My stomping ground for summer vacation was Ocean City, New Jersey. It’s a dry town and still is. You can’t buy or serve alcohol there so it is very family friendly. Ocean City is an island, not all that wide, longer than wide about 7 miles in length, with a boardwalk about 2.5 miles long. There are shops along the boardwalk as well as amusement rides, places to eat, a music pier, so many fond memories are there for me.
My great-grandparents went to Ocean City and took my grandfather when he was a little boy. He told me the beach was about 3/4 of a mile long when he was young. Over the years, the hurricanes have washed away much of the beaches. In the mid 1970’s, Ocean City began pumping sand from the bayside to the beach side to try and stop the errosion. We would go to the beach and see the many pumps extruding dark sand onto the whiter sand. My father used to tell us that Ocean City would be under water by the time we were adults.
My grandfather, left and one of his brothers, circa 1910.
My grandfather and grandmother married in Cape May, New Jersey. I’m not sure why they picked Cape May as I know how much they loved Ocean City. They would go to Ocean City and stay on 4th Street each year the same weeks that we would go to the shore. The used to stay at the Wynmere, eventually staying at a boarding home right next to the beach/boardwalk as they got older. My grandparent’s used to take my mother and Aunt to Ocean City when they were little.
My mother on the boardwalk. Circa 1958
My Aunt, left and my mother, right Ocean City, New Jersey about 1955.
Every year we stayed at the Wynmere, a family owned boadring hose on 4th Street just over a half block from the beach and the boardwalk. The Wynmere had three stories above the ground level or “basement” which was above ground. The basement had a few rooms for families to rent and a few of our friends did rent these. Also the basement had the community kitchen and dining room. Each family had an assigned table for the week in the dining room as well as a gas stove in the kitchen with a small refrigerator. Families could then cook if they wished and eat at the boarding house or eat our if they wanted to. There were dishes, silverware and pots and pans all the families shared. Only two large sinks were in the kitchen, no dishwasher. We kids were the dishwashers! Most years you saw the same families on the same weeks that you went to the shore. You became good friends, your parents became friends. The parents went out to eat and all the kids would eat together in the dining room. This was not a glamorous place, old, rickety chairs and tables with red and white checked plastic table clothes. It was more like picnics. As on of the older kids, I always felt like vacation time was time for my parents to take a vacation and for me to babysit everyone else’s kids and wash dishes for everyone. I hated that part. Yeah, some of it was fun and very memorable but eventually it became more of a chore as I got older. I began to resent all the other people dumping their kids on me and my parents letting them do it for free! At least at home I got paid to babysit.
The only photo I have at the Wynmere! My grandparents, my dad, step-mom, my older sister and me about 1965.
Anyway, my parents always rented two rooms on the second floor or third floor depending on how you look at it. Our rooms were in the front of the Windmere, facing 4th Street, over the front porch. The Wynmere had no air conditioning so it could be dreadfully hot when we went to bed but usually some time during the night, a sea breeze would begin to cool our rooms. My older sister and I shared one room with a queen bed and a small bathroom that had a sink and toilet. We were very lucky! Most rooms had to share a community bathroom. Our parents and two younger siblings shared a room across the hall with two queen beds and as I recall, a bathroom just like ours. The Wynmere had community, outdoor showers in the back yard. I believe there were three showers in the backyard. Everyone used these when returning from the beach. No rooms had tv, stereo or anything like that. One the first or main floor, above the basement was check-in. The check-in was a big white, hotel desk and sat in a big “living room” with the only tv around. All the children would sit on the floor and watch this tv while waiting to go to the beach, boardwalk or just waiting for their parents. We also spent many hours just sitting on the porch with it’s many beautiful rocking chairs. I wish I knew just how many rooms the Wynmere actually had but I never knew after all these years.
After breakfast, mornings would be spent riding bikes or walking on the boardwalk. Around noon we would go to the beach till dinner time. On the beach we would build “boats” in the sand at low tide, working away for hours. We’d dig down, make bench seats and high sided on the boat. When high tide started to come back in, us kids would then sit in our sand boat and see how long it would last against the tide.we would dig holes as deep as we possibly could and put each other in them to see if the other person could get out. Plenty of sand castles were built during low tide to see how long they would stand against the waves once high tide began rolling back.
