Speaker 0 00:00:00 On April 28th, 1963, a fire broke out on Coney Island destroying a little resort called Raven Hall. As the flames spread, locals and firefighters alike banded together to try and head off. The fire. Among their ranks was a 16 year old named Jim Lucarelli, who had a part-time job at a nearby amusement park and found himself on top of a wooden roller coaster, spraying it down with water. It was a pretty dangerous situation, but his actions helped contain the fire and limited damage to Coney Island. At the end of the day, he went home like normal and never told his parents. 57 years later, he did tell a story as part of an oral history project.
Speaker 2 00:00:43 My job was to go to the top of the wooden roller coaster, and with one of the other older guys there, we set up a fire hose and he said, our job was just to keep we down the rollercoaster. Just stand there at the top and just keep wedding it town. I had no idea what I was doing. So we, all of a sudden, these big, big embers started come flying across over the top of Steeplechase Park. Some of 'em were landing in the park, some of them were like the size of basketballs, so they just kept yelling, keep we the rollercoaster down. So I, I was up upset. I thought I was being a fireman. It was like exciting for me.
Speaker 0 00:01:20 Next, you'll hear how a group of people turned an archive of oral histories into a podcast series. My name is Stuart, and this is Audience, a Casto original series where we go behind the scenes of all kinds of podcasts to uncover the business that powers audio creators.
Speaker 0 00:01:40 One of the best ways to learn how to do something is to go directly to people who are good at that thing. So at Casto, we do just that. Each episode of audience features some of the most talented and creative podcasters around, and we hope that by listening, it will inspire more creativity in your work. And if you need help with your work, Casto is here from our suite of tools, feature rich hosting platform, and even our production services, we're here to help connect directly with us by emailing hello casos.com or by clicking on the link in the show notes.
Speaker 3 00:02:15 Well, Coney Island is the birthplace of the roller coaster, the hot dog, the first enclosed amusement park for another thing. And it's a place that New Yorkers can escape to. You know, when you go to Coney Island and then you can just look out on the, on the water, you do feel really free and you're not closed in like you, like you are in the rest of the city where you have buildings looming up on all sides of you.
Speaker 0 00:02:53 Tricia Vita is not from Coney Island, but it's still been a big part of her life.
Speaker 3 00:03:00 I actually grew up traveling with a carnival. That's what my parents did, and we traveled all over the Northeast operating Carnival games. So after I went to college and moved to New York City, I felt drawn to Coney Island. When the train pulls in the station, you see the Wonder Wheel turning, and just that turning wheel made me feel as if I was coming home whenever I would see it. At that time, I was working as a freelance journalist, so I ended up writing a many stories about Coney Island, about Astroland Park, Nathan's hotdog eating contest, and many of the Coney Island characters. So I basically, I knew everyone in Coney Island because I had interviewed almost everyone.
Speaker 0 00:03:45 So she was pretty much a perfect fit for the Coney Island History Project. A nonprofit group that's trying to tell the story of Coney Island's history through public exhibits and programs. They also have a treasure troves worth of oral histories that has more than 400 interviews and hours and hours of tape. In 2020, that massive archive was turned into a podcast series called Coney Island Stories. It's hosted by Charles Denson, the executive director of the project, and he's also written a book about Coney Island, Charles Access, kind of a tour guide for each episode, navigating us through snippets of interviews, introducing the subjects, and talking to the audience through the events covered in the episodes. Of course, he doesn't do this alone. He has the help of Tricia, who we all just met. She goes through the oral histories, picks out the interviews and helps write the scripts. And then there's also audio producer Allie Lehmer, who edits all the episodes together. By curating these episodes by topic and condensing the interviews, the team manages to tell the history of Coney Island using the very words of the people who lived it firsthand from dramatic events like Jim putting out a Fire to life-changing stories like Coaching Lee Immigrating, and starting a business to various childhood memories of beach trips and rollercoaster rides. We hear it all in their own words.
