When the fishing of village of An-glesea gave birth to the city of North Wildwood a century ago, the new metropolis had a higher year round population than Las Vegas, Nevada which boasted 30 people, not one of whom was a lounge singer.
Canned beer, a beverage staple hereabouts in the summertime, had not been invented. Nor had iced tea, which a few other folks like to sip when the mercury reaches the three-digit range.
Following along trails originally created by Lenni-Lenape Indians who only visited the barrier islands to fish and hold ri-otous three day bacchanals that modern visitors recreate every year during the Fall Irish Festi-val, you could travel from the mainland to Cape May Court House and from there to Anglesea on the West Jersey Rail-road at the begin-ning of the 20th century.
The railroad was still King in the USA because in 1906, there were only 8,000 cars and about 150 miles of paved roads in this country.
You have to love facts and figures like these because they underscore just how amazingly fast change hap-pens and has be-come a way of life in modern America. And as anyone who’s paid atten-tion to the whole-sale remake job going on right now throughout the Wildwoods under-stands, it looks like the pace of change will only move faster as North Wildwood moves into its second century.
A century ago, the average worker in this country earned 22 cents an hour. Nobody re-tired to live hap-pily ever after on pensions and So-cial Security. And if you think the so-called profes-sionals were rak-ing in the chips, think again. Your typical accountant made about $2000 a year and didn’t have the busy in-come tax season to beef up his bank account because there was no fed-eral income tax. The family dentist pulled down less for an entire year than it costs for a set of braces today, while the family vet earned about $1500 and all the eggs he could eat.
Needless to say, not too many peo-ple were building condos by the sea in the early days of North Wildwood. In fact, aside from fishing shacks, the big building in town was the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse.
I know all about the way North Wildwood used to be in the good old days, thanks to a well-thumbed book I found in our attic a few years back.
I’m not sure how the book made its way to the darkest recesses of our attic but I found there it in the middle of a pile of children’s beach toys that my parents purchased at the tumble down stand that used to grace the beach at 18th Avenue (site of today’s Montego Bay Resort) and scrap pieces of plywood and panel-ing trim (pur-chased from the late, lamented Colson’s Hardware store at 18th and New Jersey Ave-nues).
The book was written by George Boyer. Yes, the same guy they named the museum after.
According to Boyer, the Lenape used to call the Wildwoods “five miles of health and happiness” and, at the turn of the 20th cen-tury, Anglesea was the only spot on the island that warranted even a mention in tourism guides. Could the apparent lack of interest in the place for tourists explain the Lenape nickname? Boyer doesn’t say.
Boyer’s book also describes the island before North Wildwood came into being as a place rife with pirates, perhaps including the no-torious Captain Kidd, who appar-ently lingered in the area long enough to start the tradition of treasure chest hunts for kids that take place on the beach every year. The pirates are long gone but the boardwalk is still rife with tee shirt vendors.
Boyer’s section on North Wildwood concludes by ob-serving that the town “still has its contingent of fishermen and boats, but also has modern luxury motels, well-cared for homes, and famous restaurants and night clubs”. If Boyer were re-writing that his-tory today, he might note that there are still a few fishermen and the boats, but the numbers of motels, restaurants, and clubs has dwindled and so has the beach.
By the end of North Wildwood’s second century, the beach might once again stretch half way to France, the way it did a few decades ago when I was a kid. And maybe some insightful business guy will have come up with the bright idea of tearing down all those same old condos to put up fancy hotels and restaurants.
I plan on stick-ing around to see what happens and, with the marvels of modern medical science, who knows, maybe I’ll be around to look for Gus at North Wildwood’s bicen-tennial. If I’m here, I’ll still be working because Lord knows, I sure won’t be able to afford to retire.
Of course, North Wildwood’s Centen-nial is the big event of the com-ing weekend.
The celebration starts on Friday at 7 p.m. on Olde New Jersey Avenue, which has been converted into a 1906 era street-scape for the oc-casion. The stage will feature sing-ers, musicians, and dancers per-forming songs from the era. There will also be tra-ditional “fair fare”, namely, popcorn, cotton candy, and the like.
The evening will also include a program from the John Walter Cape Community Band, a group of musicians from the Cape May County area that has been perform-ing for the past ten years. The band will play the music of John Phillip Sousa. There will also be strolling Victo-rian singers and performances by the Cape Harmon-aires and barber-shop quartet “Right on Cue”.
And finally, we will learn the answer to the question ‘Where’s Gus?’ as the city hosts a lookalike contest to find that someone who most closely re-sembles the city’s first mayor, Au-gustus Hilton. That lucky indi-vidual will win $300. The person who finds him (or her) picks up a $200 finder’s fee.
On Saturday at noon, there will be a parade along Atlantic Avenue to the 8th Avenue playing field.
