkeys in little metal cars raced around a track while customers placed bets on the laydown of numbers. The banner painters often took liberties and portrayed the monkeys in a variety of eye-catching scenarios, from walking a tightrope to dining in a fine restaurant, that were not part of the show.

According to Wicks’ page on the Tattoo Archive, in his early years in Coney he painted shooting galleries for the McCulloughs, worked with several banner painters, and had learned tattooing by age 14 or 15. After making and losing a fortune as a tattooist in the 1920s, he joined Royal American Shows, “The World’s Largest Midway,” and became their chief scenic artist and show painter.

The auction is online and one can bid now or in real time during Morphy’s January 31st sale in Las Vegas.

Update: The banner sold for $1,500 plus a 22% buyer’s premium.

Related posts on ATZ…

March 19, 2014: Memoirs of a Carny Kid: Monkeys on the Midway

November 23, 2013: More Photos from the Glory Days of the Sideshow Banner

November 7, 2013: Photos from the Glory Days of the Sideshow Banner

February 4, 2013: Rare & Vintage: Girl to Gorilla Sideshow Banner

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Hazel Hankin Coney Island

Poster for Coney Island exhibit at Valentine Museum of Art. Photo of Coney Island’s Bowery in 1977 © Hazel Hankin

Coney Island has come to Flatbush Avenue -specifically, the Coney-themed work of seven photographers and two painters is on view at the Valentine Museum of Art through March 11. Photographer Larry Racioppo curated the exhibit, which grew out of a meeting with Michael Valentine, publisher of Breuckelen Magazine, to propose a special Coney Island issue. The upcoming edition of the magazine will feature interviews with each of the artists in the show.

In addition to Racioppo, the photographers are Norman Borden, Dan Burmeister, Hazel Hankin, Ron Meisel, John Rossi and Jamel Shabazz. The painters are Greg Frux and Marc Kehoe. The work spans Coney Island’s past and present, and is supplemented by archival images from the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Collection.

March Kehoe Coney Island

One of a series of paintings by Marc Kehoe depicting riders on Coney Island’s Spookhouse dark ride. Oil on canvas, 1987.

As a member of the Coney Island Hysterical Society in the mid-1980s, Marc Kehoe painted his “It’s Spooky” mural on the exterior wall of the group’s Spookhouse, a dark ride renovated as an art project. Both are long gone. What remains are Kehoe’s 20 canvases portraying the lurid faces of Spookhouse riders whose expressions mirror the macabre stunts that made them scream.

“Boardwalk Renaissance: How the Arts Saved Coney Island,” a concurrent exhibit at City Lore in Manhattan, which we wrote about in “Art of the Day: Remembering Spookhouse – A Ride Through Gallery in the Dark” (ATZ, November 16, 2015), showcases some of the work of CIHS artists, including Kehoe and Hazel Hankin.

Larry Racioppo

Ruins of Coney Island’s Spookhouse just before its demolition in 1997. Photo © Larry Racioppo

At VMoA, Hankin documents the Spookhouse in operation while Larry Racioppo captures it after it had closed and fallen into ruin. Racioppo, whose subjects range from revelers at the Mermaid Parade to the derelict beauty of the abandoned Thunderbolt roller coaster, took up photography in 1970. Hazel Hankin also began photographing what was left of the Coney Island of her childhood in the 1970s. Her forte is beautifully framed shots of old school concessionaires and snoozing ticket takers who have all but disappeared from the new Coney Island.

The two posters for the exhibit feature Hankin’s stunning photo of the Skydiver ride and other vanished attractions on Coney’s Bowery and Racioppo’s heartbreaking shot of the half-demolished Thunderbolt with its ramshackle cars in the foreground. The posters are available for sale via the museum’s online store.

Hazel Hankin Photography

One In Wins, 1977. Photo © Hazel Hankin

Also striking at VMoA is Jamel Shabazz‘s sympathetic documentation of the Tribute to the Ancestors of the Middle Passage, which has been held annually on Coney Island beach for more than 25 years. Attendees are encouraged to wear white and bring offerings to place in the ocean to honor the spirit of African ancestors who died during the voyage across the Atlantic where they were being taken as slaves.

Two public programs are planned at VMOA in February:

FROM BROOKLYN COLLEGE to CONEY ISLAND – Saturday, February 20th, 2pm -4 pm. Brooklyn College graduates Hazel Hankin, Larry Racioppo and John Rossi discuss/illustrate their photography careers.

TRIBUTE TO THE ANCESTORS – Saturday, February 27th, time TBD. Jamel Shabbaz and guests will present a program about the history and significance of this annual event.

