Coney Island Luna Park Thompson and today

I think Coney Island is an appropriate last topic before you come to Brooklyn. These two readings illustrate the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. The readings are about beginning of Luna Park and the end of Steeplechase, the rise and fall of Coney Island mirrors that of the industrial waterfront.  Also this is the end of your virtual Brooklyn conversation and soon the beginning of your live Brooklyn experience. In an odd coincidence on May 29th 2010 the new Luna Park opens, can and will Coney Island be a phoenix arising again? http://www.lunaparknyc.com/

 The topics covered have come full circle. If 70,000 people a day worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard at its peak, you can understand why one million would be at Coney Island on a hot summer day. They worked along the shore and played along the shore. Woody Register tells us that Thompson’s Luna Park was filling a niche providing a respectable playground for the middle class. Do you think it filled the niche?  Who is the audience for the new Luna Park? If you find any reviews or comments about opening please share link and opinions. More on the end of Steeplechase soon.

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32 responses to “Coney Island Luna Park Thompson and today

  1. Luna Park must have created a sensation for the millions who entered its gates. With its underlying themes of “play, pleasure, and plenitude,” it would surely have spoken to the masses. Who can resist the idea of a Never Land? The notion has perennial appeal, and Luna Park would seem to have combined the exotica of the circus with the novelty of the world’s fair.

    From the businessman’s point of view, Luna Park identified, tapped into, and no doubt helped define an emerging market. Register tells us explicitly that the entire enterprise was designed strategically: “Thompson’s Luna Park shows how the entrepreneurs of consumer capitalism encouraged and exploited the relocation of the traditional coordinates of middle-class manhood from the religious and civic obligations of the nineteenth century to what one historian has called the ‘shifting ensemble of cultural and material commodities’ that were distributed and promoted by the consumer marketplace of the twentieth” (142). So, the opening of Luna Park coincided with the beginnings of consumerism as we know it today..

    I found it interesting that Thompson, ever the astute businessman — targeted this specific audience for his park, the emerging urban, white collar class, mostly men, which in turn attracted “vast numbers of young, poorly paid working women” to the park. I can see how his efforts to retain the air of respectability at the park must have presented him with a constant balancing act. The little anecdote Register cited about Harris’ brief flirtation with “Dora” illustrates this well, I think. Harris, infatuated by a “little maid” in a translucent swimsuit, approached her invited her to show him the island. She did, after which “she kissed him on the cheek and disappeared into the crowd.” An innocent little encounter was described in such a way as to titillate yet show that the Park upheld high standards of “respectability” (95).

    I was captivated by the photos in Register’s book. Seeing all those grown-up “children,” predominantly men, in suits and what appear to be bowlers, certainly challenges all of our contemporary notions of amusement parks (117). (On a personal note, what definitely appalled me was the photo of the poor elephant having been pushed down a water slide at the park! (100)) Now, I am curious to see what twenty-first century modifications will have been made to the model with the new Luna Park. Consumerism thrives on demographics, so the shift will reflect this. Of one thing I am certain, the new Luna Park will not be populated by men wearing suits and bowlers!

  2. When I teach about the creation of amusement parks during the late 1800s to me classes, the thing I emphasize the most about them is their relationship to the creation of modern dating. Places like Luna Park provided a place for single people or young couples to go that were free of associations with prostitution, crime, class anxiety and the like. They did this in an environment that called on a sanitized nostalgia for the fairs and carnivals of the past mixed in with the thrill of the modern.

    The new Luna Park seems geared mainly towards children and teens with its emphasis on the rides. I guess its aiming to attract young families through the same mix of nostalgia and the modern. I guess its also a sign of how the dating scene has shifted younger over the past 100 years.

