Wildwood Crest, New Jersey – 1960’s
A few years before my parents owned the summer place in North Wildwood, we stayed at a motel called the Villa Nova in Wildwood Crest. They would take a room each summer for 3 days in June, and 3 more in September. There was a restaurant next door to the motel called The Captain’s Table. To me, that was a cool exotic nautical-themed place. Even though we were only a two-hour drive from our home in Philadelphia, going to the shore was traveling to come exotic locale back then.
The world was a bigger package than our little neighborhood in Lawndale.
Wildwood, NJ was an amazing wondrous place. We all loved it. I remember I’d be watching TV as a kid and a commercial would come on for Dorney Park. I’d say to my dad, “That place looks fun, why don’t we ever go there?”
“Because that place is a junkyard, son.” my dad would say. (Back then the place was a dump. Nothing like what it is today.
We’d always go to the beach as a family in the morning. It wasn’t as hot then, and not as crowded. By the time lunchtime rolled around we were back at the motel.
I was never a fan of the beach too much when I was little. Big waves, crabs, and deep water were things I didn’t want any part of. There is old home movie footage of me as a toddler walking back towards the car because I hated the sand.
I remember once I was working on sandcastles with my dad and the backs of my legs got really sunburned. It really hurt and my mom applied some vaseline to take out the sting and soothe the burn. But the best part was when everybody else went back to the beach or the pool in the afternoon, I got to stay behind in the air-conditioned room to lie on the couch and watch TV. (Which is what I preferred to do anyway.)
I think even back then they had cable TV down there, so there were channels and shows I’d never seen before which I found facinating.
But by the time dusk arrived we were all dressed and ready to go to the boardwalk. It was the mid to late 1960s and we’d actually get dressed up nice to go to the boardwalk. Mom and the sisters in dresses, and dad and I in button-down shirts and slacks. It was a different time, but as a family my parents always dressed us up to go anywhere. “I don’t want you all looking like a bunch of slumgullians,” my mother would say.
Wildwood always had the best boardwalk in New Jersey.
Each summer evening, the American dream was played out along the boardwalk’s more than 70,000 wooden planks. Classic rides and old-fashioned amusements stood toe-to-toe with 20st-century innovation and excitement. Five amusement piers boasted more rides than Disneyland, complete with world-class rollercoasters, beachfront waterparks, family-friendly attractions, and cutting-edge thrill rides. In addition, a seemingly endless array of restaurants and shops offer everything from classic boardwalk fare like funnel cakes and homemade fudge to seafood specials, gourmet pizza, and contemporary casual beach fare.
As I said, back then it was like traveling to an exotic wonderland.
The idea of a boardwalk originated when a railroad conductor, Alexander Boardman, got tired of cleaning beach sand from his trains. He suggested constructing a wooden walkway for seaside strolls. Atlantic City dedicated the first boardwalk in 1870. Thirty years later, the City of Wildwood laid its first boardwalk directly on the sand along Atlantic Avenue, from Oak Avenue to Maple Avenue, just 150 yards long.
The world-famous Wildwood Boardwalk is home to a dazzling display of lights, colors, sounds, and smells that awe the senses and offer an unsurpassed level of excitement and energy. As it has for over 100 years, the boardwalk stands as a living, thriving, pulsating celebration of the American imagination.
Hunt’s Pier was pretty much our go-to stop on the boardwalk. It had the best family-oriented rides, and theme park attractions. I’ve gathered a few pieces here to give you an idea of what they had on that concrete pier back then. They’re at the end of this post. Some great videos!
My dad would go on any ride they had. My sister April was fearless, and my sister Janice would go on any ride my dad was willing to venture upon. My mother and I both don’t like heights, things that can make us dizzy, or move too quickly. But there was something for everyone at Hunt’s Pier. I think that’s what set them apart from the other amusement piers. They had the twirly ‘up in the air rides’, and the like, but also had stuff the kids could go on. (Or the scaredy cats)
They had a little classic wooden rollercoaster, called The Flyer. I remember my mom telling me that the ride only lasted 1 minute long. My father and sister Janice would go on that, and also my dad’s favorite ride, the airships. They were these cool two-seater little jets that went around and around but then you could go high up in the air as the ride spun. (You can see it in this old ad)
That is a lovely glimpse into the past, right?
