Archive for the ‘In Memoriam’ Category

Jerry Albert Astroland

Jerry Albert (center) with Astrotower manager and welder, sliding Astrocule time capsule into the tower foundation. Photo from Coney Island and Astroland by Charles Denson. All Rights Reserved

Coney Island lost an historical figure who helped transform one of the amusement area’s oldest properties into a space age theme park in the 1960s. Jerry Albert, the co-founder of Astroland Park with his father Dewey Albert, died on Thursday after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. This year is the 50th anniversary of the founding of Astroland, which broke ground in 1962 and closed at the end of the 2008 season.

Astroland was built on the site of Feltman’s, the restaurant and amusement park complex owned by Charles Feltman, the inventor of the hot dog. The new park started with little more than a miniature golf course, a Double Diving Bell, a Sky Ride, and six kiddie rides. When the Alberts decided to develop the park, Jerry Albert began making trips to the West Coast and Europe to seek out state-of-the-art rides.

“The Mercury Capsule Skyride,” “The Ascension Tower,” and “The Rocket Ship Star Flyer” were among the space-age rides mentioned in an early press release about Coney Island’s new park. Neptune’s Water Flume was one of the early flumes made by Arrow Development, a pioneering ride builder for Disney, in the early 1960s right after the New York World’s Fair, and it was built specifically for this park. The $1.7 million Von Roll Astrotower from Switzerland was the first ride of its kind in the United States when it was installed in 1963.

In the historic photo above from Charles Denson’s Coney Island and Astroland, Jerry Albert (center) pictured with Astrotower manager Charlie Bower and welder Joe Peluso, slides the Astrocule time capsule into the tower foundation. “The press nicknamed it the ‘Bagel in the Sky’ or ‘Flying Bagel,'” writes Denson in the book. “Jerry Albert embraced the name, serving bagels and lox at the tower’s opening, as his mother cracked a bottle of champagne on its base. When the tower opened in July 1964, the conversion of Feltman’s into Astroland was complete.”

Jerry Albert took over the operation of Astroland Park after Dewey Albert’s death in 1992, notes Denson. After he retired due to the onset of Parkinson’s, his wife Carol Hill Albert operated the park until it closed. In 2004, the Coney Island History Project, a nonprofit that aims to increase awareness of Coney’s legendary and colorful past, was founded by Carol Hill Albert and Jerry Albert in honor of Dewey Albert.

In 1987, on the 25th anniversary of Astroland, the New York Post hailed the Alberts as “the family that keeps Coney Island rolling,” adding that while so much of Coney Island had burned down or was in decay, the Alberts kept the Cyclone running and kept expanding the park. By way of explanation, Jerry Albert told the reporter, “We have sand in our shoes.” Spoken by those who have an intimate working connection with Coney Island, the phrase conveys an unwavering commitment to this place where the amusement industry was born.

Funeral services will be held at 11 am 10 am Sunday at Plaza Jewish Community Chapel, 630 Amsterdam Ave at 91st Street in Manhattan, to be followed by interment at Mt. Lebanon Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers donations may be sent to the American Parkinson Association, 135 Parkinson Ave. Staten Island, New York 10305

UPDATE March 17, 2012:

More tributes…

“In Memorium: Jerry Albert, Co-Founder of Astroland Park” by Charles Denson, Coney Island History Project

“Jerome Albert, Who Helped Bring Space Age to Coney Island, Dies at 74” by Dennis Hevesi, New York Times


Related posts on ATZ…

May 19, 2013: Rest in Peace: Steve Bitetzakis of Steve’s Grill House

July 27, 2011: Coney Island Lost A Good Friend: RIP Andy Badalamenti

May 19, 2011: Rest in Peace: Rabbi Abraham Abraham’s Synagogue Was the Beach

October 13, 2010: Rest in Peace: Scott Fitlin, Coney Island’s Eldorado Man

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Earl Butch Butler

Memorial to Butch Butler, Carousel at Winter Wonderland in downtown San Jose, CA. Courtesy of Facebook Page: Remember and Honor Earl 'Butch' Butler

Last week, ATZ learned the sad news via a message about a new Facebook Page “Remember and Honor Earl ‘Butch’ Butler” that the owner of Butler Amusements, the West Coast’s largest carnival company, died on December 21. We first became acquainted with Butch Butler as a reporter for the trade publication Amusement Business in 2004 and picked up the conversation again in 2009, when Butch sent a few rides to our part of the world — Coney Island. We found him to be a great interview and a class act. His intelligence and generosity of spirit will be missed.