    I don’t know how successful the new Luna Park will be, though. Around Houston, the amusement park aimed for children and teens, Astroworld, got torn down to build an office park a couple of years ago. Amusement parks for adults, such as Kemah Boardwalk, though, have done pretty well. Kemah Boardwalk provides a controlled area with restaurants, nightclubs and shops where single people and young couples go. Like old Luna Park, its appeal is a mix of nostalgia with the modern. What’s interesting, though, is what they are romanticizing: they build a sanitized, idealized remembrance of a 19th century waterfront, the kind of place in real life people went to Coney Island to escape.

    • Babu,

      The lots where Astrowold used to stand remains vacant to this day, as the highly touted business potential of that area has not materialized.

  3. I grew up in the era when Disney parks were emerging as the premiere locations for family entertainment, and I was fortunate enough to visit Disney World in its early days. The amusement park was quite different from anything I had ever visited before. Most amusement parks in the 1960s and 1970s were just a conglomeration of metal and wood thrill rides; scary dark rides; and a handful of game-of-chance booths and concession stands. All of this was presented on a boardwalk pier or asphalt. They were fun, but they did have a sleazy element. They did not present the glamorous and thorough escape of a Disney Park. When he was designing his attraction, Disney told people he didn’t want visitors to Disneyland “to see the world they live in. I want them to feel they’re in another world.”

    In my youth, I was led to believe Disney had accomplished something quite unique by morphing a farmland/swampland into a fantasy world where the entire landscape of each section of the park was dedicated in detail to a specific theme. Then I read about Coney Island’s Luna Park and saw some pictures taken during its heyday. I was quite surprised by the parallels between Luna Park and Disneyland/Disney World (See the image that accompanies the table of contents in Charles Denson’s text for an example.) At the end of his lecture at Flagler Museum, Woody Register was asked whether or not Disney was aware of Fred Thompson, and Register said he really did not know. He indicated there may be a shared ancestor between Thompson’s park and Disney’s parks: the World’s Columbian Exposition. I’m not sure that’s it. It seems Disney was well aware of Coney Island amusement parks. Denson mentions Disney attempted to recruit Jimmy Onorato of Steeplechase Park to work for his company. I do not doubt Thompson’s park influenced the design of Disney parks in some way.

    Though I reside in southern New Jersey, my cable company carries channels from New York City. I was excited when I encountered this little tidbit about the soft opening of Luna Park on the news:

    http://abclocal.go.com/wabc/story?section=news/local&id=7466795

    I found this on the Internet:

    http://www.ny1.com/content/top_stories/119429/coney-island-s-luna-park-prepares-for-tomorrow-s-opening

    Studying the tape and pictures of this recently-opened park, though, I’m a tad disappointed. The new Luna appears to lack the imaginative landscaping, architecture and style of the old. There are no fountains, no buildings in the beaux arts style. At some point – I can’t remember if it was in his lecture or his book – Register said that Thompson insisted that there could not be any right angles in the design of his park, for right angles were associated with work. This new park seems to be nothing but right angles. Interestingly, Rob Lovitt, a travel writer for MSNBC seems to think this generic amusement park aiming for thrills and not frills may outlast fancy theme parks like Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter (his review: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/37321513/ns/travel-family/)

    Clearly, the Coney Island community regards this Luna Park opening as the beginning of a renaissance. Right now, the owners of the park appear to be targeting a youthful, local audience. The park is within easy reach via car, subway or bus, but the cost of admission precludes families living on a very tight budget. Though visitors have the option of purchasing tickets for individual rides ($3-5); full-park passes cost between $26-34 per person. It is an affordable entertainment option for middle class families who don’t want to travel far or to pay the exorbitant prices of the bigger theme parks, but I think those making a comfortable living will still opt for the “Cadillac” parks like Disney and Universal.

    • I worked several summers for The Disney Store, which, for the Disney Company, is no different from working at the actual parks. The floor of the store is the “stage.” The storage room is “backstage.” I was a “cast member,” not an employee. The cash register was the “box office.” I watched videos about magic and synergy. I wore a nametag that said “Kimberly” for several weeks until my own nametag came in. Every item we sold was completely overpriced. However, people love their Disney. I worked during the Beanie craze and collectors clogged up the phone line and the lines in the store. Quite nutty. The store is a mini-version of the park.

