Steeplechase Soap Opera: Denson’s Coney Island Lost and Found

This is the story of Marie and James and William and the trouble they found.  Marie Tilyou and Willam “Bill” Nicholson were childhood friends who grew up to find pleasure in carousing together through Coney Island.  This carousing wasn’t a bad thing.  They were simply good friends.  Marie became the president of Steeplechase Park and made all park decisions while Bill was in charge of the Chamber of Commerce for Coney Island.  While he loved Steeplechase and the Tilyous, he was aware that television was changing the way people entertained themselves and that the profit of parks on Coney Island was declining. 

Jimmy Onorato unofficially ran Steeplechase Park for the Tilyou family. He helped make decisions, like the one to close the park in 1964 and the one to sell the property. 

Selling wasn’t easy–Irving Rosenthal wanted it but then publicized the sale before it happened, which made them not sell to him.  Fred Trump (father of The Donald) bought the property and wanted to develop real estate but a 1967 court decision would not rezone it.

Jimmy, who poured his life into running the park, received a pithy severance when Trump bought the land.

Bill was left to deal with the rumors that all of Coney Island, not just Steeplechase Park, had completely shut down.

While Steeplechase Park had closed, other amusements began to appear.  Astroland Park opened in 1963.  Nicholson thought about restarting Coney Island Mardi Gras which had gone away in the 50s.  The riot of April 1968 that began in the subways, spilled onto the Belt, and ended in Times Square put a damper on things.  However, Coney Island remained standing.

Denson, Charles. Coney Island Lost and Found. Berkley: Ten Speed Press, 2002. — Chapter 17: The Death of Steeplechase Park


About Christina M. Rau

Poet, blogger, writer, editor, professor
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One Response to Steeplechase Soap Opera: Denson’s Coney Island Lost and Found

  1. Pingback: 2010 in review | Rediscovering Brooklyn: A Local Tour De Force

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