tags: New Jersey, popular culture, clothing, material culture, Jersey Shore
The summer of 1978 would’ve been a great time to be in Wildwood, New Jersey. The beaches are long, beautiful, and free. A beach-block apartment cost anywhere from $275 to $325. And there was so much going on there that summer. “It’s a loud, garish, great place to be between 16 and 19,” Mark Forrest, a realtor, told the Camden Courier-Post. “As I see it, people come to Wildwood for three reasons: They want to get a suntan, they want to get a date, they want to raise hell.”
Or not. Sharon Bendick, of Philadelphia, told the Associated Press she was headed to Wildwood that summer because she wasn’t interested in Atlantic City’s new casinos. “They get gambling and they’re going to get a lot of prostitutes in,” she said. “A lot of men are going to start coming around without their families, and that’s going to cause a lot of conflicts with the family.”
I couldn’t find any data on whether families going to Wildwood instead of AC saved marriages that summer, but the boards were definitely crowded. It was colder than usual that summer, wrote Filip Bondy in New York’s Daily News, but store owner Larry Tanner said his shop was busy. “If anything,” Tanner said, “this place has been more crowded than usual. Maybe people can’t sit out in the sun, so they come in here.”
Norman Adie, who ran Adie’s Fantastic Facts-’n-Feats on the boardwalk, tried to give them some reasons to hang around. In July he hired Sandy Allen, the world’s tallest woman at 7-foot-7, and Chris Greener, a half-inch shorter, and attempted to set them up. “I don’t mind the attention on the job,” Greener said. Allen was laconic about her new job being gawked at on the boards. “If I’d turned it down, I feel like that would be looking a gift horse in the mouth,” she told The New York Times. “Secretarial work wasn’t that big a thing to give up, and I figure I can always go back to it. It’s hard to do this every day, to psych myself up against what people are going to say when I go out there, making fun and so on. But I’m glad for the chance to talk to people, and I appreciate their interest.”
“Big” was a major theme on the boardwalk that year. After receiving a “check-up” at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a 35-foot tall Raggedy Ann doll was moved to the Wildwood boardwalk that summer. (She, too, was looking for love. “We understand that she will be scanning the boardwalk in the hope of finding a compatible Raggedy Andy,” The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Gerald Etter wrote.)
One thing that didn’t happen on the boardwalk that year was a flagpole sitter. In April, Adie and the Boardwalk Mall hired a New York City PR firm to blast the word out across the world, or at least the tri-state area: The mall would pay $10,000 to the person “who is selected to become known around the world as the greatest of seashore flagpole sitters.” The winning applicant would get a little apartment with 7-foot high ceilings, a phone, TV, radio, running water, electricity, and a lounge chair at the top of a flagpole.
How would a mall possibly put an apartment at the top of a flagpole? We did not find out. The mall picked 21-year-old Joel Lazar out of 750 applicants for the job, but Wildwood wouldn’t grant the mall the zoning to put up the flagpole-apartment. “If we permitted this to happen, others would come up with all kinds of gimmicks,” Wildwood commissioner Wilber Ostrander said. Lazar was heartbroken. “It’s kind of demoralizing,” he said. “People keep coming up to me and asking why I backed out from sitting on the pole.” He later sued for $250,000.