Wildwood Leader

In Another Time > Once active, Daughters of America faded from view

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Written by Jacob Schaad Jr. Tuesday, February 15, 2011 10:33 am

It is the Fourth of July in the Wildwoods, prime time for tourism and patriotism. The sun is warm, its heat somewhere approaching the 90 degree mark, and there still are cool breezes wafting ashore.

The roller coasters, their passengers screaming in delight or perhaps it is in fear, are charging toward the sky and then in sudden speed toward the earth. The tram cars on the Boardwalk are warning pedestrians to be wary of their danger. The children on the beach are digging in the sand, some at water’s edge, a safe distance from the ocean’s roar and vengeance.

Bands are playing as they parade on the street.

Those who seem to know about this sort of thing are saying that there are probably 250,000 tourists on the island on this biggest outdoor holiday of the year. But most of the visitors know very little about the island and its community interior, thinking of it as a big amusement park. In fact, it has often been referred to by promoters themselves as having more amusement rides than DisneyWorld and Disneyland together and hosting the parade capital of New Jersey. So why shouldn’t the island be mistaken for one gigantic amusement park instead of four communities and part of a fifth?

But much like Cherry Hill, Montgomeryville, Lakehurst or any other town from which the tourists come for their summer respites, the Wildwoods have a heart and soul of their own not usually obvious in the euphoria of the happy tourists who see only the summer-time upbeat of nights and days at the seashore. When much is closed for the season, a different face appears in the Wildwoods and often great community spirit comes to the forefront, not always visible in the busy days of the happy time.

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In Another Time > Blaker, Bakers leave their mark on the island

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Written by Jacob Schaad Jr. Wednesday, February 09, 2011 09:10 am

Their similar names and goals often confused people, but the brothers Bakers and the showman Gilbert Blaker were on the same page during the early development of the Wildwoods.

Brothers Philip Pontius, Jacob Thompson and Latimer Rockey Baker all came to the Wildwoods in the second half of the 1800s.Gilbert Blaker joined them in 1890 and Baker and Blaker then sounded much like a vaudeville act although they did not appear on stage.

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In another time > Wildwood businessman takes a Titanic journey

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Written by Jacob Schaad Jr. Tuesday, February 01, 2011 01:59 pm

Frederick Sutton loved the sea. After he crossed the Atlantic from his birthplace in Suffolk, England, at the age of 20, Sutton first settled in Philadelphia in 1870, then moved to Haddonfield and finally got right to the water again in the newly discovered seashore resort of Wildwood.

Hard work as a coffee importer, a bank executive in the three towns and principally as still another developer of the Wildwoods brought success and fatigue to the 61-year-old Sutton, and in the winter of 1911-1912 a doctor recommended that Sutton take it easy for a while, perhaps another long ocean trip.

Why not? Sutton said to himself. Just about every day he looked out at the ocean from his Wildwood residence and sometimes he swam in its waters. It would be nice to spend a few days on the water again, inhaling its salty sea air, enjoying the sunshine and the atmosphere of life aboard a passenger ship. His businesses were doing well and he could afford first class accommodations. Also, maybe an ocean voyage to Europe could renew some old acquaintances from the years he had spent his youth there.

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In another time > A century ago, Wildwood optimistic about the future

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Written by Jacob Schaad Jr. Tuesday, January 25, 2011 11:07 am

Coupled with what was then a still-expanding United States, the outlook for the future of the Wildwoods continued to look promising at the beginning of the decade of the 1910s. True, there were some pessimists who had doubts about approaching times, but the majority of the residents and part-timers were on a roll and seemed to be blind to a future which was to consist of the bootlegging and the racketeering of the 1920s, the Depression of the 1930s and the big war of the 1940s.

Soon, although not immediately visible on the surface, there was a decline in population in the era from 1910 to1920. Encouraged earlier by the tourism growth since the year of 1885, some early promoters fretted that their investments would now go out to sea without a paddle.

They tried to do something about it to help the cause. Wildwood and Holly Beach, then separate communities, thought coming together would help matters during these hard economic times. Anglesea, later to become North Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest, said leave it up to the voters.

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In another time > Bobby Rydell has the most success with Wildwood song

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Written by Jacob Schaad Jr. Tuesday, January 18, 2011 03:38 pm

The most popular Wildwood song, the one that usually brings cheering audiences to their feet during the opening notes, was and still is popularized by an entertainer named Robert Louis Ridarelli. If that name doesn’t mean anything to you, try Bobby Rydell. To wwhich he changed it as he climbed up the ladder of fame and success.

