Coney Island History Project & Deno's Wonder Wheel Park
West 12th St. & the Boardwalk
Saturday, September 3, free, 1:00 - 5:00
No other part of New York City has the kind of colorful history that Coney Island has. That past will be celebrated today at Coney Island History Day, beginning at 1:00 at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and the Coney Island History Project. Originally scheduled for August 28 but postponed because of Hurricane Irene, History Day will begin with the induction of the Shore Theater and Lady Deborah Moody, the first woman to found a colony in the new world, Gravesend, in 1645, into the Coney Island Hall of Fame. Previous inductees include Sea Lion Park builder Paul Boyton, baby incubator inventor Dr. Martin Couney, hot dog inventor Charles Feltman, Luna Park creator Fred Thompson, Steeplechase founder George Cornelius Tilyou, sideshow impresario Samuel W. Gumpertz, wood carver Marcus C. Illions, exotic dancer Fahreda “Little Egypt” Mahzar, ride inventor and amusement manufacturer William F. Mangels, Parachute Jump designer James Hale Strong, and roller coaster designer La Marcus Thompson. History Day also features a trivia contest with historian Charles Denson, live music by the Hungry March Band, the Hot Sardines, and the Banjo Rascals, and a performance by Kae Burke of Lady Circus. In addition, attendees can contribute a romantic Coney Island story to the Oral History Project.
One of Coney’s most iconic and endearing historic landmarks is Deno’s Wonder Wheel, which has been home to young couples in love making out while looking out over beautiful Coney Island since 1920. This is not your average Ferris wheel (owner Dennis Vourderis refers to the 200-hundred ton, 150-foot-high wonder as an “eccentric Ferris wheel”); sixteen of the twenty-four cars slide from side to side while rocking back and forth and moving up and down, so you’re in nearly constant motion. Be sure to pay attention to rule number six: “Do not force your child to ride if he or she is frightened. A scared child on the ground may well panic on the ride.” Slip the carny a few extra bucks and he might let you linger at the top, where you get a spectacular view of all of Coney Island as you share a romantic interlude that only the heavens can see. This 150-foot-high national landmark was owned for years by Deno Vourderis (Dennis’s father; the attraction is co-owned by his other son, Steve), who lived the American dream by immigrating to Coney Island, working as a hot dog vendor, and eventually buying a part of New York history. As part of Coney Island History Day on September 3, all Wonder Wheel riders will receive a special gift each paid ticket and can take a goofy old-time photo for free.
We make sure to hit the Cyclone, another integral part of Coney Island’s history and an official national historic landmark, at least once every summer, and it has never let us down. We know every curve, bump, and drop like the back of our hand, but the rickety old joy still surprises us every time we take it for a spin. We like to begin in the last car, where you get thrown around like a rag doll, then move up to the first car, which is as awesome as you would imagine. Since 1927, the three thousand feet of track that make up the Cyclone have held no hidden tricks from the very start of the ride; it takes you straight up, offering a fabulous view of Coney Island, but don’t get too lost in the picturesque scenery, because you’re about to go on a killer eighty-five-foot drop. Riding the Cyclone is our favorite 110 seconds in the world; it even impressed Charles Lindbergh, who piloted the Cyclone in 1927 and said it was more thrilling than flying across the Atlantic. Coney Island has been undergoing a lot of change over the last few years, for better and for worse, but the Cyclone keeps rolling along, as dependable as ever, even if the price has gone up to $8, there is no more “ride again” discount, and the new Luna Park regulations don’t allow you to wait a ride or two until the first car is available.