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Posts Tagged ‘mermaid’

Circus mermaids and freaks, Coney Island sideshows, and a traveling circus and carnival take center stage in this trio of literary novels that we read over the summer. Wondrous and horrific by turn, these stories will have you turning their pages well past the witching hour.

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler. St. Martin’s Press, 2015. Hardcover, $26.99.

The Book of SpeculationErika Swyler’s The Book of Speculation is a suspenseful novel that combines some of our favorite things — traveling shows, sideshow performers, mermaids, family secrets and rare books. The rare book is the 17th century log of a traveling circus which the narrator receives in the mail from a stranger along with a mysterious message: “A name inside it–Verona Bonn–led me to believe it might be of interest to your family.” The women in Simon Watson’s family, including his mother and grandmother, were circus mermaids who drowned, always on July 24. The novel alternates between the magical tale of Simon’s ancestors documented in the logbook and his present life on Long Island, where he is in danger of losing both his job as a librarian and his family’s historic home. As the date of his mother’s death approaches, Simon becomes convinced that his sister, who ran off with a carnival, is doomed to drown as well. Can the revelation of a family secret save them both?

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. Scribner, 2014. Hardcover, $27.99; Paperback $16.00.

Museum of Extraordinary ThingsCoralie, the enchanting heroine of Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things, was born with webs between her fingers. Pressed to perform as a “human mermaid” in her father’s museum of freaks and curiosities in early 20th century Coney Island, she escapes after hours by swimming the Hudson River. Sightings of “a sea monster” become a tabloid mystery. Coralie’s story unfolds parallel with that of Eddie Cohen, a Jewish immigrant living on the Lower East Side who works as a newspaper photographer and fishes the river for his supper. It’s clear that their worlds are going to intersect and they are destined to fall in love, but that doesn’t lessen the allure. First published in 2014, Hoffman’s novel was on the New York Times bestseller list and was the Long Island Reads selection for 2015. Set in 1911, the year of both Manhattan’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and Coney Island’s Dreamland Fire, the story has an authentic ring to it. Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson was among the early readers of the manuscript.

Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry. Ecco/HarperCollins, 2015. Hardcover, $26.99.

Church of MarvelsThe Church of Marvels of the novel’s title is an 1890’s Coney Island sideshow, but the sideshow has burned to the ground and its proprietor Friendship Willingbird Church is dead before the book begins. Her twin daughters Belle, a beautiful contortionist and sword swallower, has fled to Manhattan, while Odile, who was born with a curvature of the spine, struggles to make a living as the Target Girl on Coney’s Wheel of Death. Initially, we were disappointed the novel did not have more scenes set in Coney Island or the sideshow, as we had anticipated. Leslie Parry’s exquisite prose and the surprising twists and turns of the narrative won us over. Odile’s quest to find her missing sister takes us inside the lunatic asylum on Blackwell’s Island and the tenements and opium dens of the Lower East Side before circling back home to Coney Island.

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May 17, 2015: Summer Reading: Undertow by Michael Buckley

December 1, 2014: Autumn Reading: Ward Hall – King of the Sideshow!

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

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Mermaid Parade Kickstarter

In an article about Coney Island for Islands Magazine’s “Best Beaches” issue in 2000, I asked “How are mermaids different from mortal women?” A siren wearing little more than a sequined fishtail and a sprinkling of glitter looked me in the eye and said, “Mortal women don’t have the boom-boom shimmy-sham that mermaids possess. For another thing, we have all that fantasy on our side.” Everyone who comes to Coney Island partakes in that fantasy. It’s hard to imagine kicking off the summer in Coney Island without the Mermaid Parade, but it could happen for the first time in 31 years unless $100,000 is raised via Kickstarter by June 3rd.

Best Mermaid Kate Dale

Three-time “Best Mermaid” Kate Dale on Purple Sofa Float in 2008 Mermaid Parade. June 21, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Coney Island USA, the non-profit arts organization that puts on the free parade, was devastated by Superstorm Sandy. Its sideshow, burlesque shows and Freak Bar have yet to open for the season as renovation of the flood-damaged first floor is underway. While Coney Island’s rides, games and Boardwalk shops and eateries opened as usual on Palm Sunday, Coney Island USA’s theater has remained dark. With no revenue coming in, there’s a budget shortfall in the mermaid department.

Amy Winehouse Mermaids

Amy Winehouse Mermaids sing They Wanted Me to 2 Go CONDO but I said NO NO NO in 2008 Mermaid Parade. June 21, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

“A free parade is expensive,” says the intro on Kickstarter. “As the crowds have grown to 750,000 people over the past years, we’ve had to contend with more regulations and restrictions that have sharply increased the cost of the event.” The good news is the crowdfunding campaign to save the June 22nd event has already raised one-third of the $100,000 goal with contributions ranging from $1 to $250. But Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing funding model. The project must be fully funded for the parade to be saved. Thank you gifts include freak flags ($5 or more), pasties and tote bags ($40 or more), and a VIP spot on an elevated roof deck to watch the parade ($150 or more).