Although he wasn’t born here, Rydell is as much if not more a part of the Wildwoods as most performers, with the exception of Cozy Morley, the comedian who owned and performed at North Wildwood’s Club Avalon for many years.

A Philadelphia product, Rydell spent his early summers in Wildwood, where his family owned a house on Montgomery Avenue. When he starred in the movie, “Bye Bye Birdie” with Ann Margret and Dick Van Dyke in 1963 and his career zoomed even higher to award-winning recording hits and nightclub appearances, he still returned to the Wildwoods as a visitor and performer. He shared the stage of the Wildwoods Convention Center with his friends, Fabian and Frankie Avalon, two years ago and they played before 5,000 fans.

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In another time > The Wildwoods celebrated in song

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Written by Jacob Schaad Jr. Tuesday, January 11, 2011 02:34 pm

There must be something about the seashore air that inspires people to write songs. Certainly that has happened in the Wildwoods since they were founded as early as 1885.

Elsewhere during that same period emerged some very big songwriter. They may never have visited Five Mile Beach, but their work influenced the careers of their lesser-known contemporaries here. Among those notables were a few named Irving Berlin who was born in 1888, three years after Anglesea and Holly Beach were incorporated as boroughs, and who lived to the ripe old age of 101 in 1989; Hoagy Carmichael who reached 92 in 1981 after being born in 1889, and Cole Porter, born in 1891 and a survivor until 1964 when the Wildwoods were firmly entrenched in the world of entertainment while the sounds of the roaring ocean were heard in the background.

Other songwriting names, hardly the giants as those of Berlin, Carmichael and Porter, were to appear in the local news columns during that period. Names like William Everhart, Billy James, Harry Keating, Ed Ward, Eddie Malle, Al Scottoline, Lois Worden and H.H Hornstine.

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In another time > Three actors, three different takes on Wildwood life

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Written by Jacob Schaad Jr. Tuesday, January 04, 2011 11:10 am

The celebrities who visited the Wildwoods, some on vacation, others as performers, had varied opinions about the island in its post war days.

One actor, famous today but on the way to fame and fortune in his youth, claimed early on that the Wildwood days were the best of his life. Another actor, who was primarily a singer, liked Wildwood so much that he married his second wife there. But another performer, an African-American, was so upset with the city’s segregated accommodations that he threatened never to return to Wildwood, a promise he did not keep.

Bruce Willis, born in West Berlin, the product of a military family, spent much of his youth in Penns Grove where he attended high school and then spent three years at Montclair State College, a few miles from New York City, before he packed in his college education and went to The Big Apple to pursue an acting career.

Like many young people from South Jersey, Willis was soon to find the Wildwoods and he spent the summers of 1977, 1978 and 1979 there and, according to one account, worked 10 hours a day and partied the rest of the time.

The partying did not deter his ambition for an acting career.

“I’m going to Hollywood and be a star,” he predicted when he hardly had a penny to get out of the Wildwoods.

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In another time > Film star kept his connection to Wildwoods

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Written by Jacob Schaad Jr. Tuesday, December 28, 2010 02:23 pm

Choose a period when the Wildwoods were the most colorful and exciting in their long history and the chances are that the decades of the 1950s and 1960s would win in a landslide.

Some arguments could be made, of course, for the Roaring ’20s, when flappers danced the Charleston and bootleggers smuggled illegal liquor onto the island from mother ships offshore, or for the arrival of the first railroad here and the tourists who came with it, or for all the recall elections that seemed to be an added amusement when life grew dull on the island.

But they could hardly be compared to the ’50s and ’60s, when the stars came out at night and they were not all celestial. It was a time when one big war had ended, a shorter one was to start, then end before the longest one in American history was to drag on in heated controversy.

But on the island of Five Mile Beach, hardly immune to the world beyond its waters, nightclubs began to appear and they starred entertainers whose names had the aura of stardom, names such as Liberace, Jerry Lewis, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Mathis, Louis Armstrong, Red Buttons, Peggy Lee and Tony Bennett.

And on and on they came to Wildwood, so many, so often that booking agents in the 1950s and for some time thereafter were looking upon Wildwood as a “Little Las Vegas” without the slot machines or roulettes or dice tables.

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In another time > Rock ‘n’ roll comes to Wildwood

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Written by Jacob Schaad Jr. Friday, December 17, 2010 01:32 pm

When big bands began to disappear from the music scene in the 1950s, along came something called rock ‘n’ roll, a far cry from the jitterbug music of Benny Goodman and the waltzing of Lawrence Welk.

