Hunt’s Pier – Chapter 10 – End of an Era

Philadelphia, PA to Wildwood, NJ – 2009

I awakened in my apartment in Philadelphia with my girlfriend Allison. We had been together for over a year and had moved in together. Christmas was over and it was the end of January.

We got some breakfast, hopped in my car, and drove to Wildwood on that bitter cold January morning. January 30th to be exact.

After the hour and a half drive, we parked on Schellinger Avenue in Wildwood. We bundled up and headed for the boardwalk. Being from Delaware, I don’t think Michelle had ever gone to Wildwood in the summer growing up. 

We trudged up the ramp that led to the boardwalk and a flood of memories came back to me. We stepped onto Hunt’s Pier. It no longer looked like it did back in its heyday. Granted, it was winter and the pier was shut down until summer, but it was a stark model of a once-thriving, living entity. 

The angry cold sun shone brightly in the clear blue sky as we met up with my sister near the back of the pier near what was once a place I described as the greatest job I ever had. It was an emotional day. Nearly 2000 people had gathered to witness the event.

We had long lines of people waiting to get on the ride back in the day, but I wasn’t expecting this.

People gathered in front of, and on the old platform where I held so many rich memories. As I stood looking upon my paragon, I felt like an anachronism. 

The proclamation from the City of Wildwood that officially declared January 30th “Golden Nugget Day” cited the estimated 1.7 million adventure-seekers who enjoyed the landmark over its nearly four decades of operation.

The iconic centerpiece of Hunt’s Pier, the Golden Nugget Mine Ride was a hybrid dark ride/steel roller coaster attraction that changed the landscape of the Jersey Shore’s amusement scene when it debuted in the Spring of 1960.

Designed by John C. Allen of the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and produced in conjunction with the renowned outfit and the skilled Hunt’s staff (led by general manager Vince Kostek), the Nugget evolved into a bona fide landmark over time.

It would thrive during the “Oceanic Wonderland” and Wildwood’s glory years of the 60s and 70s, then survive through several post-Hunt’s incarnations and a dinosaur-theme adoption, running for the final time in 1999.

Its impressive frame, built to resemble a western mountain with a mining outpost and shafts built-in, was hollowed out to accommodate a farewell ceremony hosted by the Morey Organization on Saturday, January 31, 2009.

A sad day indeed.

The weathered structure was demolished shortly after. Its track system and trains were acquired by Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, PA, where its legacy lives on in the form of the Black Diamond.

 

Things in this life come and go. Friends, family, and loved ones appear in our lives and eventually, our time here is scattered by the sad wings of destiny.

Hunt’s Pier.

Twilight is upon it now.

Night will fall, and with it… The Golden Nugget Mine Ride.

It seems fitting…

Slipping into oblivion to the lilt of rippling waves.

All that remains are the memories of what once was. It’s really all we have as people. Memories we can wrap ourselves in for the rest of our lives.

But sometimes, you’ll hear that familiar cry of a lone seagull… and as those memories return…

You smile.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

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If you think this is over, it’s not. I have one more thing to say next week.

Hunt’s Pier – Chapter 8 – Living The Dream

“Nobody ever says, “Remember that Spring?”

But people do say… “Remember that Summer?”Chaz

Wildwood, New Jersey – 1980

One night we were all working. It was early, maybe 6 pm. Each shift was from 5 pm until 11 pm when the pier closed. As one of the cars came in full of people and they exited the ride, someone left a camera on the ride. Danny brought it to me, and I remembered the guy and his family. I was like, “Wait…there he is over there with his wife and kids. I’ll run over and give him back his camera.” But then an idea came to mind. I went over to Louie and told him what was up and handed him the camera. He gathered the whole staff together on the platform and took a photo of all of us guys with the man’s lost camera. He handed it back to me and I ran down the ramp and tapped the man on the shoulder. “You left this on the ride, sir.” The gentleman was very grateful and relieved.

It was one of those jokes you do where you’ll never see the outcome, but you know when he gets home from vacation and gets his photos developed, he’ll find a mysterious photo of the whole Golden Nugget team among his pictures! Great idea, right?

