The Town That Fun Built

An old Jersey friend (that is, I’ve known her for a long time, not that she’s old!) shared this vintage promotional video today. Seaside Heights was a day trip for me growing up, and I used to go down a couple of times every summer. I spent HOURS in Lucky’s Arcade, without ever knowing that it had such history! After all these years, only two mementos remain from my days on the boardwalk: a Lucky Coin (perhaps two, but I can’t currently find PROM 88 DEWD), and the uppermost piercing in my left ear. Also, the memory of my friend Kim looking at me at the top of the log flume and saying, “Your hair DOES look better when it’s wet!” Good times, good times.

Note: this little film is 16 minutes long! However, it’s totally worth watching if you enjoy amusement parks, or the shore, or boardwalks, or hyperbolical marketing videos, or 1960.

Wonder Wheel, Tillie, and pink popcorn.

While out to dinner with Erin last night (at Bombay Clay Oven, where we sat barefoot in a cozy booth, littered with pillows and enveloped in curtains), she asked about my new header for July. Here’s the scoop, short-story-long:

I’m from New Jersey. That is, I lived there from infancy to the age of 18, and then on and off until I moved to Colorado when I was 24. As a result, summertime reminds me of mosquitos, oppressive heat/humidity, and trips down the shore. Yes, DOWN THE SHORE. Not “to” the shore, thankyouverymuch. The beach I visited most frequently was Seaside Heights (oh please, PLEASE click on the link), though I’d also made trips to Bradley Beach, Wildwood, Cape May, and environs. One beach that I didn’t go to was Asbury Park. At one time a thriving resort, it had become a run-down ghost town filled with derelict buildings and people of dubious moral character. Eventually, my sister moved full-time down to Ocean Grove, the shiny, sparkling, Rockwell-esque town right next door. And started working at the venerable Stone Pony, in good ol’ Asbury Park. On a visit to see her, I finally took a stroll through town. Still derelict, I was able to see first-hand the crumbling remains of what had once been popular beach-side attractions such as the giant carousel and the Palace arcade, complete with the peeling portraits of Tillie, unofficial mascot of the Jersey Shore.

What does all this have to do with anything? Not a helluva lot. I was going to use a photo of Tillie as my July masthead, to honor this most summery of months. But… all of the photos I could find are either too closely cropped to work in my horizontal format, or are too frighteningly run down. So I had to rethink.

Do you know what else is vintage, and beachy, and indicative of summer, especially to this here gal who was born in Brooklyn and spent the “off” part of those previously mentioned age-18-to-24 years there? CONEY ISLAND! Home of the other, original Tillie, also known as Steeplechase Jack. Home of Philip’s Candy (closed in 2001) and their infamous pink popcorn. Home of the Coney Island Aquarium. Home of the annual Mermaid Parade. Home of The Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel.

If you listen to the Wonder Wheel turn, one is likely to hear screams and some sort of rolling sound. That is the devilish charm of the wheel. The Wonder Wheel is unlike most Ferris wheels in that it has eight stationery cars and sixteen that roll along tracks within the wheel’s structure.  In his book The Outdoor Amusement Industry William Mangels said, “In its revolving structure are built-in curved tracks on which small passengers cars operate.  When the wheel is in motion these tracks incline, causing the cars to roll back and forth.”  Each car has two rows of two seats, both facing the same direction.  As the engine turns the wheel, the swinging cars stay stationary until they are a little above the wheel’s axis and then quickly fly down about twenty feet of track until they swing to a stop.

If one looks east down the Bowery it is easy to spot one of the Wheel’s best pieces of advertising. It is a large neon sign that has the words “Wonder Wheel” on top of each other, and the blinking word Thrills! in the middle of an arrow pointing south to the great wheel. There are only two similar Ferris wheels in the world. The first stands in Yokahama, Japan […] (and the) Sunwheel at Disney’s California Adventure.

While I have eaten a bagfull of pink popcorn from Philip’s, I have never actually ridden on the Cyclone or the Wonder Wheel. Who wants to go for a ride?