Butch Butler served as President of Showfolks of America, Showmen’s League of America, and Pacific Coast Showmen’s League. Butler Amusements, whose motto is “Cleanest Show in the West,” was awarded the prestigious Circle of Excellence Designation by the Outdoor Amusement Business Association in 2005. The fact that Butch passed during the holiday season and his portrait is enshrined on the show’s carousel at San Jose’s Winter Wonderland reminded us of his love of Christmas.

For a 2005 AB story about business opportunities in the winter months, Butch spoke enthusiastically about the Christmas Wonderland in San Jose, where he made his home, and how the event had grown from three rides and a popcorn trailer to 18 rides and wreath-trimmed Giant Wheel. He told us that before the festival, he had four Christmas tree lots replete with rides and had even set up a carnival on the rooftop of a now-defunct department store. “There’s something about me that can’t turn off what I do. I like to be part of the entertainment package for the community,” Butler said.


Butler Amusements Carousel in Coney Island, June 6, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

“He always compared the night time lights of his carnival midway to a brightly decorated house during the Christmas season,” Andrea Owen, marketing director of Butler Amusements, tells ATZ. “Christmas was Butch’s favorite time of year. Time spent with family was most special to him. He was such a generous loving man who made everyone around him feel like part of his family, he took care of so many.”

According to a bio released by the family, Earl “Butch” Butler was born in 1942 in Austin, Minnesota. In 1955 his parents started operating game concessions at various weekend events sparking his interest in the carnival industry. The sale of the family grocery store funded Butler Amusements’ first ride – a Tilt-A-Whirl – and the new show made its debut at a California shopping center in 1970. That winter the Butlers signed a contract for their very first fair, the Redwood Empire Fair in Ukiah, which the show still plays.

Today Butler Amusements has more than 135 rides and is the carnival provider for over 120 different events. The California State Fair, Big Fresno Fair, Evergreen Washington State Fair and both the Western and Eastern Idaho State Fairs are among the company’s major fair contracts.

Neverland Bumper Cars

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

In 2009, Butch Butler sent four rides to Coney Island, including Michael Jackson’s Dragon Wagon, one of five rides purchased from Neverland Ranch. When ATZ saw “Butler Amusements” name on the cotton candy trailer in Thor Equities’ temporary park on the Astroland site, we were absolutely astonished. What made Butler come all the way from California to Coney’s sandy shore? He told us that he sent the rides to “test market” Coney Island at the urging of his old friend John Strong, whose sideshow had been operating on Sitt’s property since April. (“Calif. Carnival Sends Rides to Coney Island….Including One from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch,” ATZ, June 30, 2009)

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

Dragon Wagon from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch brought to Coney Island by Butler Amusements. May 30, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

“John grew up on our show,” said Butler, “but has since gone off on his own. He said, ‘you’ve got to come out and see this.'” Although Butler’s strong fair route precluded sending more rides for the summer, he expected to put kiddie rides in Thor Equities “Flea by the Sea” tents for the Christmas season. But Butch Butler’s Coney Island Christmas was not to be. Thor CEO Joe Sitt, whom the NY Post previously called “The Grinch Who Stole Coney Island” for a Christmas Eve 2008 lockout, abruptly closed down Dreamland Park before Labor Day while Flea by the Sea flopped. Butler’s Dragon Wagon, Star Dancer, Carousel and Kids Zone returned to California and continue to travel with the carnival’s different units, which play events in seven states in the West.