The Valentine Museum of Art is located in the Philip Howard Apartments, where art collector and longtime resident Michael Valentine has teamed up with the co-op’s board to activate a 5,000 square foot art gallery space. The next exhibit, in May, will feature work by BFA students from nearby Brooklyn College.

“Coney Island,” Valentine Museum of Art at Philip Howard, 1655 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11210. Exhibit runs through March 11, 2016. Gallery open Wednesday – Sunday, 12pm – 6pm. Free admission.

Jamel Shabazz

Annual Tribute to the Ancestors of the Middle Passage in Coney Island. Photo © Jamel Shabazz.

Related posts on ATZ…

November 18, 2015: Art of the Day: Remembering Spookhouse – A Ride Through Gallery in the Dark

April 20, 2015: Art of the Day: “Greetings from Coney Island” Blends Past & Present

January 28, 2015: Art of the Day: Takahiro Iwasaki’s Miniature Coney Island at Asia Society

December 13, 2014: Art of the Day: David Levine’s Watercolors of Coney Island

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It’s only 25 days till Christmas and 111 days till Coney Island’s Opening Day on Palm Sunday, which is March 20 next year! Know somebody who can’t wait? Get ’em a Coney Island-themed gift that can be enjoyed year round.

Coney Island. Yale University Press

Coney Island. Yale University Press

At the top of ATZ’s Coney Island gift guide is the sumptuous catalog ($50) for Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland. The traveling exhibit opened this month at the Brooklyn Museum and runs through March 13. Published by Yale Press, this beautifully designed art book — 304 pages, with 228 color plates and 77 b/w illustrations– is a pleasure to own, whether you live close enough to catch the show or not. Essays by exhibition curator Robin Jaffee Frank; John Kasson, whose book Amusing the Million inspired the title of this blog; film scholars Charles Musser and Josh Glick; and Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson on the future of Coney Island are illuminating.

Ci Gift Guide John Huntington Calendar

John Huntington’s Coney Calendar

Enjoy Coney Island’s beach, boardwalk and amusement parks 365 days next year with John Huntington’s 2016 Coney Island calendar ($20). The Brooklyn-based photographer crowdsourced votes on his best shots and successfully raised $3,261 with 62 backers on Kickstarter to fund the project. Among our faves are Scream Zone’s gate on a snowy night (January), Wonder Wheel Park’s midway (July), and people watching fireworks on the beach (August). Visit John’s website to preview and buy the calendar or prints of the photos.

Famous Nathan now on DVD

Famous Nathan now on DVD

Fans of Nathan’s, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016, will enjoy Lloyd Handwerker’s documentary about his grandfather, the founder of Nathan’s Famous hot dog empire. Recently released on DVD ($24.95), the documentary is told through home movies, archival photos and footage, the filmmaker’s interviews with a colorful cast of characters including family members and former Nathan’s workers, and the voice of Famous Nathan himself. As we wrote in a review when the film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, the cadence of Nathan’s voice and his story reverberate in the imagination even after the film is over: “I want to go to America. I was dreaming about it.” In addition to telling an insider’s history of this Coney Island institution, the film is a wonderful family memoir.

Cyclone Pendant by Philomena Marano

Cyclone Pendant by Philomena Marano

Artist Philomena Marano, who is known for her bold and colorful cut paper collages of Coney Island’s amusement rides and signs has wearable art and wall art for sale in her Etsy shop “PhiloMania.” Stylish pendants featuring her art prints of Coney’s landmark rides and iconic signage are $30. Souvenir prints made from her American Dreamland series are $25. While the best selection is online, Philomena’s work is also available in Coney Island at Brooklyn Beach Shop and Coney Island USA, as well as at City Lore in the East Village, where her art is featured in the exhibit “Boardwalk Renaissance.”

Coney Island Carousel

Coney Island Carousel, oil on panel, by Nancy Prusinowski

Coney Island USA’s Sodom by the Sea Salon showcases the work of more than 75 artists, including painters Marc Kehoe, Eric March, Nancy Prusinowski, Chris Spinelli and Morgan Taylor; watercolorists Rose Nizami, Amanda Reilly, and Johanna Gargiulo Sherman; illustrator Sarah Beetson; and photographer members of the People’s Playground Paparazzi. The pieces range in price from $50 to $2,300, with the majority in the $200-$400 range. The free exhibit runs through February 7 at CIUSA’s Shooting Gallery/Arts Annex, 1214 Surf Avenue, and is open weekends, 1pm-4:30pm. Head next door or online to CIUSA’s gift shop for more art, as well as clothing, glassware and souvenirs.

