By Curt Oden - Exline correspondent
Wasn’t that nice how we received some much needed rain fall last weekend? We ended up with almost two inches of rain in our gauge last weekend from those rain storms. By Monday, some of our grass in our yard began to turn green again after the long, dry summer.
The recipe for this week can either be made as a meal or a side dish.
Ham and Scalloped Potatoes
3 Tb. butter
1 Tb. flour
Salt and pepper to taste
2-½ c. milk
6 medium potatoes (peeled and thinly sliced)
1-½ c. cubed fully cooked ham
1 small onion (finely chopped)
1 Tb. butter
Directions for White Sauce
Heat 3 Tb. of butter in a saucepan over low heat until melted. Stir in flour, then add salt and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat. Stir in milk and return to heat. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly.
Arrange potatoes in buttered 2 quart casserole dish, in three layers. Put in a layer of potatoes, a layer of half of the ham, half of the onion and a third of the White Sauce and repeat two more times.
Top with the remaining potatoes and White Sauce. Dot with the remaining tablespoon of butter.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake without the cover until the potatoes are tender. This should be about one hour. Let it stand five to 20 minutes before serving.
I know just about everyone has heard of Atlantic City, the famous seashore resort town on the Atlantic Ocean, along the southern shore of New Jersey. It is located just off the coast of the mainland on a barrier island, known as Absecon Island.
There was also a place along the famous boardwalk, known as the Steep Pier. In its hey day it was the place to see famous attractions, stars and entertainment. Years ago, the famous beauty contest Miss America, was held there at the end of September to help extend the tourist season a month past the Labor Day weekend.
The Steel Pier was an off shoot of the famous resort town boardwalk that developed along the southern New Jersey coast line. The town of Atlantic City began with only seven houses in 1852. By the year of 1853, the first lodging that opened to the public appeared in the town. It was called the United States Hotel. The four story building held 2,000 guests and was owned by the railroad. It also was the largest hotel in the entire United States with more than 600 rooms on 14 acres of land.
The fresh sea air and ocean salt water were thought to be good for your health, so people began to spend time at the seashore and enjoy the sand and surf. The town was officially incorporated in 1854.
That was also the same year that the first railroad was built to the resort town. It linked the seashore to the city of Philadelphia, which was about 60 miles northeast of there. Twenty years later, there were over a half a million people being brought to Atlantic City by the railroad.
The first boardwalk in the town was built in 1870 to keep sand out of the hotels.
The structure was built in widths of 10 to 12 feet in places at a cost of $5,000 and was approximately one mile long. It originally had no railings and people were prone to falling off of it into the sand.
As the popularity of the resort grew, a road was constructed with bridges so people could travel to the town by other means. It was also built in 1870 as a toll road, which charged travelers a 30 cent toll to use, as it crossed through the Back Bay and marshland.
In the beginning, at the end of the summer tourist season the boardwalk was dismantled and stored for the winter and then rebuilt each spring. Eventually it became a permanent structure.
As the resort town expanded, the boardwalk began to be used for different things. It became a tradition for families to appear and promenade on the boardwalk on Easter Sunday, to show off their Easter Bonnet and new Easter clothes. On Easter Sunday in 1876 it saw one of its largest crowds ever at that time.
There were so many people that wanted to be there for that event they eventually had to build the boardwalk bigger. By 1880, the boardwalk was rebuilt four feet wider to accommodate all of it visitors that would crowd the famous walkway in the summertime.
At first, businesses were not allowed to build near the boardwalk but by 1883, they were allowed to build their stores right next to the boardwalk.
That was the year that the Salt Water Taffy also originated. According to the legend, a storm tide washed into a local candy store putting salt water onto their pulled taffy. When they opened up the business, a little girl came into buy some taffy candy, the owner told her all he had was Salt Water Taffy. The little girl bought some and his wife liked the name and it was called that ever since, even though there is no salt, in salt water taffy!
