Go look at this photo.  Click on the “view full size” link and zoom in to see the fine details all around.


It’s titled “Steel Pier, Atlantic City” 1904.  The details are fascinating.  There are many things to notice.

1)      Everybody is dressed up.  These days, if you’re going to the beach, you at least wear shorts if not a swim suit but all these people are completely dressed from head to toe.  The men all have jackets, vests, ties, and a bowler hat or a straw boater hat.  The women have dresses that go to the ground.  In most cases you can’t even see their ankles.  Plus, they are all dressed alike; very little variation.

2)      Black people and white people are mixed in together.  I would have expected some segregation back then but they are all there in close proximity. Apparently the segregation is by economic class rather than race; why else would a bunch of people be laying in the sand in their clothes when they could be up on the pier?

3)      Many people are asleep right on the ground.  Most appear to have a towel or something but it’s pretty small and much of their bodies are laying right on the sand.

4)      Some kids are digging in the sand (apparently a universal pastime) but most everybody else is doing absolutely nothing.  Sleeping or just looking at the water.  Perhaps talking. They are not doing any of the things that we now do when we go to the beach; playing games, swimming, etc.

5)      People are arrayed cheek-by-jowl , on two levels, up on the pier itself.  Those were apparently the good seats but still; nobody is actually doing anything except sitting there.

6)      Nobody is in the water.  Studying the photo at extreme zoom reveals one man in a swimsuit that go from his neck down to his knees but he isn’t in the water.  Nobody is.

7)      One guy is asleep with his head on the butt of the other asleep guy.  I don’t think you’d see that these days unless the guys were trying to make a point of their sexual orientation. Maybe they’re related.

8)      Because of #1 and #6, it must be spring or early summer.  It must be pretty cool for them to be outside with all those clothes on.

9)      That pier is huge; there must be hundreds of people there – most of them not doing anything in particular. 

10)   They had cameras.  On the left, there is an old bellows-type camera set up on a tripod in the sand; perhaps a photographer has set up to take photos for a fee.  Does it belong to the photographer who made this image or was that the competition? I wasn’t really aware that that particular type of camera was commonly available as early as 1904. They were still using that type into the 1950s. 

11)   Where are the cigars?  I thought people always smoked something during their leisure times back then but none of these people are smoking.

There’s a lot going on in that one photo.  There are so many differences between modern day life and that life and yet more similarities than I might have expected.