Jonathan Salem Baskin

Park Place

Today, a park got its theme.

The very premise of an “amusement park” requires that potential visitors possess the time, money, and inclination to be thereby amused. Parks, primarily hunting reserves, were for the exclusive use of the rich going far back into the Middle Ages. There were “fairs” for peasants dating back to holidays celebrated in Roman times; the Bartholomew Fair was held every August 24 just outside the City of London starting in 1133, though these fairs were as much about commerce (and community conversation) as they were entertainment. It simply wasn’t possible for common folk to regularly habituate a place where the purpose was only diversionary fun.

Things changed with the Industrial Revolution, which simultaneously demanded workers’ time but gave them time off as  partial payback. “Pleasure gardens” popped into existence across Europe, the most famous in London being Vauxhall Gardens, and Coney Island in America. By the end of the 19th century, there were 65 such parks in London, and as many as 2,000 across the US, where expansion often trailed  the rollout of electrification. Trolley lines gave workers the ability to get to far-away park destinations (and using the leftover electricity on weekends inspired park creation, such as The Ravinia Festival near my own home, which was founded in 1904 to use up excess capacity of the Chicago & Milwaukee Electric Railroad). It was on this day a year earlier that Milton S. Hershey, founder of the Hershey Chocolate Company, designated a site near his factory for the exclusive recreational use of his employees. The park added roller coasters and fun houses over the years, and is open to anybody today.

Is community a prerequisite of amusement, or is amusement a contributor to community?