Remembering Nellie Bly, Bensonhurst’s Ever-Evolving Kiddie Theme Park

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The former entrance to the park, under its old name. SmugMug

The former entrance to the park, under its old name. SmugMug

At the borough’s edge, where Brooklyn meets the bay, a family-friendly amusement parks has sat just off the Belt Parkway for the the last half-century. For the better part of its half-century lifespan, the park was owned by the Romano family, who leased the space from the Parks Department until financial issues forced them to stop operating the site in 2005.

The park, formerly known as Nellie Bly, having been named on a whim after the American journalist and inventor of the same name, who famously traveled the world in a record-breaking 72 day trip, the space currently exists as Adventurer’s Park. It’s “Night and day as far as when the new management came in,” park manager Mark Blumenthal said of the park’s transformation from Nellie Bly to Adventurer’s. “They renovated, brought in new rides from Europe: a brand new kiddie coaster, brand new bumper cars. They upgraded everything, added the parking lot,” Blumenthal specified.

An eponymous ride within the park, back in the day. SmugMug

An eponymous ride within the park, back in the day. SmugMug

Yet, despite the name having been changed for over a decade, people still remember the space before Fair Promotions, the new management company, came in, back when the space was still run by the Romano family.

An employee jacket from the park's Nellie Bly days. Photo by John Sullivan

An employee jacket from the park’s Nellie Bly days. Photo by John Sullivan

“People still call it Nellie Bly,” current park Party and Group Manager John Sullivan, who also worked at the space when it was Nellie Bly, said in a phone interview, adding, “I’m like, they changed the name 10 years ago.”

“I have nothing but great memories there,” Sullivan says of the park’s former incarnation; neither though did he have any complaints about its present form: “It’s a whole ‘nother feeling than it was then. When it was Nellie Bly, it was mom and pop. We still have parties, though.”

An employee jacket from the park's Nellie Bly days. Photo by John Sullivan

An employee jacket from the park’s Nellie Bly days. Photo by John Sullivan

For Brooklynites like this author who grew up going to the park, memories have a distinctively nostalgic feeling since Nellie Bly, unlike other childhood favorites like the iconic Coney Island, are preserved largely in the mind and film photos, with no advertisements or postcard pictures to remind us of what the place really looked like.

“I remember our parents used to take us there during the summer,” Park Slope resident Jacob Karlin recalls of his time at Nellie Bly, “I remember the fun house more clearly than anything.”

The park today, as Adventurer's. Photo via Adventurer's

The park today, as Adventurer’s. Photo via Adventurer’s

“It was bigger and faster than Six Flags,” lifelong Sheepshead Bay resident Mitchell Dumovsky recalled.

Nellie Bly. Photo via Wikipedia

Nellie Bly. Photo via Wikipedia

Currently, the park opens from March or April until the end of October, and is still a popular location for birthday parties for the young and old. Entry remains free, with park-goers paying by the ride. While both the name of the park and the name of the park’s owner have changed, it still attracts a local crowd, and it still remains a oft-passed-by oasis of family fun in a hidden corner of southern Brooklyn.

The park today, as Adventurer's. Photo via Adventurer's

The park today, as Adventurer’s. Photo via Adventurer’s

Below, footage claiming to have been taken at Nellie Bly in 1960. The footage, while believably set in Nellie Bly, could not possibly have been taken in 1960, as the park did not open until four years later.

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About Author

Hannah Frishberg is a 4th generation Brooklynite and editor of the Bensonhurst Bean. You can reach her at editor@bensonhurstbean.com, via Twitter @BensonhurstBean or via the Bensonhurst Bean's Facebook.

  • Allan Lamberti

    The Nellie Bly kiddieland and go cart track was originally at the foot of Bay Parkway along with a hamburger stand. These businesses were on the site of what became the shopping plaza that is there today. There was a Cirillo fuel/coal tank next door to them as well as a half sunken merchant ship. When the property was developed into EJ Korvettes, the Brooklyn Savings Bank, and other shops, Nellie Bly moved down the service road to the present location.

    • 100% correct the merchant ship is what i remember as i am 57 and it must have been 1967 when i was 8 i also remember the transition to the shore parkway location that i hit baseballs at the batting cages and drove golf balls towards the sanitation depts building in the foreground it wasn’t pretty or sexy but it was family

  • Sean F

    I grew up with my parents and grandparents taking us to Nellie Bly. It was a magical place for a kid. I remember going to the Wetsons burger place at the old Nellie Bly location (now Wendy’s), and loving it – until one day, a rat ran out of the construction site where they were building the bank next door (now Starbucks (ick)) and across our table and across my food. I was never able to eat there again; I was so grossed out.

    It will always be “Nellie Bly” to real Brooklynites. Just as the Battery Tunnel will never be the “Gov. Hugh Carey Tunnel”, or the 59th Street Bridge will never be the “Edward I. Koch Bridge”. Name have power, and history matters.