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Photo © Barry Yanowitz

Coney Island New Years Day Polar Bear Dip, January 1, 2015. Photo © Barry Yanowitz

On January 1st in Coney Island, people came from near and far to welcome the New Year by joining the Polar Bears’ annual dip in the icy Atlantic. “I believe we had approximately 2,500 swimmers participate, very similar to last year,” Dennis Thomas, president of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club told ATZ.

The winter bathing, which celebrates its 112th anniversary this year, raised a record amount–more than $70,000– for Camp Sunshine, where children with life-threatening illnesses can enjoy a summer vacation. Thomas said he expects the amount to rise a bit more in the coming days. You can make a contribution here through June 30.

Photo © Barry Yanowitz

Coney Island New Years Day Polar Bear Dip, January 1, 2015. Photo © Barry Yanowitz

For Barry Yanowitz, who grew up in Coney Island, taking photos of the Polar Bear Dip is an annual ritual. “It does take a certain amount of crazy to go swimming in NYC in January. But it’s a crazy that I admire!” said the photographer, who waded into the surf with water-proof boots and got a bit soaked taking the above photos. Afterwards, on the beach and the boardwalk, revelers in zany headgear, costumes and accessories reminiscent of the Mermaid Parade happily posed for portraits. You can view Barry’s complete set here.

Brian Dillon sports his perennially popular Coney Island-themed hat

Brian Dillon sports his Coney Island-themed hat. Photo © Barry Yanowitz

For a Coney Island Polar Bear’s eye view of the New Year’s Day Dip, check out this video by club member Jim McDonnell. The Bears, who swim from November through April, went for an early morning swim on New Year’s Day prior to the public festivities.

If you missed the New Year’s Day Dip or want to give it another go, you can join the Polar Bears as a guest for one of their Sunday swims. Here’s how.

Related posts on ATZ…

December 10, 2014: ATZ’s 12 Days of Coney Island Christmas Gift Guide

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

November 28, 2013: Photo Album: Parachute Jump Lights Way to Year-Round Coney Island

January 3, 2012: Record 3,000 “Do It” at Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

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Coney Island Arbuckle Keaton

Happy New Year! ATZ is still on a holiday schedule, so our first post of 2015 is a classic movie. If you’ve never seen Coney Island, the 1917 silent comedy directed by and starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, with comic actor Al St. John and a young Buster Keaton, you’re in for a treat. If you’ve seen this film before, you know it never gets old.

The 25-minute short opens with stock footage of Coney Island’s Mardi Gras parade and the Electric Eden of Luna Park. The treat is seeing such early amusement rides as the Witching Waves and Chute the Chutes and a High Striker game used as props by masters of slapstick. The storyline has the three comedians competing for Keaton’s date Alice, who goes off first with St. John and then with Arbuckle, who in turn is eluding his bossy wife.

The funniest scenes are when the action shifts from the amusement park to the bathhouse and the beach. Unable to rent a swimsuit– yes, it was once the norm to rent swimsuits!–because of his size, Arbuckle spies the bathing costume of a portly lady and swipes it. He spends the last half of the movie in drag, a popular gag in early films, which he does brilliantly, even as he is battling his rivals and the Keystone Cops.

Chris Edwards’ blog Silent Volume has an insightful essay on Coney Island and Arbuckle, in which he writes:

The great silent comedians all connected with their audiences in different ways. Chaplin mixed his comedy with pathos; Keaton reflected our need for restraint in the face of chaos; Harold Lloyd tried to be average. But Arbuckle engaged the audience directly. The others we watch; with Arbuckle, you often feel as though you’re in on whatever scheme he’s hatched.

