Corrections or additions?
Prepared for August 9, 2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All
The Shore the Tourists See
Old maps and older spellings clue the reader in to
this glorious romp along the Jersey Shore. "Shore Chronicles"
is based on diaries and journals, letters and essays of travelers
that span the period from 1764 to 1955. Some reach us from so long
ago that our shore was referred to by cartographers as "a sterile
land." Motives for journeys ranged from preaching and evangelism
to Houdini’s escapes from various bonds at Atlantic City
from health cures and "smart beaux" to half a million soldiers
training for World War II; right up to ribbon cutters opening the
new Garden State Parkway in 1955.
Editor Margaret Thomas Buchholz is generous in her selections, and
rigorous without being tedious in her introductions and footnotes.
Her book is one of two unusual Jersey shore guidebooks that we
discovered and the better of the two. Both, however, provide readers
with fresh insights into a longtime — and for some a perhaps stale
— summer destination. So if family or friends are prodding you
to fight traffic once again for a visit to the shore, you might warm
up for the trip with one of these guides.
Buchholz has a taste for the outrageous and the bold, as well as for
freshness and loveliness. Her discrimination and merriment render
this production a true page-turner. What better "summer read"
than this distinguished distillation of two centuries’ written
of beaches past?
Her earliest diarist, a Pastor Wrangel, crossed the Delaware in 1764
"in glorious dawn light." From tavern to tavern he meandered,
— not to imbibe, but to restore his strength between discoveries
that "little or no knowledge of God resides in this house."
Besides being on the lookout for souls, the Pastor took note of
phenomena. He concluded, earlier than some, that the "land
(in and around Egg Harbor) had been under the sea: "for, when
they dig wells around here, they find oyster shells deep in the
He chronicles crops (maize and rye), woods (spruce, pine, cedar and
oak), and the flora: "Mirtell whose berries make a beautiful green
mirtell wax." (Editor’s notes confirm our conclusion that this
is the bountiful bayberry.) This preacher has no qualms about publicly
examining the morals of those whom he encounters: for example,
Irishman who appeared to be making money to the harm of others, with
little concern about God." The French would smile knowingly,
more things change, the more they remain the same." Wrangel
something that does not, mercifully change: "In the intolerable
heat of summer, they have a pleasant coolness from the ocean."
We can be thankful for progress, in that, to the earliest boarding
house in Long Branch, in 1790, visitors had to bring their own beds.
Things altered, but may not have improved. By 1809, physicians were
prescribing "the waters" of Long Branch to wealthy patients.
Hotels boasted of featuring "hymn singing, prayer meetings and
grace at all meals." This is from one of editor Buchholz’s short,
pithy introductions, which feed but do not sate reader curiosity.
It’s always a treat to touch the early fame of these
towns that time and commerce have, generally, forgotten. Sites that
now reek of coconut tanning oil once rang to the shouts of navvies,
rustled with the raising and lowering of canvas. A writer speaks of
a port long silted over in our own time, "where more than 20 ships
now lay to receive the products of this district."
Irresistible maps and familiar or dramatic black and white photographs
stud this book. A reader will discover that our major shore routes
follow trails blazed by the Lenni Lenape Indians: Philadelphia/Camden
to Long Branch, Camden to Tuckerton, Camden to Manahawkin. (And, I
happen to know from other sources, Trenton marsh to Tuckerton.) Editor
and John T. Cunningham, in his preface, regret that these written
accounts remind us that for those first eyes and hands and feet to
encounter our Shore there was no written language. If a diarist can
discuss "filling a boat with oysters in a half an hour," how
much greater bounty would our earliest settlers have been able to
One of the prize tales herein is that of Sarah Thompson’s misspelled
romp from Philadelphia to Tuckerton in 1809, in search of "smart
beaux." "Stage leaked — spoilt my pretty bonnet."
"Charles complained of rats, said they bit his ear." "The
driver, polite, stopt several times to pick us magnolias and water
lilys." Miss Sarah was the guest of the eponymous Judge Ebenezer
Tucker. The somewhat ungrateful guest?: "Judge monsterous
Son Aron’s "eyes too large for my comfort." Shore travel
all magnolias and lilies, however. "Mama very ill with the choler
. . . must not eat any more radishes." "I opened clames,
made the kittle boil." Sarah found no fault with Dr. Garrison
as a person, save "his pantiloons being a different couler and
coat tail too short." As her sojourn progressed, shadows intruded.
