Coney Island Stories

Charles Denson, Coney Island History Project

Coney Island Stories is a podcast produced from oral histories in the Coney Island History Project archive. We record interviews in English, Russian, Chinese, Spanish and other languages with people who have lived or worked in Coney Island and adjacent neighborhoods or have a special connection to these places. Founded in 2004, the History Project is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that aims to increase awareness of Coney Island's legendary and colorful past and to encourage appreciation of the Coney Island neighborhood of today. You can search and listen online to over 375 oral history interviews in our archive: https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/oral-history-archive

All Episodes

Episode 11 shares the stories of four dedicated and innovative teachers who founded schools of their own in Coney Island and adjacent neighborhoods in Southern Brooklyn. April Leong in the award-winning founder and principal of Liberation Diploma Plus High School, a small alternative high school in Coney Island. Dr. Tim Law established a program of free Chinese language classes for children at I.S. 96 Seth Low School in Bensonhurst. Irina Roizin realized her childhood dream of founding a ballet school, Brighton Ballet Theater School of Russian Ballet, located at Kingsborough Community College in Manhattan Beach.  Misha Mokretsov is head coach and owner of Coney Island's New York Fencing Academy, located just down the block from the History Project.This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions. Chinese translation by Keenan Yutai Chen. Voice overs by River Kanoff and Ali Lemer. The oral histories were conducted by Mark Markov, Samira Tazari, and Yolanda Zhang between 2015 and 2019. You can listen to the full interviews featured in this podcast in our oral history archive at coneyislandhistory.org. Listen to previous episodes about Coney Island's legendary roller coasters, beach, bathhouses, and restaurants and other businesses on Mermaid Avenue and in the amusement area via your fave podcast app or the podcast page on the Coney Island History Project's website.©2021 The Coney Island History Project. All Rights Reserved. This program is supported, in part, by funding from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger.

Sep 30

29 min 39 sec

Episode 10 shares the stories of Coney Island sign painters as well as artists and designers who’ve been inspired by Coney’s celebrated signage, all taken from the Coney Island History Project’s Oral History Archive. The Coney Island style of hand-painted signs was perfected more than a century ago by Wildman and Sons, a shop in the heart of the amusement manufacturing district just off Surf Avenue. Amusement signs were meant to stand out and be instantly readable from a distance on the chaotic streets of Coney Island.The oral histories in the podcast are with Coney Island sign painter Sam Moses; advertising professional and former sign painter John Rea; artist and School of Visual Arts instructor Stephen Gaffney; and watercolor artist Frederick Brosen. The interviews were conducted by Charles Denson, Samira Tazari, and Tricia Vita between 2010 and 2019. You can search and listen online to nearly 400 oral history interviews, including the ones featured in this podcast, via https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/oral-history-archive. This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions.  ©2021 The Coney Island History Project. All Rights Reserved. This program is supported, in part, by funding from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger.

Aug 25

29 min 47 sec

Episode 9 features the stories of couples who met, got engaged or married in Coney Island, all taken from the History Project’s oral history archive. Visitors to our exhibition center often tell us that they or their parents or grandparents met or had their first date in Coney Island. Over the years, we’ve witnessed marriage proposals on the Wonder Wheel and weddings and wedding party rides on the Cyclone roller coaster. Many a Coney Island courtship of the 20th century began on the beach and continued with a stroll on the boardwalk and ride on the Steeplechase horses. Steeplechase Park founder George C. Tilyou famously observed of his mechanical horse race ride that “the young men like it because it gives them a chance to hug the girls; the girls like it, because it gives them a chance to get hugged.” The oral histories in the podcast are with Ellen Abrams, Michael Liff, Max and Stef, Tara Altebrando, Gina Femia, and The Reverend Cliff Herring. The interviews were conducted by Charles Denson, Katya Kumkova, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita between 2014 and 2021. You can search and listen online to over 390 oral history interviews, including the ones featured in this podcast, via https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/oral-history-archive. This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions. 

