I remember as far back to the late 20s, when my parents took me there. Everyone in Philly called it The Shore, which meant that stretch of sand by the ocean 60 miles away. It featured a wide wooden Boardwalk and a line of stores with goodies including the famed salt water taffy.
An early visual memory is men and kids on the beach or flopping on the waves in two-piece bathing suits. Also wading women all bundled up in bathing caps, shirts, skirts, stockings and rubber slippers.
Then in the mid-1940s, when we came home from World War II, my brother (ex-Army) and I (ex-Navy) were rewarded for our service with one free summer week at my aunt’s dinky hotel just two blocks from the Boardwalk. Our tiny room was tucked behind the lobby check-in counter. It usually rented out for $2 a night or a high-priced $10 a week.
Tho our family has since scattered, some still get back for reunions. Or just to eat fresh pan-sauteed crab cakes again at such great old restaurants as Dock’s Oyster House. And, of course, salt water taffy for munching while wandering the Boardwalk again.
Atlantic City’s history goes much further back than the 1920s. For centuries it was the home of the Lenni-Lenapes, a Native American tribe. Then, in the late 18th Century, English settlers founded a seaside village there.
A century later, someone got the great idea that the ten miles of sand and sea would make a great site for summer vacationers from nearby big cities, including Philly and New York. When the railroad came through in the 1850s, it made a glorious one-hour ride from the hot, sweaty city to the cool, breezy fresh air, surf and sand of A.C.
When the Boardwalk was built in 1870 and flanked by rows of souvenir stores, hot dog stands, bath houses, amusement rides and luxury hotels, it was boom times. In the 1920s, the Miss America Pageant put A.C. on the world map. Adding to the glamor was Steel Pier, featuring Benny Goodman, Harry James, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Cab Callaway, Peggy Lee, Lena Horne, Martin and Lewis, Bob Hope and many others.
In the two decades after World War II, popularity gradually diminished. Vacationers took cheap flights to Florida and the Caribbean. When Las Vegas burst on the scene in the 1950s as the gambling and entertainment mecca, it lured away more visitors from sinking AC.
Then gambling arrived in 1974, and A.C. once more was one of the most exciting vacation destinations. However, over the past several years, with the opening of hundreds of new casinos near New York and Philly, A.C. is in deep tourist loss again.
If a seashore vacation is in your summer plans this year, consider a nostalgia trip. Before it disappears into total obscurity, experience the waning glory that once was Atlantic City. Check with your travel agent or go to atlanticcitynj.com.