In this new craze, no longer did the conservative old-fashioned music lovers complain about dancers snuggling each other publicly while in motion. But although the dancers were “decently separated” now, some onlookers were shocked by the body gyrations they watched while the dancers were separated. For sure, this was not Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

Where rock ‘n’ roll originated has been a matter of conjecture for some time. One theory is that a Cleveland disc jockey named Alan Freed initiated the term when he took it from a song with a title that was not exactly written by Victor Herbert or Jerome Kern. It was called “My Baby Rocks Me With a Steady Roll.”

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In another time > Trough it all, the music kept playing

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Written by Jacob Schaad Jr. Monday, December 13, 2010 02:50 pm

The turn of the centuries from the 19th to the 20th bode well for the Wildwoods. They hadn’t quite reached the status of Cape May to the south or Atlantic City to the north, but there were signs that sooner or not too much later the four Wildwood municipalities would be viable seashore resorts for visitors or year-round residents.

The signs of progress were there and the word was getting around to take a look at Wildwood for your next vacation place or to speculate on property dealings there.

After all, President Benjamin Harrison brought some credibility to the island when he took the time to visit Five Mile Beach and participate in the dedication of the resort’s prestigious Hotel Dayton in 1890.

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In another time > Movers and shakers in the early days

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Written by Jacob Schaad Jr. Monday, December 06, 2010 04:25 pm

Anyone researching the long and colorful history of the Wildwoods will usually find the names of the three Baker brothers, as well as Dr. Margaret Mace and movie house entrepreneur William Hunt. They are cited among the prime movers and shakers who shaped the future of the island.

But there were others, perhaps not as famous, who did their part in developing, expanding and sometimes settling on the island they fell in love with or had a financial interest for being there.

Like Henry Ottens, for instance.

Ottens has been described variously as a philanthropist, a wealthy land owner and a community activist and he lived the part of each after he came to the seashore in 1898, like others, for relaxation. He liked what he saw in the young Wildwoods, especially what was then known as Anglesea, and that set him off and running on big new projects.

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In another time > Hot times at the Starlight, but the fire was hotter

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Written by Jacob Schaad Jr. Tuesday, November 30, 2010 02:10 pm

Before, during and just after World War II, Hunt’s Starlight Ballroom was a big attraction on the Wildwood boardwalk, as popular as the Steel Pier was a favorite in Atlantic City.

Visitors at the Starlight danced away happy hours, sometimes leading to romance and marriage, while the live music of such big bands as Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, Charlie Spivak and Vaughn Monroe played on into starry nights, cooled by ocean breezes. Tex Beneke, in later life to front the West Coast version of the reborn Glenn Miller band, broadcast in 1948 from the Starlight to an estimated 60 million radio listeners.

Some, now gray haired and walking gingerly, recall their first kisses at the Starlight where people dressed, if not elegantly, at least in more formal attire than one might see at today’s discos. One of the slogans bantered about then by the young and single was “we dressed to impress” as they sought companionship on and off the ballroom floor. And if you didn’t dance, the odds were that you didn’t romance, either .Nobody wanted a “wallflower” who just sat on the sidelines and watched.

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In Another Time > Historic fires cause destruction, tragedy

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Written by Jacob Schaad Jr. Monday, November 22, 2010 04:41 pm

It is questionable as to which of the many fires that blazed in the Wildwoods during the island’s long history was the most spectacular.

Each has a story to tell, one about the death of three children trapped in an amusement ride, another about the destruction of a famous ballroom that hosted big bands and others focusing on the unlikely subjects of Dracula and a 20 foot tall fantasized gorilla which one publication said, with tongue in cheek, attacked the firemen.

Fires at the seashore, of course, were not unusual in earlier days. Extinguishing them was a big challenge because there was limited access to the beach for the heavy fire trucks, and the boardwalk was not strong enough to hold them even if they managed to get there. It has been recorded that at least one fire engine fell through the boards.

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In Another Time > Fox helped shaped the parks of Wildwood

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Written by Jacob Schaad Jr. Tuesday, November 02, 2010 02:50 pm

Even when he was a child and served as a five-language interpreter in his hometown of Riga in Latvia, Edward Zelig Fox seemed to be constantly on the move. He was never content with one accomplishment, always advancing to another before the first had barely become a reality.

Such certainly was the case in Wildwood, where he settled with his family in 1911. When he died at the age of 75 on July 27, 1958, Fox’s obituary credited him with having been the catalyst for 12 of the city’s 13 parks. That was a far cry from the time in 1932 when there were only a few flower beds along the beach and the streets.

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