Jun 30

31 min 18 sec

On Memorial Day Weekend, lifeguards will once again be perched in their towers and New York City will celebrate the reopening of Coney Island's beach for swimming. Episode 8 shares the stories of days at the beach from the 1920s through the 1990s taken from the Coney Island History Project's Oral History Archive.The stories include childhood memories of family outings, a hidden playground under the boardwalk, a lava hot spot on the sand, the knish man, teenage memories of daring swimsuits, summer jobs renting beach chairs and umbrellas, and working as a lifeguard. Memories span the 1920s, when beach goers were fined as much $5 each - the equivalent of $75 today - for walking on the boardwalk in bathing suits, to the 1990s, when “under the boardwalk” was filled in with sand and a way of life changed forever.The oral histories in the podcast are with Joseph Albanese, Connie Scacciaferro, Richard Termini, Ron Vernon, Steve Larkin, and Crystal Isley. The interviews were conducted from 2009 to 2019 by Charles Denson, Amanda Deutch, Samira Tazari, and Tricia Vita. You can search and listen online to over 390 oral history interviews in our archive via https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/oral-history-archive. This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions. ©2021 The Coney Island History Project. All Rights Reserved. This program is supported, in part, by funding from Humanities New York provided by the CARES Act and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger.

May 25

27 min 45 sec

Episode 7 features the stories of independent game operators, past and present, from the Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive. Among the games that Peter Agrapides, Monica Ghee, Candi Rafael, and Eliot Wofse have operated over the years are Fascination, Balloon Dart, Glass and Dime Pitches, Milk Toss, Basketball, Fish Bowl, High Striker and Water Races. The last of the independents who have stayed in the game are now concentrated on a small strip of Coney Island’s eclectic Bowery, once the boisterous home of hundreds of unusual games and attractions.The interviews were conducted by Kaara Baptiste, Charles Denson, Amanda Deutch, and Mark Markov between 2009 and 2019. You can search and listen online to over 375 oral history interviews, including the ones featured in this podcast, via https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/oral-history-archive. This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions. ©2021 The Coney Island History Project. All Rights Reserved. This program is supported, in part, by funding from Humanities New York provided by the CARES Act and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger. 

Apr 15

25 min 4 sec

Episode 6 features the stories of bathhouse owners, workers and patrons from the Coney Island History Project’s oral history archive. Bathhouses were the first businesses in Coney Island. Even before Coney’s first hotel was built in 1829, crude bathhouse shacks were set among the dunes. Before the city built the boardwalk in the 1920s, most of the Coney Island beach was private and bathhouses provided the only access to the beach and provided patrons a summer home away from home.  Many had overnight accommodations, restaurants, and swimming pools, and some offered massages and the ever popular nude sunbathing.  They were very sociable places and generations of family and friends from the same neighborhoods patronized the same bath houses for years until the last one, Brighton Beach Baths, was demolished in the early 1990s. Now hardly anyone knows what a bathhouse is. Interviews with Jose Beth Smolensky, Cindy Jacobs, Richard Termini, Arthur Nintzel, Harold Blumenthal and John Bonsignore were conducted by Charles Denson, Amanda Deutch, and Tricia Vita between 2000 and 2020. You can search and listen online to over 375 oral history interviews, including the ones featured in this podcast, via https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/oral-history-archive.This episode was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions. This program is supported, in part, by funding from Humanities New York provided by the CARES Act and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger. 

Mar 15

28 min 24 sec

Episode 5 features the stories of a trio of roller coasters built in the Roaring 20’s and named after violent storms: the Thunderbolt, the Tornado and the Cyclone. While the Cyclone is the only survivor from Coney's golden age, the Coney Island History Project has recorded and preserved memories of people who rode, owned, or worked at these legendary coasters. A few narrators had the unusual fortune to live beneath one of these thrill rides.Interviews with Meg Feeley, Harold Kramer, and Mae Timpano (Thunderbolt); Don Ferris, Michael Liff and Andy Badalamenti (Tornado); and Joseph Albanese,  Mindy Gress, John Hunt, and Marion Kantrowitz (Cyclone) are part of the Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive. The oral histories were conducted by Charles Denson, Amanda Deutch, Katya Kumkova, Valerie Lapinski, Ali Lemer, and Shavon Meyers between 2000 and 2020. You can search and listen online to over 375 oral history interviews, including the ones featured in this podcast, via https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/oral-history-archive.Episode 5 was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions. This program is supported, in part, by funding from Humanities New York provided by the CARES Act and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger. 

