America Learns to Play: A History of Popular Recreation, 1607-1940

By Foster Rhea Dulles | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XX
THE GREAT AMERICAN BAND-WAGON

THE AMERICAN PUBLIC THROUGHOUT ITS HISTORY HAS BEEN carried away by successive crazes. The tremendous popularity of dancing in the middle of the eighteenth century was remarked upon by many European visitors, while the Marquis de Chastellux was amazed by Boston's "passion" for whist in the 1780's. The mid-nineteenth century witnessed enthusiastic vogues for phrenology, balloon ascensions, minstrel shows, pedestrian races, and the phenomenon of "Lindomania." In the decades after the Civil War we have seen the fashionable frenzy with which new outdoor pastimes were adopted by society, the epidemics of croquet, roller-skating, and lawn tennis which spread so rapidly over the land. And in the 1890's this same instinct to take up whatever was new or different, to rush hurriedly along untrodden ways, was evident in the tremendous growth of fraternal organizations and women's clubs, in the avidity with which the public welcomed refined vaudeville, and in the interest excited by amateur photography, John L. Sullivan, band concerts, and bicycling.

The twentieth century found an even more susceptible public taking up with still greater vehemence new fads and fancies. Entirely apart from the enthusiastic reception given such major amusements as the movies, automobile touring, or the radio, and the welcome accorded the new sports still to be considered, it rushed through a succession of varied diversions with an intensity born of the feverish pace of modern life. In the ballyhoo years of the 'twenties this zest for novelties had become almost a mania. "One of the most striking characteristics of the era of

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