      The Disney parks are different from other amusement parks. Disney is its own conglomerate. It’s its own world. While the amusement parks at Coney Island have their cast of characters (the workers at today’s Luna Park wear bright orange shirts that say Lunatic across the back–heh heh, pretty funny), these characters are of local flavor and side show fun. They are not branded commodities.

  4. I’m going to chime in later on when I have more time, but I couldn’t help but jump in right now because I saw this post about Coney Island. I went to Luna Park yesterday since it opened over the weekend. It was packed! I’ve gotta say, the hype was more than what the park was worth, but it was still very cute. The Wonder Wheel, however, was fabulous.

  5. From a sociological perspective, I see several large patterns of change in economy and society that may have influenced the demise and reinvention of amusement parks. First, the movement of the middle class to the suburbs in the 20th c meant that the new theme parks would be located some distance from a city, in a location accessible by automobile via the Interstate. Great Adventure/Great Flags were the parks of my youth in 1970s central NJ. By that time Coney Island was associated with poverty, a popular destination for drug addicts to cop and trip watching the sun set, half deserted and dangerous. Great Adventure tickets were expensive, 20 something dollars. It meant a day trip to the park, usually combined with a musical concert or group event. They still have Gay Day or Ethnic festivals at these parks. Preceding the movement of the middle class to the suburbs was the movement of factories to the suburbs and rural areas. This meant that workers relocated closer to their workplaces outside the city. New changes may favor Coney Island: (1) the shift of the middle classes from the lower middle and working class suburbs back into the city, following children of the upper middle who manage service businesses and cultural industries (education, finance and banking are service industries). The suburbs near cities are growing poorer, and are a relocation destination for gang families and refugees from urban revitalization and gentrification. (2) Post racialism and gay mainstreaming are taken for granted by many middle class whites. This means they no longer run at the sight of a black or Puerto Rican person, but see people as individuals who are interesting and culturally diverse. Gays no longer live in ghettos in cities, where good Methodists would warn their offspring not to congregate for fear of sinful contamination. No, my generation is happy with diversity; it’s energizing; it’s empowering; and diversity helps us get over the history of the US and pull together as a society. (Middle class Obama democrat living in North Chicago). So racial segregation is not as intense as it was in 1910 or 1940. (3) Changes in the recreational behaviors of the middle classes associated with the automobile included shopping at the malls, going on day trips to go hiking, biking, climbing and fishing, placing new demands on the state and federal parks systems. (4) Escape from responsibility meant “travel” physically taking you away from work and your normal world through the consumption of organized experiences [no offense, this workshop is an organized experience] in a foreign or exotic place like Aruba, Jamaica, girl I want to take you to Bermuda, Bahamas… sing the Beach Boys… at the Florida keys… and then a middle class person needs to consume some European experience, like the mass democratization of the grand tour via American Airlines. High status middle class people go to worlds most of us will never achieve, The Great Wall, Casablanca, the Amazon…. you can even talk to cannibals with a private anthropologist. Where you went, the worlds you could afford to experience or access, is a measure of your status as a middle class consumer. NOW, big changes since the 1990s: (1) Terrorism and small scale warfare in many “exotic regions” from Somali pirates to Indonesian revolutionaries to drug gangsters to Al Q, it’s a dangerous world. (2) Price of gasoline makes the road trip to Great Adventure or the federal park mucho expensive for the middle class, doubles the cost of the trip perhaps. We need to save the 30 something or 40 something dollars just to buy groceries and pay bills. (3) Underemployment and unemployment make saving whatever you can a good idea, because that job may not last, and you can see people lose their homes everyday… better just appreciate fishing in the local county park. This leads me to offer that a subway ride out to Coney Island is a nice price for a holiday, especially if we can see or experience the ocean. We don’t have to risk our lives to drive or ride out there… at least we hope and pray so, and the NYC cops are surveillance heavy these days, so it’s probably safe (we can forget the crime and addiction driven druggies from the ’70s?). If I only have a few dollars, the new Coney Island will still let me participate, and when I get another full time contract I’ll come again and shoot the works. Retirees go to the Casinos for the day; my friends and I may go to the beach… The design of the new Luna Park evokes nostalgia, respect for continuing themes in American entertainment, and a safe look back that reminds us that this is still America, and we can still have fun. Or few may come, but with such a large population a train ride away, Luna Park may still thrive.

