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This Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster in Coney Island was purchased by Butler Amusements last year from Michael Jacksons Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

This Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster in Coney Island was purchased by Butler Amusements last year from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

On the Boardwalk side of Joe Sitt’s “Dreamland Park” on the former Astroland site, you’ll find the Dragon Wagon Kiddie Coaster. The Wisdom Industries ride is a familiar sight on the carnival circuit. But the Coney Island ride’s claim to fame is that it came out of Michael Jackson’s private amusement park at Neverland Ranch.

Although the Dreamland Dragon Wagon’s history has not been publicized, Jackson’s death has thrust the former Neverland rides at carnivals and parks across the country into the media spotlight. At Beech Bend Park in Bowling Green, Ky, which has the pirate ship ride said to be Jackson’s favorite, complimentary rides were offered as a tribute to the King of Pop and a temporary memorial will soon be replaced with a permanent plaque. Will Coney’s Dragon Wagon follow suit with its own tribute to Michael Jackson?

ATZ learned of the Coney Island ride’s Neverland provenance earlier this month in a conversation with the ride’s owner, Earl “Butch” Butler, CEO of California-based Butler Amusements. The carnival owner purchased four rides from the Jackson ranch last year including the Balloon Samba ride, which is currently at California’s Alameda County Fair. Butler is the new carnival provider for the California State Fair and has a strong fair and festival route in California, Oregon and Washington State.

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

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

As a reporter for the trade publication Amusement Business, I’d interviewed Butler and found him to be a class act. His show was awarded the prestigious Circle of Excellence Designation by the Outdoor Amusement Business Association (OABA) in 2005. When ATZ saw “Butler Amusements” name on the cotton candy trailer in Thor Equities’ temporary park in Coney Island, we were absolutely astonished. What made Butler come all the way from California to Coney’s sandy shore when East Coast ride operators galore turned down offers to play Joe Sitt’s Dreamland? We figured either Butler knew something we didn’t (Sitt decides to sit on land and offers multi-year contracts?) or we knew something Butler didn’t (Joe Sitt said amusements don’t make money. Shopping is the new amusement, full speed ahead with rezoning for big box retail!). We phoned Butler to get the scoop.

It turns out that Butler’s Coney connection is his friend and fellow Californian John Strong whose sideshow has been operating in Sitt’s would-be Dreamland since April. “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.’ ” At first Butler thought Coney Island was too far, but Strong kept calling him and said they were having trouble getting rides. Butler agreed to fly out and see the situation. His impression: “Coney Island needs upgrading.”

New Ride on the Skyline: Butler Amusements Star Dancer. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

New Ride on the Skyline: Butler Amusements Star Dancer. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Butler agreed to send four rides from his arsenal of 135 rides. The rides include the Star Dancer, a 101-foot tower ride by Larsen International that combines the carousel and Gondola wheel. It offers a spectacular view of the midway. “The Star Dancer would fit here because people could look out over the beach and the Boardwalk,” said Butler, who noted that he could spare the ride because it’s not popular at fairs where it loses riders to more thrilling rides. He also sent a jewel box of a carousel equipped with menagerie animals as well as horses. The ride had been in storage since it came out of a mall in Chula Vista. The kiddie rides are the Dragon Wagon purchased from Neverland in 2008 and a walk-though play attraction called Kid Zone.

Cat figure on Butler Amusements Carousel. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Cat figure on Butler Amusements Carousel. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Asked if he would be sending more rides, Butler said he sent the four rides to “test market” Coney Island. He also sent his right hand man Bobby Merten, former owner of B & B Amusements, to set up the rides and oversee operations for the first couple of weeks. Butler’s strong fair route precludes sending more rides at this time, but he has hopes of putting kiddie rides in Thor Equities “Flea by the Sea” tents on Stillwell for the Christmas season.

ATZ has spoken with East Coast amusement operators who declined offers to bring their rides to Sitt’s temporary park due to inflated rents or because they already have a strong route and cannot spare the rides. One operator told ATZ the rent was twice as much as he would expect to pay. Asked about his contractual arrangements with Sitt, Butler said that he has a one-year contract with an option for another year, and that the rent was 35 per cent higher than what he would usually pay.

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

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

Although Butler has over 135 rides, he also has major commitments including contracts with four state fairs with concurrent dates: the California State Fair, (Aug 21-Sept 7), the Evergreen Washington State Fair (40 rides; Aug 27-Sept-7) and both the Western and Eastern Idaho State Fairs (late August-early September). In the case of Cal Expo, Butler’s new contract is for a ten-year term and requires him to provide a minimum of 55 rides, 40 games and 13 food stands.

