Sunshine, Sand, and Lots of Clothing


I found this tintype of ten women in a stack of photos at a small ephemera store in Roanoke.  It intrigued me mainly because I have a fascination with late 1880s to early 1900s women’s fashion – corsets, tight fitting bodices, and large skirts excite me.  I sometimes think I was born in the wrong era.  Those high collars, however, would not bode well for me, since I can’t wear a turtleneck without feeling like I’m being choked!

Taken in 1887, the women’s clothing is very typical for the upper-class of this time, and I especially love their ‘flowerpot hats’ piled high with bows, flowers, and ribbons.  These style hats were extremely popular, and were a throw-back from late 19th century women’s riding hats.  Hats of this sort were not made to match a specific outfit, but were made to match a number of different outfits, getting as much use out of the hats as possible, since they were costly and made by hand.  It also looks as if some of the women have bodices/skirts of a similar nature, as they’re not made of the same patterned material as their skirts (see standing girl at back right, the seated girl in center, and the seated girl in center front).

On the back of the tintype the following is written:




Those few little words opened up a floodgate of information: Rockaway is a small stretch of beach now located in Queens, NY.  At first I was skeptical about this as the girls’ setting, but if you look closely, they are indeed sitting on top of sand, with a steamboat in the horizon line at right center. It is possible they could be on a set, as souvenir photo booths were a popular attraction on Rockaway Beach, but I have not found evidence of any photo booths as early as 1887.

A little history about the girls’ setting: In the 1870s, the Rockaways, as the little stretch of seaside villages were affectionately called, grew in popularity, drawing wealthy and prominent summer visitors to its sandy shores.  Steamboats, and later, railroad stations, helped shuttle summer tourists from Manhattan and Brooklyn to the southern shore of Long Island, and in the early 1900s, made it accessible for working class families to enjoy the beach, as well.

Rockaway steamboat

Steamboat at Rockaway. © P. Nybo, 1902.

An influx of beachfront hotels, like the Seaside Hotel, were constructed in addition to several restaurants in order to draw tourists to the shore. Amusement parks, outdoor shows, shooting ranges, dancing halls, and baths lined the beachfront, and provided visitors with entertainment.

P. Nybo, 1902.

© P. Nybo, 1902.

Even a boardwalk-style iron pier, built in 1880, extended out 1,080 feet into the sea, providing additional entertainment.  The pier was severely damaged in winter storms in 1914 and 1920, and was eventually rebuilt in 1926.

rockaway pier

© P. Nybo, 1902.

In September of 1892, the ‘Great Seaside Fire’ burnt down seventy-five buildings in a four block area, with only the train station being salvageable.  The popularity of the Rockaways took off after 1900, with a new amuseument park, Steeplechase, as well as a slew of dancing halls, restaurants, and shops.  Later, orphanages dominated a portion of the oceanfront when popularity of Rockaway declined.

rockaway fire

Devastation from the Great Fire of 1892. © Vivian Rattay Carter, 2012.

For early 1900s photographs and maps of Rockaway Beach, check out the New York Public Library’s digital collection.  And of course, there is a lot more to the history of the Rockaways after 1887, so I encourage you to check out Rockaway Memories’ Library website, as well as the Scrapbook section, for some really neat books and photos on the history of Rockaway.

Further Reading:

Beitler, Stu. ‘Rockaway Beach, NY Town Fire, Sep 1892.’  GenDisasters: Events that Touched our Ancestors Lives.  15 October 2008. Web. 14 July 2013

Bellot, Alfred H.. History of the Rockaways: from the year 1685 to 1917 : being a complete record and review of events of historical importance during that period in the Rockaway peninsula, comprising the villages of Hewlett, Woodmere, Cedarhurst, Lawrence, Inwood, Far Rockaway, Arverne, Rockaway Beach, Belle Harbor, Neponsit and Rockaway Point. Far Rockaway, N.Y.: Bellot’s Histories, 1918. Print.Carter, Vivian Rattay.  Rockaway Beaches (Images of America). Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2012. Print.

Gloegller, Ed.  The Rockaway Fire, September 20, 1892.’ The Illustrated American.  8 October 1892. Image. 14 July 2013

Gloegller, Ed.  The Rockaway Fire, September 20, 1892.’ The Illustrated American.  8 October 1892. Web. 14 July 2013

Lucev, Emil R, Sr. The Rockaways (Postcard History Series). Charleston SC, Chicago IL, Portsmouth NH, San Francisco CA: Arcadia Publishing, 2007. Print.

Nybo, P. and S.S. Adams.  A Picture Story of the Rockaways: Rockaway Beach and Surroundings. Rockaway, N..: P. Nybo, 1902. August 11 2011. Web. 14 July 2013 Scan of book contributed by Dean Georges.

Rockaway Memories. ‘The Dean Georges Collection: Rockaway Park & Lands West.’ Rockaway Memories. 3 October 2012. Web. 13 July 2013

Velardi, Marie E.  ‘A Scandal in the Rockaways – The Story of Kate Bedell.’ Velardi Family Website. 1 November 2010. Web. 14 July 2013



Filed under 1880s, Photograph

2 responses to “Sunshine, Sand, and Lots of Clothing

  1. Robin Sedgwick

    It’s hard to tell from the photo on my computer screen, but that flag sticking out straight behind the boat on the horizon suggests to me that the background is a photographer’s painted backdrop. The scene reminds me of today’s Red Hatters activities.

  2. Thanks, Robin, for identifying that as a painted backdrop! I couldn’t decide whether it was real, or if it was painted. I was thinking it was too much of a coincidence for a boat to go by right as they were taking a photo!

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