Advertisements
Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for August, 2009

Its still summer...Coney Island is open! Fun for All. Image © brooklynnfoto via flickr

It's still summer...Coney Island is open! Fun for All. Image © brooklynnfoto via flickr

Thanks to graphic designer and Coney Island regular “brooklynnfoto” for creating this impromptu ad for Coney Island. I discovered it on flickr along with the caption “43 rides, a host of attractions…and Nathan’s cheese fries.”

Last week ATZ posted “Coney Island is Open, Only Dreamland is Closed” in response to media coverage of the closure of Dreamland Park that left many people with the impression all of Coney Island was shutdown. Since then, we’ve been barraged by search referrals asking “is Coney Island open?” and “is Coney Island closing?”

Thumbs down to the Brooklyn Paperthumbs down for doing three stories on the closing of Dreamland without even mentioning the fact that the rest of Coney Island is open for business and the attractions that remain. “Coney Island’s biggest amusement park will remain closed this weekend….” begins the Brooklyn Paper’s latest article about the closing of Dreamland. As someone who works in Coney Island I’m very concerned people will think it’s not worth a visit because “the biggest park” is closed. Notified that Dreamland (12 rides) was NOT Coney’s largest park– Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park (22 rides) has that honor– BP has yet to run a correction.

The article’s quote from an outraged visitor contains an error, too. “It’s not right to close down in the middle of the season,” said Richard Vowers of Sheepshead Bay. “It’s going to disappoint a lot of kids. My girlfriend’s son likes the helicopter ride and the train ride.”We have good news for you, Mr. Vowers. The rides mentioned -–the helicopter and the kiddie train—were never in Dreamland. These rides are in Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park which is open through mid-October and will be here for years to come!

Kiddie Helicopter Ride at Denos Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Kiddie Helicopter Ride at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Thumbs Up to NY1 and the Daily News…
thumsb upNY1 made the same mistake of calling Dreamland “Coney Island’s largest amusement park,” but promptly ran a correction when informed of their error. The Daily News article about the closing of Dreamland quoted the park’s manager saying “Coney Island’s closed now.” But the reporter noted, “That’s not quite true: The Cyclone, Wonder Wheel, and other popular Coney attractions are still up and running.” Thank you!

For year round, up-to-date info on events and attractions, visit Coney Island Fun Guide.

Share

Related posts on ATZ...

April 22, 2011: Coney Island Has 64 Rides and 30 Weekends of Summer!

November 18, 2010: Good News from Coney Island! Eldorado “Bump Your Ass Off” Bumper Cars To Reopen

August 28, 2010: Video: Grand Prize Winner of Luna Park Coney Island’s Film Contest!

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

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

$95K Will Buy You the Dragon Wagon from Michael Jacksons Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

$95K Will Buy You the Dragon Wagon from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Got an extra $95,000 lying around? You could celebrate Michael Jackson’s August 29th birthday in style by acquiring one of his carnival rides from Neverland Ranch. After spending the summer at Thor Equities Dreamland Park in Coney Island, the Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster from Jackson’s private amusement park is being advertised for sale on usedrides.com. Since Dreamland closed and is unlikely to reopen (see “Coney Island is Open, Only Dreamland is Closed”), the ride’s owner decided to sell the Wisdom Dragon Wagon rather than truck it all the way back to California. ATZ spoke with Candy Strong, who placed the ad for the coaster and three other rides owned by Butch Butler of California-based Butler Amusements.

“It cost him $55,000 to bring them here. It would be beneficial and less stressful for him not to take anything back,” said Candy, who with her husband John Strong operated “The Strangest Show on Earth” in Coney Island’s Dreamland this season. Since Butler is busy with four state fairs running concurrently–the California State Fair, Western Idaho State Fair, Eastern Idaho State Fair, and Washington State’s Evergreen State Fair–Candy Strong took on the job of advertising the rides. The Strongs have been friends with Butler for over 30 years and were the ones who got him to bring the rides here from California.

For Sale on Usedrides.com: the Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch

For Sale on Usedrides.com: the Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch

When ATZ spoke with Butler earlier this season, he told us about some of the rides he’d purchased from Michael Jackson’s ranch last year. One of the Jackson rides happened to be among the four sent to “test market” Coney Island. The Dreamland Dragon Wagon’s history was not initially publicized, but Jackson’s death in June thrust the former Neverland rides at carnivals and parks across the country into the media spotlight. Butler had hoped to put his kiddie rides in Thor Equities “Flea by the Sea” tents on Stillwell Avenue for the Christmas season.