This illustrates the absurdity of Thor Equities so-called efforts to recruit amusement operators to bring spectacular or major rides to Coney Island. If amusement ride operators are operating on a year to year basis, they simply can’t afford to invest in new equipment. As for whether the temporary fair that Joe Sitt calls “Dreamland Park” will be operating next year, much depends on whether the City rezoning plan for Coney Island passes in the City Council this month. And whether or not the City comes to some kind of 11th hour deal to acquire the property from Thor Equities.

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

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

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Related posts on ATZ…

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

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

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

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“What rides are open in Coney Island?” This question is one of the search terms being used to arrive at ATZ. Since Astroland closed last year, people continue to be uncertain about what rides have remained here and are open. Last weekend’s postponement of Thor Equities much advertised “Festival by the Sea” due to “threat of bad weather”on a sunny day and no show rides was a slap in the face to the “Coney Island is Really Fun. Really Open” campaign. Here’s the Memorial Day Weekend ride count…

Kiddie helicopter ride at Denos Wonder Wheel Amusement Park in Coney Island. Deno’s has 22 rides including the world famous Wonder Wheel. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Kiddie helicopter ride at Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park in Coney Island. Deno’s has 22 rides including the world famous Wonder Wheel. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

More than 35 40 rides owned and operated by Coney Island’s veteran ride operators have been open since April 5th. Come out and enjoy the Cyclone Roller Coaster, Wonder Wheel, Eldorado Skooters, the Polar Express, Saturn 6 and kiddie rides such as the Bumblebeez and the Sea Serpent Coaster.

Coney Island Cyclone, Second Ride of the Season. Photo by Pablo57 via flickr

Coney Island Cyclone, Second Ride of the Season. Photo by Pablo57 via flickr

photo via pablo57, flickr

At Thor Equities “Dreamland Amusement Park” (on the former Astroland site aka Sittland East) the Georgia-based Geren carnival’s Ring of Fire, Himalaya and Scrambler were set up and open for business for the first time on Saturday. You may remember these rides from Thor’s “Summer of Hope” carnival on Stillwell last season. Geren’s rides left in mid July to play the carnival’s Southern fair route. Will they stay till Labor Day this year or be switched out with other rides? Geren’s Spin-Out was also open for biz on Saturday.

Georgia-based Geren Rides Spin-Out at Thor Equities Dreamland Park in Coney Island. Photo by me-myself-i

Georgia-based Geren Rides Spin-Out at Thor Equities "Dreamland Park" in Coney Island. Photo by me-myself-i

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

Five additional carnival rides–one thrill ride, a merry-go-round, three other kiddie rides– were being set up at Joe Sitt’s park-in-progress on Saturday but were not yet ready to open.  ATZ will be posting updates and analysis of the Memorial Day Weekend and will have more to say about Joey Coney Island’s shortcomings as an amusement park tycoon. I mean what kind of a 21st century amusement park developer fails to have his “upwards of 25 rides” in place and ready for action on the first big weekend of summer?

The title of my post “Memorial Day Weekend Mania” is dedicated to Bob Guskind of Gowanus Lounge, whose coverage of all things Coney inspired me to launch ATZ. If Bob were still here, he would undoubtedly be covering this story and I would be at the beach.

MEMORIAL DAY UPDATE…On Monday, eight of the nine rides at Sitt’s Dreamland were operational and open for business. The carousel was under construction.

JUNE 4, 2009 UPDATE> ..“What rides are open at Coney Island?”
Coney Island Ride Count

AUGUST 5, 2009 UPDATE…“Coney Island Has 56 Rides and 33 More Days of Summer!”

Merry Go Round Set up at Thor’s amusement park-in-progress on Memorial day Weekend. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Merry Go Round Set up at Thor’s amusement park-in-progress on Memorial day Weekend. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

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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!

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Lola Staar’s Dreamland Roller Rink in the landmark Childs Building on Coney Island’s Boardwalk. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

Lola Staar’s Dreamland Roller Rink in the landmark Childs Building on Coney Island’s Boardwalk. Photo by me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

Scoot over to Lola Staar’s Dreamland Roller Rink tonight for a first-of-the-season skating party. Tonight’s theme is Flashdance. Lola’s new neighbor, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s “Coney Island Boom-A-Ring!” Circus is sending some performers to join in the fun. I wonder if the Ringling clowns, who usually wear those funny, bubble-toed clown shoes, will sport specially designed skates?