Despite many references to fiddlers and "playing wist" and
"glorious romps," she begins to mention "woeful
Headaches, backaches, — which she blames on milk, to the degree
that she must be "bled and pucked." "I could not join
in there dance, and so went to bed sick," is a late entry. And
so her diary peters out, an early transcriber deeming it illegible
from then on. It is not known what happened: "Sarah may have died
An 1864 account of Barnegat Bay introduces another kind of hunting,
in the days when the sun itself was darkened by migrating wildfowl.
This is, but was not then called, the Atlantic Flyway. T. Robinson
Warren, a Wall Street stockbroker from New Brunswick, takes us with
him on "sneak boat" excursions. There is an excellent
of hunters using this signature Barnegat craft, which can be easily
converted to a duck blind and is designed to hold a raft of decoys.
Warren proclaims that he will inform us in no uncertain terms of
that is essential to the comfort of the duck shooter." So much
for comfort: "Winds out of the NW" (ideal for migrating hawks
at Hawk Mt. and Cape May. I don’t know about ducks), he complains,
as their best-laid plans are foiled. "The only ones we could hope
to get a bang at were the regular traders who rarely came to stool,
being too knowing by half." Warren hurries his companions back
to smoke-filled Chadwick’s. "Everything is suggestive of
. . . The only visible objects beside the house is the debris of
Ironically, considering that it is set in "Birding
Central," Cape May, an 1870 memoir is that of a 15-year-old hunter
and flirt. Frank Willing Leach boasts of killing "thrashers,
cedar birds and cat birds."
"On Sunday, after a good sermon at church, we came home to a
pot pie of the birds we killed on Saturday." He writes of leaving
school "because there was no fire," and going to an emporium
to be "measured for a pair of gaiters." He undertakes tasks
with his father, and serves as pallbearer for a schoolmate. He courts
girls by horse and buggy and writes of "a terrible murder
When the lad receives a Dear John letter at the post office, his pals
treat him to ice cream sublimation. On the eve of his 16th birthday,
Leach reads himself to sleep with Longfellow’s poems. That was then;
this is now.
Buchholz is to be commended for the variety and breadth of her
and for a fine sense of pace and alternation. She moves with her
from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again, not missing a beat.
A financier father writes his son on the brink of graduation, carrying
on about "oysters on the halfshell, boiled sheephead (very fine),
roast beef or lamb with full vegetables, strawberries and two kinds
of ice cream, with raisins and nuts to close." Papa closes, as
was the custom, with "Affectionately yours, Theo. T. Price",
and not a word about the end of schooling or the beginning of life.
Edmund Wilson, though celebrated for his writing and editing, his
intellectualism and wit, savors the Roaring Twenties. Beach
include "men in white knickerbocker trousers;" "buttermilk
salt water taffy and hot buttered popcorn;" Fourth of July rockets
"streaming violet and silver against deepening grey." He moves
off the sand to decry" little sordid sandy sea-bleached bungalows
with people listlessly setting about them in bathing suits." Wilson
studiously examines "the beach for the rich people’s servants,
who were sometimes, in their bathing suits, unrecognizably better
looking." This man goes into considerable anatomical detail (such
as nipples), not the sort of thing one wrote/read that much about
in the Twenties. This man makes a very good candidate for voyeur of
the year, or even of the decade.
Astoundingly, even Arthur Conan Doyle writes on Atlantic City. This
in a time of rum runners and Houdini suspending himself outside the
Garden Pier. This author was not in the U.S. to lecture on his
detective, but upon spiritualism. Upon arrival Doyle worries (and
may be the last ever to have done so) that he and his party may become
"enervated from the luxury" of the Ambassador Hotel. He
that it is "difficult to describe Atlantic City, as we have
in England which is like it." Despite having come direct from
Manhattan, the creator of Sherlock Holmes finds Atlantic City
the liveliest place we have found in our extended travels." Ever
the lecturer, he describes the surf: "A roller is big enough to
give you a merry romp, if you care to go out to play. It is not a
very safe beach. Several were drowned while we were here. Houdini,
one of the finest swimmers in the world, told me he had to fight for
his life upon one occasion." Doyle’s reaction to the famous wicker
chairs, in which the privileged were pushed up and down the Boardwalk
(I had photos of my Swiss in-laws, dressed to the nines, in those
white carriages), was that "Atlantic City at first seemed to be
a city of invalids."