For Sale in Dreamland: Dragon Wagon from Michael Jacksons Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

For Sale in Dreamland: Dragon Wagon from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

“Like everybody, Butch thought there was an opportunity for another year. Or two or three. But now it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen,” Candy said as she and her husband were getting ready to leave New York for a Tennessee fair. Coney Island’s Dreamland Park was abruptly locked down last weekend due to a dispute between property owner Thor Equities and the park manager, but Butler’s rides are still set up and may be viewed by prospective buyers, Candy said. The other three rides for sale are not from Neverland Ranch. The additional rides are the Star Dancer, a 101-foot tower ride by Larsen International ($250,000) a Barrango carousel with horses and menagerie animals ($125,000), and an interactive play zone called Jungle of Fun ($85,000). I made a flickr set of Butler’s rides in Coney Island in case anyone wants to check them out.

Butler Amusements Carousel in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Butler Amusements Carousel in Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

At the California State Fair through Sept 7: Balloon Samba Ride from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo courtesy of Butler Amusements

At the California State Fair through Sept 7: Balloon Samba Ride from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo courtesy of Butler Amusements

Meanwhile at the California State Fair, which runs through September 7, the King of Pop’s amusement rides are in the spotlight thanks to a “Fairgoers Can’t Beat It!” promotion. On Fridays, Butler Amusements gives the first 5,000 visitors to the state fair a “golden ticket” good for a free ride on one of four rides from Neverland. The rides are the Balloon Samba, Jeeps, Wave Swinger and Dinosaurs. According to the fair’s press release, the Dinosaur ride features a total of eight revolving dinosaurs and elephants that riders can control to make the animal go up or down.

Here in Brooklyn, filmmaker Spike Lee’s party in honor of Michael Jackson’s 51st birthday is set for Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. in Prospect Park. Here’s the invite to the free event, which will feature DJ Spinna spinning Jackson music and Brooklyn Borough Prez Marty Markowitz declaring August 29th “Michael Jackson Day.”

At the California State Fair through Sept 7: Wave Swinger from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo courtesy of Butler Amusements

At the California State Fair through Sept 7: Wave Swinger from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo courtesy of Butler Amusements

Update, December 26, 2011…

The Neverland Bumper cars were permanently installed at Cal Expo in Sacramento for which Butler Amusements provides the carnival for the California State fair. The other rides from Neverland Ranch–Lolli Swings, Jeeps, Dinos, Balloon Samba and Dragon Wagon– travel with the carnival’s different units, which play events in seven states in the West.

Neverland Bumper Cars

The Neverland Bumper Cars, owned by Butler Amusements, were first installed at Cal Expo for the California State Fair in July 2011. Photo courtesy of Butler Amusements.

Share

Related posts on ATZ…

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

August 5, 2009: Coney Island Has 56 Rides and 33 More Days of Summer!

July 8, 2009: Coney Island Wish List: Michael Jackson’s Bumper Car Ride for Sale on eBay

June 30, 2009: Calif. Carnival Sends Rides to Coney Island….Including One from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch

Read Full Post »

Giantess Banner Painted for John Strongs Sideshow in Dreamland Park, Coney Island.  Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Giantess Banner Painted for John Strong's Sideshow in Dreamland Park, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The $600,000 question is why did an allegedly savvy businessman like Thor CEO Joe Sitt let more than half a million in allegedly overdue rent go unpaid until just two weeks before the end of the season? ATZ bets there’s more to this story than we’ve read in the papers.

On Sunday night the word from the locked down Dreamland was John Strong had torn down and packed up his “Strangest Show on Earth” and would be leaving Coney Island on Monday Tuesday evening for a Tennessee fair. Though the sideshow operator failed to “Save Coney Island” as boasted, we’ll forgive him because the front of his Strange Girls show was gorgeous in a retro sort of way. The bannerline evoked an earlier Dreamland Circus Side Show’s circa 1926 banners by Coney Island’s Millard & Bulsterbaum. Strong’s banners were painted by Jorge Rivero and Coney Island’s Takeshi Yamada, who also operated a freak baby show featuring his fantastical creations.

Over the weekend Dreamland Park was abruptly locked down by Thor Equities because of a rent dispute with the park’s manager. At 2 a.m on Friday morning, guards from Epic Security stormed in, cut the locks on the gates and took control of the property. In the morning Thor’s pr guy Stefan Friedman notified the media: “Dreamland has been locked out because it has not come close to meeting its financial obligations in many months. We are hopeful that Dreamland will soon pay its rent so it can quickly re-open the rides and allow Coney Islanders and visitors to continue enjoying what has been a spectacular summer so far.”

