From the Archives: Fort Lee Memories of the Jersey Shore

Show your Jersey Pride and make Lucy the Elephant your Facebook homepage photo for the next month in support of the rebuilding of the Jersey Shore!

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy not only blew away many of the landmarks of our youth, such as the amusement piers at Seaside Heights, the high winds blew the dust off decades old memories for many of us Jerseyites. 

Our first concern of course is with those that lost their homes and businesses and in some instances their lives in this terrible hurricane. Massive destruction hit the entire Garden State, but Sandy seemed to set her sites specifically on the Jersey Shore.

Growing up in Fort Lee, we were fortunate enough to have our own personal Jersey Shore in the venerable old Palisades Amusement Park. Our park even had a saltwater pool with waves and a beach! However that never stopped our families from planning a summer vacation for us for a week or two at such exotic locales as Seaside Heights, Asbury Park, Beach Haven on Long Beach Island (or LBI for most of us) and even the boardwalk on Atlantic City.

As a child of the 60s from a blue collar family in Fort Lee, we lived for our vacations down the Jersey Shore, spent at either my dad’s Irish-American side of the family in a bungalow owned by my cousin Pat in Beach Haven on LBI (better known as the Irish Riviera) or at a bungalow rented by my Aunt Anna (my mom’s Italian side of course) in Seaside Heights, as Anna liked to be where the action was boardwalk-wise. 

The fun always began by loading up the old used Ford station wagon with more equipment and supplies than General George S. Patton hauled on his trek to the Rhine! The car was packed tightly with beach blankets, clothes, beach balls, pots and pans, and my sister and I lodged between the basket of salami sandwiches and the steel cooler of iced tea as if we were the olives in a grand buffet.  

Once the old man sat behind the wheel next to my mom and asked for a butterscotch candy, which my mom hunted down in her purse, it was, in the words of Jackie Gleason, “and away we go!!!” 

Something tells me the old man asked for a butterscotch candy because that candy had the word scotch in it, and as he was driving, he could not fortify himself with an actual shot or shots of scotch so he settled for the best he could get under the circumstances. These annual trips always included the proverbial overheated car, traffic, a stop for water and perhaps a tire change along the way, and more traffic. As I travel down the shore in this century, E-ZPass style, it seems so much easier and quicker but in so many ways a lot less fun.

Upon our arrival in Beach Haven we would unload the car and set up shop in this wonderful little bungalow across the street from Hands Store. This bungalow housed a large part of my dad’s Irish clan. The bungalows were packed so tight side to side it reminds me of an observation the great American humorist Jean Shepard made about the time he spent in a Jersey shore bungalow – he said when he made a sandwich in the kitchen of his bungalow the top of the sandwich flew off when his neighbor in an adjacent bungalow sneezed! What I recall most about LBI in those days was the grand three masted schooner the Lucy Evelyn!

The schooner was built in 1917 and eventually towed from Maine to Beach Haven on Long Beach Island in 1947 where the Lucy Evelyn was turned into a gift shop until she burned down in 1972. As kids we had more fun running inside the schooner and searching to find the captain ‘s bunk!  Also this schooner was moored adjacent to the Fantasy Island Amusement Park (http://www.fantasyislandpark.com/) - the amusement park I'm glad to say survived Sandy!

A little further to the north sits the currently ravaged Seaside Heights. As an early teen this is where we spent our summers with my Aunt Anna, Uncle Ralph and cousin Ron. Also this is where we trekked during our high school – college days as it was affordable and we could survive by eating at the pizza stand at the southern end of the boardwalk. I also recall, if memory serves me right, a great potato pancake stand in that same vicinity. My Aunt was a devotee of the gambling on the boardwalk; especially the cigarette stands where she could win cartons of her favorite brand Marlboros. She also won my cousin and the rest of her nieces and nephews very cool gifts including the elongated twisted Pepsi bottles filled with colored sand that we brought home as souvenirs of our summers on the Jersey Shore. Mostly I remember running on the piers and taking advantage of all the rides with my cousins and friends. 