Lola’s new cafe opens May 30 with scrumptious pastries from Brooklyn Treats and sandwiches from Luscious. Lola Staar aka Dianna Carlin writes:

What could possibly be better that chillin’ on the Coney Island boardwalk with an Iced Astro-Mocha and delicious Cotton-Candy-Butterscotch Muffin??

Dreamland Roller Rink is expanding our fabulous Concession Area to include coffee drinks, yummy baked goods, ice cream and delicious sandwiches!! Dreamland Cafe will be open to the public as well as patrons of the rink!! Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays!!

Dreamland Roller Rink, Childs Building, 3052 West 21st St at the Boardwalk

This business closed at the end of the 2009 season and is seeking a new location.

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The Cyclone Roller Coaster, Wonder Wheel, Eldorado Skooters and more than two dozen independent rides owned by local operators have been open for business in Coney Island since Palm Sunday. Coney’s Only No Shows are Joe Sitt’s promised 25 Rides. Here’s what Sittland East (the former Astroland site) aka Thor Equities so-called “Dreamland Amusement Park” looked like on May 15, the day of its long planned grand opening.

Where are Some or Half of the 25 Rides?

Where are "Some" or "Half" of the 25 Rides?

photo via me-myself-i, flickr

Contrary to the misinformation given out to the media on Thursday by Thor’s pr tools that anywhere from “some” to “half” of the 25 promised rides were being set up at Thor’s “amusement park,” there wasn’t a single new ride set up by Saturday. The Brooklyn Paper, metro, and the NY Post dutifully reported what they were told by Thor’s pr about the rides being set up and it is ABSOLUTELY FALSE.

As of Saturday, May 16, everything that is operating on Sittland East has been there for the past few weeks–the Batman inflate, the largest rat & headless woman sideshows, a few games. The equipment was moved around to open up a midway for the anticipated rides.  But where are the rides?  ONLY 3 rides have arrived in recent days and ALL 3 are still sitting disassembled on trailers.

The word on the street is the DOB’s safety requirements do not allow the operators to set up the rides on the property as long as the other attractions—the sideshows and games– are open for business. That means we don’t expect them to start setting up the 3 rides until Monday at the earliest.

The three rides are sitting on trailers belonging to Georgia-based Geren Rides. They appear to be the Ring of Fire, Scrambler and Himalaya, which played  Sitt’s Summer of Hope on Stillwell (Sittland West) last year and left in the middle of July to play fairs in Tennessee. Thor’s long-running ad posted on usedrides.com says “If you need to leave in Aug for fair season that is not a problem.” I expect to see quite a bit of coming and going, that is if the promised “dozens of amusement rides” ever get here…

On April 5, the Opening Day for Coney Islands Cyclone, Wonder Wheel and Other Rides and Attractions, Thor s Dreamland was nothing more than a Coming Soon sign

On April 5, the Opening Day for Coney Island's Cyclone, Wonder Wheel and Other Rides and Attractions, Thor 's Dreamland was nothing more than a "Coming Soon" sign

Joe Sitt evicted Astroland Park months ago and had plenty of time to arrange for replacements for Astroland’s 11 adult rides, 14 kiddie rides, 3 arcades and about a dozen games. He should have had them in place, ready and open for business on Palm Sunday, and then every weekend after that till Memorial day. Then full blast, 7 days a week. May 15 is late by both Coney Island and carnival standards, and yet he can’t even keep that promise.

The grand opening of Thor Equities’ Festival by the Sea and Dreamland Park was postponed till next weekend because the tents weren’t up to code and the rides hadn’t arrived. Obviously Joe Sitt doesn’t have a clue about anything having to do with running an amusement park. He should sell the land to the city and get the #%$@ out of the Coney Island!

But don’t let the above photos of Thor’s empty lot deter you from coming to Coney Island! Please come out and patronize the longtime amusement operators who have been open since April 5th, Coney Island’s traditional opening day of the season. The Cyclone Roller Coaster, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement park with 25 rides, Eldorado Skooters and arcade, McCullough’s Kiddie Park, Coney Island Arcade, Bowery and Jones Walk games, The Coney Island Sideshow, the Coney Island Museum, The Polar Express and 12th St Amusements and much much more…

AUGUST 5, 2009 UPDATE…”Coney Island Has 56 Rides and 33 More Days of Summer!”

JUNE 4, 2009 UPDATE…“What rides are open at Coney Island?”
Coney Island Ride Count

Yes! The Cyclone Roller Coaster and many other longtime Coney attractions are Really fun, Really open

Yes! The Cyclone Roller Coaster and many other longtime Coney attractions are "Really fun, Really open"

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