For The Record: Coney Island

Courtesy of Tattoo Archive: It was nice to read recently that Coney Island, USA located at 1208 Surf Avenue has been declared a New York City landmark. It was January of 2011 that the Coney Island’s Landmark Preservation Commission made its decision to protect this early 20th century building, now decorated to look like a sideshow on a circus lot. Built in 1917 as a branch of the Childs Restaurant chain, the building is complete with curved windows, a Spanish tiled roof and mosaics covering the front of the building. The commission described the building as “a stylish building in the Spanish Revival style that was fitting for the area’s beach atmosphere.” This building is one of the few in the area that has been protected in the recent years as the neighborhood undergoes widespread razing and redevelopment to make room for high-rises and hotels…

Between the 1880s and World War II Coney Island was the largest amusement area in the United States. It was home to three massive amusement parks, Luna Park, Dreamland and Steeplechase Park, all bordering on Coney Island’s main street, Surf Avenue. These parks drew millions of people to this little strip of land on the south end of Brooklyn. Along with the parks, other businesses opened that catered to the masses, including railroads, steamship companies, restaurants, saloons, dance halls, hotels, side shows and of course tattoo shops.

Today ironically, Coney Island is a peninsula. It was formerly an island separated from Brooklyn by Coney Island Creek, but before World War II the center of the creek was filled in creating the peninsula.

The list of tattooists and attractions that have worked in and around Coney Island is impressive; the following is a short list of some of those folks:

Billy, James & Joey-Grecco–Tattooist… Brothers to the better known Brooklyn Blackie.
Bob Wicks-Tattooist. Known for his work in New York City but like many city tattooists the summer business in Coney Island was too good to pass up.
Brooklyn Blackie-Tattooist. Started tattooing at Coney Island in 1949.
Coney Island Freddy-Tattooist. The only tattooist we know who took Coney Island as part of their name.
Deafy Grassman-Tattooist. Deafy may have worked with his beautiful wife Stella in one of the many sideshows.
Eddie Funk-Tattooist. The One! The Only!
Frank Graf-Tattooist. Tattooed in Coney Island in the 1910s at dime museums and sideshows.
Jack Dracula-Tattooist/Attraction. Said to have been inspired by the Great Omi and had his face tattooed.
Jack Gavett-Tattooist. Tattooed in Coney Island and Brooklyn in the 1910s.
Jean Carroll-Carson-Attraction. Appeared as the Tattooed Venus in 1953 at Coney Island.
Joe Lieber-Tattooist. Said to have worked in Coney Island before making a big name for himself on the west coast. Madam Hall-Tattooist/Attraction.
Tattooed fat-lady was tattooed by Frank Graf.
Mae Vandermark-Attraction. Better know as Miss Artorio to the masses at Coney Island, tattooed by Charlie Wagner.
Max Pelz-Tattooist. Did Eddie Funk’s first tattoo in 1952.
Mike & Junior Colantuono-Tattooist. Mike learned tattooing from Brooklyn Blackie and Mike taught his brother Jimmy to tattoo.
Mille Christiana-Attraction. Worked in 1911 in Coney Island as a tattooed-lady.
Mrs. Jack Diamond-Attraction. Coney Island tattoo attraction early 1900s.
Prince Laurie-Attraction. Worked with the Armstrong Museum in Coney Island, 1918.
Rosita-Attraction Dreamland. Tattooed-lady, 1917.
Sailor Don-Tattooist. Worked with Max Pelz in Coney Island, 1950s.
Sailor Freddy-Tattooist. Tattooed near the Bowery in Coney Island.
Sailor Ralph-Tattooist. Puerto Rican tattooist that worked all around New York City.
Samuel O’Reilly-Tattooist. Said to have spent the summers working along Stillwell Ave. in Coney Island.
South Sea Island Joe/Attraction. History unknown, but probably worked at one of the many sideshows or dime museums.
Tony Cambria-Tattooist. Learned to tattoo from Brooklyn Blackie.
W.F. Gilbert-Tattooist/Attraction. Worked at Huber’s Museum in 1918.


  1. Dreamland Circus Side Show postcard 1900s.
  2. Home of Coney Island USA, 1208 Surf Ave.
  3. Jack Dracula flash sheet, 1959.
  4. Map showing the layout of the parks at Coney Island.
  5. Bob Wicks illustration from a business card.
  6. Deafy and Stella’s business card.
  7. Brooklyn Blackie’s business card. 

Tattoo Archive © 2011

This installment of For the Record was featured in Tattoo Artist Magazine issue #29.


More “FOR THE RECORD” Tattoo History Blogs: Tatts Thomas – Stencils  – History of Tattooing in ChicagoPelikan Ink Saint George & the Dragon – Thomas Edison and TattooingDoc WebbThe PIKETattoo PigmentsThe Zeis Studio FlashConey Island and TattoosPercy Waters MachineTattoo StampsThe Rose TattooJack Redcloud Bill the Beachcomber Sailor Jack Cripe – [divider]

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