Related posts on ATZ…

December 29, 2014: Saturday Matinee: “On The Loose” in Coney Island (1931)

March 3, 2012: Saturday Matinee: Bluto & Popeye, Kings of Coney’s Mardi Gras

August 16, 2011: Video of the Day: “IT Girl” Clara Bow in Coney Island

January 15, 2011: ATZ Saturday Matinee: Shorty at Coney Island

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Released on December 26, 1931, On the Loose stars the comedy team of Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts as two gals whose parade of boyfriends never take them anywhere but Coney Island and they’re sick of it. Giggling as they recall “the refrigerator salesman from Schenectady” and other dates who won the chalkware prizes crowding the mantle in their apartment, they vow that today was their last trip to Coney. Well, of course it wasn’t. By 8:23 in the 20 minute film, the duo are back in Coney Island on a double date with two Englishmen who say it’s “very smart and quite original” and they’re going to do it all.

The gag is that ever since the days of silent movies, Coney Island, with its amusement rides that flung couples into each others arms, has been a popular setting for comedies. Among our faves are Coney Island (1917) with Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton and It (1927), in which Clara Bow plays a shop girl who goes on a first date with her boss to Coney Island, though the film is said to have been made at Ocean Park Pier in California. The Coney Island scenes in Harold Lloyd’s Speedy were shot at four different amusement parks– two in Coney and two in California– according to film historian John Bengtson.

California’s Venice Pier, which like Steeplechase also had a Human Roulette Wheel, rotating Barrel of Love and Giant Slide, was a stand-in for Coney Island in On the Loose. Some of the funniest scenes have ZaSu and Thelma shushing the game attendants who remember them from previous visits and Thelma proving she’s a crack shot at the shooting gallery.

In the last few minutes of the film, Laurel and Hardy make a cameo appearance. We won’t spoil it by telling you what happens when they ask the two woman out on a date to where else but Coney Island. The film was directed and produced by Hal Roach, whose studio also made the Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang comedies.

Related posts on ATZ…

December 8, 2013: Sunday Matinee: Princess Rajah’s Chair Dance (1904)

March 3, 2012: Saturday Matinee: Bluto & Popeye, Kings of Coney’s Mardi Gras

August 16, 2011: Video of the Day: “IT Girl” Clara Bow in Coney Island

January 15, 2011: ATZ Saturday Matinee: Shorty at Coney Island

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It’s summer Down Under but British-Australian artist and illustrator Sarah Beetson is already dreaming of next summer in Coney Island, which she calls “her favourite place of inspiration.” At home in her studio in Gold Coast, Queensland, Beetson has painted dozens of Polaroids that she snapped during a three-month residency in Coney last summer. Now she has assembled them into a lively and inventive new video.

“Sara Beetson’s Coney Island Painted Polaroids” gathers shots of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park’s painted clown faces (originally in Astroland) and signage and the B&B Carousell’s horses set to the tune of Michael Jackson’s “Carousel.” The frame by frame addition of hand-lettered lyrics is delightful and will make you want to sing along: “Lost my heart on the carousel to a circus girl who left my heart in pieces…”

Sarah Beetson

Sarah Beetson with Stanley Fox, and her painting of him, at the Coney Island History Project. June 21, 2014. Photo © Coney Island History Project

Related posts on ATZ...

November 14, 2014: Last Chance to Dance with “Miss Coney Island” This Year

November 3, 2014: Summertime Has Gone Away, Polar Bears Are Here to Stay

December 16, 2013: Video of the Day: Beyoncé’s “XO” Love Letter from Coney Island

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

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Coney Island Polar Bear Club

Coney Island Polar Bear Club. November 2, 2014. Photo © Tricia Vita

On Sunday, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club went for their first swim of the season. “Summertime has gone away, Polar Bears are here to stay,” the Bears chanted as they warmed up by doing jumping jacks on the beach.

The Club swims at 1:00pm every Sunday from November through April. Membership is currently closed but you can join them for a guest swim. Just turn up at the Bears Clubhouse at the Aquarium’s Education Hall on the Boardwalk at West 8th Street by 12:30pm with your bathing suit, a towel, surf boots or an extra pair of sneakers, and some warm clothing. Or welcome the New Year by joining the annual January 1st Polar Bear Dip in Coney Island, a fundraiser for Camp Sunshine.