Coney Mugs at Lola Star Boutique

Coney Mugs at Lola Star Boutique

Lola Star’s souvenir boutiques in Coney Island have a satellite location at Rockaway Beach as well as an online store stocked with her unique designs. Coney-themed mugs graced with swimmers, lovebirds, anchors or sayings like “Everything I Know I Learned in Brooklyn” cost $10. Stocking stuffers include a Coney Island snowglobe ($8), an authentic Brooklyn hot dog onesie for the baby ($20), and Lola Star T-shirts galore for kids of all ages and adults ($20). 1205 Boardwalk West, 718-975-0583.

Warriors and mermaid tees at Brooklyn Beach Shop

Warriors and mermaid tees at Brooklyn Beach Shop

From November through April, Coney Island’s beach belongs to the Polar Bears, but souvenirs of summer can still be found at Brooklyn Beach Shop on the Boardwalk. Warriors, mermaid, and various other Coney-themed tees come in an array of designs and colors. You can also find books such as Coney Island and Astroland by Charles Denson and Michael Stallings’ 500-piece jigsaw puzzle depicting summer at the amusement park. 1223 Boardwalk West, 718-676-0939.

Marshmallow treats and candy apples at Williams Candy

Marshmallow treats and candy apples at Williams Candy

Williams Candy, Coney Island’s last remaining Mom and Pop candy shop since Philip’s lost their space in Stillwell Terminal, is owned by the Agrapides family and has been on Surf Avenue for over 75 years. Their homemade marshmallow treats ($12 per dozen) and candy apples ($18 per dozen) are the quintessential Coney Island dessert after a hot dog at Nathan’s Famous, which is next door. While there is no mail order, Williams will cater your party and is open daily year round. Our favorites are their caramel marshmallow sticks with toasted coconut and chocolate caramel marshmallow sticks with chocolate sprinkles. 1318 Surf Avenue, 718-372-0302.

Polar Bear Plunge

I Did It! New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita

Now that we’re past Black Friday and Small Biz Saturday, and Cyber Monday is nearly over, tomorrow is Giving Tuesday. A membership or donation to support one of Coney Island’s non-profit attractions — New York Aquarium, Coney Island History Project and Coney Island USA–is a gift that gives back all year long.

Start off the New Year by joining the 112-year-old Coney Island Polar Bear Club’s January 1st Polar Bear Dip at 1pm. This hugely popular event is also a fundraiser for Camp Sunshine, where children with life-threatening illnesses and their families can enjoy a summer vacation. On New Year’s Day 2015, the Club raised more than $70K for the charity and they hope to meet or beat that amount in 2016. You and your friends can register online now and pledge a donation or help other participants meet their fundraising goals here. On the day of the event, the Polar Bears will also have a table on the boardwalk, where you can register for the Plunge and buy Polar Bear Hoodies and T-shirts.

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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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Vestie Davis Cyclone

Vestie Davis (1903-1978) oil on canvas painting of the Cyclone roller coaster. Fontaine’s Auction Gallery

We’ve come across paintings of Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel and original Thunderbolt roller coaster but rarely any of the legendary Cyclone. Are its classic twists, turns and drop as much of a dare for a painter as they are for a rider? This one painted in the 1960s by self-taught artist Vestie Davis (1903-1978) will be up for bid at a November 15th auction in Pittsfield, Mass., at Fontaine’s Auction Gallery, and online via Live Auctioneers.

“I use very, very good paints–only the best–guaranteed to last,” Davis told New York Magazine in 1969. His method of painting was to make a sketch with India ink from a photograph and then transfer it to canvas using tracing paper and a light board. He began adding people to his paintings of New York scenes upon an art dealer’s recommendation.

Davis’s paintings of Coney’s beach, boardwalk and amusement rides have appeared on a New Yorker cover and are in the collection of the American Museum of Folk Art.

Measuring 16 inches high by 19.5 inches wide, the oil painting of the Cyclone is signed “Vestie Davis, 1965” and has a pre-sale estimate of $1,500-$2,500.

UPDATE: The painting sold for $3,100.

Related posts on ATZ…

April 20, 2015: Art of the Day: “Greetings from Coney Island” Blends Past & Present

December 13, 2014: Art of the Day: David Levine’s Watercolors of Coney Island

April 3, 2014: Rare & Vintage: 100-Year-Old Coney Island Ride Tickets

January 13, 2012: Rare & Vintage: Reginald Marsh Photos of Coney Island

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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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