    • Here is the link for Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ. You can take a bus from the Port Authority, but it is much more expensive than a subway ride. They do have flexible pricing. Look at the people in the photographs, young, young families, black, white and hispanic, enjoying their holiday, America the beautiful. The park target markets special interest groups such as Lutheran Day, Autism day, Paint the Park Pink, health and charity themes that attract people and help us imagine we are helping others by buying tickets. There is also a Wildlife Safari and a newer Hurricaine Harbor park attached. Transportation to the park is more expensive today because of gas prices.

      http://www.sixflags.com/greatAdventure/events/CalendarEvents.aspx

      http://www.sixflags.com/greatAdventure/tickets/index.aspx

    • Dale T. Adams

      Kim has some solid analysis here. The only thing I would ass is the influence of TV in getting my generation to be satisfied with our little TV rooms like cupboards as we relinquished the large Coney Island like gatherings of adults to the youth culture.

      • Dale, I really relate to this comment because I live online. Recently I tried to become involved with a local arts library project that builds community informatics. The organizers looked young, but when they mentioned that their demographic profile was people in their 20s up to age 35, and then mentioned ‘older people’ several times, I knew they saw me as ‘older’ and therefore out of place. I may feel 25 in spirit, but the 20 somethings see me as different, an older generation. I would look foolish in a bikini. I get by at the same age as Tom Cruise, and do not perceive myself as older. This social recognition of my age in cultural events is a new experience for me. It can be disconcerting.

  6. Diane Whitney

    I have great respect for the power of nostalgia, recalling David Lowenthal’s observation, in THE PAST IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY, “Nostalgia now attracts or affects most levels of society.” Recent television commercials for almost everything today, especially for automobiles, evoke nostalgia through the use of vintage rock ‘n roll songs. He further points out that “time travel is appealing as we look for a golden time…”
    Speaking of music, take 3 1/2 minutes to watch BROOKLYN ROADS, BY Neil Diamond, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIMr4CgauJA. Included are photos from yesteryear of Coney island, Ebbets Field and Brighton Beach.

  7. Recently, I’ve seen a lot of black and white footage of Steeplechase and the original Luna Park on the news in the weeks leading up to the reopening of the New Luna Park. Register makes clear that the purpose of Luna Park was for middle class grown men who work every day to have a place to go to act like children. The news footage for Steeplechase looks like it had the same goal in mind (even though the Denson passage focuses more on the behind-the-scenes decline rather than the birth of the park).

    Fred Thompson’s theme song could have been a version of the jingle for Toys-R-Us–I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Luna Park Kid. His jolly frolicking around the park seems like a great job. I’m not so sure, however, the elephants were having such a good time (I’m referring to the picture of the elephant sliding down the water slide in Register’s book).

    The new Luna Park does not have the same goal as the old one. The target audience is not men and women in their Sunday best stepping out to become children and have romantic rendevous. ( http://wp.me/pU81y-1n ). The target is families who have a few bucks to spend for single rides or $20 for unlimited rides within a time limit. The target is children and teens as several of you have already pointed out. The new target makes the whole idea of Luna Park a little less nostalgic and a little more like other kinds of amusement parks. Sure Disney boasts a place where an adult can become a child again, but that doesn’t quite have the same nostalgia as the little-amusement-park-that-could does in Coney Island.