Speaker 0 00:05:12 It's the story of a community that has prospered, struggled and survived, and it's been preserved for all of us to hear. I was able to speak with Tricia about how they made Coney Island stories and the importance of preserving oral histories.
Speaker 3 00:05:28 The Coney Island History Project was actually founded in 2004 by Carol Hill, Albert and Dewey Albert, the owners of Astroland Park, together with Charles Denson, who wrote the book, Coney Island, lost and Found, uh, Charles grew up in Coney Island and started writing his book, actually when he was a boy. And Steeplechase Park was suddenly going out of business and about to be torn down. So he had studying history firsthand from the time he was a boy. And when he was writing Lost and Found, which I believe was published in 2000, he interviewed a lot of people in Coney Island. So actually he has a lot of interviews that were recorded, uh, for his book that are not of the audio quality, that we can put them up as oral histories. Maybe they can be cleaned up now with some of the tools that are available, I'm hoping. So he started actually recording oral histories before the founding of the history project, and Carol Hill, Albert, who co-founded the project, had written a book called Subsistence usa, which was Oral Histories. So she was very interested in this. So, so that is how the whole oral history project came about, because the exhibit center wasn't founded until 2007, which is like three years later than the actual founding of the organization.
Speaker 0 00:07:01 You got more than 400 of these interviews. Uh, first of all, this sounds just like such a, a massive undertaking. How are you guys connected with subjects? Are you just like putting it out there like, hey, like come be interviewed, or are you like researching guests or Our people contacted you guys? That's, uh, 400. That's, that's a hard number to wrap my mind around.
Speaker 3 00:07:25 We do all of those things. Um, I think originally and still we know a lot of people in Coney Island, and so now we're thinking, well, who, who have we neglected to interview? We better interview them soon, <laugh>. But originally that, I guess that's what we did. And when we, once we had the recording booth, which was originally on the boardwalk for a couple of years, and then moved to the exhibition center under the cyclone, people would come by and they would say, oh, I used to live in Coney Island, or I grew up in Coney Island, or I worked here, and they would record an interview. Now, some of those interviews recorded live in Coney Island are only a few minutes long, but still some of them are incredibly rich in detail. And now when we interview people remotely, we do tend to interview people for about an hour, but there are a lot of shorter interviews that were recorded in person.
Speaker 0 00:08:30 Yeah, I think you sent me a picture of that, uh, that memory booth earlier, <laugh>. That's that's really neat. I, I love that thing and it's, I, I like, I liked hearing some of the recordings from it because you got some of that Coney Island ambience in it as well, and it, it kind of, it kind of, for me, whether it was intentional or not, it was a more immersive experience, you know, I mean, we're, we're doing our, our call remotely right now too. So I, I can't get too much of my high horse about it, but I think, uh, you, you gained something I think when you're, you know, when you're doing work on location and when you're in the same room as a subject or interviewee, I should say,
Speaker 3 00:09:10 Sometimes it's, it's very humorous because you'll have a whole group of people, a family who are having a kind of reunion in Coney Island, you know, usually in August, maybe most of the family doesn't even live here anymore in New York City. And so one person will stop by and they'll do an interview, and then the, the rest of the people are kind of waiting, when is she gonna be finished? When is she gonna be finished, kind of thing. So, so that does happen because they have, uh, ch grandchildren going on the rides. They have their grownup children running around and they're waiting for grandma to finish her interview.
Speaker 0 00:09:54 When you're conducting these interviews, what kind of information are you hoping to get?
Speaker 3 00:10:00 Well, for the in-person interviews ahead of time, they're going to be telling us, I got engaged on the Wonder Wheel or something. I, I worked at Nathan's when I was a teenager, or I worked, I had the job as a teenager renting beach chairs and umbrellas on the boardwalk, a job, which was very popular up until the early seventies, and kids could do from the time they were 14. So that's what the interviews mainly about. Were also asked them wherein when they were born. And so we get an idea also what decade we're talking about that this happened and some ancillary information, but it's very focused on that subject. Usually. We've also interviewed people who were a hundred when we interviewed them, and they've since passed away. And we had an interview with a man who remembered the 1920s. He was a kid when it was illegal for men not to wear a top on their swimsuit on the boardwalk.