Night Shot of Banner Painted by Jorge Rivero and Takeshi Yamada for John Strongs Strange Girls Show. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Night Shot of Banner Painted by Jorge Rivero and Takeshi Yamada for John Strong's Strange Girls Show. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The Coney Island Rumor Mill offers the following scenario: Perhaps no one owes Thor $600,000. Perhaps it’s a ruse to enable Thor CEO Joe Sitt to get rid of his carnival tenants asap and deliver the property vacant to the City. If that story sounds crazy, it’s no crazier than the scenario offered by Thor’s spokesman. A deal to sell most of the land including the Dreamland site to the City was expected when the Coney rezoning passed in City Council at the end of the July. At the time the NY Times said that Sitt would keep only the property at Surf & Stillwell. This land was rezoned for a high rise hotel. But that news is already three weeks old and no announcements have been made yet. Mayor Mike is running for re-election and time is running out for him to be able to claim he “Saved Coney Island” and win our vote!

Is the Coney Island dream over for the amusement operators who came from Georgia, Florida and Texas to Thor Equities Dreamland Park? Over the weekend rumor had it the carnival equipment was being held hostage by Thor Equities, but we’ve also heard folks are free to leave. While John Strong was spreading the word about a “breakout attempt” with monster trucks crashing through the gate, Glen Geren and some of the other amusement operators said they’d be sticking around. They’d paid their rent to Dreamland’s manager and were waiting to see if the park would reopen after today’s scheduled court hearing.

UPDATE 8/25: No “official” word yet about what happened in court. I’m kind of surprised the NY Post didn’t cover it! The Coney Island Rumor Mill says the judge is expected to make a decision on Wednesday. But the folks inside Dreamland say that they were told the park will reopen. With all the twists and turns we’ve been through in Coney, I find it hard to believe anything until I see it with my own eyes.

John Strong already packed up and tore down his sideshows and is set to leave tonight for Tennessee. Anthony sent someone over yesterday to beg them to stop working and put the show back in the building, but John Strong had already made the decision to load up and go. If and when Dreamland reopens, it will be minus two sideshows.

UPDATE 8/28 When I talked with Geren yesterday he said they have one more shot with the NY Supreme court today. Everyone is waiting till then to start tearing down. But there was a lot of hoopla on Thursday because Thor’s people said to clear out by midnight tonight! What they meant was people who were not ride help. Whatever happens next, remember there’s a lot more to this story than what we’ll read in the papers in the coming days.

Yes, ATZ has photos of “Closed” signs hanging on Dreamland’s gate, but we’d rather end this post with a photo of our friend Takeshi Yamada whose studio is in Coney Island. And a very important reminder: While Thor Equities “Dreamland Park” is currently closed, Coney Island still has 43 rides including the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel open for business. There’s also the Ringling Bros. Boom A Ring Circus, Coney Island USA‘s Circus Sideshow and Burlesque, Dreamland Roller Rink, the Coney Island History Project and much more to enjoy.

Artist and Coney Island Resident Takeshi Yamada Created a Mermaid Baby and other Freak Babies for his Sideshow in Dreamland.  Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Artist and Coney Island Resident Takeshi Yamada Created a Mermaid Baby and other Freak Babies for his Sideshow in Dreamland. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Share

Related posts on ATZ…

April 29, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Joey “Bulldozer” Sitt Is Baaack Playing Games!

April 29, 2010: Photo of the Day: Interior of Coney Island’s Doomed Henderson Music Hall

April 21, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Tattered Tents, Deathwatch for Historic Buildings

January 31, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Freak Museum to Lease Coney’s Oldest Building

Read Full Post »

Get on the Bus: Coney Island. Really Fun, Really Open. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Get on the Bus: Coney Island. Really Fun, Really Open. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Today NY1, News12 and the Brooklyn Paper were in Coney Island covering the lockdown of Dreamland amusement area by property owner Thor Equities because of a rent dispute. More terrible publicity for Coney courtesy of Thor. People will hear part of this story and think because “Dreamland” is closed all of Coney Island is shutdown and it’s not worth going.

Coney Island is open. Only Dreamland, the temporary fair on the former Astroland site, is closed. Big deal. Dreamland never lived up to Joe Sitt’s promise of 25 rides. It had 12 rides and several sideshows including the “Giant Rat” (a capybara) and Headless Woman. If you missed seeing these shows, please visit the photosharing site flickr where you can look at pix of the banners for free. You will have saved yourself a dollar.

