Children of Promise, NYC, benefits from Coney Island’s newest tradition
“Please, don’t hurt me. Don’t run me over,” pleaded Luna Park Sales Manager Jeff Klein as he faced the line of families and fun-seekers that extended along Surf Avenue, nearly reaching the corner of Stillwell.
It was nearly 11 a.m. on the first Saturday of April, and Luna Park’s second annual Charity Day “soft opening” would soon see the fairway fill with people from all over the Tri-State region eager to ride Electro Spin, The Tickler, Wild River or the venerable Cyclone for the first time this season.
In keeping with a tradition initiated last year on behalf of the Girls Scouts of America, the Coney Island park offered free admission to anyone who donated $10 to this year’s charity: Children of Promise, NYC. The Brooklyn-based nonprofit is dedicated to supporting children with parents who are incarcerated, with an eye toward breaking the cycle of imprisonment.
As the clock struck 11 a.m., Klein slid his key into the padlock, opening the gate, ushering the first guests of 2019 into Luna Park. Although his fear of being run over by the eager crowd proved unfounded, turnout was robust, aided in large part by authentic clear spring weather.
“This is a very good opening,” Klein said, pausing to monitor conditions via walkie talkie at the boardwalk entrance, which was opening at the same time. “I think we’re doing even better than last year.”
Although some opening day guests reported coming from as far as France, few had heard of the day’s beneficiary before entering Luna Park.
“We’ve been here before,” said Yersinia Morel, on hand with her family from The Bronx. “But this is our first opening day.”
Brooklyn resident Eric Olmedo, on the other hand, attended last year’s opening day and plans to bring the family every year. “When the weather’s this beautiful,” Olmedo said, “where else do you want to go?”
Garrett Robertson and Jimmy Sherrob weren’t there to enjoy the rides — at least not that day. Their job is to keep the rides running and everyone safe. “So far everything’s 100 percent,” said Robertson. Asked if there was any ride that demanded special attention, Robertson shrugged. “It could be anything, a door that doesn’t close. A latch. We get right on it.”
“Everyone here is attuned to safety,” said Alessandro Zamperla, president of Central Amusement International, which owns and operates Luna Park. “We want everyone to have a great time and not worry.”
“It’s going very well,” he added, pleased about the response to this year’s charity pick. “We wanted in particular to support a Brooklyn-based nonprofit — and they were just what we were looking for.”
Some 200 children arrived in staggered busloads from Children of Promise, NYC, to spend the day at the park.
Luna Park was included in Coney Island’s original trio of amusement parks before a fire destroyed it in 1944. The first location, across Surf Avenue, is now an apartment complex. Today’s Luna Park is the former Astroland.
The park’s current owner, Central Amusement International, plans to open two new major rides by Memorial Day.
Asked what the newest additions would be, Zamperla smiled. “People are going to have to wait a while to find that out,” he said. “We want there to be some mystery.”