Butch Butler’s entire family, including his four daughters and their husbands, and his son, are involved in the operation of the company. As one of the comments on the Facebook page says, “Great showman, Amazing father. His legacy will live on!” The family asks that in lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be sent to Pacific Coast Showmen’s Association Scholarship Fund or Showfolks of America Scholarship Fund. Butler’s funeral will be held at St. Christopher’s Church in San Jose on January 3, 2012. Details are available on the OABA’s blog.

Butch Butler

Memorial to Butch Butler, Carousel at Winter Wonderland in downtown San Jose, CA. Courtesy of Facebook Page: Remember and Honor Earl 'Butch' Butler


Related posts on ATZ…

August 26, 2009: Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ride for Sale in Coney Island!

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

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Coney Island Floral Tribute to Andy Badalamenti. July 27, 2011. Photo © Lou Dembrow

At the wake for Coney Island ride maestro Andy Badalamenti, our eyes were drawn to this special floral tribute featuring photos of Coney Island’s Cyclone, Wonder Wheel, Parachute Jump and Polar Express. It was sad to say goodbye to Andy, whose casket was adorned with touching photos and mementos from the past. If there’s a midway in heaven, we’re sure he already has “the ex” on the Himalaya. Thanks to photographer Lou Dembrow for this photo and the one below taken on closing day of Jimmy Prince’s Major Meats, Coney Island’s oldest butcher shop, which shuttered after 60 years in 2009.


Andy Badalamenti with Major Meats sign on closing day at Jimmy Prince's Mermaid Avenue shop. February 28, 2009. Photo © Lou Dembrow

The exquisite floral tributes at the wake also included a rosary with beads made of rosebuds and a horseshoe from Andy’s friends in the NYPD mounted police unit. An honor guard of mounted police kept watch outside the funeral home and an officer stood at attention by the casket. Andy worked for the past 11 years in the stables at Brighton Beach.

Historian and Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson’s moving photographic tribute features many photos with his friend’s beloved horses and cat. Watch for the photo of Andy riding the Steeplechase horse into the clouds as Pavarotti sings the aria “Nessun dorma” from the final act of Puccini’s Turandot.


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July 27, 2011: Coney Island Lost A Good Friend: RIP Andy Badalamenti

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Andy Badalamenti Tries Out the 120-year old chair at the Coney Island History Project, August 29, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita

Coney Island lost a good friend on Monday. Andy Badalamenti, who operated such legendary rides as the Tornado and the Bobsled, and lived in the house under the Thunderbolt roller coaster when he worked as its caretaker, died on Monday after battling cancer. “Coney Island was Andy’s life and obsession,” wrote Charles Denson, in a moving tribute to his friend, who is featured in his books “Coney Island: Lost and Found” and “Wild Ride: A Coney Island Roller Coaster Family.”

“Andy grew up working in Coney Island. He possessed a pure devotion to whatever ride he worked on and the people he worked for,” Denson writes in “Wild Ride.” When the Tornado roller coaster was set afire by arsonists in 1977, Andy climbed to the top and stood beneath the Christmas cross screaming “We’re gonna fix it! The Tornado will be back!” But the coaster was doomed. “The image of Andy Badalamenti high atop the smoldering ruins of the historic roller coaster, triumphant and defiant, promising rebirth, remains a part of Coney Island folkore,” writes Denson.

This photo of Andy Badalamenti trying out a 120-year-old chair from Feltman’s Maple Garden Restaurant was taken at the Coney Island History Project on August 29, 2008. Astroland was set to close forever on the next weekend. After winning a one-year reprieve, many of us felt despondent about not being able to save the park again. But Andy wasn’t about to give up hope. He had dreams of moving the rides a few blocks away and was busily talking up the idea. His eyes always glittered when he smiled.

The 120-year-old chair had a sign telling people not to sit on it, but if anyone had earned the right to sit on a Coney Island museum piece it was Andy Badalamenti. Rest in peace, Andy. Coney Island will miss you.

