Wednesday, April 20, 2011

hot type and hot dogs full of mustard

“Coney” a photograph by Keith Roghair, Dordt College senior; Doug Burg, instructor. Photo is used with permission – all rights reserved. (select image for larger view).

Although taken during the off-season this picture seems to reflect an organized cacophony of typographic styles found in the amusement park at Coney Island, New York. The strength and order of this type works for emotive effect and utility and not the intentions of educated designers. For the most part the audience are common folk. Whether the work signifies good taste or bad taste, the impact is interesting, compelling and alive.

Seeing this picture reminded me of this poignant passage from The Seven Storey Mountain. The author Thomas Merton, thinking back as a young man to the 30s, contrasts the forebodings about world war in Europe with the fond memories of hot dogs and beer at Coney Island. Merton writes:

The Europe I finally left for good, in the late November of 1934, was a sad and unquiet continent, full of forebodings.

Of course, there were plenty of people who said: “There will not be a war….” But Hitler had now held power in Germany for some time, and that summer all the New York evening papers had been suddenly filled with the news of Dollfuss’ murder in Austria, and the massing of Italian troops on the Austrian borders. It was one of the nights when I was down at Coney Island, with Reginald Marsh, and I walked in the whirl of lights and noise and drank glasses of thin, icy beer, and ate hotdogs full of mustard, and wondered if I would soon be in some army or other, or perhaps dead.

It was the first time I had felt the cold steel of the war scare in my vitals. There was a lot more to come. It was only 1934.

And now, in November, when I was leaving England forever the ship sailed quietly out of Southampton Water by night the land I left behind me seemed silent with the silence before a storm. It was a land all shut up and muffled in layers of fog and darkness, and all the people were in the rooms behind the thick walls of their houses, waiting for the first growl of thunder as the Nazis began to warm up the motors of a hundred thousand planes.

Perhaps they did not know they were waiting for all this. Perhaps they thought they had nothing better to occupy their minds than the wedding of Prince George and Princess Marina which had taken place the day before. Even I myself was more concerned with the thought of some people I was leaving than with the political atmosphere at that precise moment. And yet that atmosphere was something that would not allow itself to be altogether ignored. [1]
  1. Merton, Thomas. The Seven Storey Mountain. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1948. 127-128. Print.

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