Sands and coastlines have to do with more than pleasure.
Both World Wars have sagas here: Tuckerton’s infamous radio tower
is described by Eleanor Browning Price. The girl discovers that her
friends, the Mayers, are probably enhancing Germany at the cost of
our country in days and hours before that war was declared. A later
chronicler laments, "Blood has already been shed. Do you think
Hitler will listen to reason now? I can’t think of any fate bad enough
for those Nazi cut throats." When a half million soldiers trained
for World War II in Atlantic City, it became known as Camp Boardwalk.
From early 1942 on, the beaches of New Jersey were declared off-limits
from sunset to sunrise. Tankers were torpedoed close off shore, and
spies a constant dread. Walkers had to deal with tar from sunken
The Shore (realize there is no other "shore" save ours!) is
described here in all seasons, but no one but Walt Whitman clearly
prefers the winter. He’s actually better at describing his journey
to the sands, than life alongside the waves.
"Shore Chronicles" ends and new eras begin with the July 4,
1955, ribbon cutting for the Garden State Parkway: Malcolm McTear
Davis reports "a miracle ride through a surprisingly scenic
Once at Cape May (it took him from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to reach it from
Manhattan, and he thinks this is good), however, the author balks
at spending $17 for a double room at the "pretentious"
This book is a magic carpet to a simpler time; to other sorts of
skills, crafts, and livelihoods. We can access this freshness, in
print as well as in cars and canoes. Just set out down any of the
lovely back roads and the more usual Route 206s and Garden State
the sand lanes and tea-colored rivers of the Pines. Glimpses granted
by Editor Buchholz can be expanded, even now, into living landscapes
within less than two hours of our office doors.
edited by Margaret Thomas Buchholz. Down the Shore Publishing
Not all shore guides are created equal. "Down the
Jersey Shore" — a 1993 revision of a 1953 classic — never,
sadly, ignites. Authors Rich Youmans and Russell Roberts manifest
an obvious enthusiasm for their subject, especially in early moments.
Yet unlike "Shore Chronicles," the product of their effort
is all too easy to put down. This may be a guidebook only a shore
addict can love. Or someone, say, from North Dakota or Manhattan,
who’s considering relocating along our sandy reaches, who needs to
take in the whole teeming reality fast. "Down the Jersey
is for sipping, not gulping. It would do under a beach umbrella on
a lazy afternoon.
The whimsical cover edges into the irresistible — a modern pastel
evocation of the bathing scene in the not-that-roaring ’30s. Men in
plus-fours and women with parasols, children in rompers and men in
bathing garments up to their necks make it very clear that that was
then, this is now. On the "now" side, maps are clearly
even fascinating: "Extinct and Existing Inlets along the Jersey
Coast" by Ruth Strohl-Palmer. The authors have chosen a valid
and useful format for their tales, stringing the chapters along a
strand not geographical nor chronological, but topical. "Shore
Town Stories," "Famous Visitors and Residents" (hint,
Grace Kelly and presidents, one of whom succumbed to his Washington
assassination on our strands). "Wooden Walkways," "War(s)
at the Shore," "Spirits of the Jersey Shore" (Is it
Yes.) Nonetheless, this volume informs without intriguing.
Readers learn the origins of everything from Atlantic City to Lucy
the Margate Elephant. Miss America is birthed in these pages, and
the first boardwalk — possibly in Cape May, not Atlantic City,
Drama happened up and down the Shore, and Roberts and Youmans are
chronologically rigorous in recounting it. We watch President Grant
trying to stiff an early toll taker. And poor James A. Garfield losing
his battle with an assassin’s bullet. We hear of O’Neill scribbling
on new plays and editing old ones in Point Pleasant. We read of
William Newall calling into being the first lifesaving service, in
a steamy D.C. summer, 1848, calling for "surf boats, life boats,
rockets, carronades . . . for the protection of life and property
. . . between Sandy Hook and Little Egg Harbor." But we watch
One is chilled by wartime sagas along this coast. But this appetizer
only makes the reader long for an entire repast on Shore wars. One
of the more inescapable, yet insoluble, puzzles is whether the signal
to sink the Lusitania went from Germany to the U-20’s captain from
Tuckerton’s Radio Tower, then a German endeavor. This 820-foot
tower, constructed at the Shore’s minuscule but historic seaport,
is one of the few places on the globe strong enough to have
the "Get Lucy" message.