The wake will be at 2-5pm and 7-9pm on July 27 and 28 at Cusimano and Russo Funeral Home, 2005 W. 6th St at Avenue T, in Brooklyn. The funeral will be at 9:45am on Friday, July 29, at the Church of Saints Simon and Jude, 185 Van Sicklen St at Avenue T.

Andy Badalamenti

Andy Badalamenti with Louise Bonsignore, whose family owned and operated the Bobsled, at the Coney Island History Project. September 8, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita


Related posts on ATZ…

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

July 29, 2011: Photo Album: Coney Island Tribute to Andy Badalamenti

May 19, 2011: Rest in Peace: Rabbi Abraham Abraham’s Synagogue Was the Beach

October 13, 2010: Rest in Peace: Scott Fitlin, Coney Island’s Eldorado Man

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The Rabbi

Rabbi Abraham Abraham & Bob Stewart of the Coney Island Ice Breakers, 2009 Mermaid Parade. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Rabbi Abraham Abraham, the leader of the Ice Breakers Winter Ocean Swimmers of Brighton Beach, died on May 18, according to club spokesman Bob Stewart. “The Rabbi,” as he was called by his fellow swimmers, was a longtime member of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club until the 1990s when he broke away after a dispute and formed a club called the Ice Bears and then the Ice Breakers. The funeral will be held on May 19 at 2 pm at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont, Queens.

The elaborately mustachioed and white-bearded Rabbi was a colorful Coney Island character famous for his daily swims and annual New Year’s Day Swim at Brighton 6th Street. The Ice Breakers boast of having the largest number of active swimmers over 70 years of age (10 swimmers) and four members over 80 years of age. Stewart estimates that the Rabbi was 83 or 84, though he would never admit exactly how much over 80.

Rabbi Abraham Abraham’s zaniest personal accomplishment was probably living in an ice house for 110 hours (Guinness record ID 12729 claimant 12524) on the beach. We’ll never forget his royal antics as King of the Mermaid Parade in 1999. He was so full of fun that he kept jumping out of his rolling chair to dance a jig, which is something we haven’t seen a king do before or since. Photographers loved him, of course. With his white hair and flowing beard, the Rabbi was probably the king who most resembled Neptune. In this 2009 video he extols the health benefits of eating organic kosher food and winter swimming in the frigid waters of the Atlantic.

In the above photo taken by ATZ at the 2009 Mermaid Parade, the Rabbi rode in a pedicab due to a leg injury from what he said at the time was a parachute skydiving accident. “But it was bone cancer,” Stewart reveals. “They removed his thighbone and replaced it with a titanium rod.” The next year, he was once again walking the length of the parade route.

“He’s such a positive guy,” says Stewart. “He called me two weeks ago and said, ‘Bob, I’m dying. I need to see you.’ So I went over to his house. And then he said ‘listen, do you think we can do one more gig before I die?’ Here’s a guy on his deathbed and he wants to do one more something–swim, Mermaid Parade…” They agreed to ride the pedicab again in the Mermaid Parade, which takes place this year on June 18th. “But we knew it was getting close, it was day by day,” Stewart adds. The Ice Breakers are planning to march in the Parade with a photo of their departed leader.

But was he a real Rabbi? “He was able to show me his credentials–his clergy documents,” says Stewart, a Brighton Beach native who took up winter swimming as a teen without being part of an organized group. After getting to know the Rabbi as one of “the beach people,” Stewart joined the Ice Breakers. The Rabbi will be missed. “He was a very happy-go-lucky guy who didn’t preach in any synagogue. His place to preach was the beach.”