I’m sorry Dreamland was abruptly closed by Thor Equities. I suspect this is all about Thor CEO Joe Sitt telling the Mayor, hey I upped the ante on the rent because amusements don’t make money. Last we heard, Sitt was squeezing the City for $165 million to buy him out. He may also be pressuring for concessions such as tax breaks and a hardship variance to build time shares in his Coney Island sandbox, oops I mean his property. It’s been three weeks since the City Council approved the rezoning of Coney without sealing the deal to buy Thor Equities property.

But there’s still plenty for visitors to enjoy in Coney Island. I work in Coney and have actually kept a ride count all summer long. Without Thor Equities Dreamland, CONEY ISLAND STILL HAS 43 –that’s FORTY THREE RIDES. In addition to the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel, there’s Deno’s Park with 21 rides, McCullough’s Kiddie Park with a dozen rides, the fabulous Eldorado Bumper Cars & Arcade, Polar Express and more.

Also in today’s headlines was the closing of Coney Island’s beach as well as other City beaches for the weekend due to the approach of Hurricane Bill.

Rain or shine, people can enjoy Ringling’s Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus, the Coney Island USA sideshow, Burlesque at the Beach, the Coney Island Museum, the Coney Island History Project, the New York Aquarium, Lola Staar’s Dreamland Roller Rink (not associated with “Dreamland Park”), Ruby’s Bar, Cha Cha’s and Coney Island Arcade.

Don’t be taken in by Thor Equities attempt to kill amusements in Coney Island by closing down his temporary fair three weeks ahead of schedule. Support amusements in Coney Island by coming out and patronizing longtime operators and entrepreneurs.

SEPT 5, 2009 UPDATE Dreamland was allowed to reopen for Labor Day Weekend after City Councilman Domenic Recchia Jr. interceded. Operating rides include Geren Rides Ring of Fire, Reverchon Himalaya, Trabant, Scrambler and five kiddie rides. There are also two arcades, games and food stands. The park has about half as many attractions as when it closed since John Strong’s sideshows left and Butler Amusements rides were dismantled. The entrance to the park is on Surf Avenue. A few games and stands have been set up at the Boardwalk gate.

Share

Related posts on ATZ...

April 23, 2010: Photo Album: Coney Island Boardwalk Businesses Open for 2010

April 14, 2010: Photo Album: Heroic 24/7 Race to Build Coney Island’s New Luna Park

April 6, 2010: Photo Album: Yes, We’re Open! Easter Sunday in Coney Island

March 29, 2010: Photo of the Day: First Ride of the Season on Coney Island’s Cyclone!

Read Full Post »

Eccentric Bicyclist Justin Case. Opening Night Performance of Ringlings Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus. Photo © Pablo57 via flickr

Eccentric Bicyclist Justin Case. Opening Night Performance of Ringling's Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus. Photo © Pablo57 via flickr

photo via pablo57, flickr

Those of us who work or live in Coney Island are especially thrilled to have the Ringling Bros. Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus in residence this season. The fave circus performer of quite a few Coney Island regulars, including ATZ, is the comedic trick cyclist Justin Case. Billed as an “Eccentric Personality Extraordinaire,” the Australian plays a flustered Frenchman who brilliantly pedals his way through the show and into our hearts.

Justin Case Riding Tiny Bike. Photo courtesy of Ringling Bros.

Justin Case Riding Tiny Bike. Photo courtesy of Ringling Bros.

Amazing fact #1: Since the circus opened on June 18, Justin has clocked nearly 4 miles riding a tiny bicycle round the ring and through a flaming hoop of fire! The virtuoso cyclist shared this amazing stat (by way of comparison, the entire length of the Boardwalk is 2.7 miles) in a recent Q & A with ATZ. The full interview including amazing facts #2 and 3 after the jump.

If you haven’t seen the Coney Island Boom A Ring aka Ringling’s Gold Unit yet, what are you waiting for? There’s lots of entertainment at this one ring circus for the price of a $10 ticket: aerialists, acrobats, Globe of Death motorcyclists, trained tigers, elephants, dachshunds and more. Circus bloggers are calling it “pure gold” and “a fine-tuned circus machine, endowed with a host of top-drawer talents full of inventive sparkle.” The Boom A Ring’s blue- and-yellow striped tent is pitched at 21st Street and the Boardwalk in Coney Island through September 7.

