Sunday, April 5, 2015

Slumming on Coney Island on a Sunday in 1930

On a summer Sunday, more than a million people sometimes visited Coney Island. Photo by Weegee.

To the fastidious Lanny Budd the worst thing of all was their emptiness of mind. They had come for a holiday, and wanted to be entertained, and there was a seemingly endless avenue of devices contrived for the purpose. For prices from a dime up, you could be lifted on huge revolving wheels, or whirled around sitting on brightly colored giraffes and zebras; you could ride in tiny cars which bumped into one another, you could walk in dark tunnels which were a perpetual earthquake, or in bright ones where sudden breezes whipped up the women’s skirts and made them scream; you could be frightened by ghosts and monsters — in short, you could have a thousand fantastic things done to you, all expressive of the fact that you were an animal and not a being with a mind, you could be humiliated and made ridiculous, but rarely indeed on Coney Island could you be uplifted or inspired or taught any useful thing. Lanny took this nightmare place as an embodiment of all the degradations which capitalism inflicted on the swarming millions of its victims. Anything to keep them from thinking.
… (H)e got himself into a red-hot argument with a carload of his young companions, who had drawn their own conclusions from this immersion in carnality. Irma, who monopolized a half-mile of ocean front, was disgusted that anyone should be content to squat upon ten or a dozen square feet of it. Her childhood playmate, Babs Lorimer, whose father had once had a “corner” in wheat, drew political conclusions from the spectacle and wondered how anybody could conceive of the masses having anything to say about the running of government. “Noodles” Winthrop — his name was Newton — whose widowed mother collected a small fraction of a cent from everyone who rode to Coney Island on a street railway, looked at the problem biologically, and said he couldn’t imagine how such ugly creatures survived, or why they desired to.
—  From “Dragon’s Teeth” by Upton Sinclair

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