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Posts Tagged ‘Gene Ritter’

Dreamland Bell at Grimaldi's

1885 Bell from Iron Pier at Dreamland Park on Display at Grimaldi’s Coney Island. Mary 12, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Grimaldi’s in Coney Island, which renovated and reopened on April 30 after being flooded by Superstorm Sandy, is now offering a slice of Coney Island history along with their pizza pies. The “Dreamland Bell” that survived the Dreamland Fire of 1911 was put on display yesterday at the pizza restaurant, where it is a powerful symbol of Coney’s comeback from Sandy. The Bell can be seen through the open storefront by pedestrians walking on the north side of Surf Avenue. It is expected to be on display at the popular pizza restaurant for two to three weeks the summer, store owner Joe Silvestri told ATZ. (Fall Update: The Bell is there through September 27, 2013 and will return in April 2014.)

The 1885 bronze bell cast by James Gregory once welcomed steamship passengers arriving at the New Iron Pier to visit Coney Island’s Dreamland Park, which was on the site of the New York Aquarium. After a 20 year quest, Coney Island diver Gene Ritter found the Bell twenty-five feet underwater, about one hundred yards offshore. On September 3, 2009, nearly a century after the fire that destroyed Dreamland and the Pier, the bell was raised from the ocean floor and a day later was put on exhibit at the Coney Island History Project.

Vintage Ad: Iron Steamboat Co. The Only All Water Route to Coney Island.  Photo by Tricia Vita via Coney Island History Project flickr

Vintage Ad: Iron Steamboat Co. “The Only All Water Route” to Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita via Coney Island History Project flickr

“The reason we’re doing it now at Grimaldi’s is because of the devastation of Sandy,” Ritter told ATZ. “We’re trying to help them out.” The fact that the restaurant is decorated with poster-size photos of Coney Island’s historic Dreamland Park and Luna Park “makes it a natural,” Ritter added. Later this week, Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project will install a plaque with the history of the Dreamland Bell and archival photos.

When the Dreamland Bell made its debut at the History Project on Labor Day Weekend in 2009, joy and optimism about the future of Coney Island was reflected in the faces of many friends and acquaintances who made a special trip to see the Bell and ring it. The discovery of the Bell symbolized and presaged the rebirth of Coney Island because it marked the return of something that was thought to have been irrevocably destroyed. No one expected the return of an artifact lost nearly one hundred years ago in a fire, and certainly not such an important artifact as the Dreamland Bell. It’s fitting that the Bell has been brought back to ring in Coney Island’s comeback from the destruction of Sandy.

Grimaldi’s, 1215 Surf Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11224

Gene Ritter Dreamand Bell

Gene Ritter with Russell of Grimaldi’s in front of photo of Dreamland Tower at Grimaldi’s Surf Avenue restaurant. May 12, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

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Souvenir Photo: Nick and Niko Ring the Dreamland Pier Bell at the Coney Island History Project, Sept 13, 2009. Photo by Tricia Vita/Coney Island History Project via flickr

Souvenir Photo: Nick and Niko Ring the Dreamland Pier Bell at the Coney Island History Project, Sept 13, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/Coney Island History Project via flickr

If you missed the chance to ring the century old Dreamland Pier Bell at the Coney Island History Project last month, you’ll have a chance to ring it at Brooklyn Borough Hall beginning next week (Oct 6). Gene Ritter, the Coney Island diver who discovered the Bell and raised it from the ocean floor on September 3 is bringing the Bell to Brooklyn Borough Hall for a public exhibition at the invitation of Borough President Marty Markowitz.

Ritter told ATZ the Bell is expected to travel traveled from Coney Island to Borough Hall today (Oct 2) to be ready for a celebratory bell ringing on Tuesday that will kick off a two to four week public exhibition. “I think we will have the Bell on display in the main hall at first,” said Ritter. “Then we will move it to the tourism and visitors center. I was told once we get there we could pick the best spot for the Bell.”

