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An unlikely trio of Coney Island legends finally got their due.
Lady Deborah Moody — the founder of Gravesend who is widely credited with setting land aside for a future People’s Playground — the Shore Theater and a cyclops statue were enshrined in the Coney Island Hall of Fame on Coney Island History Day on Saturday, joining an eccentric list of people, places and things who share the neighborhood’s top carnie compliment.
Event organizer Charles Denson said the honorees reflect the amusement district’s quirky character.
“They really capture the creativity and uniqueness of Coney Island,” Denson said.
Moody made history when she founded the town of Gravesend in 1645, becoming the first female landowner in the area, according to Denson, who runs the Coney Island History Project. The real estate maven’s land grant included present-day Coney Island, which she envisioned as a first-of-its-kind public seashore resort.
“She was the one 400 years ago who set the tone for what Coney Island would become,” Denson said.
In more recent times, landmarks like the cyclops statue picked up the slack.
The massive one-eyed monster — whose head measures five-feet tall — greeted visitors entering Wonder Wheel’s Spook-A-Rama haunted ride from 1955 to 1985, when it was taken down and placed into storage, said Dennis Vourderis, the amusement park’s co-owner.
He said the handmade statue’s new status convinced him to place it on display this weekend for the first time in two decades.
“It’s drawn a lot of attention” since entering the hall of fame, Vourderis said. Old-time Coney fans who recall the days when the boardwalk’s rides were known for their original artwork “are so pleased it’s still around.”
The 2011 class also included the Shore Theater, still standing at the intersection of Surf and Stillwell avenues.
The former Lowe’s Coney Island, which is owned by Kansas Fried Chicken magnate Horace Bullard, received landmark status from the city last year.
The award was accepted by John Badalamenti on behalf of his late brother Andy, the theater’s longtime caretaker who died in July.
“The theater was like his home away from home,” said Badalamenti, who grew up in the neighborhood.
The Coney Island Hall of Fame was founded in 2005. It has approximately 25 members, among them George C. Tilyou, who built Steeplechase Park; Fred Thompson, who opened the original Luna Park in 1903; and the late folksinger and onetime Coney Island resident Woody Guthrie.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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