Then there were the rafts, oh the fun of the rafts! How deep would we go? We would go out just past everyone else just to show we were brave. Just over our heads or right to our tippy toes in water. We weren’t afraid back then, probably stupid thinking of it now but we were invincible kids. Our parents couldn’t swim so it was the Ocean City life guards that would have to save us if we got in trouble. I got in trouble just once, an undertow started to take me out to sea and I began to panic. Nobody was paying attention to the fact that I was begiining to get farther and farther away from shore. I’m guessing I was 15 or 16 at the time as it was about my last vacation in Ocean City. I didn’t have a raft, I was just swimming without one. I tried to wave my arms for help buut the life guard didn’t see me or didn’t think I was in trouble. I knew how to swim so I had to get a hold of my emotions and think! I knew I had to swim right angle to the beach in orderto get out of the undertow, so I took off to my left toward the getty in hopes that a fisherman might see me if I needed help. I must have swam a good half mile and tried to go toward the beach and finally I was free of that drag which was sucking me back into the ocean.
Many times I’m sure we skipped lunch, other times we ate pizza on the boardwalk by the slice for lunch. We would come up from the beach in our wet bathing suits, with sand all over, messy hair and flip flops, everyone did. You could eat up on the boardwalk or take the food back to the beach. Walk back to the Wynmere for lunch and then go back to the beach. We always went back by dinner to the Wynmere. Everyone waited their turn for the outdoor showers.
After dinner, everyone went to the boardwalk! Our parents would give us a dime and all us kids could go to the penny candy store on the boardwalk, it sold old time penny candy. I could never decide what ten pieces to buy! That was the early to mid 70’s. Men would sit on benches and people watch while their wives and kids shopped. Older people went to the music piers for concerts. Kids went for the rides. Tickets were 20 cents and 25 cents. If you bought a book of tickets, they were 20 cents. Most rides were one ticket/ride, the most popular rides were 2 tickets. I felt grown up when we could finally leave my parents and go on our own and do what we wanted at night on the boardwalk. We would frequent the t-shirt shops all the time. The Farrah Faucet t-shirt with her in the red bathing suit was all the rage back then as well as Bo Derek in the movie 10. We just had to be back at the Wynmere by 9 pm or some time like that. I must have been only 11-12 years old, going with my older sister and a few friends from our boarding house. It was so colorful and fun. Nobody worried about anything. As children we went by ourselves, it was a very safe place to be! We weren’t afraid to be walking alone, walking home from the boardwalk to the Wynmere.
There was a merry-go-round at Gillian’s Fun Deck that we would ride and try to catch the golden ring! The man running the ride would push out an arm that held pewter colored rings and one gold ring. All the kids would ride the merry -go-round and stick their fingers out and grab at the rings, if you got that golden ring, you won a free ride ticket. The value was only 25 cents but it was fun!
At night, high tide would come up under the boards and splash up between the boards. I love the sounds of the waves crashing, the sea gulls and the smells of the ocean. My cousins used to go under the boards and push a folded dollar bill up between the boards and when someone bent down to pick it up, they would pull it back through the boards. Those cousins were a ton of fun! They also used to go under the boards and under the rides that went upside-down to get all the money thar fell out of people’s pockets. My dad wasn’t pleased to hear about that and forbade my sister and I from doing that with them.
Those days are just memories now. My grandparents are gone. My mother, my father and my Aunt are gone. One of our friends has even passed that we used to play with on the beach, he died in a motorcycle or car accident if I recall correctly. Sadly, I don’t have any photos on the beach since my dad wasn’t the photo hound that I am. My cousins are continuing the tradition of going to Ocean City so their children are the 5th generation enjoying the beaches there.
The Wynmere was sold in the 1980’s or 1990’s to be a home for the mentally challenged. From what I’ve heard, I think the place had been torn down altogether and something else built in it’s place. If so, I will never have the chance to recapture my childhood memories. The Wynmere was a beautiful old place filled with love, with dreams, with families and memories.
How I wish I could just relive one of those weeks with my family and friends in the Windmere. ..