One early morning as a teen I couldn’t sleep due to a case of sunburn – though half Italian my Irish side is evident in my skin tone and in those days before sun block I suffered and only Noxzema and prayers relived the pain. As I walked the Seaside Heights boardwalk as the sun rose, my 13-year-old eyes saw a place, though perfectly still, full of excitement. As I, like all of you, saw those very same rides sit on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean this week, I can’t but think how lucky we are to have such memories and how important it is to pull together and rebuild the boardwalks and amusement parks for future generations as they define our state in a way that you cannot put in to words.

During those summers, especially the ones in the 1960's at LBI, we would take a day trip to Atlantic City, pre casino Atlantic City. This 1960's Atlantic City was very close to the one depicted in the great HBO series Boardwalk Empire. The gigantic grand old hotels still sat on the boardwalk though a little worse for the wear. A demonic Mr. Peanut sporting a top hat, monocle and natty walking stick looked down at us as we purchased our salt-water taffy and nuts. And for some reason the memory that clings to me most is being on the Steel Pier as my little sister, in a dress, was pulled off a bench by my mom as chewing gum was stuck to her bottom!

More recently I have become reacquainted with the charms and diversity of Asbury Park and Ocean Grove thanks to my friends at the Garden State Film Festival. Over the past decade I have summered on the beaches there and enjoyed all it has to offer including the iconic Asbury Lanes.

I save the best for last - my first meeting with the real Jersey girl – Lucy. During one trip to Atlantic City several years ago, my friends and I dined at the historic and fantastic Knife and Fork – the same restaurant haunted by the ghosts of Boardwalk Empire including the Commodore Louis Kuehnle himself. After a few drinks and a great steak we decided to trek south to nearby Margate to visit Lucy.

As the clock ticked past midnight we approached her, as she appeared in silhouette a mere few yards from the beach. Here we stood under her and gazed at her with the eyes of the kids we once were and right there we knew that to be from Jersey was a blessing – what other state could have as part of its history a gigantic wooden elephant with a museum inside!!!! On future trips south I always make a point to visit Lucy the Elephant and take in her museum. There is no view of the Jersey Shore that is better than the one you have from standing atop Miss Lucy as you gaze north to Atlantic City and east to the beach below and the Atlantic Ocean. And I am happy to say that Lucy survived Hurricane Sandy!

How can we help aid our fellow Jersey residents who have suffered so much, many losing their Jersey Shore homes and businesses? Well there will be a concert on NBC this Friday night to raise funds for the victims of Hurricane Sandy and it will feature performances from New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi  (http://www.courierpostonline.com/article/20121101/ENT/211010310/Springsteen-Bon-Jovi-highlight-benefit-concert-Sandy-victims?odyssey=nav%7Chead).

One easy way to show your Jersey pride will take you a mere few seconds – take the photo I have posted here of Lucy the Elephant, post Sandy, and use it on your Facebook page as your home page photo in support of those who were hit hard by Sandy, and in support of the rebuilding of the Jersey Shore!  

Let's all show our Jersey pride and spread the word - make Lucy the homepage photo on your Facebook page for the next month if you are from Jersey!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Carol Viola November 03, 2012 at 03:06 AM
Loved it Tom, so many great memories.
Tom Meyers November 03, 2012 at 03:09 AM
Thanks Carol...we are both lucky to share some of these great memories for sure!
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LAUREN November 16, 2012 at 07:16 PM
So many great memories! I invite you to check out http://jerseyshorestories.org - There are as many memories of time spent down the shore as there are grains of sand scattered between the boardwalks and the surf. The salt air, the sand dunes, and the carnival rides have brought countless generations of beach bums and day trippers to the water's edge, with bikinis on, coolers in tow, and smiles on their faces. Help me to capture some of those memories - your memories! Please take a look at http://jerseyshorestories.org and consider sharing your story. Thanks!
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