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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Topic: MemoryTopic: ProgressTopic: PeopleTopic: PowerTopic: Empire
Topic: People: Assimilation and the Crucible of the City
Toolbox Overview: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Resource Menu: People
Text 1. The American Metropolis
Text 2. Coney Island
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Text 3. Horatio Alger, Jr., Ragged Dick
Text 4. Lewis W. Hine photographs
Text 5. Jacob Riis, How the Other Lives
Text 6. Anzia Yezierska, Russians
Text 7. Two Wives
Text 8. Lee Chew, The Biography of a Chinaman
Text 9. Exclusion
Text 10. Zitkala-Sa, Native Americans

RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
Luna Park, Coney Island, 1905
Luna Park, Coney Island, 1905
Coney Island
- Thomas A. Edison, Inc., Rube and Mandy at Coney Island, film, 1903
- Frederic Thompson, "Amusing the Million," Everybody's Magazine, September 1908

New York and the photo of State Street suggest a new sort of urban experience. Cities at this time began to offer a new kind of leisure experience, too. At amusement parks people could join the crowds skimming down sliding boards, getting soaked shooting the chutes, and wobbling across rope bridges. The most glittering playland was Luna Park, the "side show" Frederic Thompson and his partner Elmer S. Dundy created on Coney Island in New York City. Amusement parks were the product of American progress. Luna Park, for example, could not have existed without Edison's electric lights, thousands of them. Its boisterous and dizzying "carnival spirit" was the product of Thompson's steady and calculated professionalism. Urbanization put millions of fun-seekers just a streetcar ride away. Mass advertisement drew them to its gates, and the wages of their city jobs got them in. Yet some people worried about the parks. As the adventures of Rube and Mandy demonstrate, the fun and games at Luna Park were not designed to promote gentility. Yet, according to Thompson, attending an amusement park was like frolicking at a Sunday-school picnic. In Everybody's Magazine, "Amusing the Million" appeared alongside articles with titles like "Newport the Maligned," poems like "The Brides of May and September," and short stories like "The Mayor's Honeymoon." Like Rube and Mandy swaying across the rope bridge, Thompson walks a wire trying to convince readers that his perpetual carnival is fit for mothers, sisters, and sweethearts. 9 pages, plus online viewing of the film.

Discussion questions
  1. How does the film clip support or contradict Thompson's article?
  2. Who is the audience for the article?
  3. Who is the audience for Luna Park?
  4. How does Thompson justify an outing to the Park?
  5. Why does he liken an amusement park to a Sunday-school picnic?
  6. What is Thompson's attitude to educational exhibitions, reform, and uplift in general?
  7. What values does Thompson enforce in the Park?
  8. Does Luna Park subvert or support genteel values?
  9. How does Thompson define mainstream American culture?

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Topic Framing Questions
  •  How was the American cultural mainstream defined at this time?
  •  What messages and strategies of socialization did the government and other culture brokers extend to immigrants, African Americans, and Native Americans during this period?
  •  What benefits and costs for these groups were associated with a strategy of assimilation?
  •  How did the city function as a site of assimilation?

Toolbox: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Memory | Progress | People | Power | Empire

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