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1950s Cedars Adventures – Stubbed Toes and All

By PERRY BENSON | Jul 10, 2019
Courtesy of: Perry Benson Little Perry Benson proudly holds the 6-pound flounder he caught in 1955. The photo was taken at Independent Dock, now Viking Village, in Barnegat Light.

Hugh Connell, an ad man in New York I know, recently sent me three copies of The Beachcomber from August and September 1954. He sold advertising that summer, along with “Poochy” Thomas, who a year later would buy the newspaper. I was 7 at the time and spent most summers in Harvey Cedars.

Memories of ’54 and later summers came back as I paged through the yellowing, musty issues, an aroma reminiscent of the smell of a summer house after a long, cold and damp winter. Things I hadn’t thought of for years became immediately vivid.

Coming onto the Island: the noise of the heavy timbers clattering under the tires of our 1952 Chevrolet on the wooden bridges that made up the former Causeway. The instant smell of the “ocean,” which was really that of the bay. Sitting in a second-floor, gabled bedroom in Mrs. Weisiesen’s house on 83rd Street, looking down the Boulevard, watching the lights. The bright, neon gable of the Neptune Bar, the blinking twin red lights on the top of the old cylindrical water tower across from the firehouse, and occasional cars with streaming lights kept my interest while I listened to AM radio stations from faraway Chicago and Buffalo.

Sand-filled old wine bottles were doorstops in our rented house, and little tarnished bronze anchors weighed down the end of window shade strings to keep the shades from hitting the screens in a breeze. Joy Pfleuger, Tommy Houghton’s girlfriend, was my babysitter. The 12 o’clock whistle meant lunchtime. Dugan’s Bakery truck delivered our doughnuts in the sandy driveway lined with bleached white clamshells; the truck ran over one of my prized Dinky toys.

I remember buying toys, flimsy box kites and, later, postcards at the Ship’s Wheel. I spent too much time at the counter in Monk’s, now the Neptune Market, getting charms out of the gum machine, and was punished for being late to dinner. The post office was in the back of Monk’s and he was the postmaster. I remember in 1963, when a stamp for a picture postcard was 4 cents, a notice on the wall introducing ZIP Codes.

My prized 6-pound flounder, half as tall as I was in a photo, was caught on a deep-sea fishing trip with my grandmother, Marion Fowle Ingersoll, and family with Capt. Beech out of Barnegat Light. My first-ever slice of pizza was eaten with Grandma at the Gateway bar in Ship Bottom, where the owner grew spices, tomatoes and peppers in the backyard. At home, we ate lobster and corn-on-the-cob, all dripping in butter.

We stubbed our toes on warm, if not hot, pebble-imbedded macadam walking to Al Houghton’s Row Boats and Clam Bar. I can’t forget crabbing, in a classic black rowboat with red at the waterline, with disappearing fish heads on a line dropped into the bay in the middle of the channel.

Convoys of cement-mixer trucks headed up the two-lane Boulevard to the new Loveladies Harbor development, and also a stream of big trucks took huge boulders farther up the Boulevard for the new jetties after the 1962 storm. Lots were empty of growth; there were no pines that now green up the Island.

We played miniature golf instead of seeing “Them,” the too-scary-for-me horror flick starring giant ants down at the Colony movie theater in Brant Beach. Our frustration was great when we were housebound during a thunderstorm

Long rows of deteriorating pilings paralleled the surf’s edge, remnants of a 1920s effort to hold back the sea. Lots of menhaden fishing boats dotted the horizon. We used Bain de Soleil and Coppertone for a tan – long before sunscreens – and Noxzema for the pain of the burn. I remember: the sound of the wind and surf; globs of tar on the beach underfoot and on our beach towels; Navy blimps, not that high, over the surf beyond the beach. Outside showers at the house came before lunch and at the end of the day.

I remember my grandmother's love of surfcasting and the great views from the “crow’s nest,” the third-floor unfinished room in her modern house, “The Citadel,” designed in the 1930s by George Daub, across the street from our rented cottage.

I can still picture my mother, Phebe Benson, and her friend Sally Craven running up the wooden steps of the Barnegat City Fishery in the middle of the Ship Bottom circle, much to the delight of the fishmongers in their knee-high rubber boots. “They are back,” the men said.

Once, when my mother went to the Cravens’ house for cocktails, I was told, “Go take a bike ride.” I did. I was almost arrested by Harry Haines, the only Harvey Cedars policeman, for riding my bike without a light. He made me walk it, my first bike, from the fishing club at the south end of town back home, as he followed me in his black and white cruiser with its red light flashing.

Kids loved the jeep towing a trailer holding a 55-gallon drum of DDT sprayed into the air at dinnertime to combat mosquitoes. Sometimes we’d ride our bikes behind the spray, pretending it was fog. We got nasty bites from greenhead flies.

There were things in the old Beachcombers I didn’t know or think about in 1954. Zachariae Realty could build a 700-square-foot cape on your lot for $6,650. Loveladies Harbor was in full swing with a three-bedroom ranch on a 10,000-square-foot lot for $12,990.

The light green house next door to my grandmother’s gray one was almost a Tudor house … in proportions anyway. It had a cathedral ceiling in the living room. Later I found out the house was one of two from the British exhibition in Philadelphia’s 1876 centennial. J.B. Kinsey moved it to Harvey Cedars in the early 20th century. I think the first floor of that house is now the second. It was lifted and placed on pilings.

About 10 years ago when I was in Barnegat Light, a huge amount of seaweed landed on the beach at the water’s edge. The thick mass included dead crabs, crab parts, buzzing flies, interested gulls and trash. Soda and beer cans without their paint, plastic bottles, now cloudy, unmatched flippers and many pairs of sunglasses were tangled in the dark green mass that paralleled the surf for about 200 yards. Alone in the mess was a quart-sized aluminum oil can. One end was missing, and the other end had been pierced by a metal spout. The can’s paint was etched off long ago, but embossed at the surviving end was “Esso Uniflow Motor Oil.” Had this can been floating around since before Esso became Exxon in 1973 or was it all the way from Canada, where Esso is still marketed? It has been a while, though, since oil has been sold in metal cans.

The next day as I loaded the car for the somber trip home, I heard a plane with an unfamiliar sound. I looked up to see a restored World War II vintage B-24 bomber, quite low, heading out to sea.

My sentimental attachment to Long Beach Island is still strong. I might have to come down again and take a look.

Perry Benson is an architect in Philadelphia, occasional artist and avid cyclist who has ridden to Harvey Cedars from Philadelphia several times.

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