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Posts Tagged ‘obituary’

Jimmy Balloons

Jimmy Balloons calling me in to his new balloon dart under construction on Jones Walk. March 13, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita

We’re sad to report that James Carchiolo, affectionately known in Coney Island as Jimmy Balloons, has passed away. He had been at Coney Island Hospital for four weeks and was about to be moved to a hospice. Jimmy is among the few remaining old-timers operating games in Coney Island. He was 71 years old and was a game operator in Coney for over 50 years.

ATZ has taken many photos of Jimmy and his Balloon Dart over the years at various locations, including two spots on the Bowery and on Jones Walk under the Wonder Wheel “Thrills” sign. The spot long occupied by his Balloon Dart in the century-old Henderson Building, demolished by Thor Equities in 2010, is now the Brooklyn Nets Shop in Thor’s retail building. That fact pretty much sums up why indie game operators are disappearing from the new Coney Island.

Jimmy Balloons

Jimmy’s Balloon Dart in the Henderson Building on the Bowery, May 26, 2008. Photo © Tricia Vita

Born and raised in Coney Island, Jimmy was a survivor who relocated from the Henderson to property leased by Manny Cohen’s Coney Island Arcade, where Target the Coney Island Cat helped him call people in to play. After Manny lost his lease, Jimmy moved in 2013 to a spot on Jones Walk owned by Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Sadly, this year for the first time in his long career in Coney, Jimmy missed operating his Balloon Dart on Opening Day. Rest in peace, Jimmy Balloons. You will be missed.

Visitation will be Sunday, April 3rd, 2-5pm and 7-10pm at the Cusimano & Russo Funeral Home, 2005 West 6th Street, Brooklyn. The Funeral Mass will be on Monday, 10:00 am at the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace, 2866 West 17th Street, Coney Island. Interment to follow in the Cemetery of the Resurrection, Staten Island.

Jimmy Balloons

Jimmy Balloons with Target the Coney Island cat at his location on the Bowery. June 20, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita

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Pastor Debbe Santiago

Pastor Debbe Santiago of Coney Island’s Salt and Sea Mission with Miss Coney Island. April 13, 2015. Photo © Tricia Vita

Coney Island lost an angel and heaven gained one on Thursday. Pastor Debbe Santiago, who founded Coney’s Salt and Sea Mission over 30 years ago, passed away after battling cancer. The wake will be on Thursday, February 11, from 12pm- 5pm, followed by a funeral service from 5pm -6pm at the Salt and Sea Mission, located at 2417 Stillwell Avenue. A memorial service will be held at MCU Park, 1904 Surf Avenue from 6-7pm.

Pastor Debbe’s experience as a former homeless drug addict who turned her life around after reading the Bible gave her deep empathy and compassion for all.

“Debbe Santiago was a saint who helped the helpless, fed the hungry, protected at-risk children, and ministered to the downtrodden of Coney Island,” wrote Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson, who posted video clips of a sermon at the mission that he filmed. In the intro, Santiago explains that Salt was for salt of the earth, and Sea was for Coney Island’s sea. “Sea also refers in the Book of Revelations to the masses, and we have masses of needy people in Coney Island.”

Every Palm Sunday for the past 30 years, Pastor Debbe has officiated at the Blessing of the Rides at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park on Coney’s Opening Day. The ceremony consists of a prayer of invocation as well as the Fire Department Color Guard, speeches by elected officials and a ribbon cutting, followed by free rides, toys and Easter bags for children from the Salt and Sea Mission.

In the following video recorded at the 2015 ceremony, Santiago explains how the annual tradition got started. She asked Deno Vourderis, the park’s founder, if she could bring some kids from the Mission to ride the rides. “And he asked if I had 500,” she says.

This year, Coney Island’s Palm Sunday opener will be on March 20th. “The Vourderis family is deeply saddened by the loss of our lifelong friend Debbe Santiago,” said Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park co-owner Dennis Vourderis in a statement. “She will be missed, and we know she will be watching over all of Coney Island because that’s where her love lived and benefited us all.”

Related posts on ATZ...