Speaker 3 00:11:14 You know, men had those suits that covered the top and the bottom, and they would actually give you a ticket if you were bare chested on the boardwalk. And definitely, I agree that it definitely personalizes history. It's so different from the history we read in books or we, we learn in school. It is just so remarkable to hear the narrators talking about things that happened, say during the Great Depression or during World War ii, which most of us have only read ab well, those of us who are younger have only read about in books or seen in movies. And we also uncovered new information in the 1940s. They had Army barracks in Coney Island, in Kaiser Park and in Seagate, and they had gun in placements on the boardwalk. And those things I couldn't find on the web when I was looking for them, when we were working on the 1940s episode. You know, I already had those interviews. So I was looking for history about that. And there were various websites that had information about those sort of things in other parts of New York, but they didn't have anything at all about Coney Island. But yeah, when I, when I went back and read the Brooklyn Eagle from that time, there was a lot of information about what was going on. I mean, it definitely was true, but it wasn't, it wasn't shown in the research that's being, that's been done more recently.
Speaker 0 00:12:56 I mean, like, how common was it for you just to come across like information that just blew your mind? I mean, obviously you and Charles and everyone else involved in the project know the history of Coney Island pretty well, but I imagine you're learning things along the way.
Speaker 3 00:13:12 Yeah, I think definitely. And you never know when that's gonna come up. Of course, if the person is older, it's more likely to come up because they have more memories. I recently interviewed a woman who was 92, and the interview started off, it just seemed like a regular interview. There wasn't anything really remarkable about it. But once she got relaxed, she started talking about how she worked in a factory that, uh, as a receptionist that she found out, she realized after her first day that it was owned by the mafia and the whole story that ensued when there was a, a fire in the factory and, and so forth. So that was interesting.
Speaker 0 00:14:00 How long did she work for the Mafia? Did she, did she quit or did she, you know, stay part of it?
Speaker 3 00:14:07 No, she went to work one day and it, the building was on fire <laugh> and the, uh, owner or manager asked her to keep some papers in her house until he could get them mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So she did. And then when, when he came to collect them, he gave her a couple of hundred dollars bills, which was a lot of money in the 1960s.
Speaker 0 00:14:35 Well, let's just hope for her sake, there's a statute of limitations on, uh, any potential crimes committed. Cause it sounds like she was unknowingly an accessory to, uh, you know, some type of insurance fraud or something.
Speaker 3 00:14:47 Well, the per the person was killed later, he's not alive anymore.
Speaker 0 00:14:53 Well, I, I met, I met the, the woman you interviewed. Uh, I'm being facetious, but <laugh>,
Speaker 3 00:14:59 I think it's all right. So
Speaker 0 00:15:00 Yeah, we,
Speaker 3 00:15:01 We do find that some of the older people, we had another interview with a man who recently passed away. He was in his eighties, and he re he, he was a lawyer. He remembered how the mafia tried to get hi, came to his office and tried to get him to represent them in court cases. And he explained to them that, you know, he wasn't gonna be talking to judges for them. He had a lot of integrity. And so he could be, I think when someone, by the time someone's in their eighties or nineties, they feel comfortable enough to be candid about subjects like that.
Speaker 0 00:15:41 Yeah. It might be kind of cathartic too. I mean, if you've been carrying that with you for decades and decades to finally kind of get it off your chest, that must feel pretty good.
