First Resorts: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport and Coney Island

Overview

"At the dawn of the nineteenth century, Saratoga Springs hosted no more than a thousand hardy travelers yearly, Newport floundered in the midst of a fifty-year commercial decline, and Coney Island's beach resembled a wind-swept wilderness. A hundred years later, the number of summer visitors to Saratoga had increased a hundredfold, the antics of high society at Newport transfixed America, and at least five million pleasure seekers visited Coney annually. 'Those who talk of the mushroom growth of our Western cities,' declared an astounded writer

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First Resorts: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport, and Coney Island

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Overview

"At the dawn of the nineteenth century, Saratoga Springs hosted no more than a thousand hardy travelers yearly, Newport floundered in the midst of a fifty-year commercial decline, and Coney Island's beach resembled a wind-swept wilderness. A hundred years later, the number of summer visitors to Saratoga had increased a hundredfold, the antics of high society at Newport transfixed America, and at least five million pleasure seekers visited Coney annually. 'Those who talk of the mushroom growth of our Western cities,' declared an astounded writer for Harper's Weekly in 1878, 'might better spend their wonder and enthusiasm upon our Eastern watering-place.'" -- From the Introduction

In First Resorts: Pursuing Pleasure at Saratoga Springs, Newport, and Coney Island, Jon Sterngass follows three of the best-known northeastern American resorts across a century of change. Saratoga Springs, Newport, and Coney Island began, he finds, as similar pleasure destinations, each of them featuring "grand" hotels where visitors swarmed public spaces such as verandas, dining rooms, and parlors. As the century progressed, however, Saratoga remained much the same, while Newport turned to private (and lavish) "cottages" and Coney Island shifted its focus to amusements for the masses.

Fifty-nine illustrations enliven Sterngass's unique study of the commodification of pleasure that occurred as capitalist values flourished, travel grew more accessible, and leisure time became democratized. These three resorts, he argues, served as forerunners of twentieth-century pleasure cities such as Aspen, Las Vegas, and Orlando.

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Editorial Reviews

Kathryn Allamong Jacob
Sterngass's discussions about privacy, community, commercialization, consumption, leisure, and the desire to be conspicuous are important and new. With its well-chosen illustrations, this is a handsome book as well as an important one.
Lena Lencek
Jon Sterngass's First Resorts is to cultural history what Roland Barthes's Système de la mode was to fashion: a fiercely intelligent, scrupulously researched and beautifully crafted account of how nineteenth-century Americans went in search of health, rest, and diversion, and, in the process, invented holiday destinations as 'virtual holy centers for a secular society.' Erudite, inventive, and engrossing, Sterngass's analysis of three paradigmatic resorts uncovers unsuspected depths, complexities, and significance in social practices all too often dismissed as 'frivolous' and 'marginal.' In short, First Resorts should be first on reading list of everyone who is worn down by fatigue, work, and the futile race with time.
Booknews
Sterngass (Union College, Schenectady, New York) first looks at the three 19th-century resorts as quasi-democratic arenas in which nearly anyone could hide behind disguises and try to decode those of others. Then he charts their transformation during the early 20th century as the commercialization and privatization of previously public space restricted the social and personal possibilities to those with the resources for exorbitant consumption. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801865862
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2001
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 7.34 (w) x 10.44 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Jon Sterngass is a visiting assistant professor at Union College.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Transforming Resorts 1
Ch. 1 The Creation of Saratoga Springs: Taking the City with Us 7
Ch. 2 The Revival of Newport: The Pilgrimage of Fashion 40
Ch. 3 The Rise of Coney Island: Strangers in the Land of the Perpetual Fete 75
Ch. 4 The Public Resort: To See and Be Seen 112
Ch. 5 The Commercialization of Saratoga Springs: Racetracks, Casinos, and Souvenirs 146
Ch. 6 The Privatization of Newport: "Coarseness and Vulgarity Are Never Seen Here" 182
Ch. 7 "That Was Coney As We Loved it, and As the Hand of Satan Was upon it" 229
Conclusion: The Pursuit of Privacy, Profit, and Pleasure 263
Notes 279
Bibliographical Essay 349
Index 359
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