August 22, 2013: In Memoriam: Carousel & Amusement Park Operator Jimmy McCullough
March 16, 2012: Rest in Peace: Jerry Albert, Co-Founder of Coney Island’s Astroland Park

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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Miss Colombia with Carino the Poodle and Rosita the Parrot

Miss Colombia with Carino the Poodle and Rosita the Parrot, Coney Island Boardwalk. August 24, 2013. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

On Memorial Day in Coney Island, the colorfully costumed Oswaldo Gomez aka Miss Colombia paraded by and we scurried to take a photo. Rosita the parrot was as usual perched on his head. Where was Carino the poodle? “Carino died,” Oswaldo said. “He was 17.” That’s the equivalent of 84 in human years. The poodle passed away earlier this month.

Carino and Rosita Ride the Steeplechase Horse

Carino and Rosita Ride the Steeplechase Horse at the Coney Island History Project, May 27, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

It was on Memorial Day Weekend in 2008 that we first became aware of Miss Colombia and his pets as a New York City phenom. The Mermaids, a male folk rock duo, were singing in front of the Cyclone when he came by, took the dog out of the carriage, pirouetted around and stole the show. The flamboyant trio have been in every parade in New York City and are the subject of their very own flickr group. You’ve seen them in the Mermaid Parade, the Easter Parade, the Chinese New Year’s Day Parade, the West Indian Day Parade, Gay Pride, and St Pat’s.

Victory dance

Victory Dance after winning 1st Prize at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park’s Pet Day, June 11, 2011. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

As regular visitors to the People’s Playground, the dog and the parrot got to “ride” the Steeplechase horse and the antique Whip car at the Coney Island History Project. They won first prize in the first annual Pet Day at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Afterwards, Miss Colombia did a victory dance while the parrot perched on Carino’s back, clasping the prize–a season’s pass to the Wonder Wheel– in her beak. Rest in peace, sweet little Carino.

Miss Colombia and Carino in Mermaid Parade

Miss Colombia and Carino in Mermaid Parade, June 20, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

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May 22, 2014: Video of the Day: Parrots Visit Coney Island

September 19, 2013: Photo of the Day: Coney Island Parakeets Go for a Walk

June 17, 2013: Photo of the Day: Paquito the Chihuahua in Coney Island

May 8, 2013: Traveler: The Cats of Rimini’s Italia in Miniatura Park

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Jimmy McCullough

Jimmy McCullough. Photo © Charles Denson via Coney Island History Project flickr

Jimmy McCullough, whose family has operated amusements in Coney Island for four generations, passed away at his home on August 19.

Born in 1929, Jimmy McCullough grew up in Long Island and began working in Coney during World War II in one of the 22 shooting galleries then owned by his grandfather, he told historian Charles Denson in an interview for the Coney Island History Project’s Oral History Archive. He recalled working long hours–until 3, 4, or 5 o’clock in the morning at the family’s amusement attractions.

“Coney Island was the center of our world,” said McCullough, whose great-grandfather was George C Tilyou of Steeplechase Park and whose mother was a Stubbman, a family who operated a beer garden, hotel and carousel where the Aquarium is now.

Jimmy McCullough was also a traveling showman. Along with his daughters Carol and Nancy, he owned and operated such rides as one of the first Zippers ever manufactured, the Round-Up and the Skywheel, which they brought to Toronto’s CNE and booked into fairs as independent ride operators.

Last September, ATZ wrote about the McCullough family’s history in Coney Island when their 50-year-old kiddie park at the Bowery and 12th Street closed after a lease renewal with Thor Equities fell through. The lot has stood vacant ever since Coney Island’s oldest ride operator tore down his Herschell carousel and kiddie rides and left.

Carousel

1912 Charles Carmel Carousel operated by the McCullough family in Coney Island until 1952, when it was moved to Prospect Park. Photo via Coney Island History Project flickr

In the 1950s, the McCullough family had Kiddielands at Surf Avenue and 15th Street and Surf Avenue and 8th Street next to the Cyclone. They also owned and operated three historic carousels in Coney Island which are now in City parks and are their lasting legacy to the people of New York.

The 1912 carousel carved by Charles Carmel, which was at 8th Street, became the Prospect Park Carousel in 1952. The Stubbman Carousel, known as the Steeplechase Carousel when the McCulloughs operated it at 16th Street and the Boardwalk, was sent to the New York World’s Fair in 1964 along with some horses from Feltman’s and still operates in Flushing Meadows Park.