    Luna Park and Steeplechase were special not only because of their target audience, but because of where they were and how they became an integral part of the Brooklyn waterfront. Evidence of that is in the Denson passage, when he describes how Bill Nicholson was left to explain to the public that not all of Coney Island was closed simply because one of the amusement parks closed ( http://wp.me/pU81y-1q ).

    Beyond the readings, personal experience lies. I’ve been to Coney Island three times…and each time has left me with a special memory. (For some sappy memories: ( http://wp.me/pU81y-1s ).When I revisit Coney Island with this group, I’m sure I’ll make new memories that are as unique as CI is.

  8. jennifer hauss

    Register does such a thorough job in Ch 3 incorporating psychology, sociology, literature into his study of Luna. I kept thinking of Chaplin and Modern Times – a male cavorting in a childlike or adolescent manner but with much more serious consequences.
    Someone mentioned her distress at seeing the photograph of the “sliding”elephant; I too found myself gasping at the description of Luna as including a “nursery of premature babies warming in glass-enclosed incubators, overseen by licensed nursed and doctors.” A precursor to the Canadian Quints, I guess, but it seems extremely dangerous and farfetched, no?

    • I agree Jennifer. Register offers a great description of Luna and the whole area. The freaky stuff today is available online, via YouTube. The cartoon from the NYT that shows a line of man woman man woman ect and under it a line of dogs, pooches and poodles sniffing one another, was hilarious. Today, MTV produces a show called Jersey Shore. In each episode sex and pursuit by single young adults are on display. I don’t like the program, or don’t relate to the generation of Jersey shore goers today, but it struck me that it offers a similar promise of sex, fist fighting, romance and escape from boring day jobs. See
      http://www.mtv.com/shows/jersey_shore/series.jhtml

      • I’m probably part of the problem, then, since I found myself writing about Jersey Shore….
        http://www.realityshack.com/modules/magazine/article.php?articleid=1652

      • Christina, you express anger toward the guy who punched down the woman on Jersey Shore. Your blog has passion against violence. I fear that violence has made a come back. My generation worked hard to raise consciousness about domestic violence and make violence unacceptable. The old ‘hood rules had different variations on wife beating and defending women. If a man beat you on Friday night it meant that he still cared for you; and if you called the cops and filed a complaint you were disloyal not just to him but to your community and your class. Men could beat up one another to defend or avenge women. I really fear that violence against women is being reasserted as part of ethclass masculinity. The men who corrected the batterer used violence to humiliate him, to beat him down. The punch downs for whatever reason should stop. Listening to popular culture broadcast new ‘bitches’ language, where bitches know who they are and know how to get their men [because a free woman without a man and/or consumerist goals doesn’t get on television]. …I lived through feminism in the mid to late 70s and ’80s in high school and college Christina, and we were fighting for a better world.

  9. The whole idea of what constitutes “recreation” and who does what is fascinating, something I had only ever considered in terms of what I offered my kids or kept them from. As a white middle-class female northside Chicago Obama Democrat, I have heard my Chicago-raised friends’ nostalgia for the local amusement parks of their youth and just watched the demise of a family-owned “Kiddieland” where I took my own kids 20 years ago. (I know what you mean about society’s perception, Kim; one of my favorite younger colleagues told me I reminded her of her “aunties” and I realized she meant it in a good way & didn’t see how marginalizing that view is to me!) No one has mentioned the drive-in movie as part of this whole mix of faded summer escapes.

    When I saw the crown jewels in London many years ago, my first reaction was that they didn’t look any more glamorous or impressive in their cases than the paste I was accustomed to seeing on TV or in the movies, and of course today’s virtual worlds have brought us far more such experiences.

    “Reality TV” is another sleazy/safe form of escape that seems to have mass appeal; that tension is somewhat, sometimes necessary for some people, perhaps another version of the thrill of a roller coaster or whitewater rafting to get the adrenalin going. (Perhaps you can guess that this mix hold no attraction for me.) With our online & media experiences ever more “real”, does that set a higher bar for the actual experiences that people crave—or make us content with/forced to accept Hollywood or someone else’s “organized experience” of what is supposed to be fun?

