It was double the fun at Coney Island on Saturday, August 8, as the Fifth Annual History Day was celebrated at the historic Boardwalk and amusement area.
Throughout the day, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park and the Coney Island History Project (CIHP) hosted the fun-filled event, which held special significance as it celebrated the birthdays of two fan favorites: the Wonder Wheel, which turned 95 and the horror ride, Spook-A-Rama, celebrating its 60th anniversary.
Coney Island fixtures joined local dignitaries to discuss the importance of the day. “Over 30 million people have ridden on the Wonder Wheel in its 95-year history,” said Dennis Vourderis, owner of the famous wheel. “It has never stopped operating once during its entire run. Even Sandy couldn’t stop it.”
“There are so many parts of Coney Island that everyone has a fond memory of from our childhood. The beauty of Coney is we are making more memories every day because of commitment of families. People didn’t abandon Coney when things were hard,” added State Senator Diane Savino.
According to Vourderis, over 30 million people have ridden on the Wonder Wheel since it first started turning. He also discussed the park’s influence. “Walt Disney came here in the ‘60s and got his ideas from Coney,” he said. “He came in, bought all the horses that were on the original merry-go- round, and brought them to Disneyland.”
CIHP curator Charles Denson discussed the significance of the two rides. “History Day celebrates the importance of Coney Island popular culture, our craftsmanship and fun,” he said. “The Wonder Wheel was built at a time when Coney needed something new and fantastic.”
Although younger, Spook-A-Rama, built in 1955, remains an important part of Coney. “It opened when monster movies were all the rage,” Denson said. “Spook-A-Rama tapped into this rage and became the biggest and the last of this Coney’s permanent installed dark rides.”
Aldo Mancusi, founder of the Enrico Caruso Museum of America, performed his organ outside the exhibit center, much to the delight of youngsters. “As a child I would come here with my immigrant parents who couldn’t afford a hot dog. We had food but we couldn’t afford a nickel for a hot dog,” he recalled, noting that the park always meant a lot to him. “Coney Island has always been a pleasure for millions of people and I’m glad that they’re doing so much to improve the area so that all people can enjoy it.”
Also part of the festivities was magician Bob Yorburg, who performed during the event. “Through the magic, photographs and books of Coney Island I saw as a kid, I was inspired to do magic here,” he said. “To see all of these things still operating is a real treat. A lot of places don’t have that.” Yorburg also repaired the park’s famous Grandma Fortuneteller piece after Superstorm Sandy destroyed it.
Although history was on the agenda, the area’s bright future was also discussed. “The better days of Coney are ahead of us yet. With all the new rides that are coming to Coney and all the new attractions, it’s important that we gather today to appreciate the history,” said Vourderis.
“This is a very big part of New York City history,” added Councilmember Mark Treyger. “We will continue to build this area to make it more beautiful than every takes a partnership.”