Of the various vegetable hawkers, meat sellers, poulterers and pastry vendors crying up their wares the morning of June 23, 1626, the loudest outburst issued from a fishmonger. Her shout was not, however, one solicitous of traffic but expressive of surprise; for in the stomach of one cod, sliced, salted and ready for sale, she spied a prodigy so arresting as to bring the shoppers of the great Cambridge market stampeding to her stall: a small book wrapped in sail cloth.
Celebrated on the Friday that falls between June 20 and June 26, the Swedish Midsummer (Midsommer) festival involves the joyful consumption of pickled herring, boiled red potatoes with sour cream, strawberries, and brännvin, a potent liquor distilled from spuds, grains, or wood cellulose.
As midsummer gives way to the dog days of August, Swedes opt for a more peculiar delectation — surströmming, or soured Baltic herring, which they eat during August parties known as surströmmingsskiva. The fermented fish comes in cans bulging with trapped gases that when opened release an overwhelming odor of piscine rot. Needless to say, surströmmingsskiva often take place outdoors.
The estival attractions of Coney Island were such that few late nineteenth-century New Yorkers could resist them. Each weekend crowds of weary shopgirls, clerks, bricklayers and jobbers of every stripe would flock to its white-sand beaches, making their way by train or foot for a weekend seaside idyll, which provided welcome respite from their urban toil.
An article in the July 1896 edition of Scribner’s Magazine reports that the majority of Coney Island pleasure seekers came from the ranks of the middle and lower middle classes, people who enjoyed such meager leisure time that they could ill-afford long schleps upstate. “Evidence that Coney Island’s crowds are made up most largely of those who are town-stayed all summer, lies in the color of the crowd’s hands and faces,” article author Julian Ralph writes. “From the waxen whiteness of the women and girls whose waking hours are spent amid gaslight, to the pinker hue of the men who have leisure to walk to and from luncheon — if not to business — every morning the color of all is the same and only the shades of it differ.”