In 1884 a bad winter storm damaged the boardwalk, from fierce ocean waves. This caused the structure to have to be rebuilt for a third time to begin the tourist season. By then it was 20 feet wide, and two miles long. It was built on wooden pilings five feet above the sand and waves but it still did not have any railings. Because of that, people would still occasionally fall off of the boardwalk.
That same year saw the debut of the Rolling Chairs. If you did not want to walk along on the boardwalk, you could ride in a wicker chair on three wheels that could hold two people and be pushed by someone, to take in the sights.
That version of the boardwalk was destroyed in another winter storm in 1889. By the tourist season of 1890 a fourth boardwalk was built. That one expanded to 24 feet wide and was ten feet above the beach and was about four miles long. Finally that one had railings on both sides, to prevent further accidents from happening, since that version was much higher.
The next makeover occurred in 1896,when new steel pilings were put under the new boardwalk. It was lengthened to 4-½ miles long and was 60 feet wide. It stretched the entire length of the Atlantic City shoreline from the town of nearby Ventnor, to the Inlet.
In 1898, a big change occurred along the boardwalk. A new pier was built out into the ocean extending from the boardwalk. It was called the Steel Pier.
On opening day on June 18 of that year, visitors were allowed in to see the new attraction at 9 a.m. The crowds heard speeches by local dignitaries and were entertained by concerts through the day by several different bands.
Even the famous comedian, W. C. Fields appeared during the first season the Steel Pier was open. He performed with a minstrel group that he was a member of.
For the first few years that it was open, concerts by military bands were popular including John Philip Sousa and his famous United States Marine, Military Band. Animal acts soon became quite popular with the public also, as other forms of entertainment evolved on the pier.
By the 20th century in the early 1900s, the resort town began to really expand with many new hotels being built right near the beach at the boardwalk.
In 1924, the steel pier entrance was damaged in a fire. When they rebuilt that part of the pier, they included exhibit areas, where businesses from around the world could come to the famous resort town to display their products.
As the Steel Pier grew, it became known as the Nation’s Showplace. In 1926 a new owner took over the pier. His name was Frank Gravatt. He rented 20,000 feet of exhibit space to General Motors, where they showed off their new cars there, until 1968.
Under his leadership, soon big bands began to appear there, along with celebrities and other acts. He even hired one performer who had a tumbling act, with the Buffalo Bill Cody Show, named George Hamid.
Hamid was known for promoting unusual acts and working with the pier owners developing some legendary acts that appeared on the famous pier. He introduced the High Diving Hawaiians, and the Human Cannon Ball. Another act that was popular in those early days was Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly, who held the world’s pole sitting record that was all the craze, by staying up there for seven weeks.
Hamid is also credited for bringing the Diving Horse to the Steel Pier. A another renowned Showman from the Wild West Show, the legendary, Dr. W.F. “Doc” Carver, who originated the feat of riding a horse off of a forty foot tower, began an act that featured his daughter, Lorena riding a horse off a high vantage point into the ocean.
Originally, the Diving Horse act, was held at the very end of the Steel Pier and the lady on the horse, would stay on the horse, as it jumped directly into the ocean. Eventually, the act was moved to the pier and a tank of water was built for the horse and its rider to jump into, to avoid the unpredictable ocean water.
By 1945 George Hamid bought the Steel Pier and became its owner. Under his guidance, he began to expand the attractions on the famous pier. During the 1940s, many of the Big Bands played the Steel Pier. In those days they said you did not become a “Big Band” until you played at that venue. Such bands, as Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey and Guy Lombardo, among others, all played in the big Marine Ballroom.
In the early days such noted performers as Mae West, Al Jolson, Milton Berle, George Burns, the Three Stooges, along with Abbott and Costello all appeared there.
Many other famous singers and entertainers also played to large crowds there over the years. People such as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Bobby Rydell, Paul Anka, the Lennon Sisters, and the Supremes, along with many country music acts, including Conway Twitty. Even one of Walt Disney’s original Mouseketeers, Annette Funicello even appeared there, along with many other famous personalities.
The visitors to the Steel Pier, only had to pay one admission price and they got to see all of the shows and attractions. They could even take in a movie, in one of their four theatres, that was located on the pier. That way, you could sit in air conditioned comfort for a few hours and get in, out of the heat.