Speaker 3 00:15:53 Well, we didn't mention any names of the people in the mafia either. We're very careful. I know you had, you had asked me when we spoke before about whether anyone had, whether we vetted the interviews, whether anyone mm-hmm. <affirmative> had lied to us. It's, that isn't what happens. What happens is when we, when we, after we've recorded the interview and we listen to it, if there's anything that's questionable, either factually, like maybe the year they mentioned was wrong because they mentioned maybe Steeplechase Park, but it had already closed, so it had to have been another park they were talking about or something factual like that. Or if they said something that might be slanderous or, or libelous, we would have to remove it. There was one interview that was about a family, and I guess there was some kind of family feud, and so they were talking about some other members of the family. So we edited that out because after all, it's an oral history and it's mostly about them, not the other, not the other family members.
Speaker 0 00:17:05 That's interesting. I, I, I, I, I, but I think you guys are doing the right thing there. Oral
Speaker 3 00:17:09 History projects have best practices, and traditionally they don't, they don't edit the interview. They send the interview in the transcript to the narrator for their approval, and then it's on deposit in the oral history archive. But in more recent times, some oral history projects, not all of them may put up an audio excerpt or the whole audio online on their website. And so when you do that, it might be better to put in some cases like this to put an edited version. We do keep the entire oral history. We do have the original, the raw audio as well.
Speaker 0 00:17:56 Yeah. Let's, let's go inside making your podcast a little bit. So again, you know, you're pulling from more than 400 interviews and kind of as like an overview, you know, each, each episode has a certain topic like Mermaid Avenue restaurants in Coney Island, people who fell love. And then of course, in season two, we go through all the decades started in the thirties, and you have firsthand accounts of people who grew up in the thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, two thousands. So it's, it's really, it's really a neat project and I, I have to imagine it's quite a bit of work, uh, whittling down, you know, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hours worth of audio into something that's pretty digestible, because none, very few of your, your, uh, episodes run over 30 minutes from what I recall.
Speaker 3 00:18:47 Well, I already know the subject matter in the oral histories. So if I was thinking of, say, the first episodes were restaurants, and then there's also a search tool. You can look up restaurants and see what all the, all the interviews are, in case there's some I didn't remember. And in that case, when I looked that up, I could see, I could see which ones would be suitable, and then, then I would have to whittle it down because each episode has anywhere from four to six narrators, you know, excerpts of their interviews. So if I found seven or eight say restaurants, then I'm gonna have to decide. So actually that restaurant episode, actually, there are two episodes, part one and part two, so that's probably what happened there. And also I have to think about, are those, do those interviews have stories that are long enough that are interesting enough to be included? Or do they just mention something in a very brief way that I can't really use?
Speaker 0 00:20:02 Do you find any parallels between what you're doing here and your work prior to joining the Coney Island History project, your, your work as a journalist?
Speaker 3 00:20:12 Well, I think there's a lot of editing, and when you're, when you're a writer, you know, you often have to cut out quite a few words, right? If you're, if you're writing something that's a thousand words, and maybe you have 2000 words. So, and even more so recently, I think people's attention spans have become shorter because of social media. So I really only need a four minute, four minute clip. The clips are usually four to five minutes.
Speaker 0 00:20:48 And then you work with Charles Denson, who's the director of the project and who wrote the book. And he's also, he also serves as the narrator of the Series two. And so he's kind of like our tour guide through Coney Island over the years. And he's such a great narrator. I I could listen to him, you know, for hours on in which I have <laugh>, which I have. But, uh, so, so what's that collaboration like with, are, you're writing a lot of these scripts and then he's taking it and, and adding his own notes. How, how does that, how does that collaboration hash out?
Speaker 3 00:21:23 Well, with the episodes that are thematic like restaurants or legendary roller coasters, I will choose the, the narrators and start writing the host clips in, in Charles Denson's voice. I go to his book for sections about the subject that we're talking about, whether it is restaurants or roller coasters or growing up in whatever decade. And chances are, I'll find some paragraph that I can use or rework for the intro and maybe add some sentences. And I can also consult some of his blog posts from our website and other writings. And I also consult, uh, some of old newspaper articles from mostly the Brooklyn Eagle, but sometimes the New York Times to write the intros. And then when I'm satisfied with it, I send it, I send it to him to rework. And there may even be a section where I'll say, okay, this is an excerpt from, from Lost and Found.
