In May 1914, Coney Island played host to an unlikely party of VIPs led by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife, Lady Doyle. A New York Times reporter trailed the group all day, hoping for a quote from the famed creator of Sherlock Holmes. “First he shot the chutes, then he took the seemingly perilous Whip ride, and finally he went into the ridiculous Crazy Village,” wrote the dutiful journalist. “And he enjoyed it all — particularly the Whip, which he pronounced thrilling.”
It was past midnight when Mr. Doyle left. He was dazed, to put it mildly. The man who’d invented the most brilliant, analytical detective in the history of popular culture had been overwhelmed by the park. One of the few things he managed to say was, “Coney Island doesn’t give one time to think.”
With any luck, it never will.
Looking over the photos that accompany this article, Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and the author of “How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain,” homed in on one of a man and two children in V-neck sweaters. The three of them are packed into a roller coaster car, their hair flowing backward, upward and outward in the wind. One child looks peaceful, almost beatific. The other screams mightily. And the man? He looks delighted, maybe partly because there’s nothing quite like watching a kid’s rite of passage. At the bottom of the frame, you can see that the man has put a reassuring hand on the howling child’s arm. “When I look at this picture, I see three completely different facial movements,” says Prof. Barrett. “That’s beautiful. It demonstrates the variability of people’s experience and expressions in exactly the same situation.”
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