Jonathan Anderson and Alex Delare are the goofy, engaging history professors you never had but always wanted.
They will walk you through the history of a place like Coney Island with facts as simple as how it got its name (the island--there was a creek that separated Coney from Brooklyn, technically making it an island at the time--had a large wild rabbit population and it is believed that Coney is derived from Konijn, the Dutch word for rabbit), to stories about brothels inside a 150 ft. tall iron elephant originally intended to serve as a hotel.
They’ll tell you all about how fires were rampant, freak shows were common and what role the Trumps played in Coney Island history.
Hailing from Brooklyn, 30-year-old Anderson and 27-year-old Delare launched New York Local Tours in November of last year offering tours of the Brooklyn Bridge and New Amsterdam (Battery Park to Wall Street).
“I was doing a tour for another company and I liked it and it was fun and the money wasn’t bad but I guess it was one of those things where you’re like, ‘I could do this,’” Anderson said.
From there, Anderson and Delare both decided to start New York Local Tours; they launched an Indiegogo page and bought a number of books to start their research.
A tour with the charismatic couple of three years is similar to roaming around an area of New York with a group of friends. There is no double-decker bus and there is no microphone. Just a binder of visuals and a small group of people, native New Yorkers and visitors alike, looking to learn more about the city that never sleeps.
“It feels incredibly personal is the bottom line,” said Brooklynite Jamie Agnello, 30, who went on a tour in June.
Both Anderson and Delare have a background in theatre—they met doing a show—and they both currently work in the museum world.
“We bring a lightness to our tours,” Delare said. “We love being with people and we love sharing stories.”
The company currently offers three tours: Brooklyn Bridge, New Amsterdam and Coney Island. They are working on a fourth in Williamsburg teaming up with The City Reliquary. Prices range from $25 to $30 per person and you can sign up with a couple of friends, alone or request a private tour.
They also do a collaboration with Guerilla Haiku Movement where tour-goers both go on a tour of Coney Island and then team up to complete haiku challenges.
Agnello, 30, took part in the Coney Island Haiku collab with a small group of friends.
“We had historical tour sections and then broken up in between those different parts we had haiku challenges,” she said. “We had sidewalk chalk and chalkboards and we were in teams and asked to interact with people on the beach and on the boardwalk. People were far more responsive than I actually expected them to be.”
Agnello said what stood out the most about the tour was how much fun Anderson and Delare were having describing the two as charismatic and performative.
Two of Agnello’s friends are born and bread New Yorkers and yet, she said, the entire group learned new things over and over again.
“They were telling us crazy stories about Coney Island that I would have never found out about on my own,” Agnello said. “A person who has never been to New York before and a person who is from New York can both go on these tours and still have a ton of fun and that is a very difficult thing to find.”
During the Coney Island tour Anderson tells a story about the medical freak shows focusing in on one in particular: incubators. Incubator babies actually started at Dreamland, an amusement park within Coney Island, as a part of a medical freak show.
Instead of people huffing and puffing as they passed the tour group holding up sidewalk traffic, passerby tended to stop and listen in.
“We were on a corner and Jonathan was talking about the new medical freak shows and there was a guy on the street who came up to us and was like ‘are you guys talking about incubators’,” Agnello said, “and we were like ‘yeah’ and he was like ‘my grandma grew up in Coney Island and was born on Coney Island and was in one of the incubators that was there.’”
The most surprising part of this whole experience, Delare said, is the fact that many of the tour-goers have been native New Yorkers interested in learning more about the different parts of their city.
“For the majority of tours we’ve had so far, they are all arguably New Yorkers,” Delare said. “New Yorkers, Jerseyites, people from Upstate or within the boroughs, and they all want to do the Brooklyn Bridge all these New Yorkers.”
For Anderson and Delare, NY Local Tours is, for the most part, about sharing the stories and history they love with the people around them.
“A big thing of how we choose the tours is it is what interests us,” Anderson said. “I like showing people a neighborhood that I think is really interesting and intriguing”
Delare added, “We could never do something we didn’t like, we have to love it.”