    I am looking forward to our safe, organized experience that begins in less than a week!

  10. So this week’s reading has made me realize a contradiction in myself. On the one hand, I’ve gone through my life with no experience of or interest in amusement parks – never went to one as a child (I did go to the annual state fair) and raised three children without ever accompanying them to one – my parents took them to Disneyworld, friends to Six Flags, school to one outside of Charlotte, NC. I remember dropping them off at one outside of Williamsburg and then spending the day myself reading at a campsite).

    But on the other hand, I’m fascinated by world’s fairs (have walked all over the site of the White City and the 1904 “Meet Me in St Louis” fair – the way other people walk around Civil War battlegrounds) and by Coney Island – nostalgia, romance, exoticism. So I really enjoyed this week’s reading – didn’t know anything about Fred Thompson or that Luna Park was basically our first amusement park. So much more can be said in one chapter of a book than in an hour lecture. I was fascinated by all the connections Register made – to Pilgrims’ Progress, the Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, Thomas Edison, capitalism! And was a little shocked by G. Stanley Hall’s focus on white males. As for Steeplechase, I’d always thought it was one of Brooklyn’s early racetracks. Here’re some pictures:
    http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/community/blogosphere/bloggers/2008/01/16/steeplechase-luna-park-and-dreamland/ What a soap-opera, heart-breaking story of its demise.

    Yesterday two of my daughters biked from Red Hook to Coney Island – they couldn’t tell much difference between the old midway and this one. The lines made going on the rides prohibitive. Two days ago – as a birthday adventure – I introduced my 2-year-old granddaughter to the merry-go-round at Bryant Park. No lines. She rode it 8 times. As we finally walked back toward the subway, she said, “Very much fun.

  11. As I was reading Register’s work I couldn’t help but relate it to what we had read previously, specifically Haw’s work on the Brooklyn Bridge and McCully’s and Levinson’s work on the changed estuaries.

    In essence, there are two anchors to Brooklyn: Luna Park and all that comes after it, and the Brooklyn Bridge. One is fantastical and chimerical; the other imposing and gigantic. One is made of “lath and plaster,” the other of stone and mortar. While the one is meant for the moment and the individual, the other has come to stand for posterity and symbolic of what a nation can do. While they seem to stand at such opposite extremes they were really only two decades apart. One has to ask: what changed so much in such a short period of time. And as Register has illustrated, the consumer-driven culture, the “me, me” at all costs has proven to be the one with the longest legs (even given the seedy demise of Coney Island that Denson illustrates). It is hard to think of what we, our generations now, have built that will stand the test of time as the Brooklyn Bridge has. Yet we can all relate to the “here-and-now” philosophy that Thompson picked up on and Disney is running with. The illusion has supplanted the beauty of stone and cable (and I will admit, as a union carpenter who has worked on numerous bridges in Connecticut, what I worked on lacks the beauty and imagination of the Brooklyn Bridge).

    What is really troubling is the way we have purposefully changed our environment in order to meet our desires. Backfilling the estuaries and tidal lands around Coney Island was tragic enough. But to read about the millions of gallons of toxic pollution and the billions of gallons of gray water that moved (and in some cases still moves) through the Hudson River and New York harbor is truly disturbing. Humans had nibbled at the edges when the Lenape lived there, feasting off its bounty. The Europeans thought nothing of making even more drastic changes, but still partook of its bounty. But the rapidity of change in the post-Civil War era is astounding. Now, there is no more bounty. And as Levinson illustrates with the construction of Ports Newark and Elizabeth, the tidal zones were seen as obstacles that could be surmounted in order to promote the consumer culture even further. But as McCully illustrates, there are powerful processes at play and in the end Mother Nature will again strike a balance.