Speaker 3 00:22:36 That's his book, Coney Island, lost and Found. Could you shorten it? Could you compress this to just a few sentences, or could you write something in this graph about what it was like for you in the 1950s in relation to what we're talking about here? So he'll do that, and then he, he sends it back to me, and then I would send it to our audio producer, Allie Lehmer, who also has experience as a writer and editor. And she, she reads it and suggests some more changes or comments. And it's great because she's not as familiar with Coney Island as we are. She's not steeped in it. So she can see if something doesn't make sense that the ordinary listener would say what? So then I incorporate some of her changes and I send it back to Charlie, and then we come to the final script, and then I send all the, all the audio and the script and everything to Allie again. And she edits and mixes the episodes. And then if we're happy with it, she, she masters the episode. And that's it.
Speaker 0 00:23:55 Well, we're gonna hear this actually and practice a little bit. We're gonna listen to some of your podcast and we're gonna go all the way back to the very beginning season one episode one. And I usually don't do this to podcasters cause they don't like it, they don't like sharing their early work. But I think you guys started out really strong. You hit the nail on the head. And you know, the saying, uh, you know, first impressions, uh, are lasting impressions. So we're gonna listen to season one, uh, one episode one, and this is a clip where Charles is talking to a man named Morris Egert. He was, uh, an immigrant whose family opened a restaurant on Coney Island. So let, let's listen to this and then maybe, we'll, we'll talk some more shop on the other side.
Speaker 4 00:24:39 19 51, 2 and 3, 1, 2 and three. I'm trying to remember. We paid eight, we paid $800 for a stand and the stand had pizza, another for pizza, a bar. And we had hot dog grill. And we were green horns. We came from Poland and, uh, 10 cents a pizza, pizza, a beer, I think 15 cents a beer, I don't remember. And, uh, the lady, wonderful lady, Mary and John, they had on sit next to us, they had a, um, a bait and tackle store. You can go in and the people would go to the boardwalk. When we opened up, my mother made the fish and chopped liver and kius. And this wonderful lady, Mary came in, she says, you don't, this is not the right place here. You want that, you gotta go up 29th Street, 30th Street. You're in the wrong place first. And this wonderful lady really saved our, saved us. She came in and she taught us how to make pizza and sausage and peppers, and we ate up the chocolate <laugh>.
Speaker 0 00:25:51 And of course, uh, Mr. Ert went on to be one of the most successful caterers, uh, in, in the New Jersey area. You know, you and I were talking or communicated with each other about this, this clip, and, and you said Morris was one of your, uh, favorite. So what, what did you like about it so much?
Speaker 3 00:26:10 Well, I, I didn't know his name, say the way I knew the names of some of the other narrators in the podcast, like Saul Hand Worker, the son of Nathan of Nathan's famous. But I guess what I liked about this interview was that he was Polish and they had come from New Jersey and they came to Coney Island and they're like, wow, let's, this is great. Let's start a business. They didn't know what they were doing. Fortunately, their neighbor showed them how to, to make Italian food. And so they were very successful. But even now, today, we have a lot of pizza places all over New York that are operated by immigrants from various countries, you know, south America, the Middle East. You don't have to be Italian apparently, to be successful as a pizza operator. And the other thing that was interesting was that he talked about numbers, how much the rent was, and that they lived above the store. I think he mentioned that, that they were able to live above the store. You know, that's unheard of. Now everything is too expensive. You can't, you can't just rent a, a store with a place to live above it or in the back, like people used to be able to do. And this interview is only six minutes in total, and yet it has everything he had just stopped in, you know, he was visiting Coney Island with family and happened to see the history project and stop by and did an interview.
