What had been a wasteland of sand dunes on the Brooklyn oceanfront became the nation's playground for decades, and as historian David McCullough notes while introducing this documentary, "There had been other amusement parks, but there was only one Coney Island." At its peak in the early decades of the 20th century, Coney Island actually boasted three enormous amusement parks, and their stories, and the stories of some of the millions of revelers who flocked to them, are beautifully told in this film by Ric Burns. Combining well-chosen archival photographs with poignant excerpts from letters and diaries, Burns explores the nation's fascination for Coney Island in some depth. Vintage films of rides that appear too treacherous to exist in our own litigious society are amusing, but as befits an episode of PBS's American Experience
, there is also some serious discussion of how reformers felt a playground for crowded city dwellers was a necessary component of a healthy society. Coney Island was a zany place, and glimpses of the rides at Steeplechase Park, the amazing lighted rooftops at Luna Park, and the bizarre entertainments at Dreamland (such as a staged tenement fire, which blazed twice daily) provide a wistful look at a vanished American past. --Robert J. McNamara
From the Back Cover
An "Electric Eden"--"fabulous beyond conceiving"--"ineffably beautiful"--"Sodom by the Sea." To the millions who poured into the mesmerizing seaside amusement empire as the twentieth century dawned, Coney Island was all this and more. The birthplace of the hot dog and the roller coaster--and the most dazzling laboratory of mass culture the world has ever seen--Coney Island and its three extraordinary amusement parks, Steeplechase, Luna Park, and Dreamland, delighted visitors with the largest herd of show elephants in the world, a spectacular trip to the moon, and infant incubator, and Lilliputia, a miniature town inhabited by 300 midgets. This elegant and absorbing documentary film chronicles the greatest amusement empire the world has ever seen from its emergence in the mid-1800s through its demise after World War II.