After the pa-rade, the whole community is in-vited to a picnic on the 15th Avenue beach. There will be music and games, and lots of good things to eat. Chad the Ma-gician will per-form. There will be pony rides and potato sack races for the kids.
In addition, Mummers comics from Philly will perform the clas-sic skit, “Revenge of the Shoobies”
On Sunday, there will be free tours of the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse at 1st and New Jersey Avenues.
Last but not least, there will be a ceremony on Tuesday, May 16 at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 901 Atlantic Ave. A special time capsule will be buried for fu-ture North Wild-woodians to marvel at whenever they dig it up, possi-bly in fifty years. There will also be a dedica-tion of Centennial Walk, which is being lined even as you read this with special brick pavers purchased by various people in honor of the occasion.
Bob Scully and Jake Schaad, co-authors of the new book “North Wild-wood, Then and Now” will talk about the city’s history.
For more infor-mation on the cen-tennial, call (609) 522-7722.
The first annual “Friends of VIM” beef and beer takes place Friday from 6-9 p.m. at the Windrift Hotel and Cocktail Lounge in Avalon.
The event sup-ports Volunteers in Medicine of Cape May County and its clinic in Cape May Court House, which pro-vides free medical care for citizens of the county who have no health insurance.
The evening in-cludes a full buf-fet dinner, choice of house wine or draft beer, and ongoing musical entertainment. There will also be a 50-50 and door prizes awarded throughout the event.
Tickets cost $25 and will be avail-able at the door. Or you can call Marcy at 368-6787, Micki at 463-3529, or Stu at 675-0472.
Cape May County Emerald Society holds its regular monthly meeting on Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus Hall on New York Avenue, North Wildwood.
There will be story time for preschool age children tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. at the Wildwood Crest branch of the county library, 6301 Ocean Ave.
Call 522-0564 for more informa-tion.
Congratula-tions Margaret Mace honor roll students for the third marking pe-riod.
Earning first honors are: Alex-andra Helm, Paul Henon, Salvatore Zampirri (3rd grade),
Samantha Bar-rett, Jacquelyn DeLong, Sean Pop-ovick (4th),
Grace Lederer, Anthony Madle, Jordan Montgomery, Evan Thame (5th),
Katherine Jett, Dawn Kennedy, Elizabeth Morinelli (6th),
Laura Martin, Mark Rucci (7th),
Joseph Rogowski (8th).
Students earning second honors are: Glenn Bratlie, Alissamarie D’Amico, Kevin Laffey, Austin McClure, Olivia Shelton (3rd),
Emmett Cawley, Jake Freeman, Jo-seph Jett, Nikole Kantzios, Mariah Kennedy, Lauren Matteo, Zachary Swartz, Maria Velasquez (4th),
Aubrey New, An-drea Stern, Zach-ary Turner (5th),
Samantha Fox, William Oakley, Sarah Visalli, Katherine Youschak (6th),
Anthony Deutsch, Brandon Laffey, Robert Maschio, Katherine Sel-grath, Christina Tolomeo (7th),
Amanda Barrett, Sean Holton, Chris Gonzalez, Alec McAlarnen, Kylie Smith, Angelo Walton, and Joseph Cooper (8th).
North Wildwood Planning Board meets tonight at 7 p.m. on the second floor of City Hall, 901 Atlantic Avenue.
Wildwood plan-ners meet Monday, May 15 at 7 p.m. on the second floor of City Hall, 4400 New Jersey Avenue.
Wildwood Crest Zoning Board meets Tuesday, May 16 at 7 p.m. at Borough Hall, 6101 Pacific Avenue.
The Tall Cedars of Lebanon hold their annual con-vention this week-end with events at the convention center, Burk Ave-nue and the board-walk.
There will also be a parade at 10 a.m. along Atlan-tic Avenue, south to Andrews Avenue, Wildwood.
Wildwood High School Band hosts the second Wild-wood Island Band Festival tomorrow at 6 p.m. in the school auditorium, 4300 Pacific Ave-nue.
Bands from Mar-garet Mace and Crest memorial Schools join the Wildwood High band for an evening of instrumental mu-sic.
Wildwood High’s Spring Concert takes place Wednesday, May 17 at 7 p.m. The band will be joined by the middle and high school choirs.
Call 522-7922 for more informa-tion.
Asbury AME Church is hosting a Mother’s Day dinner on Sunday from 9 a.m.- 5p.m. at the church, Young and New Jer-sey Avenues, Wild-wood.
Dinner costs $8. Special Mother’s day cakes cost $10 and sweet potato pies cost $5. For more information, call 729-5584.
Congratulations to Crest Memorial School students Thomas Malinowski and Christopher Samartino.
The pair was re-cently named to the All South Jer-sey Elementary Honors Band. Sixth grader Malinowki plays the trumpet. Samartino, a fifth grader, plays the French horn.
The students will play on Sat-urday in a band concert at Wil-liamstown High School with stu-dents from throughout south-ern New Jersey.
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