    • The French Sociologist Baudrillard suggests that culture today focuses on simulation and not reality. For entertainment, we choose hyperreality where simulation is more riveting than ordinary life. Luna Park launched this direction 100 years ago and today we embrace online gaming as well as the casino and Disney. Baudrillard argues that we settle for power in virtual reality because we have less and less power in our actual lives. For the duality you present–the two anchors of Brooklyn–we are actually building fewer and fewer Brooklyn Bridges these days. Even the space program seems to be moving from the realm of the real today to a topic for virtual reality tomorrow.

  12. Since more than one person mentioned the elephant riding down the slide photo, I will mention this odd morbid fact. Topsy the elephant was electrocuted at Luna Park and it was filmed by Thomas Edison , you can easily find it online.

  13. One more time with feeling…again, my comment isn’t popping up so I’m reposting it:

    Recently, I’ve seen a lot of black and white footage of Steeplechase and the original Luna Park on the news in the weeks leading up to the reopening of the New Luna Park. Register makes clear that the purpose of Luna Park was for middle class grown men who work every day to have a place to go to act like children. The news footage for Steeplechase looks like it had the same goal in mind (even though the Denson passage focuses more on the behind-the-scenes decline rather than the birth of the park).

    Fred Thompson’s theme song could have been a version of the jingle for Toys-R-Us–I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Luna Park Kid. His jolly frolicking around the park seems like a great job. I’m not so sure, however, the elephants were having such a good time (I’m referring to the picture of the elephant sliding down the water slide in Register’s book).

    The new Luna Park does not have the same goal as the old one. The target audience is not men and women in their Sunday best stepping out to become children and have romantic rendevous. ( http://wp.me/pU81y-1n ). The target is families who have a few bucks to spend for single rides or $20 for unlimited rides within a time limit. The target is children and teens as several of you have already pointed out. The new target makes the whole idea of Luna Park a little less nostalgic and a little more like other kinds of amusement parks. Sure Disney boasts a place where an adult can become a child again, but that doesn’t quite have the same nostalgia as the little-amusement-park-that-could does in Coney Island.

    Luna Park and Steeplechase were special not only because of their target audience, but because of where they were and how they became an integral part of the Brooklyn waterfront. Evidence of that is in the Denson passage, when he describes how Bill Nicholson was left to explain to the public that not all of Coney Island was closed simply because one of the amusement parks closed ( http://wp.me/pU81y-1q ).

    Beyond the readings, personal experience lies. I’ve been to Coney Island three times…and each time has left me with a special memory. (For some sappy memories: ( http://wp.me/pU81y-1s ).When I revisit Coney Island with this group, I’m sure I’ll make new memories that are as unique as CI is.

  14. My sense on this topic is that the Dominant Social Paradigm (DSP) in America in the “next best thing” is always better. Newer is better. With this mindset and mindframe, I am not sure there is an easy solution to situations like Coney Island. Part of the challenge might just be that America is relatively a young nation and as time goes, it will learn the values and pitfalls of the old. In other words, “new” is not always best.

  15. I’d like to echo tdelaney’s comments. I see the commonality between these readings is the way humans change their environments.

    I guess people have a need to control their environment, maybe for childhood reasons, or to exert their own power and authority. Once realizing that need, though, I would hope people could make changes to improve their environments rather than creating more polluted tidal pools.

    As for Register’s piece, I read it while grading essays on Cheap Amusements, a book that includes a segment about how working class women enjoyed Coney Island’s delights. His gendered point of view describes how the Thompson intended it to be used, but I wonder how the people who went there saw the park. If there were no pretty women, would the men have come anyway? What good is Peter Pan without an adoring Wendy to validate the masculine prowess?

    • I had similar questions about how different people understood their experience of the park, particularly women.

      On another Coney Island note–if anyone coming to the second week arrives a day early, you might want to check out the Mermaid Parade–http://www.coneyisland.com/mermaid.shtml

  16. Michele Kremers

    I think Luna Park is an excellent idea in keeping families who want some fun or amusement in thier back yard. This economy is tough on families, who I am sure, have cut back on taking trips to expensive theme parks. Therefore, it seems that Luna Park has filled the niche of keeping it local.