At the heighth of its popularity, besides the more famous things to see, there were tens of thousands of visitors on the pier, also seeing the other shows and attractions. As the summer ended, the crowds would sometimes reach 80,000 people, on the Sunday before Labor Day.
In those days, the boardwalk attained a length of seven miles long. As a kid growing up in New Jersey, we only lived about 50 miles from Atlantic City.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s we would go to Atlantic City a lot of times over the years. I remember when I was about four years old in 1957, being taken to the Steel Pier to see the Diving Horse.
In those days, you had to sit in high, open bleachers, way at the end of the pier. You could see the churning ocean waves way down below. They were illuminated from the many lights of the pier, out in the darkness. I never liked high places, so the longer I sat there that night, the less I liked it. It was there with my parents and others and my grandmother. She could see I did not like sitting way up there, so she took me to the opposite end of the pier, into the big Marine Ballroom and we watched a band play music and watched the people dance. So, I never did get to see the Diving Horse.
The General Motors cars were always behind huge pains of glass at the entrance to the Steep Pier. Those shiny cars were neat to look at, under the bright lights. That really made them glisten.
Right across the boardwalk from the entrance to the Steel Pier, was a Planters Peanut place, with a giant Mr. Peanut hanging off of the side of the building. We would always go in there and get bags of freshly roasted peanuts. As we walked along the boardwalk, we would shell and eat them, sometimes even sharing them with the squawking seagulls.
In those days, when you would go down to the seashore to go into the ocean, they had places called Bath Houses. There, you would pay a nominal fee and be able to change from your regular clothes into your swimming suit. In those days, you were not allowed on the boardwalk in a swim suit. You had to cover up and walk across the boards and down the steps to enter the wide, sandy beach.
There, you would set up your umbrella, by pushing it deep into the sand so the wind did not blow it over. It would provide a little shade from the bright sun, as you laid out some towels on the sand. Then, you could go down to the waters edge and slowly go into the waves that were lapping the shore line. As a kid, I liked to build sand castles and then watch the waves come charging in and wash them away.
As you sat on the hot beach, young men in white clothes would go trudging by in the hot sand, carrying a large, white metal box, full of ice cream treats. They must have had dry ice in them, to keep the ice cream cold on those summer days. If you flagged them down which my mom usually did, she would buy us cold treats on a hot day.
As you sat on the beach, small planes would fly overhead, along the shore line out over the ocean. Trailing behind them were long banners, with advertising on them, with big letters. A lot of the big, local restaurants would pay to get your attention on the big signs. Hackney’s Seafood House and Zaberer’s Restaurant, were big in those days with those kinds of ads. So, there was always all kinds of things going on, to get your attention, while you were on the beach, which was always pretty crowded.
After your day of getting sunburned on the beach, you would go back to the Bath House and be able to take a shower and get the sand off of yourself. You would then, put on nice clothes for the evening, because in those days people used to dress up on the Atlantic City Boardwalk in the evening, as they walked along taking in all of the attractions.
Back then, the men wore dress pants and a nice shirt and some of them even had a suit and tie on. The ladies wore dresses and high heeled shoes as they all walked on the boardwalk amongst the shiny lights on all of the buildings and lit signs. Because of the spiked high heels on their shoes in those days, they would have to go into one of the many stores along the boardwalk and buy a pair of little plastic things that kind of looked like a thimble. One side had an opening where you stuck the heel of the shoe into it, so when you walked on the boardwalk the ladies spike heals, did not get caught in the spaces between the boards, on the walk.
You could also stop at different places and get all kinds of things to eat as you walked along. When you would go into the Salt Water Taffy Candy Stores, you could mix and match the flavors of those treats. After you picked out what you wanted, they would put them in little pasteboard boxes that folded up to look like a miniature little suitcase.
