Coney Island: 1930’s Fun on a Budget

 

Edward Laning, Coney Island Beach Scene, 1938, oil on canvas, 35 5/8 x 41 3/4 in. Gift of his family in honor of Mr. Benjamin Cone’s 80th birthday, 1980.

On October 28, 1929, the stock market began its historic sink. By the end of the next day, the market had lost over thirty billion dollars, catapulting the United States and much of the Western world into the Great Depression. The Great Depression affected every aspect of life, from having a house, food, or job to how people spent their free time. Most people no longer participated in the overwhelmingly extravagant parties which had become identified with the 1920s. They now explored more affordable ways of entertainment, from parlor and board games to spectator sports and listening to radio broadcasts.

For many New Yorkers during this time, the best way to relax in the summertime was to go to the beach at Coney Island. The beach was free; just 5 cents for the subway ride was required. The amusements and atmosphere of Coney Island consequently became the subject of numerous artworks. Compare Laning’s painting with a painting by Louis Lozowick, Coney Island, from 1935:

Laning’s painting portrays the frivolity of Coney Island while still subtly showing the tense undertones evident during the Great Depression. Lozowick’s piece conveys a much more overt and ominous tone. His painting depicts the darkness and foreboding that permeated all aspects of life at the time, including leisure activities and amusement parks. In contrast, note the similarities between Edward Laning’s painting and this video of New Yorkers at leisure at Coney Island and in city parks.

Meet Me Down at Coney Island (1930)

Which work is most effective communicating the times in your opinion?

Edward Laning’s Coney Island Beach Scene can be seen at the Weatherspoon Art Museum as a part of their Telling Tales: Narratives from the 1930s exhibition in the Gregory D. Ivy Gallery until May 13, 2012.

Post written by Stephanie Krysiak, a second year History Master’s student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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