Lollipop and Candy Memaids

Lollipop and Candy Mermaids in 2009 Mermaid Parade. June 20, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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

April 27, 2012: The Dancing Doll “Miss Coney Island” Speaks

January 3, 2012: Record 3,000 “Do It” at Coney Island Polar Bear Plunge

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club atlantis mermaid

Club Atlantis Mermaid Resurfaces. January 15, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy. All Rights Reserved

Signage for Coney Island’s Club Atlantis, including this voluptuous mermaid, resurfaced after the sign for the evicted Cha Cha’s Bar & Cafe was removed from the building’s facade. The Boardwalk store was home to the Atlantis from the 1940s through the 1990s. In the last few years of its life, the letters from the famed sign that spelled Atlantis became corroded and were removed. This hand-painted signage replaced it. Does anyone recall who painted it and when?

The club had many different owners over the years, including Murray Weingar, a co-owner of Miami’s Copacabana, and bandleader Mousey Powell in the 1940s. In the ’70s, the Atlantis featured a singing cowboy and in the ’90s it became a Latin dance club, writes Charles Denson in Coney Island: Lost and Found. Cha Cha’s, the Home of Wild Women and Wise Guys, was also called Cha Cha’s Club Atlantis until it closed at the end of October.

One of the earliest mentions we could find for the Atlantis was during World War II. A notice in the July 11, 1942 edition of the Billboard said:

Atlantis bar, grill and dance hall on the Boardwalk, owned by Murray Weingar and Hymie Schuman, operates under blue dim-outs after sundown. Bar trade on main floor entertained by Ralph Lawrence, accordionist; Embassy Trio, singers and intrumentalists, with Ruth Blair doing the vocals. Patriotic display changed weekly in bar’s center. On top deck is a squared arena for the jitterbugs tripping to Sol Curry’s Ork and applauding Karen Kaye’s singing.

Tom’s Restaurant of Prospect Heights is renovating the Boardwalk space formerly occupied by both Cha Cha’s and Nathan’s, the site of the original Atlantis. The new restaurant will have a roof deck and is expected to open in April. Cha Cha’s, one of six Boardwalk businesses whose leases were not renewed by Central Amusement International, is seeking to relocate nearby.

Thanks to Coney Island photographer and Sunday archaeologist Bruce Handy for these photos!

Club Atlantis Signage Resurfaces. January 15, 2012. Photo © Bruce Handy. All Rights Reserved

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October 27, 2011: Ghost Lettering & End of Season Color in Old Coney Island

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May 3, 2011: Photo of the Day: Street Art by RAE in Coney Island

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This Friday at 4 pm, Coney Island artist and rogue taxidermist Takeshi Yamada is giving his annual art talk at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Coney Island branch. Titled “Dragons and Mermaids: Coney Island Sideshow Special,” the free show-and-tell will feature rogue taxidermy specimens of dragons and mermaids created by the artist for his Museum of World Wonders. You’ll get to meet the six-foot-long mermaid pictured below at Secret Science’s Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest.

The Japanese-born artist and Neptune Avenue resident is one of Coney Island’s most recognizable eccentrics. In the summer, you’re apt to find Yamada clad in a black tuxedo and Mardi Gras beads strolling the Beach and Boardwalk with his taxidermied sea bunny Seara.

Takeshi Yamada with his Six Foot Fiji Mermaid.  November 2, 2007. Photo © istolethetv via flickr

Takeshi Yamada with his Six Foot Fiji Mermaid. November 2, 2007. Photo © istolethetv via flickr

If you haven’t seen Yamada’s long-running “Museum of World Wonders: Cabinet of Curiosities” yet, the exhibition is on view through Dec. 31 at the Coney Island Library.

–“Dragons and Mermaids: Coney Island Sideshow Special,” Art Lecture by Takeshi Yamada, October 29, Friday, 4 – 5pm, FREE. The library is a five-minute walk from the Stillwell Avenue subway terminal.
–“Museum of World Wonders: Cabinet of Curiosities,” Coney Island Library, 1901 Mermaid Ave (at W 19th St), Coney Island, Brooklyn, 718-265-3220. Through December 31, 2010, FREE. Check library hours here.

Skull of the Sea Dragon by Takeshi Yamada. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

Skull of the Sea Dragon by Takeshi Yamada. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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November 29, 2012: Coney Island Taxidermist Takeshi Yamada in AMC Reality Show

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

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