Speaker 0 00:27:54 Wow. So this was all spontaneous then. This wasn't someone you guys had, like you said, you didn't have any prior knowledge of it. Wow. And you get that gem of a sound bite there. I mean, this, this is how the podcast starts. This is the first guy you that's featured, this is the first character we meet on the podcast. And that was, and it was all happenstance. Wow. That that must have been really neat too, to experience that with him coming back to Coney Island, if he'd been gone for so long and he got to come back with his family, that must have been a really special moment for him.
Speaker 3 00:28:27 Yeah, we have that, uh, happen with frequency where people will stop by. They see the Coney Island History project. Maybe they heard about it before, but they say that their father or their uncle or their mother or some relative and owned, and then they start talking about some kind of Coney Island business or retraction that some of the businesses we'd heard of. They were named businesses famous in their day. And others like Morris Gertz, he never said what the name of the store was in the interview. Now it was a pizza place. So what did they call it? I don't know. He didn't say, but it didn't matter. <laugh>.
Speaker 0 00:29:12 Well, the pizza slices for, for 10 cents and a beer for 50 cents. Uh, I like the sound of it. I want to go back in time and check that out.
Speaker 3 00:29:21 So the interesting thing with that episode is the, um, other people featured in it, three of them are the sons or daughters or granddaughters of, uh, people who founded legacy businesses in Coney Island that are still there today. Like Nathans that was, was founded in 1916, or Gargiulo's Restaurant founded in, I believe 1907 or Totino's Pizzeria founded in the 1920s. Those are probably the three most famous restaurants in Coney Island, longstanding restaurants. So the listener would be very interested, you know, to hear the stories of Saul Hand worker growing up and working in his father's store. But the s the second episode is also restaurants. And like I said, we had several restaurants at that point. And so for the second episode, we interviewed people who had restaurants that had been there for a while, and everyone loves these restaurants, but they're not, they weren't founded in the early 20th century. They were founded sometime after the middle of the 20th century, if not later, like tacos Donna Zita or Paul's daughter or Footprints Cafe. These are all well known restaurants. So that's why we did a second episode because we had, we had more restaurants than we could fit in one episode.
Speaker 0 00:30:55 I thought it was such a good choice for you guys to start with that. And I mean, and, and the part with, you know, immigrants coming in too, because that's such an American story, but it's also one that's, I think, very more common to a place like Coney Island, you know, someone coming from, from Poland and just starting a new life. That's, again, that's an experience that's hard for I think a lot of people to wrap their minds around. And you get to hear it from Morris directly. He's pretty matter of fact about it, but it's, uh, yeah, it's, it's a, it is quite poignant to hear that from him.
Speaker 3 00:31:32 Well, at that time it was 2021 and we had funding for events that we couldn't produce because of the pandemic. So at that point we decided to pivot to some remote programming. We were already doing Zoom events, and we decided to start a podcast. I mean, we had thought about doing a podcast for a long time, quite a few years. People had mentioned, why don't you do a podcast? And some people after we interviewed them, would ask us, oh, let me know when the podcast is available. They thought it, the interview was a podcast. It, it's not, the oral history is on the website. It's, it's not downloadable. I mean, we could send them a copy of the interview, but it's not a podcast. So we had time to do a podcast cuz we were stuck at home like everyone. And we had funding that funders were allowing us to repurpose that funding for remote projects. So that particular funding would've been used for a live event of the previous year. We had done an event on the boardwalk celebrating cultural heritage of immigrants who had settled in southern Brooklyn. So we had a Mexican mariachi band, we had, um, Chinese dancers, Ukrainian dancers, we had a Haitian drummer and so on, but we couldn't do that. So we focused on the immigrant oral histories. And the thing that came up first was, was the stories about the restaurants because they were all founded by immigrants.
Speaker 0 00:33:19 Wow. You know, a lot of times when when you talk about like repurposing content, you know, it's an avenue maybe that isn't explored a whole lot, but I mean, you guys just again, had this well of knowledge documented meticulously over the years. That's really cool. You mentioned funding, of course, Conal and History Project is a nonprofit. Uh, so you, you are partnering with a lot of people to get funding for this. Uh, who, who are some of your funders?
