An Alluring Childhood Trip to the Atlantic City Boardwalk

Daredevil rides, a diving horse and three divine divas created an indelible impression.

atlantic city boardwalk

Illustration by Ross MacDonald

“Down the Shore” was a magical concept at age 11. The beach, the boardwalk, the food and the music seemed too good to be true.

We were going to Atlantic City.

My father loaded up our station wagon with beach gear, food (who could afford restaurants?) and tools (in case the car broke down). Then we were off.

We journeyed from Philadelphia along the Black Horse Pike, through miles of blueberry fields, to the fabled city where my brothers bragged about seeing Paul Anka, Chubby Checker, and every Italian boy’s sweetheart, Annette Funicello.

The trip that now takes less than an hour via the Atlantic City Expressway took three times that in 1964.

Later, I fidgeted in our cheap hotel while my mother and teenage sister, Marge, took forever to get dressed to walk the boards.

My father grumbled about wasting money.

The ocean was overwhelming—water as far as the eye could see. My sister said England was just over the horizon, but I wasn’t sure I believed her.

Circus organ music and the smells of popcorn and saltwater taffy spun their alluring web. The ornate, Victorian arches of the Steel Pier beckoned with blinking lights that promised so many wonderful things. And there they were: roller coasters, merry-go-rounds and thrill rides—some so scary, I couldn’t look.

There were games of all kinds. Pitchmen challenged us to prove our skill with basketballs, rings and darts. The aromas of waffles, hot dogs and fudge mingled in the sea air.

I dragged Marge onto the Tilt-A-Whirl, which mercilessly banged our heads side to side. Atop the Ferris wheel, it seemed like I could see forever—although I couldn’t see England.

[RELATED: Atlantic City Boardwalk Celebrates 150 Years]

We climbed up on wooden bleachers with hundreds of others to watch a handsome, white horse leap (or get pushed) off a diving board high above us. Horse and rider flew through the air, angling toward a giant tank. I held my breath until they splashed down. Marge and I rushed to the gate to make sure the horse was okay. A security guard blocked our way as the horse casually walked by, dripping wet.

Then, the main event! My very first concert: Dick Clark Presents Jan and Dean, Johnny Tillotson and (sigh) the Supremes.

We crammed into an ancient concert hall, its rickety, wooden seats jammed with excited, sweaty teens, most still in swimsuits.

And onto the stage came three young women sporting—could it be?—bouffant hairdos of pink, yellow and blue. I never suspected they were wigs.

The women asked, “Where Did Our Love Go?” and invited us to “Come See About Me,” songs I’d heard on WIBG radio on the way down! Their sensuous moves sent my pre-teen libido into orbit. Diana Ross leaned into the microphone and breathily introduced a new song, “Baby Love.” (Weeks later, I was thrilled to hear it on the radio for the first time.)

The Supremes exited the stage as swiftly as they had entered, giggling like schoolgirls, confident that they were loved.

After the show, Marge and I were beaming as we walked out onto the seemingly endless Boardwalk. Our parents were waiting on a nearby bench.

“I hope the show was worth the money,” my father grumbled.

“Hush,” my mother told him. “That’s an experience they’ll never forget.”

She was right.

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