Throughout this pandemic, we have tried to explore ways to share our vibrant and quirky neighborhood with those that could not visit us. “Characters of Coney Island” is a blog where we feature some neighborhood staples that you might not see on the news or hear about, but their energy and presence is what makes Coney Island unique. We hope these Q&A’s bring our followers some joy and remind you that we’re still here and can’t wait to welcome everyone back!
This month’s Character is Jen Garland! Jen is a regular the brewery, and has become our unofficial librarian with the amounts of books she donates to our ever growing collection. She is a pleasure to bump into in the neighborhood, and we love following the Instagram of her Plague Monkey, as he lives his best life in this pandemic.
Where are you from originally?
Born in California and raised on Long Island.
What is your connection to Coney Island?
I always knew about Coney Island, but my first visit was 20 years ago, for the Mermaid Parade. I was hooked immediately. The parade has become my favorite summer tradition, and I would come every year. I started learning more about the neighborhood, and volunteered with the Coney Island History Project for about 3-4 years. That led to me giving talks about Coney Island history to local senior centers in Brooklyn and at libraries on Long Island. Then a couple of years ago, I got involved with Dick [Zigun], so most people probably know me as his girlfriend. We came up with the title “Crisis Manager” for me as a joke, so sometimes I introduce myself as Dick’s Crisis Manager.
Who is your Plague Monkey? Tell us more about him.
Plague Monkey actually started about 10 years ago, as a “Flat Stanly” kind of thing for my nieces. I would bring him with me everywhere and take pictures of him in front of famous places or doing interesting things to send to the girls. He has even been to Italy! Then when we were locked down last year, I got him out, made a mask for him and Plague Monkey was born. It was a great way to keep me busy, and people seemed to enjoy it, so I started the Instagram account for him to share his adventures during quarantine.
Favorite memory in Coney Island?
I have so many, but I will share two. The first was years ago, when I got called up onstage at the sideshow to be Madame Electra on my birthday. It was so cool, and not planned at all. The second was when I got to meet Neil Gaiman when he was King Neptune for the Mermaid Parade. He signed my copy of The Graveyard Book, and even drew a little tombstone. He was very gracious.
Favorite amusement in Coney Island?
The sideshow, without a doubt. As a lifelong fan of circus and sideshow, it is what kept me coming back to Coney Island. I know every act and joke and I still love it! I also really enjoy a ride on the Wonder Wheel you get a great view of the neighborhood.
What is your must have food in Coney?
I tend to eat at 3 places in Coney all summer: Dona Zita for their tacos, which are the absolute best. Their sandwiches are also amazing, and can feed 2 people. Paul’s Daughter for their sausage and peppers, and Nathan’s for their fries.
If you could have any dream job in Coney, what would it be?
Honestly, I think I already have it. Volunteering with the History Project enabled me to meet some pretty cool people, and now that I am with Dick, I get to experience so much more of what Coney Island has to offer, and some things that not everyone gets to experience. I feel very fortunate to be in my position, and to be surrounded by so many awesome people. I love my Coney Island family!
Since you work so closely with documenting peoples memories of the neighborhood, do you have anything in particular you wish you could have experienced in the old “nostalgic” Coney?
I would have loved to go to the original Steeplechase Park, Luna Park and Dreamland and to experience Coney Island in that time. But I would really love to have been able to see the Elephant Hotel. It was an amazing feature of the area.
What do you miss about pre-Covid Coney?
Normally, I do not like crowds, but I kind of missed them last year. I missed the noise and the smells, the craziness that the summer usually brings. Those are the sights and sounds of summer fun. I was heartbroken there was no Mermaid Parade, because it is a summer holy day for me, so I cannot wait for its return. I also look forward to the sideshow and burlesque and concerts to come back. They are part of the Coney Island culture.
Everyone always has a plethora of memories in Coney, any other fun facts?
Marie Roberts put my initials in the Debbie Harry Mermaid Parade banner. Thank you, Marie!
What does Coney Island mean to you?
I can finally say that Coney Island means home to me. It is a unique place that has all my favorite things in one spot. There is no other place like Coney Island. It is the best part of NY. Nothing is shocking down here, you can see a lot of things you wouldn’t see anywhere else–I am very happy here.
Of course, we have to ask if you have a favorite Coney Island Brewery beer?
I prefer dark beers, so right now I am loving your Honey Stout. But I also like the Merman, and the Dreamland Sour is a good summer beer.