The third is the B&B, the last hand-carved wooden carousel in Coney Island, which Jimmy McCullough sold to the City in 2005 after the death of his business partner Mike Salzstein. The restored B&B Carousell opened with much fanfare in Coney Island’s new Steeplechase Plaza this year.

Services for Jimmy McCullough will be held at William E. Law Funeral Home, 1 Jerusalem Ave, Massapequa, NY on Thursday, August 22, 7-9PM and Friday, August 23, 2-4:30PM and 7-9PM. The funeral will be on Saturday, August 24, at 10AM at Maria Regina R.C. Church, 3945 Jerusalem Ave, Seaford, NY. Those wishing to make an expression of sympathy in his memory are asked to consider a donation to St. Jude’s Hospital or The Alzheimer’s Foundation.

Bumble Bee Ride

Bumble Bees and Herschell Carousel at McCullough’s Kiddie Park, Coney Island, September 3, 2012. Photo © me-myself-i/Tricia Vita via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

January 7, 2013: Photo Album: Pieces of Coney Island Skyline in December

September 4, 2012: Exclusive: McCullough’s Kiddie Park Closing After 50 Years in Coney Island

June 14, 2011: Coney Island Kiddie Park Getting Squeezed by Thor Equities

June 3, 2009: Coney Island Rides: Tug Boat and Carousel in McCullough’s Kiddie Park

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Steve Bitetzakis

Steve Bitetzakis in front of his restaurant on the Coney Island Boardwalk. November 6, 2010. Photo © Jim Kiernan via jamienyc/flickr

Coney Island lost one of its own last night. Steve Bitetzakis, 54, the owner of Steve’s Grill House located on the Coney Island Boardwalk from 1993 until 2011, passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Decorative flags, flowerpots, hand-painted signage and ample seating gave Steve’s Grill House a homey ambiance. Friends remembered him as a nice guy who knew all of his customers and would help out people who were hungry. “He’d say, you can pay me when you have the money, but I’m sure they never did,” said retired arcade operator Stanley Fox. “But he was that kind of guy.”

Door of the Grill House. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

Handpainted Sign on Door of the Grill House. August 1, 2009. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i

The restaurateur was the last hold out of the “Coney Island 8” evicted from the Boardwalk by Zamperla. In February 2012, he called off plans to have his modular building moved down Stillwell and instead took a buyout. Steve invested in a state-of-the-art concession trailer which opened for Easter of last year on Thor Equities’ Stillwell Avenue lot leased to the BK Festival.

Unfortunately, he lost his location to Cha Cha’s Club Atlantis and had to move to another lot leased by the festival where he was not able to open for business. The BK Festival’s plan for satellite locations on Surf Avenue called for opening the fencing during business hours but it turned out that city regulations did not permit it. Steve’s shuttered trailer remained parked on the Surf Avenue lot until a few weeks ago when all of the vehicles on the lot were towed away to a City pound.

Steve's Grill House

Steve's New Grill House concession trailer at the BK Festival on Stillwell Avenue. April 8, 2012. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

It was sad to see Steve’s Grill House leave Coney Island since we knew he was ill and his restaurant was not likely to be coming back. There was no spot for him to lease in the new Coney Island, even though there are still empty lots.

Steve’s family has a long history of operating food concessions in Coney Island. His father Gregory Bitetzakis was the co-owner of Gregory & Paul’s, which opened more than 50 years ago. After Gregory retired in 2009, the restaurant changed its name to Paul’s Daughter. Steve first got sand in his shoes working for his father in the G & P’s on West 10th Street opposite the Cyclone. “He wanted to be in Coney Island more than anything,” said an old friend.

A wake will be held at the Dahill Funeral Home, 2525 65th Street, Brooklyn, on Tuesday, May 21st from 5 until 9 pm.

Grill House coney Island Boardwalk

Steve’s Grill House, Coney Island Boardwalk. Last day of season, Oct 31, 2010. Photo © Tricia Vita/me-myself-i via flickr

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Related posts on ATZ…

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

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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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

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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.

carousel

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

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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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