Diver Gene Ritter with Photos of Dreamland Bell. Photo by Tricia Vita/Coney Island History Project via flickr

Diver and Bell Discoverer Gene Ritter with Historic Photos of the Bell. Photo © Tricia Vita/Coney Island History Project via flickr

During the Bell’s display at the Coney Island History Project, visitors were invited to “Be a Part of History…Ring the Bell!” Ritter’s future plans for exhibiting the Bell are still tentative. He is in discussion with the New York Aquarium in Coney Island and Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino as possible off season venues. One thing for sure, Ritter says the Bell will return to Coney Island to ring in the opening day of the season at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park on Palm Sunday 2010. He would also like to bring the Bell back to the Coney Island History Project’s seasonal exhibition center, which is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Vintage Ad: Iron Steamboat Co. The Only All Water Route to Coney Island.  Photo by Tricia Vita/Coney Island History Project via flickr

Vintage Ad: Iron Steamboat Co. "The Only All Water Route" to Coney Island. Photo © Tricia Vita/Coney Island History Project via flickr

The 1885 bronze bell once welcomed steamship passengers arriving at the New Iron Pier to visit Coney Island’s original Dreamland Park, which was on the site of the New York Aquarium. The historic bell survived the Dreamland fire of 1911 and was discovered underwater after a 20-year quest by Coney Island diver Gene Ritter. On display with the Bell are period images from historian Charles Denson’s archive including a photo of the Bell at the end of the Iron Pier and a vintage ad for “The Only All Water Route” to Coney Island. Rates were 35 cents round trip!

The Bell was cast by James Gregory in 1885. Photo by Tricia Vita/Coney Island History Project via flickr

The Bell was cast by James Gregory in 1885. Photo © Tricia Vita/Coney Island History Project via flickr

Information about “James Gregory,” the bell maker whose name is inscribed on the Bell, has come to light thanks to the research of architect David Grider. The Brooklyn resident and history buff has experience with the hanging and mounting of Bells having managed bell projects for Trinity Church at St. Paul’s Chapel (the Lord Mayor’s bell, a memorial to 9/11) and Trinity Church (a new 12-bell Change Ring assembly in the steeple of the church). He has volunteered to help design the final home for the Dreamland Bell and in the meantime is cobbling together an essay on Coney Island’s historic bell:

I’ve attached the excerpt I found last night about the Mechanics’ Bell, a sort of complicated story of a bell that was apparently cast in 1831 and erected in various locations around the city. The last page has the info about the foundry:

“… so a new bell was cast from the metal of the old one by James Gregory of Cannon Street, the brass founder, who had been in that location since about 1850, being the successor of William Buckley, the bell founder.”

I was struck by the similarity of its bell mount to the one seen in that picture of the new iron pier, and wow, what an amazing find the Dreamland Bell is: not only a link to America’s premier amusement destination, but also, indirectly, a sort of lost beacon for New York’s vanished ship-building industry – it would not surprise me if the Dreamland Bell was cast from the very same mold that Gregory would have used to make the Mechanic’s Bell.

Gregory looks to have been in business at least 40 years. I particularly like the 1896 Ad from American Yacht; seems he also ran the Eckford Iron Works. Most of the area (Cannon Street, etc.) was plowed under for Baruch Houses and other urban renewal projects, not unlike big chunks of Coney…

After a celebratory welcome of the dive team and the Bell on October 6, Tuesday, at 11 am, the free exhibition is scheduled to run through October 23, 2009. Hours are 9 am -6 pm, Monday- Friday. Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn.

An 1896 ad from American Yacht for Eckford Iron Works on Cannon Street lists James Gregory, Brass Founder and Finisher, as one of the proprietors. Coney Island History Project via flickr

An 1896 ad from American Yacht for Eckford Iron Works on Cannon Street lists James Gregory, Brass Founder and Finisher, as one of the proprietors. Coney Island History Project via flickr

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September 9, 2010: Thor’s Coney Island: Faber’s Fascination Goes Dark After 50 Years

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

November 16, 2009: Rare & Vintage: Coney Island Sideshow Banner by Dan Casola

May 29, 2009: Astroland Star from Coney Island’s Space-Age Theme Park Donated to the Smithsonian

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