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Young preservationist hopes to share history of former Astroland funhouse ride with others

Astroland's old funhouse, Dante’s Inferno, is back thanks to 22-year-old preservationist Sean McCarthy, who is selling off parts from the spooky attraction to those who want a piece of Coney Island history.
Courtesy of Sean McCarthy, Wikimedia Commons/Dinopup

A longtime staple of the shuttered Astroland Park in Coney Island, Dante’s Inferno, has resurfaced thanks to a 22-year-old preservationist who is selling off parts from the spooky funhouse as mementos to those interested in the peninsula’s history. 

“I recently purchased Dante’s Inferno from Astroland Coney Island and I’m selling most of the pieces from the ride,” Sean McCarthy posted to the Facebook group Dark Rides and FunHouses on Sept. 20. “Please feel free to message me if you’re interested in any of the props or pieces.” 

Locals then shared McCarthy’s post to a Coney Island-based Facebook page, where it initially received backlash from commenters who felt the ride should have been better preserved.

But what they didn’t know is that McCarthy, of Rhode Island, purchased the ride’s remaining props and panels with the same intention — to preserve it for future generations — and is only selling the parts piecemeal because he had to purchase the ride in full from the original seller.

“I like preserving stuff and saving them from deterioration, so I’d rather restore it and keep it in a climate-controlled space,” McCarthy told Brooklyn Paper. “That’s my main goal with all of this stuff to keep it preserved and make sure nothing happens to it … so it can live on instead of being thrown in the dumpster.” 

McCarthy purchased Dante’s Inferno from Obnoxious Antiques after the retailer bought the funhouse from Astroland, which closed its doors in 2008 and has been slowly selling off its rides ever since.

“I wanted a lot of props out of this ride and they wanted to sell the ride as a whole,” McCarthy said. “So I just decided to buy the entire ride and keep the pieces that I wanted to keep, and then sell everything off individually so other people can have a piece of Coney Island history.” 

Charles Denson of the Coney Island History Project, left, and Steve Vourderis of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park with the gorilla from Dante’s Inferno, now situated in front of Deno’s Spook–A–Rama.Coney Island History Project

A number of Astroland’s rides have been reincarnated at amusement parks all over the world, such as the popular Breakdance ride, which has been restored and is now in use in the United Kingdom, and the fan-favorite log flume ride, now in use somewhere in Central America, according to the Coney Island History Project.

“Ever since Astroland closed in 2008, the rides were put in storage and have been sold one by one over the years,” said Tricia Vita, Coney Island History Project’s administrative director. “The bumper car ride is at Deno’s. Other rides are at various parks in the US and Central America. Dante’s was for sale as well — the props, because the building was not moveable — and was sold about a year ago.”

The Coney Island History Project and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park also rescued the Astroland Rocket — one of the park’s first rides, which exemplified its space-age theme — from deterioration in Staten Island after the city failed to maintain the neighborhood icon after the park’s owners donated it.

The rocket landed back in Coney Island in 2014 and can now be seen as an attraction next to the century-old Wonder Wheel. 

The Astroland Rocket as seen from Coney Island Beach.Wikimedia Commons/David Shankbone

McCarthy has had a knack for preserving old haunted and funhouse rides since he was a child. He says the hobby was born out of his interest in a local amusement park that closed before he was even born, but was a place his parents both enjoyed in their early lives.

“I started collecting Rocky Point items when I was 9 and I still do to this day,” said McCarthy. 

His collection started with pieces from Rocky Point Park in Warwick, Rhode Island, and expanded to include keepsakes from haunted, indoor amusement and carnival rides as he grew to love the history behind each attraction.

“After I really started getting into that stuff, I decided why not buy more amusement park and carnival pieces,” McCarthy said. “They have such a rich history to them, and everything is pretty much a one of one and is like an art piece to me.” 

The young preservationist said he has a particular interest in dark rides and funhouses, and was contacted about Dante’s Inferno by Obnoxious Antiques, who suspected this was something in McCarthy’s wheelhouse. 

His purchase included almost every prop in the antique ride except for its sign, the coaster’s cars and the 40-foot demon once situated outside of the haunted attraction. Now, he’s selling off another 150 parts, except for a few favorites he will keep for his collection — a three-headed dragon, a couple of exterior panels, two devils and a cauldron.

McCarthy told Brooklyn Paper that he also plans to parcel smaller pieces of the exterior panels he isn’t keeping to give everyone a chance to own a piece of the ride. 

And one day, the collector intends to display his collection in a museum-like space that he plans to construct in the backyard of his own home. 

“When I get a house, I am having a building in my backyard built where I am going to display all my carnival and amusement park items, and make its like a small museum… just a spot where I can go and have everything on display,” McCarthy said.

The Coney Island History Project has already salvaged many signs and artifacts from the shuttered Astroland, including parts from Dante’s Inferno, and the history buffs are happy to see what’s left of the ride being cared for by the young collector, as opposed to the fate of many gutted funhouses, which often land in the trash. 

 “This person did the right thing,” Vita said. “He clearly has a passion for it.”

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