Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Getting Back to Nature at Coney Island - 1842

Public Amusements.

Most people are willing to concede that an uninterrupted devotion to business--especially if its character be such as to involve great application--is prejudicial to both mental and physical health. We all know that this is true of children, with whom study is generally a most irksome sort of business; and whoever has observed the alacrity with which they apply themselves to a given task, in order that they may sooner get at their play, must be sensible of the great importance--nay, the indispensability, of a large amount of innocent and healthful amusement, in their case, at least...it has long since become a proverb that "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy;" and it is too late, at this day, to question its correctness.

If this be true of small children, we can see no earthly reason why it should not be equally so of large ones; for it is a fact that "men are but children of a larger growth."

I feel like that last line was used in The Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements by Woody Register, but I haven't finished the book, and couldn't find the quote. It certainly sums up Register's thesis in Chapter 1, though.

The same paragraph continues:
"When I was a child," says the apostle, "I thought as a child, I spake as a child," &c., "but when I became a man, I put away childish things."--That is, if we rightly understand the language, he no longer drove the hoop, shot marbles, flyed kites, (not even after the Wall street fashion,) hunted birds' nests, played "hookey," and chased butterflies, with eyes nearly starting from their sockets with excitement, and his long, silken tresses streaming in the breeze;--(for it was not the custom to rob the children's heads of their beautiful locks in those days,) but instead threof, traversed the mountains and vallies of Judea, communed with the God of Nature, and, catching inspiration from the multiplied objects of sublimity and beauty by which he was surrounded, became the better qualified for promulgating the pure doctrines of Christian benevolence.

But while all may not hope to follow closely in the apostle's track, they may and should snatch a few hours every day from the arduous pursuits of life for purposes of recreation....

Frankly, I don't think Paul's words go along with the idea that we need to spend some time away (and am not sure it means we shouldn't fly kites!). But anyway, the article continues to argue how great it is to get away from business and retreat to natural places.

Besides, in juxtaposition with all our large cities and towns, there are numerous pleasure-grounds, as yet unshorn of their primeval beauties, and which the hand of the utilitarian has not been permitted to desecrate. Thither the toiling multitude may resort, for a mere nominal sum, plunge into the very depths of natural sublimity and grandeur, and hold sweet communion with Nature, as she came from the hand of the great Architect. What would New York be without Hoboken, Staten Island, Coney Island, and Rockaway...

--Brooklyn Eagle, June 17, 1842

Amazing to think that people used to visit Coney Island to take in some of nature's beauty. OK, granted, the ocean is awfully nice, but by the early 20th century there were numerous amusement parks and stand-alone amusements, and the island was easily getting over 100,000 visitors a Sunday. Not really a restful place of primeval beauty.

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