    With no entrance fee and a “pay-as-you-go” type of ride tickets or bracelet, the park is perfect for families. Adults can join their children and not have to get on those “scary” rides 😉

    I’m looking forward to our visit to Coney Island.

  17. From the readings it seems as if a niche certainly was filled by Luna Park. It was a novelty and a form of entertainment that encouraged adult social interaction, when novelty and adult social interaction were highly sought after and valued. Today, there are many additional options for adult entertainment (and interaction), as was mentioned in earlier posts. Novelty is still desired, but travel to “other worlds” is much easier and accessible to many more American people than when Luna was built. My perception is that people fear law suits and crazy people more today than then. If the new Luna Park succeeds, I would guess it would be by making virtually risk-free rides that are inexpensive and aimed at much younger audiences, attending the park with chaperones and in groups. Surely, investors in the Park performed extensive market research before embarking on the project, so likely, it will be a success!

  18. While I enjoyed all of the above comments, special thanks to Denise for the link to the footage of the opening of the new park, to Dianne for the song video, and to Jean for the photos of Steeplechase. One thing that struck me in the reading was that this was the beginning of the “pleasure principle” as a constitutional right that so pervades our culture today. Once again my thoughts went to how the “new is better” gotta-have-it mentality is especially true with technology today, perhaps led by young people but increasingly true of “middle-aged” people as well. Replacing cell phones, computers, etc., simply because a slightly improved model is out that can do more has gotten so common. When I see people “playing with” their electronic devices, it seems that such “Wow, look at this” behavior is our new style of fun.

    I was very intrigued by the gender aspect of the original conception of Luna Park. When I look at magazines like Maxim (as part of an assignment I give in my women’s studies course) and other cultural messages to young men about what it means to be the right kind of male, I see lots of similarities. There’s a strong theme to young men of “Don’t grow up and be responsible” and instant gratification, and many young men seem to take that to heart. When in my women’s studies classes we compare magazine messages to young men to the kinds of messages sent to young women and to older women in magazines such as Cosmo or Ladies Home Journal, one of the contrasts we find is that men get a message about their right to leisure that particularly older women don’t get. (And that actually holds true even in magazines such as Playboy, Esquire, GQ, etc., to an older male demographic.) I see in my male and female college students some evidence that such social messages have been internalized as well.

    I was also very intrigued by the “treating” system that seems a milder version of the monetary exchange of prostitution. A comparison to today might be the trends of breast flashing and/or two girls kissing in public in bars and other places to get free drinks or male attention.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the new Luna Park but have to agree that it doesn’t appear to be as visually interesting or distinctive as the original. Just from what I’ve seen, it could be an amusement park in my home state of Iowa.

  19. I’ve been trying to muster up some interest in Coney Island. I’ve never been a willing amusement park goer and I’m wary of anything that smacks of invented nostalgia. As regards, Coney Island, though, I’m willing to put aside my prejudices (ugh, Nathan’s!) and try to find a way inside. Thinking about Freud’s visit via the work done by Zoe Beloff at the Coney Island Museum has been a help: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/26/arts/design/26strau.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

    More of Zoe Beloff can be found at UBUWEB: http://www.ubu.com/film/beloff.html

    • Zoe Beloff is fantastic. I liked the Dream of the Lonely Chicken and The Society Studies Itself best. Thanks for adding this link.

  20. Addell Austin Anderson

    At the age of 19, one summer I lived and worked at an amusement park – Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio. Reading about Luna Park brought back quite a few memories for me that were enlightened by Woody Register’s scholarship. In my experience, playgrounds designed to appeal to males also brings about an inhibited aggressive quality in boys and men that appears sanctioned by the amusement park environment.

    I cannot say I am impressed by the plans or goals for the recently opened Luna Park. However, my former experience may have soured me beyond the point of being able to be objective.

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