War "returns" to the shore in 1991 as John Chatterton dives
a few miles off Point Pleasant to discover a torpedo. Research shows
this had to be U-550, the first Nazi sub ever reported off our coast.
However, official records show the ship 100 miles farther out.
the determined Chatterton plunged another day, retrieving china with
The trouble with the war chronicles is the trouble with the book
The facts are more enticing than the prose. The reader has to bring
his/her own embellishments, generate frissons of curiosity or fear.
Assuming that most will read this sort of text in summer, this is
not a time of excess creative energy. Personally I want to be dazzled,
want my nonexistent socks knocked off, summer and winter. I reserve
a bit more latitude for the warm times. But not much.
"In 1921 [in Sea Girt], the first radio fog beacon was
"For 85 years, Barnegat Light aided mariners sailing along the
Long Beach Island shoreline." Foghorns are so evocative, literally
chilling, especially on a summer’s day. "Old Barney" is a
light about which people (not just from New Jersey) are passionate.
Just think for a minute of its place in our hearts. Does Navesink
or Sandy Hook compare? But do Roberts and Youmans approach the meaning
of the shore they chronicle? Not in my humble experience.
Do they even mention that ungrammatical but sacrosanct phrase,
the Shore"? To locals, that phrase sets in motion an entire chain
of images and sensations, — past, present and to come. It’s a
code among belongers. It’s an excuse to sniff salt air, thump a
shingle, shake welcome sand from sneakers and keep it in the car to
remind us that we have, indeed, been "Down the Shore." It’s
an open sesame to miracles, like the 30 minke whales I watched
southward last September, just off Barnegat Inlet. Didn’t anything
like this ever happen to these authors?
This measured narrative can drain the life out of anything, even an
escaped lion in Wildwood that dragged a man under the boardwalk and
devoured him. Only in the section on shore crafts do the authors light
some coals. Perhaps it is because here they use direct quotes of the
artisans they come across. It may be that the craftsmen’s passion
for their own handiwork broke the iron bonds of narrative as the
lion could not. The legendary decoy carver, Harry V. Shourds,
"I get carried away with the painting. Some of them, when they’re
finished, they have about four coats of paint on them." Do these
authors know the meaning of "getting carried away"? Shourds
goes on to admit, "There’s factory decoys. They’re not bad,
But it’s nice to keep the handiwork."
Garvey builders John Suralik and Joe Reid discuss the crafting of
these indigenous Barnegat Bay flat boats, and the making of clam
"The only way to make ’em is to get involved with it. And get
good wood." Good wood used to mean mahogany! Jersey cedar turns
out to be pretty special, tempered as it is by salty winds. Suralik
reminisces about his early days as a Bayman: "I was out treadin’
for clams before I was even married." (Treading, — one learns
at Tuckerton Seaport, though not in this book — , means squishing
marsh muds and bay sands with your toes to dredge up the clams.
is a step up.)
Some fire, or at least smoke, emerges in the section on ghosts. Where
else have you read a recipe for burial at sea so that the spirit of
the dead won’t come back to haunt the crew? Most people nowadays head
to Cape May for hawks and warblers or Victoriana. Another attraction
could, evidently, be added: "The phantom gun crew still performing
their duties on the bunker just off the beach at Cape May Point."
But this hors d’oeuvre is all we get.
No matter how Chamber of Commerces may try to insist that we did not
have wrecking along our storied sands, Roberts and Youmans reveal
a rare burst of humor on this subject. After admitting that shore
wrecking was so organized that towns appointed Wreck Masters, they
give us the aside, "New Jersey wasn’t called the graveyard of
the Atlantic for nothing." Now, granted, they’re in stiff company
here, Thoreau and Henry Beston having easily bested them in the area
of describing shipwrecks and wreckers. Still, one longs to wallow
in this nefarious pasttime. One is, instead, offered a soporific.
If you’re at the shore and you want to know more, you may find
in this book. I would prefer that the authors had let their proverbial
hair down, plunged into that electrifying surf, gulped that iodized,
ionized air. They might have come out writing with the passion of
a Hemingway on Northern Michigan, the icy but irresistible detachment
of a Fitzgerald on the idle rich idling richly; the frank voyeurism
of an Edmund Wilson, or the wry twists of a Robert Benchley. Instead,
I felt I had spent my time with a phone book, an encyclopedia, at
best. And they didn’t even do "Storms at the Shore!"
Rutgers University Press, 1993, $16.00 paperback.
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