Coney Island Impresario Richard Zigun Plans Comeback After Hurricane Sandy

'Mayor' of Brooklyn Beach Mecca Reclaims Summer Spotlight

He Can Hear The Mermaids Drumming: Dick Zigun, founder and artistic director of Coney Island’s Sideshows by the Seashore, suffered multiple injuries and $500,000 in damages as a result of Hurricane Sandy.
Norman Blake
He Can Hear The Mermaids Drumming: Dick Zigun, founder and artistic director of Coney Island’s Sideshows by the Seashore, suffered multiple injuries and $500,000 in damages as a result of Hurricane Sandy.

By Simi Horwitz

Published May 24, 2013, issue of June 07, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The Wonder Wheel is revolving, the air is awash in overly sweet smells and tinny music is everywhere. Soon the curtain will once again rise on the iconic Sideshows by the Seashore. The last time I visited, it was a windless, midwinter day. Brooklyn’s Coney Island was eerily desolate, and the only sound was that of the Atlantic Ocean gently lapping the shoreline. Small, dilapidated buildings were boarded up or blanketed in corrugated steel gates, including the theater that houses the sideshow.

I was visiting Dick Zigun, the sideshow’s founder and artistic director. Dubbed “The Mayor of Coney Island,” he is also the force behind the not-for-profit resident arts organization Coney Island USA, which oversees the theater, the Coney Island Museum and the legendary Mermaid Parade. Held each June, the parade will soon celebrate its 31st year. But thanks to Hurricane Sandy, the theater has suffered close to $500,000 in losses.

“Structurally we’re okay, but we lost our contents: the auditorium, the backstage area and the dressing room,” he said matter-of-factly in a small cluttered office one flight above the devastated restaurant space adjacent to the theater. “We lost our storage and a lot of memorabilia, those decades-old funky objects that gave a feel to the place, a patina of the traditional style. But then, all of Coney Island was affected by Sandy.”

This was not a good winter for Zigun, whose own home, several blocks away, was flooded with 4.5 feet of water, resulting in the loss of his furniture and of many prized possessions.

He also suffered a horrific accident with traumatic injuries, including broken bones around the orbit of his eye, a broken nose and severe cuts on his eyelid and eyebrow, all of it requiring reconstructive surgery.

“I went behind the snack bar to get a bottle of seltzer,” he said, and then paused. “I’m talking for the Forward, so let’s talk seltzer. It was seltzer. I had gone to Popeyes and bought a nonkosher chicken sandwich. I was eating lunch and tripped and hit my face on the edge of the counter.”

The medical bills were overwhelming. Zigun went online asking for contributions to help defray his costs, and they’ve poured in. Supporters have also contributed funds and materials — amplifiers, sheetrock, screwdrivers — and volunteers have been helping to rebuild.

Zigun is an amalgam — a Bridgeport, Conn., native who was raised an Orthodox Jew and is now an agnostic. Yet he continues to be proud of his Levite roots. “You’re either born a Levite or you’re not,” he said. “You can’t aspire to it.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.