2013-06-27 / Front Page

Photos chronicle Keansburg Amusement Park history

By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
Staff Writer


A photo montage created by Carly Vena provides a visual timeline of the Keansburg Amusement Park from the 1930s to the present. Right: Vintage photos in the collection of Barbara Boyd capture summer scenes at the park, including children on a ride during the 1960s and the root beer stand in the 1930s. 
NICOLE ANTONUCCI/STAFF A photo montage created by Carly Vena provides a visual timeline of the Keansburg Amusement Park from the 1930s to the present. Right: Vintage photos in the collection of Barbara Boyd capture summer scenes at the park, including children on a ride during the 1960s and the root beer stand in the 1930s. NICOLE ANTONUCCI/STAFF The history of the Keansburg Amusement Park is particularly meaningful for Middletown resident Carly Vena, whose family helped construct the children’s rides back in the 1920s.

Her great-grandparents built many of the rides by hand and owned them until the 1980s, when they sold the attractions to the Gehlhaus family, the current owners of the park.

“We grew up knowing about the kiddie rides, having pictures in the family,” Vena said.

When Vena heard that the owners were planning to rebuild the park following the devastation of superstorm Sandy, she wanted to help in some way.

During her commute to work in New York, Vena pulled out a laptop, logged on to Facebook and created a group called Keansburg Boardwalk Kids. She requested that people send any photos taken of children on the rides at the amusement park.

Vena planned to use a gift card to pay for 500 prints for a photo montage of children on the rides as a way to say “thank you” to the amusement park owners.

“I watched them drag one of the kiddie rides across the street, and it occurred to me that [the Gehlhaus family] was going to rebuild. And it stunned me. I [thought] it was not possible, it’s matchsticks,” Vena said.

“I knew that I couldn’t do anything for [them], but I wanted to do something.”

Vena began by flipping through her own family album, pulling out black-andwhite photos of the park from as far back as 1931.

As she collected the snapshots, Vena said she came across a striking coincidence: a black-and-white photo of her mother riding the carousel in 1957 and an identical color photo taken in 2012 of Vena’s niece riding the same horse on the carousel.

“That carousel was sprinkled all over Beachway, and these men put it back together again,” Vena said, referring to the efforts of William and Hank Gehlhaus to restore as much of the park as possible.

Initially, the plan was to display the photos on the blue fence along the perimeter of the park in order to thank the owners for putting the park back together, she said.

“That plan lasted 10 minutes, because it just felt like graffiti,” Vena said. “So, when I started asking people for their pictures, that is when ideas started coming about a public art display and things like that.”

Six days after creating the group in January, Vena had accumulated 300 photos. And by May, 500 had become 5,470 photos.

Each photo tells a story. Each captures a memory of someone’s experience at the park — whether it is enjoying a ride for the first time, having a first date, or just spending the day with family, she said. For her, the most significant stories are from the photos that were lost. “The most significant thing was when I asked people for their photos and they told me, ‘I don’t have any; my house washed away along with my photos,’ ” she said.

“It hurts me so much to say it. The most significant are the people that don’t have the pictures anymore.”

At the reopening of the Keansburg Amusement Park on May 18, Vena unveiled her collection, displaying more than 2,000 photos on several boards located throughout the park. “Sandy had her day at the park. She didn’t buy tickets, she didn’t wait in line. She barreled through here like it was her own. And she took what she wanted and she wasn’t very nice about it,” Vena said at the reopening. “For 110 years, this park brought joy to children. [These] are pictures of what was, what will be.”


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