Coney Island : the limits and possibilities of leisure in turn of the century American culture
AbstractThesis (M.A.L.S.)--Georgetown University, 2011.; Includes bibliographical references.; Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format. Coney Island's location near Manhattan, its wide beaches, and its unique mix of high- and low-brow leisure amusements made it a popular destination for New York City's wealthy and poor throughout the 1880s. Crooked politics and iniquitous attractions--brothels, gambling dens, and saloons--alienated the middle class and degraded Coney's reputation in these years. As a result, Coney Island ("Coney") became the target of spirited "anti-vice" sentiment and early progressive reform movements that swelled locally among middle class citizens and limited their participation in leisure there. In 1895, in pursuit of middle class patrons, developers created an entirely new brand of attraction at Coney's core: the enclosed amusement park. These parks represent a concerted effort to lure New York City's middle class, which consisted of ordinary, educated, Protestant men and women, to Coney Island. By targeting middle class patrons, these private, gated parks extended the possibilities of leisure to them in new ways. Between 1895 and 1911, a series of these enclosed amusement parks became increasingly popular among middle class patrons, who came in throngs every week, in spite of a solid anti-vice reform movement that persisted there. It is the purpose of this study to closely examine leisure culture and the middle class as reformers and patrons of Coney Island's development, to show that these seemingly contradictory roles were emblematic of changing middle class values. While reform efforts were part of a growing desire for moral transformation and change, the enclosed amusement parks offered a similar feeling of transcendence. Most explicitly, this study shows how commercial enterprise, through the enclosed amusement parks, evolved middle class values, trumped the influence of reformers, and laid the foundation for the rise of the twentieth century's culture of middle class consumerism.
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