When the pier closed at 11 pm, they always put up a big wooden fence to close off the area. There were guards and dogs always present at night to protect their assets. But the fence was in large sections and each piece was really heavy. After working all night on our feet and taking care of thousands of tourists, the last thing we wanted to do was carry big sections of fence and set it all up each night. So all the flunkies (as Louie called them) who worked all the rides up at the front of the pier were the first ones called upon to help put up the fence. We at the Nugget and the Log Flume would take our good old time closing our rides and walking up to the front of the pier to help. I can honestly say I have maybe only helped with one small section of fence on only three occasions. We were the elite weasels on that pier.

One of the amazing benefits of working for the Hunt’s Corporation was that they also owned every movie theater on the island. So as a perk for being an employee, each Saturday night at midnight, they would have a private screening of one of the latest movies playing in the theaters.

It was awesome. You’d finish your shift at 11 pm, and then had an hour to get something to eat, hit the liquor store to buy some beer, and then head over to one of the theaters and watch a movie with your coworkers. It was glorious. The cool thing was, you could bring a guest. So I could bring my buddy Wolfie with me and we could check out a cool new movie for free. (And drink beer!) But most of the time if one of the guys and I had met some girls that night on the ride, we’d take them to the movies with us. That was fantastic. Free movie with a new girl. Unless it was something we didn’t want to see, we would go every week all summer long. (Even back then, 40 years ago I was providing the hookup to the ladies in my life!)

Seeing The Empire Strikes Back in an empty theater with just my buddies with me was an unforgettable experience. The film as we all know was a long-awaited blockbuster and seeing it for free for the first time was amazing. I remember taking my buddy Wolfie with me to see the film, Airplane! And at the time it was the funniest film I had ever seen. It’s still in my top five of the funniest most creative and madcap movies I’ve ever seen. The Cannonball Run also comes to mind as one of the more memorable films we saw that summer. Just great times!

I even got my friend Pitchy a job up on Hunt’s working at the Log Flume. He was my summertime best friend who lived around the corner from my house. He and I had been friends since the early ’70s and had a rich history of summers together. He had worked as a stock boy at a local grocery store at 9th and Ocean avenue and was looking to do something different for the summer. I got him a job on the pier. He liked working on the flume and got along with all of the guys over there. One night he started chatting up a really cute little Italian girl from South Philly and later made a date with her. A few years later they kept in touch and he eventually married her and they have three great grown kids now. Met his wife on the Log Flume!

I remember it was the 4th of July weekend which is an enormous time at the shore. The island is packed with tourists and the boardwalk is mobbed every night. I went on my break and walked over to the snack bar across from our ride and got a soft pretzel and a fountain coke. I went back to the Nugget and went in the back and up the fire escape to the top floor of the ride. The ride was obviously going non-stop so you had to be careful up there navigating the tracks so you didn’t get run over and killed by the ride. On the roof, (you’ll see in some of the attached videos) had several dead man’s gulch attractions on it. Tombstones, skeletons, prospectors, etc. There actually was a replica of a gallows up there. I climbed the rickety wooden ladder up to the top of it and had a seat at the hangman’s pole.

There it is. Three stories above the boardwalk. 100 feet up from the beach.

The mine cars full of tourists would actually pass under it. So, I parked myself up there and munched my pretzel, and sipped my soda. The view was incredible and I suddenly felt an incredible level of exhilaration sitting up there. Here I was on the roof of a three-story dark ride I once rode terrified with my father and sisters. I lit a cigarette and looked out at the entire sea of people below me. The pier was packed with people, and that flowed out onto the boardwalk that was in full swing. Amusement rides going, people screaming, laughing, and filled with joy. Happy to be at the seashore and away from the heat of the city and work. They were all on vacation and having the times of their lives here in Wildwood.

The smell of french fries, caramel popcorn, funnel cake, cotton candy, and pizza filled the air. The sights and sounds of summer. I sat under the stars and watched as fireworks exploded in the sky in the distance.

I knew in this perfect moment that I was in the most pristine place in my life. I sat atop my castle as the self-proclaimed King of Wildwood. Finished with high school, tan, fit, clear skin, healthy, and immaculate. My painful past barely visible now. I had game and could talk to girls and they liked me enough to date and kiss me. I was in a rock and roll band, and didn’t have to be anywhere I didn’t want to be.  The island and this ride were mine.

But I could feel as I finished my cigarette I wouldn’t come up here again.

This moment would vanish and never return.

