Sunday, November 23, 2008

Call Me Up In Dreamland

I just finished reading Dreamland, Kevin Baker's novel of turn-of-the-20th Century New York. While it was overlong and had at least one plot line that could have been dropped altogether, Dreamland provides a fascinating, almost impressionistic view of the Jewish ghetto in lower Manhattan, combining politics, crime, and union organizing. The characterizations -- a typical mix of historic and fictional figures -- are strong; anyone with an interest in this time and place should enjoy Dreamland.

In addition to the Manhattan locale, much of the novel is set in Dreamland, a fantastical Coney Island amusement built in 1904 that lasted until its destruction by fire in 1911. Exhibits included premature babies living in incubators, which at the time had not been approved for use in hospitals. It also included a town populated by midgets, complete with its own fire department. I found a set of period postcards at this web site featuring Dreamland sites and attractions. When it comes to amusement parks, they don't make 'em like they used to. Start with the entrance:

This attraction showed off modern fire-fighting techniques and included acrobats jumping to safety. Immigrants crammed into crowded ghettos feared fire above all other dangers.

The midget city (above) included its own fire department:

Last night, Premium T. and watched The Court Jester, a 1955 classic musical comedy with Danny Kaye. The laughs (and there are plenty of them) derived from word play, puns, and the kind of physical comedy that has become a lost art. Just watch this scene in which court jester Kaye is knighted against his will:

That's Angela Lansbury as Princess Gwendolyn and an exquisitely lovely Glynis Johns (Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins) as Kaye's love interest, Maid Jean.


Ima Pissdov said...

Ohhhhh, I LOVE these postcards!! It was the first Disneyland, to be sure!!

K. said...

Go to the web site and check out the ones of Luna Park, Dreamland's competitor. It was equally amazing.