As I said, I didn’t like rides like that, but one time my dad kind of forced me to go on it with him. He told me it was a wonderful experience. He loved that ride so much. He knew if I went on it with him I’d love it too. I yielded to his wishes and went on it. “Look at that incredible view of the whole boardwalk” he would say as the ride went higher and higher. I would agree with him how great it was, but my eyes were tightly closed the entire ride, so I couldn’t really describe to you here what it was like at all. I just know I was terrified. There are those of us who are brave enough to venture forth in this life and take risks, and those of us who are hard-wired for self-preservation. The same goes for deep water and food for that matter. I spent most of my days growing up trying not to be nauseous or dizzy.
But I loved the boardwalk and Hunt’s Pier. My favorite was the Pirate Ship. The SKUA was built in 1962 and was amazing. A lot of people didn’t know that it actually was built on a hydraulic system that allowed it to rock back and forth while you were walking through it. It was so cool. You walked through it and there were all of these neat pirate-related things inside of it. Galley, and floor effects that would make skeleton hands pop out of a box in front of you, a mirror maze, and even a tilted room, that was insane. It really felt like you were on a big boat out in the sea. You could even go out on the deck and see the whole pier and boardwalk. Not scary at all. Just a really awesome Disneyland-like experience. Thinking back, my favorite part of that attraction was the dungeon. The song, 15 men on a dead man’s chest, yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum, played on a loop in the background. It was really bizarre. It looked like a torture chamber. All animatronic characters that moved. There was this one character in the corner of the room. It was a blonde woman chained to a wall. The only thing she did was breathe. So when she moved you could see her robotic chest heaving through her ripped dress. Strangely erotic, but I was too young to know why I loved her, but I just did. Even as a child I loved the female form.
If a ride wasn’t too wild I would definitely try it. I liked the Whacky Shack and the Keystone Kops. You rode in little cars through them on a track and banged through doors and they had animatronic attractions inside. Based on amusement rides now, it was all very primitive, but we loved it all just the same. Some kids like the wild rides that go fast and high but don’t like rides that had primal scares in them. I had a high tolerance for visually scary rides and always liked horror movies. We all have different fears as children and they all manifest in unique ways.
The Golden Nugget Mine ride was probably the most awesome ride on the pier back then. It was a dark ride, which is sort of an enclosed rollercoaster with cool animatronic attractions inside. It was amazing. Depending on how I was feeling I might go on it. I loved the southwestern desert, gold prospector theme, but it was a three-story ride that had two hills in it. I liked it because it had so many neat things in it, which were groundbreaking for the time. But that ride wouldn’t come into play until a decade later in my life.
Overall just lovely memories from our childhood. We would sometimes venture down to Sportland Pier and my dad and the girls would go on the Supersonic rollercoaster. Or up to Marine Pier, (Later called: Mariner’s Landing) to ride the Wild Mouse. They were both new German-built steel coasters that would be predecessors of what was to come for all rollercoasters. But like everything else, I wanted nothing to do with any of that stuff. Too afraid I’d throw up on it. I liked the dark ride called The Monster’s Den. It was a spooky ride without any hills or dips. If I remember correctly, you could ride, or walk through the attraction.
I was just happy to be there among all of that visual and audio excitement. It was like nothing else I’d ever seen before. I think my dad may have thought if I didn’t experience all of the things he knew were awesome, I’d somehow be missing out on something. He wanted to offer us all of the joy he felt. But if you don’t have any interest in doing something, there isn’t a loss. You’ll find fun doing something else. I didn’t want to feel the fearful rush of a thrill ride, I’d rather move through an attraction at my own pace and experience different feelings. Something I could control and manage.
It was really a wonderful time for our family. The classic 1960’s experience of piling the kids into the car and taking them to the seashore for a few days in the summer. Escape the heat and pollution of the city, and breathe that sweet sea air. Days frolicking on the beach and building drippy castles in the sand. Watching as the tide rolled in and the ocean once again reclaiming its property.
These fun times continued each summer through the late ’60s and into the ’70s when my dad bought a house at the shore and we got to stay down there all summer.
Hunt’s Pier already loomed large in our collective legend, but the real fun for me would come many years later.
Take a stroll down memory lane with me and check out these links:
And as always, here’s a little song to close out this chapter.
Special thanks to Joe Doyle for his video work
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