Like a child’s balloon that had escaped their grasp. You watch as it rises higher and higher into the night sky. But you’ll never get it back.

All you can do is make a wish…

The sax solo in this song (4:00 minute mark) by the late, great, Clarence Clemmons, and Bruce’s howl at the end of the song is about as close as I can get to what my heart felt like on any given summer night in Wildwood.

But, even as I write these words, I feel I just can’t do justice to those summers at the seashore.

You had to be there.

Hunt's Pier At Night | "Watch the tram car please!" 1970s Po… | Brian | Flickr

I’ve lived and worked in many places throughout my life.  But I still say to this day, working at Hunt’s Pier on the Golden Nugget Mine Ride was The Greatest Job I Ever Had.

 

This is sort of what it sounded like to be on the boardwalk in Wildwood.

Here are a link and some videos I found to give you an idea of what the Golden Nugget Mine Ride was like:

http://www.funchase.com/Images/GoldenNugget/GoldenNugget.htm

This series is not over yet. There’s more to come every Thursday through July.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Hunt’s Pier – Chapter 1 – History

Before we get into my story with the pier, I thought I’d give you some general history.

Hunt’s Pier was an amusement pier located along the Wildwood, New Jersey, boardwalk from 1957 through 1985. Over its nearly 30 years in operation, Hunt’s was home to many classic dark rides, roller coasters, and other attractions.

Hunt’s Pier dates back to the early 1900s when it was known as Ocean Pier, the first major pier on the boardwalk. Home to ballroom dancing and musical acts, Ocean Pier was purchased by William Hunt in 1935 and converted to an amusement park with rides, including a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, and a dark ride.

On Christmas Day 1943, Ocean Pier burned down. Hunt built a new, all-concrete pier in its place. On May 30, 1957, Memorial Day, the revamped Hunt’s Pier opened. The amusement park began with only four rides, though it boasted 10 rides by the time of its grand opening on June 21, 1957.

In 1985 Hunt’s Pier was sold and re-emerged in 1989 as The New Hunt’s Pier, retaining many of the rides operated by the original Hunt’s Pier and adding a steel roller coaster called Kamikaze. In 1988, Conklin Shows bought the pier and renamed it Conko’s Party Pier. This latest incarnation of the pier was short-lived, and by the end of 1992, many of the rides had been disassembled and the New Hunt’s Pier had gone bankrupt. The Kamikaze was sold and currently operates under the name Blue Hawk at Six Flags Over Georgia.

The Cantonoso family, owners of Steel Pier in Atlantic City, bought the defunct pier in 1995. By 1996, the pier had been renamed Dinosaur Beach and had added dinosaur motifs to the classic Golden Nugget Mine Ride, a decision derided by fans as not being in good taste. In addition to a water coaster and an amphitheater, Dinosaur Beach included the first spinning wild mouse, which opened in 1997. The only classic rides operating at Dinosaur Beach were the Golden Nugget, Log Flume, and Rapids, with most of the Hunt’s legacy gone. In 1998 Dinosaur Beach closed, and over the next few years, most of the rides disappeared.

Hunt’s Pier featured many unique rides and attractions, including a classic wooden roller coaster called the Flyer, indoor rides such as Keystone Kops and Whacky Shack, and an outdoor boat ride called Jungleland. For many years, The Golden Nugget had the honor of being the oldest ride on the Wildwood Boardwalk still surviving in its original form and location. The Golden Nugget originally opened in July 1960 on the newly constructed oceanside section of Hunt’s Pier. The Golden Nugget was built three stories high with the top floor designed to imitate a mine car ride through the desert. The classic coaster ride was specially constructed for Hunt’s Pier by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company and was engineered by John Allen. It was removed in 2009, and a ceremony commemorating the ride was held in January of that year in anticipation of its removal.

In early 2009, Knoebels’ Amusement Resorts entered into an agreement with Morey’s Piers to acquire the trains, tracks, and ancillary mechanical equipment from the Golden Nugget ride. The equipment was moved to Pennsylvania in early 2009 for a planned reproduction of the Golden Nugget at its Elysburg, Pennsylvania, park. Renamed Black Diamond, it officially opened in October 2011. The original stunts and gags included in the ride were not part of the sale and have been retained by Morey’s Piers for usage elsewhere.

