Introduction

    Coney Island was the biggest, brightest, and most American amusement park in existence at the turn of the century. The sprawling park proved to be fundamental in the development of the rollercoaster, the hotdog, and the new American ethos of fun. Coney Island was the summer safety valve for New York and provided for a release of heat and human energy from the city. New York City was one of the worldís most spectacularly populated metropolises at that time, and on summer weekends thousands of New Yorkers fled out to the beach at Coney to enjoy the sun and sand and seek relief from factory jobs and the dirty air of the city.

A trolley ride from Brooklyn out to Coney Island cost only 5 cents and was a quick 32 minute trip. People rode bicycles to Coney, or took trains, automobiles, and carriages. Another option was combining types of transportation by using ferries and elevated trains to reach New York's favorite summer Sunday retreat. The extension of the subway out to Coney Island in 1920 meant it became an even more accessible destination.

Upon entering the permanent carnival atmosphere of Coney, a rollercoaster ride, a soda, or a Nathanís hotdog could each be had for only 5 cents apiece, lending Coney the nickname "The Nickel Empire." At Coney, itwas always a holiday-no one was celebrating anything in particular, just worshipping fun in what could be called a ìmanaged celebration for commercial ends." Coney Island created its own special world that operated under a different set of social rules and codes. Here strangers were thrown together, the world was tossed upside down, and people from all races, classes, and ethnicities splashed together in the ocean. The people who delighted in Coney's newness, grandness, and electric lightbulbs were not merely emptily enjoying themselves. They were being trained to be consumers and were gently becoming more comfortable with technology. They also got to become part of the show at Coney by being on display themselves, parading about and watching others. While visiting Coney, they were also developing definitions of social normality by comparing themselves to others and to the freaks that were part of the Coney community. Abandoning the 18th century cultural values of hard work, thrift, and sobriety in favor of the consumption of fun, the multitudes at Coney provided a dynamic laboratory for America's emerging pop culture.