Atlantic City NJ: Memories Of A Fading Dream

The seaside town has been suffering from terrible news of major hotel closings, but a recent report is baffling. The luxurious new Revel Resort, that went bankrupt just a year after opening, may have a buyer.

Does that mean the Revel will be saved from oblivion, and visitors will be allowed to continue enjoying its casino, entertainment, restaurants and hotel rooms? Well, not exactly. The new owners propose to turn it all into … are you ready? … a water park! Er, pardon me, but aren’t the beach, surf and Atlantic Ocean just a few steps away? Haven’t tourists enjoyed the water there for the past century or so?

Continuing depressing news about Atlantic City recalls this old guy’s happier days there long ago. In the late 1920s and 1930s, my family piled into a Reading Railroad car for the 90-mile, $2 ride from Philly.

After arriving, it was fun bouncing around streets in jitney taxis and along the Boardwalk in rolling chairs. We enjoyed sunny skies, sandy beaches and surf. There were also Atlantic City traditions of munching salt water taffy and cotton candy as we strolled along.

We shopped at Boardwalk stores and played carnival games out on Steel Pier. We watched the ocean-jumping horses by day, and jitterbugged to Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman in the Marine Ballroom at night.

In the early 1940s, during World War II, the Army took over several beachside hotels for GI training programs. As the war was ending in 1945, some of the same buildings were used as hospitals for returning wounded veterans.

I’ve a lasting memory of a sad day in January 1946, when my brother (Army) and I (Navy) had returned from overseas service. We were in Atlantic City for the funeral of our war-hero cousin, Morty. He had been killed by German guards while trying to steal food for starving fellow POWs. He was later awarded posthumous medals for his bravery.

Morty’s parents owned a small hotel just off the Boardwalk, and our family gathered there before we attended services at the cemetery. Also at the funeral were the New Jersey governor, Army brass, show business celebrities and Atlantic City officials. Morty’s story has an ironic twist. He had been drafted into the Army after serving prison time for stealing from a jewelry store.

During visits to the beach city in later years, we saw the glitter gradually replaced with gloom and poverty. By the 1960s, Atlantic City had deteriorated badly. The main cause was inexpensive air travel that enticed East Coast vacationers away to Florida, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, the Caribbean and other more attractive destinations.

Atlantic City’s decline continued until the late 1970s until casino gambling came to town. It began a Boardwalk renaissance that continued until recently, when major hotels went bankrupt and closed down.

Now, with competing casino-hotels in nearby Connecticut, New York, Pennsyvania and Maryland, the decline is happening again. I still treasure happy Boardwalk memories, but feel sad for today’s Atlantic City.

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