Speaker 3 00:33:47 Well, originally for the immigrant series, that was the New York City Council, they have something called the Cultural Immigrant Initiative. We also received funding from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and from Humanities New York, which is New York's Humanities Council. And during the pandemic, the Humanities Council also received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. So through through them we were able to receive funding from N E H.
Speaker 0 00:34:23 How has Coney Island changed over the years?
Speaker 3 00:34:26 Oh, that's interesting. That's one of the questions we ask in an interview with someone who grew up in Coney Island and has moved away and maybe they've had a chance to come back and we ask them how it's changed. So I guess based on the growing up in Coney Island series, it really changed starting in the sixties and seventies when Steeplechase Park, which was the big amusement park, then closed, and then the city started urban renewal in the seventies and the city destroyed 30 square blocks in Coney Islands West End, which was the residential area. So people who grew up say on Mermaid Avenue, it just doesn't look the same when they go back because all of those stores were demolished, all of those buildings were demolished. People go back and their home or their grandmother's home doesn't exist anymore. So after the city demolished those 30 square blocks, the city went broke and then, then eventually they put up public housing towers on those vacant lots. So the landscape of Coney Island has changed quite a lot.
Speaker 0 00:35:45 What's remained the same,
Speaker 3 00:35:47 I think people are still feel a deep connection with Coney Island. It's still in their heart. The boardwalk is still there, the beach is still there. The Wonder Wheel is still there. The cyclone, the parachute jump though. It's not an operating ride. I mean, I, there was one person who we interviewed, I believe he's in his seventies, he lives on Long Island. He says he comes back three or four times a year and he just walks up and down the boardwalk.
Speaker 0 00:36:22 I guess that to him is reminiscent of his time as a child,
Speaker 3 00:36:26 Right? He can still see the ocean and the boardwalk, but he comes in different times of year, not just, not just in the summer. For some people they can't really come back. They're too devastated with how different it looks. You know, when we look at photos, say from the fifties, we can only see what's, what's there now is only, uh, the only thing that survived since then is the, the Wonder Wheel. The cyclone and the parachute jump. You see other roller coasters, you see other buildings, they've all been demolished. So again, the, the cityscape has changed quite a bit. And now there are a lot of new buildings going up and there are a lot of proposals for development, including a casino. So there are a lot of changes happening now, if not on the horizon.
Speaker 0 00:37:25 Is that part of why this is such an important project to preserve that history?
Speaker 3 00:37:31 I think so. In, in the beginning, uh, we interviewed people who grew up or worked or lived in Coney Island, starting around 2015, we expanded it to include adjacent neighborhoods like Brighton Beach or Graves End, because they're very, they're in the same council district as Coney Island or in the same community board district as Coney Island. Currently about 55% of the people in that community board district, which includes Coney Island and, and Brighton Beach. 55% of the residents are immigrants and the largest, uh, immigrant populations are Russian and former Soviet Republic and Chinese. So we started recording interviews in those languages also in Spanish, but mainly with in Russian and Chinese. So we have a lot of new residents coming in to the neighborhood and that's another reason it's changing a
Speaker 0 00:38:39 Lot. It might seem like an overly simple question, but I, but I I, I still would like to hear it from you. Like what is, what is so important about oral histories? Why is it, why are we putting so much effort into cataloging almost a century's worth of, of stories and memories and, uh, all the hours and energy that go into making that?
