beginning of the twentieth century, Coney Island was the uncontested
epicentre of America's emerging mass culture. It was the
quintessential American resort: the birthplace of the amusement
park, the hot dog, and the roller coaster. Its history is one of
breathtaking transformation and re-invention. Celebrated for its
glittering amusement parks and its enormous crowds, it was in times
past a mecca of grand hotels, race tracks, beer gardens, gambling
dens, concert saloons, and dance halls. A new mass culture began to
take shape there. Its harshest critics decried it as Bedlam by the
Sea, but others deemed it a necessary outlet for the masses where
the democratic spirit was granted free rein.
Despite its precipitous decline,
Coney Island remains a metaphor for the American amusement industry
and the hundreds of honky-tonk resorts and amusement parks it has
spawned. 'Coney Island: The People's Playground' is the first new
history of Coney Island in almost half a century, tracing its
evolution and cultural impact as an amusement centre from its
earliest development as a seaside resort to the present day Mermaid
Parade. Presented in a photo documentary format featuring more than
100 vintage photos, archival material, personal accounts, and
contemporary sources, the book evokes the atmosphere of the resort
as experienced by those who visited it during its heyday.
Through the reminiscences of
nineteenth and twentieth century writers, literary figures, and
amusement historians, Michael Immerso traces Coney Island's
remarkable evolution and subsequent decline, while at the same time
examining the remarkable individuals and complex social forces that
contributed to its rise and fall.
Coney Island is not merely a
documentary of the amusement industry or the story of a fabled
amusement park, but rather a narrative of the way Americans, and
particularly immigrants and urban Americans, came to regard the
pursuit of leisure as part of their national birthright.