Archive for February, 2010

Snow Mermaid on Coney Island Beach. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

Snow Mermaid on Coney Island Beach. Photo © Bruce Handy/Pablo 57 via flickr

Coney Island resident and contributing photographer Bruce Handy/pablo 57 went for a walk on the snowy beach and came back with photos of a coney-eared, that is a rabbit-eared, snowman. It’s very clever since Coney Island was originally named Konijn Eiland, or Rabbit Island, by the Dutch.

“It’s a snow mermaid, started out male and then someone put bunny ears on him, now female. Hermaphrodite snow mermaid,” says the photographer. “Looka, looka, looka step right up, only in Coney Island.” S/he is ready for her/his closeup here.

February is being called the snowiest month in the City’s history since 1869. “Snow was about 8 inches on the beach. Watched the sun light up the sky as it set over the water,” says Bruce. “Won’t be long, maybe a few weeks, before the sun moves back north and the sun will set over land.”


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In the early 20th century, Brooklyn was home to master carousel builders and carvers Charles Looff on Bedford Avenue, MC Illions and Sons Carousell Works on Ocean Parkway, and Stein & Goldstein and William F Mangels in Coney Island. Alas, the golden age of the carousel ended in the 1920s. It was news to us that anyone was building carnival rides in Brooklyn in the 21st century, much less a jet-powered merry-go-round! We first learned about “Jet Ponies” this week when Hackett, the founder of the Gowanus-based Madagascar Institute and the ride’s inventor, gave a talk at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg. If you missed “FIRE IT UP: The Secrets of Backyard Jet Propulsion w/Hackett,” take a look at these vids…

Here’s the homemade carousel in its fiery glory at a 3 am test run in September 2009. The vid was shot in the backyard of a crew member.

The jet-powered merry-go-round had its inaugural spin with human riders the very next day at Gadgetoff 2009, a festival at Snug Harbor in Staten Island. A representative from Popular Mechanics volunteered to be one of the first riders. The ride operators use a leaf blower and a blowtorch to ignite the pulse-jet engines. BOOM! One YouTube commenter says, “You guys are frigging nuts. You used two ‘pulse-jets’ to make a merry-go-round. You get two thumbs up just for not killing yourselves.” But another commenter says, “This demonstrates what we can do when we put our minds and our scavenging abilities to work. What a great ride. When will it show up in the traveling carnivals? I know my kids will clamor for a ride or three.”

Hackett is an expert on valveless pulse-jet engines who has built a jet-powered bike, a jet-powered fish and is working on a jet pack. In an interview with The Faster Times, he says…

The motive power behind the Jet Ponies are pulse jet engines (more specifically: Valveless pulse jet engines, more more specifically: Hiller- Lockwood patent Valveless Pulse Jets). We did not invent them- the concept has been around for maybe a hundred years. They heyday of pulse jets was in the 1940s, when they provided the thrust that threw V1 rockets up from Holland, into gravity’s rainbow, and down onto England….

I do not know of any jet-powered carnival rides that were not built by us, and I feel that if they did exist, I would have heard about it. My hope is that some smartass punk nerd kids somewhere see the video on YouTube and say to themselves “I can do better than that,” and then do.

“Jet Ponies” is an art project of the Madagascar Institute, an “art combine” who create large-scale sculptures and rides, live performances, and guerilla art events. The carousel’s most recent appearance was at 2009 NYC Burning Man Decompression at Aviator Sports/Floyd Bennett Field. Any chance Jet Ponies will show up in Coney Island? As soon as we hear back from Hackett, we’ll let you know.


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February 15, 2010: Steeplechase Express: Will Zamperla MotoCoaster Pony Up for Coney Island?

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November 7, 2009: Thru Dec 31 at Coney Island Library: Artist Takeshi Yamada’s Cabinet of Curiosities

October 10, 2009: Traveler: Carnival Rides as Public Art at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche

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19th century Mangels mechanical shooting gallery

This late 19th century Mangels mechanical shooting gallery owned by Doris Duke and installed at Duke Farms sold at auction last summer for $43,200. Photo via Millea Bros Ltd

William F. Mangels, the Coney Island-based inventor of such early 20th century thrill rides as the Whip and the Tickler, also held the most patents on shooting gallery targets. From the early 1900s until 1969, well after other manufacturers had gone out of business, Mangels’ Coney Island shop turned out cast-iron and sheet-metal targets in the shape of birds and beasts, stars and moons, cowboys and Indians, and soldiers and torpedo boats.

In the early 1900s, shooting gallery operators could select from 25 different kinds of targets for “The Slide” –a chain slide mechanism– all for a dollar a piece. Ducks with moving wings could be purchased for an extra fifty cents! Today, collectors are willing to pay $200 to $1,000 per target, depending on the condition and rarity of the figure. Last June, an intact Mangels mechanical shooting gallery installed at Duke Farms and used by heiress Doris Duke during parties at her home sold at auction for $43,200! It featured a moving clown, ducks, squirrels, birds, stars and circular spinning targets. The late 19th century shooting gallery was stamped “W.F.M. Co. 389” and bears the characteristic plaque “Made by W.F. Mangels Co. – Coney Island – New York.”

ATZ can’t let February go by without honoring the memory of this amusement industry innovator’s birth. Born February 1, 1867, Mangels was best known as a developer and supplier of amusement rides and the mechanisms for carousels and roller coasters After he died on February 11, 1958 at age 92, his family carried on the business for another decade. The Coney Island History Project inducted Mangels into the Coney Island Hall of Fame and some of his kiddie rides can still be enjoyed by visitors to Coney Island’s Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Keep an eye out for the rides that bear the Mangels plaque.

Mangels Pony Cart Ride

Mangels Pony Cart Ride at Deno's Wonder Wheel Park, Coney Island. The Mangels plaque can be seen to the left of the numeral 8. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr


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

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June 13, 2009: June 13: Coney Island Hysterical Society Artists in Conversation at A.M. Richard Fine Art in Williamsburg

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