There was always sweet fudge that you could get that was always silky smooth and creamy. A big thing on the boardwalk was also buying a “Slice“ of pizza. As you walked by the many food and pizza places on the boardwalk you could pick out what kind of pizza slice you wanted and eat it as you walked along. Then, there were super long hot hogs and big soft pretzels that you could put yellow mustard on. They were not complete without buying a big cup of Hires Rootbeer. They would pull the handle on the side of a big Hires wooden rootbeer barrel and fill your cup with the creamy, foamy rootbeer.
In those days, they also sold delicious frozen custard in a lot of different place as you walked along. It was always good on a warm night. Then, there were unique ice cream sandwiches that you could get too. They were made from big, thick Belgian Waffles. They would usually place a big slab of ice cream on there, that included a slice of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry altogether that they called Neapolitan, between the two waffles. It sure was messy but good to eat.
When you would walk along the boardwalk in those days, sometimes you could see Ed McMahon in the summer. He was the famous Pitchman who was Johnny Carson‘s sidekick and announcer on the Tonight Show for many years.
He would stand there and demonstrate food slicers and dicers, as you watched. He would give you a speal, as he chopped up the vegetables trying to entice you to buy a food slicer at the end of his presentation. In those early days, he was also a weatherman on a local Philadelphia, CBS television station.
A lot of times in those days, for something to do, my parents would take a ride in the car and we would ride down to the seashore at Atlantic City, to look in the stores and see all of the things there.
Sometimes, we would be somewhere else and end up at the famous resort town in the evening. On those occasions, my folks would end up having to buy me a jacket or sweatshirt because even in the hot summertime, it could get cool on the boardwalk at night, from the ocean breeze as you walked along.
They also had Amusement Piers along the boardwalk besides the Steel Pier. One big one filled with amusements, was the Million Dollar Pier. My dad would buy tickets and I could go on any ride I wanted, some of them, even more than once. I never went on big, scary roller coasters or anything like that. The tamer rides were more my speed.
There were even times after we would finish eating Thanksgiving dinner in the afternoon, we would take a ride to Atlantic City to walk on the Boardwalk. There would not be a lot of places open, since it was off season but there were always stores that you could look in and places to get something to eat at, if you wanted to.
Other times in the winter on mild days, we would ride down to the seashore in the daytime, on the weekend. In those days, they had saddled horses right on the beach along the famous boardwalk in Atlantic City. My dad would pay the money, so I could ride a horse on the beach in the thick sand and even go out into the edge of the ocean waves a little to ride along. That was always a fun and unique thing to get to do.
Once, our 4-H Club took a day trip to the seashore and we rented bicycles to ride in the early morning on the famous boardwalk. If you got up early enough and rented a bike, you could ride on the boardwalk until a certain time, later in the morning then you had to get off. On that particular day, we rode the full seven miles of the boardwalk from the beginning in Margate, all the way to the north end and back again.
Even Dick Clark, who hosted the famous music show called American Bandstand, appeared down at the big ballroom on the Steel Pier hosting music shows down there sometimes. The television music show American Bandstand, began in Philadelphia in the September of 1952 with host Bob Horn. They showed locally produced short musical films that were similar to later music video shows of the 1980s.
Horn wanted to change the shows format to have teenagers dancing on camera, while the top records of the day were played. That version of American Bandstand began on October 7, 1952 in Philadelphia.
I remember watching the show in the mid1950’s when Bob Horn was the host. In those days, he had a small baby lion cub in a small cage that looked like a circus wagon in front of the bandstand.
In July of 1956, Bob Horn was replaced with a temporary host named, Tony Mammarella for a brief time. Then, Dick Clark was asked to host the television show.
With Dick Clark as the host of American Bandstand, the show remained a local show for one more year in Philadelphia.
On Aug. 5, 1957 the show went nationwide, with Dick Clark as the host. Then, everyone in the country could watch American Bandstand, in the late afternoon.
In the summertime back in the early 1960s when I was young, there was another local television show called Summertime on the Pier.
