Luna Park

“The glittering, bustling, roaring Luna Park extended under them. The music, the noise and the shouting flied up to them at once, all it bombed together their ears. And above the many lights airplanes hanging from a high column were silently revolving in an already more obscure layer of the air which thus seemed more poetical.”
Raymond Queneau: Pierrot mon ami, 1942

“The opening of the huge fair extending as long as the Porte Maillot on 29 May 1909 attracted several thousands of spectators. Those curious of the American wonders could try for the first time the vertical Niagara Fall or the Grand Canyon panoramic railway, long before Gainsbourg and Elsa Triolet.”
Mikaël Hirsch: Omicron, 2007

The Luna Park of Paris was opened a hundred and one years ago for the large public. These photos were taken a hundred years ago, in 1910. They were first published two years ago on a Russian blog, and then I put them aside for the centenary. However, by the time the anniversary arrived, the blog closed down. Therefore now I publish the complete series again.

The fashion of the Luna Parks came from America. The first one was opened in 1903 on Coney Island. Its great attraction was the “airspace” called “Luna Travel” or “Traveling to the Moon” which gave name to the whole amusement park. Beginning with 1905 the Ingersoll company established a world wide network of Luna Parks, called “English Parks” in several places of Europe after their place of origin. But the original name “Luna Park” has also been kept and converted itself to the common equivalent of “amusement park” in several languages.

The Luna Park of Paris stood at the Maillot Gate. Its main attractions included the Niagara Falls, the so-called Russian (or American) mountains, the diabolic wheel, the Enchanted Palace. They were all faithfully copied also in the World Expo of Roubaix in 1911 whose photo documentation was left to us. In 1914 a great dance hall opened here as well under the direction of Duque from Brasil. Duque, a dentist had come to Paris as a traveling agent of medicine, but there he discovered that exotic dances were selling much better. This is how he started to teach “the true Brasilian tango” or „maxixe” which became the most popular dance of pre-war Paris.

“I will not go into details as to the trade, but there are days when we sell a hundred thousand entrance tickets. Twenty attractions keep drawing the visitors, and then I do not even mention the lotteries, the games of manual skills, the shooting galleries which are mainly situated there, between the Alpine Coaster and the Dance Palace, you see, there next to the crossing of Chaillot Avenue and Drop Street. But the main entrance is here, in front of us, at the corner of the External boulevard and Chaillot Avenue.”
Raymond Queneau: Pierrot mon ami, 1942

As a result of the war and of the Great Depression, the traffic of the Luna Park has remarkably decreased. In 1931 they exhibited, as a last great sensation, a hundred living penguins as well as a complete embalmed whale, for the first time in the history of European amusement parks. Although this spectacle could not save the Luna Park, it has created a myth in European literature which has been obstinately embodied again and again from Eduardo Mendoza’s La ballena to László Krasznahorkai’s and then Béla Tarr’s The melancholy of resistance.

The park, after being for thirty years an indispensable spot of Paris, closed its gates in 1937. For ten years it stood empty, almost as its own ghost, inspiring such nostalgic works as Raymond Queneau’s Pierrot mon ami or Maigret’s first post-war novel, Maigret in retirement whose plot takes place in this district and involves some employees of the Luna Park. Finally in 1948 it was pulled down. Today the Palais des Congrès stands on its place.

Small carousel:

Balloon sellers:

Big wheel and airship:

American tower:

Russian swan boats:

Children’s railway:

Shooting gallery:

Little girl with the piggy bank won at shooting:

Seller of paper windmills:

Seller of paper flowers:

Puppet show:

Street scales:

Moving movie ads:

Show in the open-air theatre:

The employees of the Luna Park cooking lunch:

Luna-Park est ma réserve de gaieté
A tous les stands je suis salué
Des patrons et des habitués
Garçons et filles
C' est ma famille
Partout ailleurs je n' suis rien
A Luna Park je suis quelqu' un
Vive Luna Park et vive la joie.
My share of joy is in the Luna Park
where I am greeted at every stand
by the staff and the visitors
the boys and the girls
this is my family
anywhere else I am nobody
only in the Luna Park I am somebody:
long live the Luna Park and long live joy.

10 comentarios:

Languagehat dijo...

Another great post! I love this line from the Pleasure Guide: "A mingled sort of public."

Studiolum dijo...

A refined euphemism to be expected from the English-speaking French author of the guide!

The Old Hack dijo...

There were Luna Parks all over the world. I grew up with the one in Sydney, Australia, at the northern end of the Harbour Bridge. It was opened in 1935, closed several times for various reasons, but is running now.

I particularly loved going to get "fairy floss" - coloured spun sugar, very bad for young teeth ..

There is a good photo of the amazing entrance building here.

Studiolum dijo...

Oh, so that's how it is called in English! In Hungarian it is vattacukor, “cotton candy”, but when I sometimes had to translate it like this I was never sure whether it was correct.

The entrance is really attractive for a child. I wonder whether it is original. The towers fit in style to 1935, but the large gate-face appears somewhat more modern.

Languagehat dijo...

In America it is indeed "cotton candy"; people here would have no idea what "fairy floss" might be.

The Old Hack dijo...

Thanks LH, I knew that but (as usual) couldn't remember it. But amnusingly, according to, it was originally fairy floss in the US.

"Cotton candy was invented in 1897 by William Morrison and John C. Wharton, candymakers from Nashville, Tennessee, USA. They invented a device that heated sugar in a spinning bowl that had tiny holes in it. It formed a treat that they originally called "Fairy Floss." As the bowl spun around, the caramelized sugar was forced through the tiny holes, making feathery candy that melts in the mouth.

"Morrison and Wharton introduced cotton candy to the world at the St. Louis World's Fair (1904) and sold huge amounts of it for 25 cents a box (that was a substantial amount of money back then). They sold about 68,655 boxes at that fair. The term "cotton candy" began to be used in the USA around 1920. In the United Kingdom, this treat is called "candy floss."

Studiolum: I would guess the Hungarian is from the American.

The face at the entrance to Sydney's Luna Park is original too. There are more detailed pictures here which show how the face is integrated into the towers, which the site calls "Inter-war art deco", and, which I never knew, the towers are based on the Chrysler Building in New York.

Megkoronáz A.J.P. dijo...

I confirm it's called candy floss in England. I was never allowed to eat it, but enjoy it nowadays.

Thanks for the Sydney Architecture blog link, Old Hack. It's funny that the Australians design interesting houses, but haven't done any good big buildings yet. Here is another, quite different, entry to the Sydney Luna Park.

Julia dijo...

El Luna Park de Buenos Aires, que estaba sobre la Avenida Figueroa Alcorta. formó parte fundamental de mi infancia y lo extraño desde hace años... ¡Qué nostalgia!
Por suerte los "algodones de azúcar" se pueden seguir comiendo en muchas plazas, cuando era chica los hacían dentro de unos viejos tambores de lavarropas acondicionados para tal efecto.
Saludos desde Neuquén!

Studiolum dijo...

A beautiful review of this post has just been published on Beck’s Gold Urban Experiences’ blog. Besides a sensitive reception of the pictures and their atmosphere, it also calls the attention to the works of French photographer Eugène Atget who worked more or less in the period when the above pictures were taken and left to us vintage photos conveying a similar impression. Thank you, Nilz!

maidhc dijo...

San Jose, California, also had its Luna Park. It was a victim of the Depression and was replaced by housing. Its name survives as the name of that neighborhood, but I think few people remember the origin of the name.