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New-York Historical Society Collection

This gambling wheel was used at Coney Island in the early 20th century. Wood, glass, metal. New-York Historical Society Collection

As a child I believed that rich kids were born with silver spoons in their mouths and carny kids were born with wheels of fortune spinning in the background. One of my favorite objects on display in the New-York Historical Society’s Luce Center is this splendid 65-inch gambling wheel from Coney Island with carved dragon heads as spokes and a center surrounded by gems and electric lights. Purchased in 1994 at Sotheby’s auction of the renowned Smith Collection of arcade material, this unique wheel was used at Coney Island in the early 20th century. If it could speak, what tales would it tell of fortunes won and lost back in the day when Coney was nicknamed Sodom by the Sea?

The Coney Island wheel and the stories behind it come to mind because the New-York Historical Society’s blog has announced a “Behind-the-Scenes Writing Contest.” They are asking visitors to select a favorite from among the 40,000 objects on display and write a short story or essay about it. Here are the contest rules:

1. We’re looking for a story of around 1,000 words based on any object in the New-York Historical Society’s collections, whether it’s what one Women’s Suffrage marcher thought as she put on her “Votes for Women” pin, or the life of a silver spoon made by a slave and used in a rich family’s house. But don’t worry too much about word count; write as much as makes sense to your story! Entrants should be fifteen (15) years or older.

2. Please submit entries by April 30, 2012 to jaya.saxena@nyhistory.org, subject “Behind-The-Scenes Writing Contest.” Include your full name and e-mail address.

The winner will receive free admission for a subsequent visit to the New-York Historical Society, and a copy of When Did The Statue of Liberty Turn Green? and 101 Other Questions About New York City. The top three entries will be posted on the blog!

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