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Back to Brooklyn 2000
Section guide

• 2000 Back to Brooklyn Home

The Streetplay Scoop
• Joe Viterelli: the basics
• Lenny Wilkens & stickball
• Orphans of the Steeplechase

• Celebrity Path
• The Games
• Festivities
• A Star Studded Evening

Related links
• 1999 Back to Brooklyn

Streetplay events: Section guide

• Streetplay Events home
• Bronx Street Festival '05
• Bronx Street Festival '04
• Back to School '04
• Back to School '03
• Williamsburg's 100th
• PS 56 After School
• Skully at the AMNH
• NY Historical Society
• Smithsonian Festival
• Back to Brooklyn '00
• Back to Brooklyn '99
• Back to Brooklyn '98

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Remembering a Friend

Artie Butler pays tribute to long-time friend Stanley Ralph Ross
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Last hurrah to a good friend
Stanley Ralph Ross, a highly regarded television and screen writer and Brooklyn native, was the master of ceremonies at last year's Back to Brooklyn. Stanley passed away last year. Artie Butler, a long-time friend paid tribute at this year's evening celebration, by leading a final standing ovation to honor him. As Artie said "this was a farewell that Stanley would appreciate."

In Stanley's honor, we're reprinting a story he told last year of his memories growing up in Coney Island.

Orphans of the Steeplechase

Last month, my wife and I were at the New York, New York hotel in Las Vegas and happened into an area where they sold egg creams, for $2.25. I decided to try one and it was delicious, made properly with Fox's U-Bet and the right amounts of seltzer and milk. It was so reminiscent of my youth that I sipped it for half an hour and was transported in memory and walked down Twentieth Street in Coney Island where I mentally said hello to Patsy Minicello, Gibby and Leroy Weiss, the De Luca brothers, Andrew, Robert and Raymond Jones, Freddie Hutchinson and Red Goldner.
Steeplechase entrace
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The Steeplechase entrance
While I was sitting there smiling, Neila asked me what was the greatest place I'd ever been to. We have traveled the world and it was impossible to remember all the fabulous locations, but one location kept floating up. In late May of every year, Coney Island's premiere amusement park, Steeplechase, opened for the summer season on a Saturday morning just for the orphans of the City of New York. The busses arrived, parked on West Twentieth street in front of my house and the kids lined up, marched into the Steeplechase and spent the day, until they were taken out around dinner time and the park opened for regular paying customers.

Robert Jones, who lived next door, was six and so was I and we were best friends. Neither of us could afford the 55 cents to go to the Steeplechase so we decided to sneak into the line and join the orphans. Who would know the difference? However, we knew that our parents wouldn't allow it so we didn't tell them. The day was spectacular, free food and all the rides one could have ever wanted and these were rides never seen before or since anywhere

When six o'clock approached, we hid in the Men's Room until the orphans left and the adults arrived. Picture this, a little black kid and a little white kid, best friends, holding hands so we wouldn't lose each other and enjoying ourselves more than we'd ever have done in our young lives. Strangers thought we were cute together and gave us money for food and tickets for rides, whatever we wanted was ours.

Steeplechase from beach
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The Steeplechase as seen from the Coney Island beach
Meanwhile our parents and the whole street were frantic. A few people thought we might have been kidnapped but that theory was tossed aside when they realized that nobody had enough money to pay ransom for two little kids. Then they thought the same fate befell us that had taken a mutual childhood friend, Henry, who drowned in Gravesend Bay a few weeks before and they were ready to begin dragging the area.

Finally, one of the neighbors remembered that she had sneaked into Steeplechase when she was a child and it might be worth a try to look there. At about a quarter to midnight, Robert's older brother, Raymond, came into the park, found us and dragged us outside where Robert's step-dad Reverend Kennedy, whacked my behind as my mother was hitting Robert. We pretended we were crying but the truth is that we were laughing as we stole glimpses at each other. There was no amount of pain that could take away the joy we'd had in that memorable eighteen hour day in Steeplechase, the Funny Place. If you never got there I'm sorry.

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