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Step Right UpAfter Hurricane Sandy, Coney Island got lucky when a rare vintage 1940’s Mangels shooting gallery from Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park was brought out of storage, restored, and installed at Coney Island USA’s Surf Avenue storefront. As far as we know, it’s the only one of its kind in operation that is open to the public. Since many shooting galleries were sold for scrap iron during World Wars I and II, you’re more likely to come across cast-iron and sheet-metal targets in the shape of birds and beasts, cowboys and Indians, and soldiers and torpedo boats in folk art collections than as a game in an amusement park.

Richard and Valerie Tucker’s passion for collecting figural cast iron began in the`early 1980s with the acquisition of a row of doves from a William F. Mangels’ gallery manufactured in Coney Island. Thirty years later, they own hundreds of shooting gallery targets from a variety of manufacturers. Step Right Up! Classic American Target and Arcade Forms is a sumptuous coffee table art book with more than 225 color images of American and European targets along with a sampling of carnival banners, signs and game pieces. As the first and only book on the subject, the volume is valuable to collectors and of special interest to fans of carnival art and antiques.

In addition to Mangels, the 144-page book has chapters on C.W. Parker of Kansas, William Wurfflein of Philadelphia, the John T. Dickman Company of Los Angeles and Chicago manufacturers Evans, Hoffmann, Mueller, and Smith, as well as miscellaneous targets and a few European targets. Essays by specialists on the manufacturers supplement illustrations from the Tuckers’ archive of catalogs, trade cards and other ephemera which are a great resource since the majority of targets have no trade marks.

Step Right Up! Richard and Valerie Tucker

Card Suits by WF Mangels. Private Collection. Photo: Kimberly Gavin/Kimberly Gavin Photography

One of our favorite target makers is C.W. Parker, who started out as a shooting gallery operator and soon got into the business of supplying traveling carnivals with a wide variety of attractions. Parker had a showman’s flair for borrowing design ideas from his fellow manufacturers and fashioning them into commercially successful shooting galleries and carousels.

No complete Parker galleries are known to exist or even to have been photographed, says Bob Goldsack, a Parker historian who wrote the book’s chapter on the self-proclaimed “Carnival King.” Parker’s highly detailed and mechanized targets included owls and eagles with flapping wings, whippets chasing rabbits, and the now politically incorrect circus animals, Indians, and Lincolnesque figure holding a sign that says “Hit Me” in a gallery advertised as “A New Political Shooting Gallery.”

A lecture and book signing by the authors will be held at the American Folk Art Museum, 2 Lincoln Square, Columbus Ave at 66th St, in Manhattan, on December 18 at 6pm. Admission is free of charge.

Step Right Up! Classic American Target and Arcade Forms by Richard and Valerie Tucker. Schiffer Publishing, 2014. Hardcover, $45

Step Right Up! Richard and Valerie Tucker

Indian by CW Parker. Photo: Kimberly Gavin/Kimberly Gavin Photography

Related posts on ATZ…

September 5, 2013: Photo of the Day: Restored WF Mangels Shooting Gallery

February 28, 2013: Coney Island Shooting Gallery from 1940s Makes Comeback

September 28, 2011: Rare & Vintage: Auction of French Fairground Art

February 25, 2010: Happy Belated Birthday to Coney Island’s William F Mangels

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Ward Hall BiographyThe official biography Ward Hall – King of the Sideshow! was published with great fanfare earlier this year in celebration of Hall’s 70th anniversary in show business. More than a dozen years ago, while traveling with S & S Amusements as the High Striker Girl, ATZ had the honor of being on the same midway as Hall & Christ’s legendary World of Wonders. At the Great Allentown Fair, where the patrons love shows, the throng in front of the banner line and the torchlit bally stage conjured up the long ago golden age of the midway. Hearing Ward deliver his classic pitches against this backdrop was one of the unforgettable moments of the season.

In 1946, Ward Hall left his Colorado home at age 15 to join Dailey Bros. Circus after answering an ad in Billboard for a magician and fire eater. Though the teen did not yet know how to eat fire, a friendly canvasman taught him the skill and before long he was also working as an outside talker on the sideshow’s bally stage.

“I didn’t know what to say, so I looked over at Norma, who was selling tickets, and she hollered at me, ‘Tell ’em about the painted-face mandrill.’ Well, I did that and then I looked back at Norma and then she would tell me what to say next,” Ward recalls. By the 1960s, burlesque dancer Sally Rand had crowned Hall “The Silver Throated King of the Carnival Talkers” in an NBC documentary Carny. Sideshow historian James Taylor gave Hall the title “The King of the Sideshow” in the 1995 volume of Shocked and Amazed–On & Off the Midway.

Author Tim O’Brien, who first wrote about Ward as a reporter for Amusement Business, has masterfully researched and organized material spanning the showman’s career in sideshows, circuses, theater, movies and television, and his partnerships with Harry Leonard and Chris Christ. Photos, clippings and anecdotes from their life on the road are interspersed with chapters about the art of the bally, the value of the banner line, carny lingo, and Gibsonton, the Florida town fondly known as “Showtown USA,” which Hall and Christ call home.

Ward Hall Pete Terhune

Ward Hall and Pete Terhune. Photo © Paul Gutheil via Casa Flamingo

Among the subjects covered in the book are why there are so few sideshows and freak shows today compared to 30 years ago. Hall says it has to do with economics, not political correctness–spectacular rides have replaced shows on carnival and fair midways.