On Saturday afternoons, you could tune in and watch the teenagers dance in the Marine Ballroom on the Steel Pier. The show would be hosted by a radio disc jockey named Ed Hurst. As the current rock ’n roll songs of the day played, the television cameras would pan the people outside on the sand, where they were either sun tanning on the beach or out in the ocean. You could also see the ice cream guys packing their big boxes over their shoulders selling ice cream and the planes flying by, with their banners trailing behind them. The camera would sometimes move in close and you could even read the ad behind the plane, on the banner. So, you could see all the sights from the comfort of your home, if you could not make it down to Atlantic City that week.
In 1969 the renowned Marine Ballroom on the Steel Pier which had seen so many famous stars perform there over the years, burned down and was never replaced.
As times changed, the popularity of Atlantic City began to wane. The big hotels that once lined the boardwalk from an early era, began to close and go out of business. Eventually, most of them were torn down.
In 1976 the New Jersey voters approved casino gambling in the state. It was an effort to revitalize the famous resort town of Atlantic City.
On May 26, 1978 the first casino in the country outside of Las Vegas, opened up in the seashore resort. The old, famous Chalfonte-Haddon Hall Hotel, became the Resorts International Hotel and Casino. We where there when it officially opened. We had to stand in a long line on the boardwalk to get into the casino. That opening day, it was so crowded that they had to keep track of how many peopled came out of the casino onto the boardwalk and then they would let that many more people inside.
There were so many thousands of people going in and out of there that day, it wore their brand new carpet out and turned it black, at the entrances.
Soon, other casinos were added along the boardwalk and even over by the inlet that was near the town of Brigantine, north of Atlantic City.
The Steel Pier over the years, suffered more damage from different hurricanes and a few other fires. In 1982 after its last fire, it was rebuilt as an amusement pier and went by the name of the Steel Pier, although the new pier when it was rebuilt, was a lot shorter than the original one and did not have any of the former attractions that the original pier did.
In 1993, a new group leased the pier and began to continue operating it as an amusement pier. They opened it with 14 rides.
After having different owners, the Steel Pier has undergone more changes in recent years and it remains an amusement pier and currently has 24 amusement rides, including a double carousel. Now, new investors took over the pier earlier this year. They have big plans for it and hope to make it attractive for families to visit.
So as the times have changed, the seashore resort town of Atlantic City, is trying to compete for tourist dollars. The city currently has 12 casinos with a new one being planned. Their boardwalk is now just six miles long, and the Steel Pier has been reinvented to try and capture a bit of its famous history. I am glad I got to see it, back in its glory days and have fond memories of those times.
Last Saturday, there was a nice crowd for the auction, at the home of Elizabeth Albright’s house, on Main Street. Some of the people at the sale, got a little wet when a rain shower went through the area late in afternoon.
There was a good turn out Saturday evening, at the community center for the Ice Cream Social. It was sponsored by the Royal Neighbors of America, Chapter 3000. They had six cobblers that were prepared outside in Dutch Ovens, over an open fire under a canopy. Despite the rain storm they came out great. There was also delicious homemade ice cream that was served that evening.
For the evening program they had a speaker from the Woman’s Crisis Center in Ottumwa. As a project, the Royal Neighbors of America, Exline Chapter 3000, will collecting a host of items that will be donated to the shelter. If you are interested in helping donate, you may call Mary Ann Hurley at (641) 658-2691 or Jean Leach at (641) 658-2623. for further information.
Just a reminder, that the Exline Hose Company No. 1 Museum will be open on Main Street, on this Sunday of Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2. So if you are looking for something to do over the weekend, or you have visiting friends or relatives, you can come down and tour the museum. There is no admission charge.
The bricks for the Bell Pedestal in Hero’s Park have been completed with their inscriptions on them. They hope to have the framework painted this week, after which time, the plan is to erect the pedestal and get the bell mounted from the old Exline Methodist Church that once stood on this site.
The Exline Country Store would like to hear from any bands that are interested in performing at their Blue Grass Festival that they will hold in October. If you are interested or would like further information, call the store manager Penny at (641) 658-2399.
The concert will be held in Hero’s Park, on East Wall Street in Exline, on Saturday, Oct. 20 at the shelter house in the park. It is to honor the store on its ninth anniversary. The store officially opened on Halloween Day on Oct. 31 in 2003.
As more details become available, I will keep you informed.