John Sloan’s diary for his outing to South Beach and the Happy Land Amusement Park is laconic: June 23, 1907: “Dolly and I went to Staten Island, South Beach this afternoon by Municipal Ferry and Train. Our first visit and we found the place to our liking. Reminds one of Atlantic City years ago. It is not so touched by the “refinements” as Coney Island. We walked along the beach and came home to have dinner about 8 o’clock.” They returned once more, perhaps to refresh Sloan’s memory as he was working on the composition of South Beach Bathers, completed in 1908.
Though South Beach offered a variety of opportunities, Sloan focused on a happy group of picnickers gathered around a woman in a black bathing costume he called “South Beach Belle.” It was an imagined picnic and meant to be comical because as everyone knows—a sandy beach requires a blanket, and swimmers require towels, but Sloan omits these. Slyly, he has also omitted the usual picnic gear; the hot dogs nestle on a white cloth but there aren’t any plates and flatware. There isn’t anything to drink—an unreasonable omission on a hot day. Still, everyone is smiling, even the gent in the office clothes and the straw hat who is holding a steamed crab in his bare hand.
Featured Image: Perhaps the happiest beach picnic with hot dogs, ever. John Sloan. South Beach Bathers (1908), oil on canvas. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
See: John Sloan New York Scene 1906-1913 (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1965), rpt. Bruce St. John, editor (New Brunswick, New Jersey: 2013; Jean B. Gleisner. Redoubt and Prospect; Changing Views of a New York City Headland. Masters Degree Dissertation, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, New York, 2008; Bruce Kraig. Hot Dog (London: Reaktion Books, 2009); Bruce Kraig and Patty Carroll Man Bites Dog: Hot Dog Culture in America (Lanham, Maryland: AltaMira Press, 2014)
*Never as popular as Coney Island, Staten Island’s South Beach was not the easiest getaway. When John and Dolly Sloan set out, they probably took elevated train from Greenwich Village to the Battery, boarded the ferry for the thirty-minute ride across the harbor to St. George, then changed for the South Beach trolley and another thirty-minute ride to Happy Land.