Polar Bear Club member and filmmaker Jim McDonnell shot this short video of Sunday’s swim to mark the 111th season of the winter swimming club. It was a windy day on the beach and boardwalk with air temps in the 40s.

Related posts on ATZ…

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

February 7, 2012: Video of the Day: The Coldest Thing on Coney Island

January 3, 2012: Record 3,000 “Do It” at Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

December 26, 2010: Video: Today’s Snow Swim with Coney Island Polar Bears

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Last evening at 6:55pm, Zamperla’s Thunderbolt roller coaster went for its first test run, evoking cheers from fans gathered on the Boardwalk. Coney Island photographer Bruce Handy had been standing by for the historic moment and captured “The Thunderbolt’s Maiden Voyage” in this short video.

As previously noted (“High Hopes for Coney Island’s New Thunderbolt Coaster,” ATZ, March 10, 2014), Coney Island has been home to dozens of roller coasters since the Switchback Railway debuted in 1884 but it’s been a long 87 years since one was custom built for Coney — the Cyclone in 1927. Luna Park’s newest ride is named in honor of the 1925 Thunderbolt and is expected to open as soon as the test runs and permitting process are complete.

UPDATE June 2, 2014

To anyone who watched this video of the Thunderbolt’s first test run and jumped to the conclusion it would open over the weekend, hang in there! There’ll be multiple test runs, some of which were conducted today, before the new coaster opens. On Saturday, Luna Park employees variously said the coaster would open next Saturday or in two weeks, but there’s been no officially announced date.

Related posts on ATZ…

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

February 23, 2014: Sunday Matinee: Under the Roller Coaster (2005)

September 22, 2012: Saturday Matinee: Coney Island’s Mite Mouse Coaster (1992)

April 21, 2012: Saturday Matinee: A Switchback Railway (1898)

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This week, British Pathé announced the release of more than 85,000 newsreels from its archives to the public via YouTube. Among the films dating from the early 20th century though the 1970s are several documenting Coney Island. “Let’s Go Coney! Island” (1932) was shot inside Steeplechase Park’s Pavilion of Fun and provides a glimpse of patrons riding the Hoopla, Human Pool Table and Panama Slide. At Luna Park, Victor Zacchini, “The Human Cannonball,” is seen being shot from a cannon across the park’s lagoon as part of the season’s outdoor show.

Other newsreels show riders on the Witching Waves (1919) and the residents of New York Aquarium eating a “Whale Of A Lunch” (1964). (Update: We removed one of the films, Dizzy-Dive Land (1932) which is mis-ID’d as a Coney Island coaster but turns out to be Rye Playland’s Aeroplane (1923-1957), according to American Coaster Enthusiasts co-founder and historian Richard Munch.)

While the British Pathé archive is available online via their own website, going public on YouTube allows viewers to comment, share and embed the historic videos.

“The archive contains unique footage from both World Wars, the Titanic, boxing legend Muhammed Ali and more,” said British Pathé and Mediakraft Networks in a press release. “On top of this startling content, the material also paints vivid pictures of almost forgotten lifestyles, peculiar technical inventions and everyday life that British Pathé presented in newsreels, cinemagazines, and documentaries from 1910 until 1976.”

In “Do You Reverse” (1928), couples slide down a water chute together into Steeplechase Pool. Camera trickery is used to show this in reverse. Divers are also seen jumping out of the water and back onto boards.

Dorothy de Mar wins the title of Miss Venus from hundreds of other bathing beauties at Steeplechase Park in “Is She Your Choice?” (1931).

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Related posts on ATZ…

April 21, 2012: Saturday Matinee: A Switchback Railway (1898)

January 8, 2012: Video of the Day: Coney Island at Night by Edwin S. Porter

August 16, 2011: Video of the Day: “IT Girl” Clara Bow in Coney Island

January 15, 2011: ATZ Saturday Matinee: Shorty at Coney Island

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