Because the distinction was not always clear between an actor dressed like a sailor with a false tattoo on his forearm and a real sailor with a real tattoo, or an actress with rouged cheeks and brazen eyes strutting along the booth-lined alleys and a factory girl from Brooklyn wearing a new chinchilla coat and a straw hat with a pillow plume, a certain heady confusion was experienced by the park’s patrons, who began to feel that they too were actors and actresses disguised as seamstresses, schoolteachers, department-store clerks, typists, and shopkeepers—roles that they no longer took as seriously as they did in that other world of work and tiredness.
It is nevertheless true that the brief history of Paradise Park, when separated from legend, may lead even the most cautious historian to wonder whether certain kinds of pleasure, by their very nature, do not seek more and more extreme forms until, utterly exhausted but unable to rest, they culminate in the black ecstasy of annihilation.
Each park, the argument ran, carried the idea of the amusement park to a greater extreme. This remained true even of the failed park, which, despite its rejection of the mechanical ride, moved in the direction of newer and more intense pleasures. The history of Sarabee’s parks, Burchard argued, was nothing less than an uninterrupted movement in a single direction, of which Devil’s Park was not simply the latest but also the final development. For here Sarabee had dared to incorporate into his park an element that threatened the very existence of that curious institution of mass pleasure known as the amusement park: namely, an absence of limits. After this there could be no further parks, but only acts of refinement and elaboration, since any imaginable step forward could result only in the complete elimination of the idea of an amusement park.
his showmanship, his shrewd sense of what was pleasing to crowds, his painstaking effort to adjust his inventions in the direction of wider and wider audiences, were only the practical and necessary expression of a cause he thoroughly believed in.
Sarabee […] had always enjoyed the pleasurable sense that his dreams and inspirations were encouraged by the outer world, were so to speak confirmed and made possible by something outside himself that was greater than himself—namely, the mass of other people who recognized in his embodied dream their own vague dreams, who showered him with money as a sign of their pleasure, and for whom he was, in a way, dreaming.
In the world of commercial amusement, success is measured in profit; but it is also measured in something less tangible, which may be called approval, or esteem, or fame, but which is really a measure of the world’s compliance in permitting a private dream to become a public fact.
It was in this sense that technology and morality became related issues, for a mass audience accustomed to violent mechanical pleasures was in danger of growing dissatisfied with the routines of everyday life and especially with their jobs, a dissatisfaction that in turn was bound to lead to a desire for more extreme forms of release. [… ] The unsigned article concluded by wondering whether this abiding restlessness was not the true aim of the great amusement-park showman, in whose interest it was to create an audience perpetually hungry for the unfruitful pleasures he knew so well how to provide.
The sense that the rides were, in a controlled way, out of control, that they were exceeding bounds, that they were imitating nightmarish breakdowns while remaining perfectly safe, all this proved intoxicating to the crowds, who at the same time were urged to a feverish carnival spirit by the winking electric lights, the artificial night sky, the crash of artificial waves, the sense of a vast underground adventure not bound by the rules of ordinary parks.