The Playful Crowd: Pleasure Places in the Twentieth Century
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During the first part of the twentieth century thousands of working-class New Yorkers flocked to Coney Island in search of a release from their workaday lives and the values of bourgeois society. On the other side of the Atlantic, British workers heade
railroads and towering rides offered vistas on the whole place. Nevertheless, Luna was hardly a modern theme park. Most of the attractions were contracted out on short-term leases, producing a constantly changing hodge-podge. In its ﬁrst year, near the foot of the tower, were located two circus rings for trained animals, equestrians, and clowns. To the left of the Chutes was Dr. Couney’s baby incubator display and near the entrance was Thompson’s own signature spectacle, the Trip to the Moon.
Coney in the summer of 1908 well illustrates this restrained hetero-social playfulness in a story about a young working-class woman named Dora. Although she claimed “never to be afraid of a man who laughs,” she was no ﬂoozy. She blissfully and quite unselfconsciously enjoyed the sensation of ﬂying the “air ship,” tried her skill at the “Human Roulette Wheel,” and went with Harris to a dance hall. Through it all, she displayed an effortless self-mastery. While dancing, she gave Harris, “but the
founded in 1895 to acquire scenic and historic properties and restore historic houses, attracted substantial elite and even government support by the 1930s.62 A New Kind of Middle-Class Wonder The genteel longing for sedate social rituals and escape to the serenity of nature and sites of nostalgic community explains much of the middle-class intellectual’s the crowd and its critics 119 rejection of the tawdry sites of industrial saturnalia and attempts to reform them. Yet, as we have seen,
Herman Melville and the young Walt Whitman). Its main advantage was its south-facing east-west axis, assuring long sunny days in summer along with cool ocean breezes. The scene became far more commercial when regular ferry service began in the mid-1840s to the western end of Coney nearest to Manhattan. In hopes of attracting the business or casual crowd from the city, two enterprising New Yorkers built a circular wooden platform upon which they placed a tent. Soon, around this “pavilion” gathered
ﬁnd relief from the teeming crowds. On the more secluded far eastern end of Coney Island were built two additional railroads to accommodate the more upscale customer at hotels of suitable status. Austin Corbin’s New York and Manhattan Beach Railroad (completed in 1877) delivered afﬂuent New Yorkers disembarking from Brooklyn ferryboat docks to his Manhattan and Oriental hotels on Manhattan Beach. In 1878, Brooklyn developers (including William Engeman) imitated Corbin’s scheme by building the