Also of interest are details of legal cases which were fought and won by Ward, such as a three-year court battle that successfully overturned the 1921 Florida law banning the exhibition of human oddities. The plaintiffs included Pete “Poobah” Terhune, a dwarf who worked with Ward and his partners for 55 years as a fire-eater, snake handler, circus clown and king of the pygmies. In the 1971 ruling, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional because the plaintiffs “must be allowed to earn a livelihood.” The chapter “Ward Meets Pete: How a Dwarf Won the Heart of a King” is a loving tribute to Pete, who passed away at age 82 in 2012.

Ward Hall – King of the Sideshow! The Official Biography by Tim O’Brien. Casa Flamingo Literary Arts, Nashville, TN, 2014. 262 pages, 100+ photos & illustrations, $24.99

Related posts on ATZ…

November 22, 2014: Autumn Reading: The Brooklyn Theatre Index of Coney Island, Brighton Beach & Manhattan Beach

November 10, 2014: Autumn Reading: The Lost Tribe of Coney Island

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

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Brooklyn Theatre Index Vol III“Henderson’s and Inman’s still offer the cream of the vaudeville acts to be seen at Coney Island…” according to a story in The New York Dramatic Mirror back in the summer of 1898. Both music halls are long gone from Coney Island’s Henderson’s Walk and the Walk itself is now a private parking lot thanks to property owner Joe Sitt’s demolition of the Shore Hotel and the Henderson Building. Henderson’s and Inman’s are among dozens of entertainment venues in old Coney Island catalogued in the newly published The Brooklyn Theatre Index Vol III. The third volume of theater historian Cezar Del Valle’s borough-wide opus covers Coney Island, Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach.

Del Valle’s area of expertise is New York City popular entertainment between 1850 and the 1950s, including special emphasis on actual theater buildings. The book project began with listings compiled over a 25-year-period by Dario Marotta, whose interest in theater history was inspired by a photo of his late uncle standing in front of his nickelodeon in Williamsburgh circa 1912. Marotta never discovered the location of his uncle’s theater, proving the ephemeral nature of many of these venues. In 2002, he gave his research to Del Valle, who kept the information on file for use in articles, talks, and walking tours. Eventually he began adding to the listings with library and internet research of his own at the Theatre Historical Society of America’s Michael Miller Collection.

Del Valle also pored over newspaper clipping files in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle “morgue,” which is housed in over 150 filing cabinets at the Brooklyn Public Library. “Both Marotta and Miller had problems researching Coney Island. I was fortunate because more and more publications became available online, between 2010-2014, and these were searchable,” Del Valle told ATZ. “Trade publications like Variety and The New York Clipper are now available along with a staggering number of newspapers.”

Henderson's Music Hall

Henderson’s Music Hall. Staley’s Views of Coney Island by Frank W. Staley, 1907. Cezar Del Valle Collection

The 250-page book is organized alphabetically by street name with the Bowery and Surf Avenue having the lion’s share of performing venues. Among the quaintly named places are Perry’s Glass Pavilion, a music hall and bar-room “constructed almost entirely of glass and of different colors,” and “Flynn’s Sporting House,” featuring “sparring, wrestling, singing and dancing, large balcony and ball-room on second floor.”

Some excerpts from newspaper articles give insight into the Gay Nineties, when Sunday blue laws were enforced in Coney Island and concert saloons had to close their doors or give “sacred concerts.” Female impersonators and short-dressed singers were cause for getting one’s license revoked. The index is a great resource for theater buffs and Coney Island aficionados. And if you happen to be writing a historical novel about Coney (we’ve heard from at least two people who are), it is required reading.

Feltmans' Seaside Gardens

Feltmans’ Seaside Gardens. Cezar del Valle Collection

If only the book had more photos, though of course that would raise its cost. Our favorite among the 30 black and white photos is this rare image of Feltman’s Seaside Garden. The park built by hot dog inventor Charles Feltman eventually included an open-air movie theater, a precursor to the popular Coney Island Flicks on the Beach of recent summers. “The theatre is located on the main promenade quite near the ocean, so that the temperature will be cooled by ocean breezes at all times,” said an article in the Brooklyn Eagle on July 4, 1914. “The house has a seating capacity of 2,000. The space between the rows is exceptionally wide.”

It’s sad to realize that only a few of the mentioned venues are extant: Coney Island USA is carrying on the tradition of sideshow and burlesque in their landmarked building on Surf Avenue which once housed the Blue Bird Casino and the Wonderland Circus Sideshow. The long-vacant Shore Theater building, formerly the Loew’s Coney Island and built in 1925, is landmarked, but has fallen victim to demolition by neglect. In Brighton Beach, the Oceana Theatre, which opened as a movie house in 1934 with Dancing Lady starring Joan Crawford, is now the Millennium Theatre with live entertainment by Russian touring groups.

A book launch party with an illustrated talk by the author will be held at 440 Gallery, 440 6th Avenue, in Park Slope, Brooklyn, on Sunday, December 14 at 4:40pm.

The Brooklyn Theatre Index Vol III: Coney Island Including Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach by Cezar Del Valle. Theatre Talks LLC, 2014. Paperback, $15

Related posts on ATZ…

November 10, 2014: Autumn Reading: The Lost Tribe of Coney Island

March 30, 2014: Spring Reading: Automatic Pleasures: The History of the Coin Machine

December 14, 2010: Amid Demolitions & Evictions in Coney Island, City Landmarks Shore Theater

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

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