Tricks of an Eccentric Cyclist’s Trade

Q: What was the inspiration for the tiny bicycle that you ride in your act?

A: At the time I started doing the little bike there was a trend towards 14′ – 15′ unicycles – they were just getting taller and taller – if one guy had a 6′, the next guy had an 8′ and so on. I went against the trend! Also the little bike through the hoop of fire is an homage to all the circus animals who have jumped through hoops of fire in the last century!

In his Ringling Circus Debut, Justin Case Rides a Tiny Bike through a Ring of Fire. Opening Night Performance of Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus. Photo © Pablo57 via flickr

In his Ringling Circus Debut, Justin Case Rides a Tiny Bike through a Ring of Fire. Opening Night Performance of Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus. Photo © Pablo57 via flickr

photo via pablo57, flickr

Q: My friend Deb Stern who went to the circus with me along with her son kind of summed it up when she wrote: “Shane just can’t get over the “tiny” bike and wanted to know what the trick was because he just couldn’t/can’t believe that it was what he was seeing. It really is amazing. I don’t think my body was ever small enough to be able to ride something that small. The man must get leg cramps. I wonder what ever got him started with bikes? I have not come up with any good questions…..they all seem soooo simple……I’m just in awe of the guy..”

Is the small bicycle you ride through the ring of fire the smallest bicycle in existence? What are its dimensions? Does the bicycle hold a Guinness World Record for smallest bicycle?

A: I must say I am very humbled by the fantastic reception I receive from my audiences. I really haven’t investigated the Guinness book of records – but I’m told the one in the Guinness book of records is smaller than mine but uses a long pole with a seat that means the rider is able to sit down – it’s really just the pads of my big toes that sit on the pedals – most of the weight is supported on my arms like a crouching handstand. There’s no trick – just sore knees! I always tell kids go and do gymnastics you learn so much about your body and how to orientate your self in space. I’ve measured the bike against Barbies’ bike in a toy store and I know it’s smaller than Barbie’s!

Justin Case Bicycles through a Ring of Fire in Ringling Bros. Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus. Photo by rbbbconeyisland via flickr

Justin Performs the Most Difficult Stunt. Photo courtesy of Ringling Bros.

Q: How long did you have to train to ride the tiny bicycle? Did you start with tiny bicycles that were larger in size and work your way down?

A: The fabrication proved harder than the riding it – I made it with the help of a friend. As far as riding it goes, it was just the ‘try, try again’ principal, but it is funny when it goes wrong because you have no time to get your hands down so you just head butt the floor, which proved to be a great motivating factor. I calculated recently that I’ve ridden it just under 4 miles since we opened the show here on Coney Island!

Q: What is the most difficult stunt in your act and why? People are split as to whether it’s the tiny bicycle or the unicycle hop over the volunteer from the audience. I’d go with the tiny…

A: Actually it’s neither! Although both are difficult – obviously with a volunteer lying on the ground there’s a huge responsibility to keep him safe, especially if he’s a nervous type and keeps moving as they sometimes are – the tiny bike is rough on the knees – but as far as technical difficulty goes, it’s when the front wheel comes off the bike, I ride around and pick it up, then put it back on the front forks and secure it again – it took me a year -practicing three hours a day – before I did it the first time. Then I broke one of my ankle bones in three places doing another tick and had to relearn the wheel trick again three months later when my ankle had healed. On occasion I will get to the very last step only to have to go back and do the whole thing gain. Bumps in the floor, sloping surfaces etc all make it a very tough trick to complete – and like I say – I’m the first person to do that trick – It is surprising how hard it is to be original. Still it is more how you do it than what you do.

Q: What about that unicycle hop over the volunteer from the audience? At the dress rehearsal the volunteer was Nathan Bliss of the Coney Island Development Corp. Nate gave me an entertaining description of the stunt from his perspective: “I’ve always wanted to run away and join the circus, so I was thrilled to be pulled out of the crowd and asked to perform some modest-but-challenging acrobatic moves. The highlight of the experience, of course, was surviving Justin’s unicycle hop–during which he came excruciatingly close to depriving the Bliss family of future lineage! All told, it was a thrill to be a part of the very first ever Ringling show in Coney Island, and even more of a thrill to share the experience with so many folks from the community who received free tickets to attend the Circus that night. On our way out of the tent, I was stopped by many children in the audience who recognized me and wanted my autograph!”

What’s the hop like from your perspective?