The George Boyer Museum in Wildwood currently houses artifacts from Hunt’s Pier, including Keystone Kops characters and Hunt’s Pier flags. Near Historic Cold Springs Village, Hunt’s abandoned storage and maintenance site still holds signs and parts of former rides, including boats for the Log Flume, trains for the Flyer that is currently under restoration, and letters that were part of the Hunt’s Pier Skyline Golf sign that stood opposite from the pier on top of the Ocean Theater.

The pier is currently owned by Morey’s Piers and is used to house maintenance equipment and the boardwalk tram cars. A grill, beach shop, and Adventure Maze are now on the front of the pier. Morey’s has plans to build a wooden roller coaster that will cross over from the Surfside Pier to the back of Hunt’s Pier.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Hunt’s Pier – Prologue

Philadelphia Pa – Autumn, 2020

“Hunt’s Pier… I’m way up here and I don’t know how to get down there and be close enough to you. I don’t know if I can write about you. Look how far away I am from you now.”

I had been wanting to write this piece two years ago when I was writing Wildwood Daze. I actually made a post that said I couldn’t write about Hunt’s Pier because it was too big and rich a story. It still is. I just don’t think at the time I was ready to write it.

Hunt’s Pier is an amusement pier that stood for many years on the boardwalk in Wildwood, New Jersey. I’ll delve into some family at the seashore history and then get on with my experiences. I worked there on one of the rides for the 1980-1981 seasons. I’ll do my best to recall my memories from that time.

But here we are in the midst of a global crisis. I’m trapped at home. I’ve been in lockdown since March 2020. The last few years of my life have been one long social exploration. But here I was stuck at home. But there was income rolling in. So what does a creative soul do with that newfound freedom?

I write.

I publish Crazy Dating Stories. I write and publish Angel with a Broken Wing. I publish Phicklephilly 2, and then Sun Stories. I write a hard-boiled detective novel to be published in June. It was a very busy time creatively for me.

But as Autumn approached I could feel the darkness gliding in. All my books were done. There was about a month there where I had nothing to create or work on. My routine was broken.

Now what? I’m worried about my unemployment running out. The stimulus money has dried up. The fear is beginning to seep in. And so is its favorite mate. Depression.

It never got bad, and will never again. I’ve made an agreement with my anxiety and depression to stay in their rooms until further notice. But sometimes they find the keys to their rooms or slip out the door.

I know what to do when they come for me. Eat, get your rest, and make a new routine. But you have to do something to celebrate to drop that dopamine to keep you on the rails.

I think we all have put on a little Covid weight during this idle time. I know I did. I went up a pants size, and once I cut my hair and shaved off my beard I realized I’d chubbed up, but not in a good way.

I should go out and get some exercise. So I started to walk 5 miles a day, every day. It really hurt physically after being sedentary for 7 months. But I would go out and get my breakfast sandwich, and then head toward the Delaware River. It was 5 miles up and back from where I lived. I would create a pattern. I’ll walk different streets every day to keep it interesting. Market, Chestnut, Sansom, Walnut, Locust, and so on. You get the idea.

I did it and it really beat me up. But I kept at it.

Here’s what I found. I started to feel better mentally and physically and got better at both. I could feel the clouds in the sky of my mind beginning to clear.

My brain started to drop the endorphins, serotonin into my system. That stuff works and feels great. It just gave me more energy and a happier state of mind.

Because I felt better I started to want to create again. Something original. Something from my past. That would be easy. You’re not making any new memories, turn inward and search your memories for the stories you wanted to tell before and never could because you were too busy.

And I did.

Once I began writing the deeper stories I was rewarded with dopamine. My favorite drug in the world. I should get the chemical symbol tattooed on my body. The endorphins and serotonin from exercise gave me the happiness and energy to start again. The positive energy to venture into some classic memories locked away in the rooms of my mind.

I started to write and it really started to flow. Once I finished a classic piece I could feel the dopamine dropping, and it lit me up to go on.

So even during this dark time I found a way out of the grey sadness and turned it into a dozen colorful balloons. I’m just going to keep doing this until this pandemic ends.

Hunt’s Pier was reborn in me and I’ve made a solid effort to bring it to you starting this week. It will run every Thursday for the next couple of months.

I hope you like it. I just thought I should check-in and let you know.

If you’re feeling the darkness, there’s always a way to find your way back to the light.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

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