February 10, 2015
Amusing the Million Paper
In John Kasson’s book Amusing The Million; Kasson creates an image of Coney Island that is an escape from the increasingly urban lifestyle where people were expected to follow strict social codes of conduct. Throughout the nineteenth century a polite and courteous norm was considered as the ‘official’ culture of America. This proper group of reformers took matters into their own hands to try to control and end the debauchery caused by the public. These reformers built museums and libraries to influence a culture based on integrity and morality.
Kasson, however, points out that this social disagreement is never fully installed into American society do to the large range of different people and their cultural beliefs. Although these reformists do try to sway the growing population to spend their free time in a way that reflected the social peace and order they wished to see, the new urban public turned to Coney Island since it was a dream world that showed the reserve of what the genteel reformers wanted. “..Coney Island celebrated particularly the sexual aspect of this freedom, the “naughtiness” of violating customary proprieties” (Kasson 47). As seen in the picture on page 49 of Amusing The Million; not only did people love Coney Island because of the hot dogs, funnel cakes, roller coasters, brass bands, or even the endless beer gardens; it was because they could explore the emerging exotic amusements and not be judged for it. Kasson states “In the later nineteenth century, an assertive new economic elite arose with less intimate ties to the custodians of culture” (Kasson 5). These were the wealthier people of the time, who had a large impact in culture because of their economic pull. Some genteel reformers successfully formed alliances with these new elitists but overall the new rich class eclipsed the genteel progress.
Coney Island is acknowledged in the fact that it was a very important institution in the rise and overall success of the new urban society and overthrow of the non-genteel interests of the public. To prove this point, Kasson compares the two most important projects during the turn of the century: Central Park in New York, and the Columbian Exposition in Chicago; also known as the world’s fair. “Despite important differences in philosophy and form, the two projects represented an effort to provide cultural leadership for an urban-industrial society; to present a model of social order..” (Kasson 11). He described the reformation using the opinions from Frederick Law Olmstead. Olmstead saw the recklessness of the public due to narrow-minded interests, so he designed Central Park as a rural escape in the urban environment. The park provided a serene environment boasting the scenery of woods, hills and lakes that otherwise could not be found in the city.
Although Olmstead’s original plan for the park was to refine social leisure to a calm and relaxing norm, there were still limitations to his overall goal. “..Central Park proved enormously popular, attracting an average of 30,000 visitors a day…the park was located so far uptown that great majority of citizens could only afford the expenses on special occasion” (Kasson 15). Olmstead was originally not worried about the location due to the continuous settlement of the northern parts of the city, but soon became overturned due to political takeovers, which clashed with the original plans for the park. These takeovers allowed the park to have accommodations such as merry-go-rounds, baseball fields, and firework displays that were never in the original plans for the park’s calm and subtle environment.
Next, Kasson observed the Columbian Exposition, which like Central Park, was not executed as originally planned. The world’s fair was originally designed to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of America’s discovery with its vision of social and cultural...
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