Feb 9

28 min 18 sec

Episode 4 features the oral histories of Mermaid Avenue’s mom and pop businesses founded by immigrants, past and present. Interviews with Steven Feinstein, (Wilensky Hardware), Charles Guariglia (Mermaid Avenue bread route in the 1950's and '60s), Ho Cheung Li (J&R Pharmacy), and Boris Kotlyar (Mermaid Spa) are part of the Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive. Wilensky Hardware, Coney Island’s oldest surviving family-owned business, was founded 100 years ago on Mermaid Avenue by a Polish immigrant. Businesses founded in the 1990’s-2000’s whose owners’ oral histories were selected for this episode are pharmacist Ho Cheung Li, who dispenses news and advice to the community’s Chinese immigrants, and Boris Kotlyar, who operates a banya, an authentic Russian bathhouse. The oral histories were conducted by Charles Denson, Mark Markov, and Samira Tazari between 2015-2020.You can search and listen online to over 375 oral history interviews, including the ones featured in this podcast, at https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/oral-history-archive.Episode 4 was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions. Russian translations by Mark Markov and Julia Kanin. Voice overs by River Kanoff and Ali Lemer.This program is part of the Cultural Immigrant Initiative supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger.©2020 The Coney Island History Project. All Rights Reserved.

Dec 2020

23 min 56 sec

Episode 3 features the oral histories of artists from Jamaica, Japan, Russia, and China who found a place they could call home in Coney Island and neighboring Gravesend and Brighton Beach.Interviews with Hector George Wallace, Takeshi Yamada, Alisa Minyukova, and Yi Xin Tong are part of the Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive. The oral histories were conducted by Charles Denson, Amanda Deutch, Tricia Vita, and Jiangxin Jin between 2015-2020You can search and listen online to over 375 oral history interviews, including the ones featured in this podcast, at https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/oral-history-archive.Episode 3 was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions. This program is part of the Cultural Immigrant Initiative supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger.©2020 The Coney Island History Project. All Rights Reserved.

Dec 2020

28 min 38 sec

Episode 1 features the oral histories of Coney Island restaurants and food stands founded by immigrants in the first part of the 20th century as told by their mom-and-pop owners and family members. Interviews with Morris Egert, Josephine Gargiulo Cassata (Gargiulo's Restaurant), Antoinette Balzano (Totonno's), Sol Handwerker (Nathan's Famous) and Peter Agrapides (Williams Candy and Pete's Clam Stop) are part of the Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive and were conducted by Charles Denson between 2007-2017.You can search and listen online to over 375 oral history interviews in our archive: https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/oral-history-archiveEpisode 1 was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions.This program is part of the Cultural Immigrant Initiative supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger.©2020 The Coney Island History Project. All Rights Reserved. 

Dec 2020

20 min 13 sec

Episode 2 features the oral histories of Coney Island food businesses owned or operated by immigrants from Greece, Mexico, Jamaica and Russia. Interviews with Steve Arniotes (Lido Bar & Grill), Gregory Bitetzakis and Paul Georgoulakos (Gregory & Paul's), Dalia Vazquez and Raymundo Bardominao (Tacos Doña Zita), Basil Jones (Footprints Cafe), and Viktor Vassiliev (New York Bread) are part of the Coney Island History Project Oral History Archive. Stephen Gaffney, an artist and bartender at Paul's Daughter, is interviewed about Paul. The oral histories were conducted by Charles Denson, Leslee Dean, Kaara Baptiste, and Samira Tazari between 2009-2017.You can search and listen online to over 375 oral history interviews, including the ones featured in this podcast, at https://www.coneyislandhistory.org/oral-history-archive.Episode 2 was produced by Charles Denson, Ali Lemer and Tricia Vita. Music by Blue Dot Sessions. Spanish translations by Leslee Dean and Mary Conlon. Voice overs by Dave Stork and Ali Lemer.This program is part of the Cultural Immigrant Initiative supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and New York City Councilman Mark Treyger.©2020 The Coney Island History Project. All Rights Reserved.

Dec 2020

32 min 24 sec