In Another Time> Hot dogs and flappers dominated 1920s Wildwood

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The year 1922 was a big one on the boardwalk in Wildwood, perhaps the biggest since the end of World War I in 1918. W. Courtwright Smith was mayor, and Warren Harding was president of the United States.

Neither made much of an impression on local or national history, but the tourists caught up in the peacetime recovery came to the Wildwoods by automobile and railroad to enjoy the seashore. It didn’t matter that the period of Prohibition had arrived (1920-1933) and that selling or manufacturing liquor was illegal. What the heck, the visitors said in stronger language of the time, what is the seashore without a drink or two or more? If we can’t get it legally anymore, we’ll go to the shadowy places on the island where they serve the booze unlawfully while some authorities look the other way.

Seeing the economic growth on the boardwalk, the entrepreneurs set out to take advantage of it with new attractions and updates to older ones that had been there since Wildwood became an official borough in 1895.

New on the boardwalk were flappers and hot dogs. There were, in fact, 40 hot dog stands on the boardwalk and they were so popular that people had to wait in line to buy their dogs. The promoters came up with the slogan, “Pigs may come and pigs may go, but hot dogs sell forever.”

The history of the hot dog is somewhat sketchy. Some of it traces back to Frankfurt, Germany, where the city celebrated the 500th anniversary of the frankfurter in 1957, named obviously after the city.

As legend has it in the United States, the name “hot dog” was born in 1901 at New York’s Polo Grounds where the Giants played baseball. On a brisk April day, one of the vendors was hawking his food from a portable hot water tank. “They’re red hot,” he shouted. “Get your dachshund sausages while they’re red hot.” New York Journal cartoonist Ted Dorgan drew a cartoon of barking dachshund sausages inside rolls. Not sure how to spell the name of the elongated dog, he wrote “hot dogs” instead.

Since then, they were to become popular in baseball parks and to make their way to the Wildwood boardwalk.

While hot dogs were to be a dominant part of the menu scene in the loose and easy Roaring ’20s, even more popular in the Wildwoods and elsewhere were the women who were identified as flappers. They broke out from the Victorian image, ridding themselves of some of their old-fashioned underwear, corsets included, so their bodies would have more freedom to move about while dancing to the new, fast-tempo music of the jazz age. The new fashions shocked many when they exposed women’s knees and sometimes areas of the physique that were not so bony.

Showing their independence as well as their other virtues, the flappers began to appear in 1920 and were described by F. Scott Fitzgerald as “lovely, expensive, and about 19.” Another description called the flapper “giddy, attractive and a slightly unconventional young thing.” They supposedly wore unbuckled galoshes that made flapping noises when they walked, hence the name flappers.

All this, of course, was a natural to find its way to the seashore, especially to Wildwood. The resort town was making a name for itself in the 1920s as the place to vacation. The catalyst was a man who called himself Professor Harry Roselle, an entertainment director in Wildwood who brought bands, special events, acts and dances to the island. He was an early bird version of today’s Joe Quattrone, North Wildwood’s entertainment director who stages outdoor summer concerts at the Lou Booth amphitheater, runs the annual July Fourth pooch parade, and is in charge of the mummers parades.

Roselle is a legend in Wildwood history. He was also billed as a dancing master, having taught the art in Camden. He later brought his skills to Wildwood where he managed the dance hall, taught people how to waltz and fox trot and arranged masquerade balls. He also directed the Wildwood Scrap Iron Band and managed the city basketball team.

He was a colorful figure during his days in Wildwood, which began in 1905. He rode his horse, Two Step, around town, and walked his dog, Beans, on the Ocean Pier, where Roselle managed the ballroom and where the dog performed tricks for children. It was not unusual to see Roselle roller skating on the boardwalk, living up to the reputation that he was the first man  ride to have roller skated on the island.

The flappers, The Ocean Pier and Roselle all joined in a big Wildwood showcase in 1922. The pier debuted in Wildwood in 1905 and by the time the Roaring ’20s arrived it was the place to be entertained when not basking in the sun or challenging the ocean’s breakers.

With all that publicity about flappers, Roselle decided to hold a flapper contest at the Ocean Pier, promising an event that would be “very novel and entertaining.” Indeed it was, coming one year after the first Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City.

Some 22 young women, dressed appropriately for the theme, participated in the contest and were judged in the categories of best blonde, best brunette, best redhead and best dressed. The judges, as announced in a newspaper, were Ted the Barber, Madame Theresa and Katherine O’Brian.

The winners were Mildred Draper of Camden for best red hair; Helen Wanagan of Pittsburgh, best dressed; Esther Buckelew of Philadelphia, best brunette; and Florence Griffith (hometown not given), best blonde.

Roselle lived for another 10 years, succumbing in 1932 to a heart attack. The ’20s and their devil-may-care atmosphere had ended three years earlier with the bug stock market crash. The Roaring ’20s were now the Great Depression. Gone were the flappers, but hot dogs lived on – for those who could afford to buy them in those hard times.

Some of the information in this article was researched in the book “Wildwood by the Sea” by David W. and Diane DeMali Francis and Robert J. Scully Sr., and at the reference department of the Cape May County Library.


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