Speaker 3 00:39:03 Well, I think oral history illuminates the past and as I mentioned before, it personalizes history in a way that we don't get when we just read a book or, or a newspaper article. And I think the stories in our archive also reveal how residents of Coney Island and Coney Island itself were changed by the forces of history. So for example, in the, in the Growing Up podcast in the seventies, it's so excruciating. We, we hear how the, um, let's see,
Speaker 0 00:39:41 Urban, urban renewal and the, all the development by, um, like Fred Trump and some of those guys that, that came into
Speaker 3 00:39:50 Town. There was a growing crime rate and there are some oral histories with people who remember, uh, different things that happened in the seventies that were very painful. And yet they continued to live in Coney Island because they thought it would get better. So after doing that, after doing the growing up series, I really think the seventies were the most difficult time for Coney Island. I had known that already from reading Coney Island Lost and Found. But to hear it directly, to hear the experiences of the narrators in the 1970s podcast, I could, I could really feel it in a way where, where one person talked about waiting for his father to get home every night to make sure that he wasn't mugged or another person talked about joining a gang and not wanting to let his grandmother know. Right. He kept it a secret from her. So he just moved out cuz he didn't wanna tell her. He couldn't face it.
Speaker 0 00:40:57 Well, as we kind of get towards the end of our conversation, was there anything you were hoping to talk about today that you haven't had a chance to yet? I'd like to kind of give you the opportunity to do so.
Speaker 3 00:41:10 I wanted to say that, uh, about 33% of the oral histories in our archive are with people who grew up in Coney Island. So that was one of the things that suggested the growing up in Coney Island series from the thirties, the forties, the fifties, up to the two thousands. So thinking about the oral histories that way, I felt that there were commonalities among the generations that would spark, uh, intergenerational conversation because part of the funding for the growing up in Coney Island series included two public facing events, which we ended up doing on Zoom because the pandemic was still going on. And we had guests from who grew up in the various eras, they were narrators in the podcast and they had a great time conversing with each other and are looking forward to meeting again with us on Zoom. So it was a big success. Yeah.
Speaker 0 00:42:08 You mentioned commonalities. What, what were some of those commonalities?
Speaker 3 00:42:11 Well, growing up on the beach, having jobs in the amusement area, going to the same schools, it seemed like everyone went to PS 180 8 and they loved it no matter when they went. So those were some of the things and, and how it was so different from growing up in another neighborhood, which maybe they didn't realize until they grew up and went away, whether it was just going away to college in Manhattan or whether it was moving away. So to, to hear that in their own words, in their own voice is so powerful.
Speaker 0 00:42:48 I've never actually been to Coney Islands, but maybe I'll go visit some time, even if I don't, I have lived in the same city my whole life and have watched it changed firsthand. Chances are when I'm an old man still living here, it'll still be changing. Just like Coney Island will still be changing. And just like the place that you live has changed and will continue to do so. That's one of the reasons why we do things like write down stories and record oral histories by remembering the past. We can preserve it, we can honor it, and hopefully we can learn from it. And now it's time for our podcasting tip where our guests share some wisdom with you.
Speaker 3 00:43:31 My name is Tricia Vita from the Coney Island Stories podcast and my podcasting tip is Mark Twain's advice to write what you know, I think it's equally relevant for podcasts. So for Coney Island Stories, we write about Coney History, which is our field of studies, and we utilized our oral history archive of, which is now at about 440 in interviews. So I would say you might wanna do a podcast about your, based on your profession, your hobby, your cultural heritage, your family, your studies. And if you're going beyond that, I would say that you need to do your research.
Speaker 0 00:44:25 Audience is a Casto original series created entirely by our in-house production team. Our founder and executive producer is Craig Hewitt. Production assistance is provided by Isl Brill, Jocelyn Devore and Marni Hills logo website design is by Fran Schwa Brill. All of our music comes from the Story Blocks Library. This episode was produced, written, edited, and narrated by me. I'm Stuart Barefoot. If you liked it, there's plenty more where it came from. All episodes email@example.com or anywhere they have podcasts. Next time on audience I chat with Emily Wu from Ghost Island Media to talk about the podcast network and media company that she helped start.
Speaker 5 00:45:11 We couldn't always rely on international media who had for long for, for the last decade. You know, this wasn't a priority place for them. And so we had to clean that narrative. We had to be the one writing the stories on our own. There. There's a community of people doing that.