Games People Played

Salem, Massachusetts, is rooted deep in the stony New England heritage of America. The capacious and functional houses that ringed the common remain, superbly maintained reminders of their prosperous Yankee history. So does Nathaniel Hawthorne’s dark and brooding House of the Seven Gables, looking as if Matthew Maule’s curse could still be lurking in its secret passage. And, of course, there are Salem’s famous witches- nineteen of them hanged in 1692. Read more »

The Late, Late Frontier

What started as fun and games at spring roundups is now a multi-million-dollar sport called rodeo

The crowd roars. The bell clangs. The chute gate swings wide and a beleaguered animal dashes into the arena to put on an exciting exhibition of pain and panic.

The rodeo is presented as a colorful epic of the cattle industry in the days of the Chisholm Trail, evoking the sturdy moral values of frontier life or, as the Pendleton (Oregon) Round-Up recently rephrased the idea, “Four Big Days of Fun in the Ol’ West.” But what is rodeo, really? Read more »

More Sock And Less Buskin

In the hands of a rococo Yankee named Clyde Fitch, the American stage came of age with a gasp of scandalized shock

The first-night audience that poured out of Wallack’s Theatre in 1900 must have appreciated the cold February air, for they had just watched a thoroughly shocking play. Sapho , an American adaptation of a minor French novel, had burst upon the New York theatre like a thunderclap. The after-theatre crowds at Rector’s and Delmonico’s gabbled excitedly about what were the most explicit love scenes ever seen on the New York stage. Read more »

Houdini’s High-flying Hoax

Harry Houdini, the American magician and escape artist who became famous in the first quarter of this century, spent a great deal of his time exposing frauds. He insisted that all his own marvellous tricks were just that, accomplished entirely without supernatural assistance; he also exposed numerous “spiritualists” whose claims to otherworldly connections were hoaxes of one kind or another. Over the years he built up a tremendous reputation for uncompromising honesty.Read more »

Once More On To The Beach

Pilgrims and Puritans, naturally, hated the water, but by the turn of the century certain pleasures had been rediscovered

For some two hundred years the Europeans who planted themselves on our Atlantic shoreline turned their backs on the sea or merely farmed it. Those who did not head west for new lands remained to mow the salt hay, harvest the beach plums, fish for the sacred cod, or rake up oysters from East Jersey’s abundant beds. Beaches were simply convenient places for digging clams, drying fish, or landing cargoes without the inhibiting presence of customs officers. But the seashore was scarcely thought of as a pleasure ground. Read more »

When The Forty-niners Went Sixty

They had no chair lifts, and they called their skis snowshoes, but they were the fastest men alive

What may come as a surprise is that this swell swoop has been going on for over a century. It was just about a hundred years ago that a relatively unsung hero named Tommy Todd, of Howland Flat, California, was clocked at fourteen seconds for 1,806 feet from a standing start—which averages out to well over eighty-seven miles an hour. Since this was at a time when even crack express trains hadn’t made eighty miles an hour yet, there is every reason to think that Tommy was the fastest man alive in 1870. Read more »

All Join In The Chorus

For almost two decades at the turn of the century illustrated songs charmed nickelodeon audiences.

It is nearly a half-century now since there occurred one of the swifter but less regrettable casualties of American culture—the passing of a form of professional entertainment known as the illustrated song. A strange phenomenon native to music halls, dime museums, vaudeville, and the early, early silent movies, the song play, as it was billed in places with pretensions, enjoyed a brief but unforgettable craze during the first dozen years of this century.

The Master Showman Of Coney Island

On the theory that the greatest show is people, George Tilyou turned a rich man’s resort into a playground for the masses

On every warm summer week end on Coney Island a great swarm of people may be found heading for a slow-moving line that leads always to the same entertainment device. Typically, they will wait nearly an hour to enjoy a ride that lasts for perhaps one mildly exhilarating minute, fudged as a thrill, the ride packs about as much punch as a cup of cambric tea.Read more »