The gates of an amusement park are a portal to a magical realm of thrill rides and fantasy worlds, larger-than-life characters, and the best portable foods on the planet. (We’re looking at you, corn dogs and kettle corn!)
And it’s been that way since the beginning. The first quasi-amusement park entertained revelers in 1133 with merry-go-rounds, extravagant stage shows, gingerbread, sausages, and dancing in the streets. All that merriment made it easy to forget it was meant to honor St. Bartholomew.
Eventually, the rides got bigger (and faster and more hair-raising), the shows more over-the-top, and the spectacle more spectacular. Roller coasters! Carousels! Tilt-a-Whirls! Mickey and Donald and Cinderella! Legos! Quidditch! Funnel cakes! Turkey legs! And fireworks!
In this episode, we take a fast romp through the history of amusement parks and celebrate the magical world of Walt Disney, then we recommend five books that took us to amusement parks on the page, including a comedy-thriller set in Helsinki, a nonfiction exploration of delight, a dystopian disaster tale, and historical mysteries set in 1915 Chicago and 1911 Coney Island.
Read the full transcript of Amusement Parks: Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!.
Perhaps you’d like to listen to some carousel music while you dig into these links.
And some photos to set the scene…
Scott Lukas is a cultural anthropologist who studies theme parks. His website offers a bunch of free downloads of his work, including articles on theme, sense of place, and the power of amusement parks.
The website for Tivoli Gardens, with exotic architecture, historic buildings, and lush gardens, plus 9 Things You Need To Know About Denmark’s Playground.
Download the wonderfully grouchy (and beautifully written) essay ‘Boredom’ by Maxim Gorky that he wrote after he visited Coney Island in 1906.
Hear Dave talk about the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 (a.k.a., Chicago World’s Fair) in our episode Chicago: Baseball, Hot Dogs, Industry, and Infamy.
Statement 2: Disney has a plan for a park themed around its villains. The park is called ‘The Dark Kingdom.’ Thrillist explains the history of the ‘long-rumored, villain-themed park.
Listen to us talk about books with a strong sense of summer on What Should I Read Next with Anne Bogel.
Amazon Studios is adapting the novel The Rabbit Factor as a star vehicle for Steve Carell.
Listen to our Argentina episode to hear Mel talk about the novel The Gods of Tango (in which a girl dresses as a boy).
More Coney Island fun: Read about the posh hotels on Manhattan Beach — and what it was like to vacation there. Everything you need to know about Dreamland, including its Wikipedia page, history and details of the attractions, and fun historical images. Finally, the 1911 heat wave sounds terrible.
Congratulations! You made it to the end. Here are your rewards:
This is weird and wonderful: a YouTube playlist of carousel music. You’re welcome and sorry.
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