Rabbi Abraham Abraham

Rabbi Abraham Abraham Rings the Dreamland Bell at the Coney Island History Project. September 13, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita


Related posts on ATZ…

May 19, 2013: Rest in Peace: Steve Bitetzakis of Steve’s Grill House

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

July 27, 2011: Coney Island Lost A Good Friend: RIP Andy Badalamenti

October 13, 2010: Rest in Peace: Scott Fitlin, Coney Island’s Eldorado Man

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Scott Fitlin at Coney Island's Eldorado.  Photo © Charles Denson

Scott Fitlin at Coney Island's Eldorado. Photo © Charles Denson

Sorrowful news from Coney Island this morning: Our friend Scott Fitlin, who operated the Eldorado Bumper cars for his family, died on Monday in his apartment. Scott was the DJ extraordinaire of Surf Avenue’s legendary disco palace of bumper cars and a steadfast defender of the amusement zone. Coney Island will miss him more than we can say.

These never-before-published portraits of Scott Fitlin were taken by Coney Island historian Charles Denson, who photographed Scott at work in the Eldorado this summer.

Coney Island raconteur Stan Fox, whose family operated the Playland arcade, recalled saying that when Mike Saltzstein of the B & B Carousell died in 2001, the music died. “Today’s another day when the music died,” Fox said.

Scott Fitlin was proud of the Eldorado’s sound system. Last March, ATZ did a post celebrating the Eldorado, in which Scott related the history of the ride and the sound system. Here is an excerpt:

Eldorado was hand built by my grandfather Joseph Buxbaum, my Dad Sandy Fitlin, and my Uncle Peter Buxbaum, and a carpenter named Rafael. Opening date was March 21st 1973, admission was 50 cents and 25 cent re-rides.

The lighting is disco style from the Studio 54 era, and we are upgrading this year to newer LED technology effects.

Our sound is custom built, by us, and we have had professionals in from time to time, back in the old days it was Richard Long, famous for the sound at Studio 54 and The Paradise Garage. Our sound is extremely powerful yet very easy to listen to, it doesn’t hurt the ear. CRYSTAL CLEAR, lightning fast, and stunning transient response, the crack of the snare drum is scary. Our bass is tremendous, and I play dance music, the sound that has energy and life, and POSITIVITY!

Our Bumper cars are Italian made Soli cars. They look good, run fast, and bump good.

The Eldorado Arcade opened for the spring of `71, the bumper cars were constructed during the winter of `72, and grand opened March 21, 1973. The FIRST record played was Cisco Kid-War!

Over the summer, Scott sent us a note about the upgrade to the Eldorado’s sound system:

I was always devoutly into audio, and music. Once I have performed and completed this years sound system repairs and upgrades, once again, NOTHING sounds like The Eldorado.

If you really begin searching the web using my name, you will find that I am one of the foremost authorities on the RLA [Richard Long] sound, and dance club style sound.

I have been working the 1216 Surf Ave Eldorado like it is a nightclub, for years. The only difference between my place and a club, is that in a club you dance on the floor, in my place you drive electric cars around the floor. Essentially, I run a disco on wheels.

Services will be on Friday, October 15th, at 12 noon at the Boulevard Chapel in Hewlett, Long Island. Phone 516-295-3100. The Fitlin family has chartered a bus to take anyone who wishes to attend but does not have transportation. The bus is expected to leave from the Eldorado between 9 am and 10 am.

UPDATE October 22, 2010:

The Coney Island History Project has posted a very moving excerpt from an audio interview that Scott did with CIHP director Charles Denson

Related posts on ATZ…

March 30, 2012: 60 Years of Family History in Coney Island End with Sale of Eldorado

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

October 17, 2010: Photo Album: Oct 15 Tribute in Sound & Light to Scott Fitlin

March 14, 2010: Eldorado Auto Skooter: Coney Island’s Disco Palace of Bumper Cars


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Rest in Peace John Thomas

Rest in Peace, John Thomas. September 27 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

On Sunday, we came upon this touching tribute to Coney Islander John Thomas, who passed away on September 10. “JT” was the longtime manager of Cha Cha’s as well as its predecessor Club Atlantis. Next Saturday his ashes will be scattered in Coney Island. Rest in Peace, JT.


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