We’re still practicing social distancing and keeping things safe, but we definitely miss our friends and the characters that make up our weird little community. Luckily, the Mermaid Pilsner supply is still strong and we’ve been sipping on our sleek newly designed cans (scroll down for a peek!). So, we decided to start a little catch-up over a beer series to see what our people have been up to. First up – our friend, local historian and filmmaker, Charles Denson!
Who are you? What’s your relationship to Coney Island?
I’m the executive director of the Coney Island History Project, a not-for-profit history organization with an exhibit center on West 12th Street in Coney Island and a website archive. Our main mission is to record, archive, and share oral histories of people who worked, lived, or visited Coney Island. We also have an extensive archive of historical Coney Island artifacts and ephemera which are displayed in our yearly special exhibits.
I grew up in Coney Island after my family moved here in 1956 and I began documenting the neighborhood during the turbulent years of the 1960s and 70s. I’ve written three books about Coney Island, directed several award-winning Coney Island films, and have a new book about the history of the Wonder Wheel that’s now been rescheduled for publication in August. My new project is working with other community-based organizations to revive and restore the Coney Island Creek estuary. I’ve been an advocate for Coney Island Creek for many years and it was one of my favorite haunts as a child. The Creek is the subject of my next film.
What is your favorite memory of the neighborhood?
Visiting Steeplechase Park and riding on the Parachute Jump with my father. There will never again be anything like that experience! It wouldn’t be allowed…
What is the first thing you want to do when everything re-opens. What do you most look forward to?
Taking a ride on the Wonder Wheel at sunset, taking a dip in the holy waters of Coney Island, and grabbing a beer at the Brewery! It will be a joyful experience to reunite with all my old Coney Island friends.
What is your favorite classic Coney game/ ride/ food?
Again, the Wonder Wheel is my favorite ride. It’s a long, slow, thrilling and memorable ride compared to something like the Cyclone which is “wham, bam, thank you ma’am…” My favorite game is Benny Harrison’s skin-the-wire on 12th Street, a real classic, and a good way to test your sobriety. I also like dancing with Benny’s Miss Coney Island, who’s located right next door to us.
Favorite food would be Shatzkin’s Cherry Cheese Knishes, which is unfortunate since they closed 45 years ago and are not to be found.
What is your favorite Coney Island Brewery beer?
Fangtooth Double IPA! It takes only one to have fun. I love grapefruitty IPAs and I love the expanded Brewery.
What have you been up to in Quarantine to stay productive/pass the time?
As far as Coney Island work, I’ve been collaborating online with staff to transfer our exhibits and more of our archival materials to our website as well as recording more oral histories by phone. I also made and posted several videos to celebrate the Wonder Wheel’s centennial since we were unable to hold the large Boardwalk events that were planned. Next come podcasts and interactive exhibits. We’re already planning for the new reality. Visit us at www.coneyislandhistory.org.