Justin Case Performing Unicycle Hop with Volunteer Nathan Bliss. Photo © Maya Haddad via flickr

Justin Case Performing Unicycle Hop with Volunteer Nathan Bliss. Photo © Maya Haddad via flickr

A: The trick can be stressful – as I said before – you don’t want to hurt someone – but it can also be a lot of fun with the right volunteer. The audience love it when I ride up between the guy’s legs, and once I start to jump over his arms and legs the guy usually relaxes a bit. I try to make the guy look good – doing the hand balance etc. so that he gets some applause from the crowd early on which helps him relax. I like to give them the Polaroid at the end as a thank you – after all – they’ve been a big part of my act.

Q: Oh, and Nate’s question is “How’d I do?”

A: You were good – relaxed, so the audience were relaxed too- smiling and a good sport. Most importantly you didn’t flinch – makes my job so much harder when people do!

Success! Ringling Performer Justin Case and Volunteer Nate Bliss. Photo © Maya Haddad via flickr

Success! Ringling Performer Justin Case and Volunteer Nate Bliss. Photo © Maya Haddad via flickr

From Boyhood in Australia to Circus School in France…

Q: I read in your bio that you were only 4 when you taught yourself to ride a bicycle. What are your memories of riding a bike as a young child?

A: The sense of freedom the bicycle gave me was something I loved – the freedom and independence to explore and leave my neighborhood.

Q: What is your earliest memory of why you wanted to join the circus?

A: I didn’t go to the circus as a child and wasn’t exposed to it until I was about 20 while traveling in Europe – but throughout my early life I’d always had an affinity for sport, the visual arts and the theatrical arts – when I saw circus it seemed to encompass all of those creative and physical elements – it was a place with no limits and no boundaries.

Q: I see a number of illustrious European circus schools on your bio–Annie Fratellini‘s school in Paris, Ecole Sans Filet in Brussels, and the French National School of Circus in Chalons-en-Champagne. How difficult was it to get into these schools?

A: It was hard – it involved auditioning – lengthy processes – and having a very clear vision of what one hoped to achieve in the world of circus – at the time I tried to attend the European schools there was no internet and no way of finding out about them other than getting on a plane and going from Australia to Europe and knocking on their doors – which is quite literally what I did!

Ringling Circus star Justin Case was born in Australia, studied at circus schools in France and has performed all over the world.  Photo © Pablo57 via flickr

Ringling Circus star Justin Case was born in Australia, studied at circus schools in France and has performed all over the world. Photo © Pablo57 via flickr

photo via pablo57, flickr

Q: Can you tell us a funny or illuminating anecdote about your days at circus school?

A: When I arrived at the French National School of Circus in Chalons I spoke no French – I would just turn up for classes and follow everyone else – at one point I turned up for dance class and for three straight weeks I was the only student – no one else showed, including the teacher – turned out he’d explained to the class that he would be absent for a while as he was going away to perform elsewhere. Of course I hadn’t understood that – also, Chalons is in the middle of the champagne producing region in France. The students would often perform for the various vineyards and as well as being paid we would we would also often receive complimentary bottles of champagne. By the end of the year we had a whole wall full of cases of champagne that no one could face drinking – we were so sick of the taste of it!

Q: And how old were you when you first started busking?

A:I first started busking when I was 23 in 1988 – also working with a community based circus with kids in youth detention centers.

Q: Your bio says: “Justin looked into the comic stylings of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Tati for inspiration.”
What are your favorite stunts or slapstick bits in Keaton or Chaplin films?

A: My favourite thing about these artists is they always double cross you – you expect one thing and something else will happen. All three are dealing with the human condition in such an innocent and positive manner. I think that as we all face the the joke of life, it is comforting to see characters do it with good humor, in the knowledge that there but for the grace of God go I.

Justin Case riding handlebars. Photo courtesy of Ringling Bros.

Justin Case riding handlebars. Photo courtesy of Ringling Bros.

Coney Island and Beyond

Q: Do you practice everyday?
I practice a lot when I’m not working – several times a week – but when we’re in a long run such as this it’s more about maintaining fitness and rest

Q: What is your workout routine?

A: Fairly simple – chin ups, sit ups, general stretching

Q: What do you do on your days off?

A: Play as much golf as possible!!!! ( Handicap of 10)

Q: Do you go bike riding in NYC or on the Boardwalk? (or do you just ride in the circus)

A: I do ride in NYC but I like to use my motorbike – I’ve loved exploring Brooklyn and downtown Manhattan on my motorcycle a Suzuki V strom 1000.

