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Balmer's Great Atlantic Bathing and Swimming Baths, Coney Island

Irving Underhill

Sea bathing started in eighteenth-century Britain as a fashionable upper-class pursuit of health, an extension of the spa experience. Growing in popularity in the second half of the nineteenth century, especially after the seaside became more accessible through public transportation, sea bathing soon became associated with pleasure more than health and spread to the working classes. Coney Island became a destination for families with a small disposable income and one day of the week free. At the turn of the twentieth century, the high-end hotels had their own facilities on the east end of the island while the west side was lined with bathhouses such as Balmer’s. Visitors paid to use lockers and to get access to the beach, where long ropes attached to poles a hundred feet offshore provided a safer experience in the surf. Public beaches with free access existed only on the far edges of the island. Irving Underhill was one of many successful commercial photographers in the early part of the twentieth century who documented Coney Island for newspapers, magazines, and other clients. These commercial photographers helped to disseminate an image of Coney Island as a capital of leisure.
MEDIUM Gelatin dry glass plate negative
DATES 1906
ACCESSION NUMBER 1996.164.8-B9616
CREDIT LINE Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Irving Underhill (American, 1872–1960). Balmer's Great Atlantic Bathing and Swimming Baths, Coney Island, 1906. Gelatin dry glass plate negative Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection, 1996.164.8-B9616. © artist or artist's estate (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1996.164.8-B9616_glass_SL1.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 1996.164.8-B9616_glass_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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RIGHTS STATEMENT © Estate of Irving Underhill
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