Q: What are your impressions of Coney Island? What are some of the amusements, attractions, or restaurants etc that you and your wife have enjoyed?

A: We’ve very much enjoyed Footprints, Gargiulo’s, Tatiana’s and Umi Sushi who deliver all the time to the circus lot! My favourite dish is the New Zealand lamb at Gargiulo’s. My wife and I have enjoyed walking along the boardwalk a lot – especially after shows in the evening when it’s cooler – so many different nationalities, families, couples etc all just enjoying the ocean – it’s very relaxing – we’ve also enjoyed exploring and shopping at Brighton Beach.

Q: Have you had a chance to ride the Wonder Wheel? Swinging or Stationary Seat? The Cyclone? How was it? Time Magazine quoted Charles Lindbergh as saying that a ride on the Cyclone was more thrilling than his historic first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

A: Not ridden them yet but they are on our list of must-dos before we leave!

Q: How often do you get back “home” to Melbourne, Australia?

A: Haven’t really been home in the last three years and won’t get back until February of next year – unfortunately our house was destroyed in the Melbourne bush fires this February so there isn’t really any longer a home to go back to. My parents’ home was also destroyed and we’ve been dealing with all of that since.

Q: Did you ever visit and can you tell us something about Luna Park in Sydney or Melbourne? Many parks around the world were inspired by Coney Island’s legendary Luna Park (1903-1946), but the Australian parks are among the few still in existence, so we’re very curious to know more about them.

A: This is a huge coincidence but my very first paid gig ever was at Luna Park in Melbourne! I also used to busk outside there all the time – there was a move a few years ago to bulldoze the area but people are rightly very attached to Luna Park and it was saved, and I think recently reopened.

Justin doing handstand with volunteer from audience. Photo courtesy of Ringing Bros.

Justin doing handstand with volunteer from audience. Photo courtesy of Ringing Bros.

Q: I read on Buckles circus blog that the Boom-A-Ring circus is scheduled to go to Italy after its Coney Island run. Will you be traveling there too? This brings me to the next question–how many languages do you speak? In Italy, will you emcee the show in Italian? French?

A: Yes we go to Italy, Spain and Germany. I’ll probably keep the French but include some Spanish or Italian phrases where I can – I speak French and some Spanish, and if we’ve been doing shows in Japan I’ll do it in Japanese , but not the whole act translated – just pertinent points. When we were working in Beirut I got to do some Arabic cursing which was fun. And incidentally, it’s been surprising how many people here in the Coney Island audiences do speak French.

Q: Thank you! I look forward to seeing the show again before the summer is over. Please come back to Coney Island next year!

A: Thank you so much Tricia – I enjoyed answering your questions and I hope that the circus being here has made some small difference in bringing people back to Coney Island.

Thanks to Maya Haddad of the Coney Island Beach Shop and Pablo57, Coney Island resident and photographer, for permission to use their wonderful photos and for contributing questions.

Through Sept. 7: Ringling Bros.Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus. Photo by rbbbconeyisland via flickr

Through Sept. 7: Ringling Bros.Coney Island Boom A Ring Circus. Photo by rbbbconeyisland via flickr

Related posts on ATZ...

August 31, 2010: Snapshots of the Coney Island Illuscination

December 23, 2009: Coney Island School Bus Lot Has Gotta Go! The Circus Is Coming

September 3, 2009: Coney Island Baby: Cyclone, the Mini Donkey at the Ringling Circus

June 15, 2009: Coney Island-O-Rama: Weekly Events June 15-21

Share

Read Full Post »

When I was the littlest carny kid, my job was picking up darts and replacing busted balloons in Mom’s dart game. My parents paid me 25 cents a night and all the pennies. Pretty soon I was working with my Dad in his Spot Game. Is it any wonder that in Coney Island my camera and I gravitate to the carnival games? Here are some of my midway faves from this season…

Target the Coney Island Cat in Jimmys Balloon Dart on the Bowery. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Target the Coney Island Cat in Jimmy's Balloon Dart on the Bowery. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Target the Cat’s human is Manny Cohen, owner of the Coney Island Arcade. The (now) world famous Coney Island cat’s territory is the Bowery between 12th Street and Jones Walk, especially Jimmy’s Balloon Dart. Last month I wrote about Target and his shy sister Targeretty here.

Boy wins his first prize of the season at Water Race Game on Jones Walk, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Boy wins his first prize of the season at Water Race Game on Jones Walk, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Coney Islands Jimmy Prince plays Skin the Wire on Jones Walk. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Coney Island's Jimmy Prince plays Skin the Wire on Jones Walk. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

After his first day as “Distinguished Historian” at the Coney Island History Project, Jimmy Prince tried his luck at Benny’s Skin the Wire game on Jones Walk. As one of Benny’s agents likes to say, “A very challenging game, like Operation.” Or as Benny likes to say “You’se can do it!” or “Win a Calipoli!” Only one person has ever asked “What’s a Calipoli?” Benny replied, “I have no idea.” You can win a big piece of plush, a Betty Boop doll, a digital camera, or anything else on display. Except Chuckles. The animatronic clown is NOT a prize. But go right ahead and take his photo.

Krazy Kans, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Krazy Kans, Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Recession Buster: 100 Shots for $2.00 on Coney Island's Opening Day. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Recession Buster: 100 Shots for $2.00 on Coney Island's Opening Day. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Half of the photos in this album were taken on Palm Sunday, opening day of the 2009 season. Only 22 more days left to go!

The next shot was taken on the Fourth of July. My fave photos of Shoot the Freak never show the freak. I remember seeing Shoot the Freak before it ever arrived in Coney Island. The game was originally at the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy. It wasn’t until the game was brought to Coney Island that it became world famous.

Shoot the Freak on Fourth of July, Coney Island Boardwalk. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Shoot the Freak on Fourth of July, Coney Island Boardwalk. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Spin-N-Win at Eldorado Arcade, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Spin-N-Win at Eldorado Arcade, Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Trade Up in Dreamland. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Trade Up in Dreamland. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Share

Related posts on ATZ…

November 5, 2009: Museum Piece or Obsolete? Old Carnival Games, Stick Joints on eBay

November 3, 2009: Coney Island’s Shoot Out the Star Still Open… Players Wanted!

September 24, 2009: Photo Album: Coney Islanders and Carnies at San Gennaro

June 22, 2009: A Judge’s Photo Album of the 2009 Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Read Full Post »

Parking permits from the last years of the Westchester County Fair. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Parking permits from the last years of the Westchester County Fair. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

The ride trailers parked behind Nathan’s in Coney Island came out of storage and still have the 1996-2002 parking permits for the Westchester County Fair. It’s a sad reminder of a fair that was cancelled in 2003 due to the construction of video lottery terminals at the Yonkers Raceway. Today the Raceway’s Empire Casino has 5,300 video slot machines which operate year round. The fading parking permits made me feel nostalgic for the county fair that never came back. I’m not the only one. The fair has a Facebook fan page with 3,712 fans and a recent discussion thread “who wants the fair back?”

Conklin Shows played the Westchester County Fair for as far back as I can remember. It was one of Amusement Business’s top 50 fairs. An AB article about the fair’s cancellation noted Conklin “posted a record $1.5 million gross for the 2002 fair, which came in at No. 38, up four spots, in AB’s 2002 list of top fairs.” Yet I could find only a few ride photos on flickr, here and here. Perhaps because the demise of the fair predates the rise of flickr! Does anyone have any memories or photos of the fair they’d like to share?

The president of Yonkers Raceway, who happens to be the same person who brought in the video gambling, is credited with starting the Westchester County Fair & Exposition in 1981. It was billed as “the first complete county fair in the New York metropolitan area in more than 30 years.”

George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

According to the Yonkers Historical Society, an earlier incarnation of the Westchester County Fair existed in 1888 on 50 acres at Tarrytown Road and Hillside Avenue…

“Here was a rack track—one of the best half–mile tracks in the country—bordered by a grandstand holding 3,000. Besides displays of cattle, pigs, needlework, fruits and vegetables, great tents held cowboy shows, bicycle races and baby shops; balloon ascensions were among the special events. The fair was climaxed by the Westchester County Ball, held at the Verein hall at Chicken Island. Six special trains brought the merry–makers to Yonkers.”

No mention of amusement rides, but I recall some wonderful old photos of a Bicycle Merry-Go-Round, sideshows and games in the Library of Congress Photo Archive.

Bicycle merry go round at Westchester County Fair. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

Bicycle merry go round at Westchester County Fair. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

Westchester County Fair, Wild Rose and Rattlesnake Joe sideshow. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

Westchester County Fair, Wild Rose and Rattlesnake Joe sideshow. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

Share

Related posts on ATZ…

June 5, 2013: Up for Auction: Conklin Shows Banner by Fred Johnson

November 5, 2009: Museum Piece or Obsolete? Old Carnival Games, Stick Joints on eBay

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!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: