Shore Chronicles

Diaries and Travelers' Tales from the Jersey Shore 1764-1955

Edited by Margaret Thomas Buchholz

This review appeared in The SandPaper, 7/21/99, and is reprinted with permission. ©2000 Jersey Shore Newsmagazines. It is reprinted in its entirety.Reprinted from , with permission.

200 Years of the Way We Were
Tales of the Shore Before


We’ve all gone down the long, bumpy road to the shore, craning our necks out the window, “Are we there yet?” We’ve all piled out and run headlong for the waves, to feel that first rush of salty foam surround us with all its sensations. Some episodes of the shore experience are timeless. But if we could turn around to face the beach in another era, what would we see in 1828? In 1936?

Harper's Weekly courtesy Larry Savadove

SALTWATER DAY: One might think it referred to any day at the shore, but in the 19th century and even before, Salt Water Day meant merriment and feasting on oysters.

Imagine traveling in time to be a guest at the home of Ebenezer Tucker in his namesake Tuckerton in 1809, just 18 years after George Washington appointed him tariff collector of the port. Or wouldn’t it be compelling to know the last waking thoughts of a working teenager as he drifted to sleep in a rented room above a Ship Bottom restaurant at the ebb of the Depression? What were the fishermen catching in Little Egg Harbor inlet in 1917? What were young men’s devices for catching young women back then ... and the other way around? What were they talking about around the tables of the lantern-lit tavern stops on the way to the 19th-century shore, or at a Harvey Cedars summer home as World War II heated up?

Until now it was up to our imaginations to color in such details between the black-and-white lines of a history book. But in Shore Chronicles, just released by Down the Shore Publishing, we are there, in the lives of some ordinary people as well as some celebrated writers of the day. Edited by Margaret Thomas Buchholz, the book is for those who can’t get enough of the shore and want to soak it up for 10 generations back. Because the writers took the time to pen their impressions, we can almost see things we wouldn’t have dreamed of, such as the “lighted torch looming large and blazing from the bow of a boat anchored off bobbing for eels” (Long Beach Island, 1828).

The fascination lies both in how different and how much the same were these chronicled times from 1764 to 1955. New Jersey historian John Cunningham, who wrote the foreword, noted that the stories have several common threads with today — “the need for a place where a person can get away from daily life, the belief that the sea air is good for you ... and an awareness that no matter how antiquated or tiresome the modes of travel, the trip is worth the effort.”

It’s History As It Happened

What is it about diaries that captures all this so well? For one thing, the thoughts are unfiltered. They roam freely from the inspiration the seaside provided to their permanent home on paper. As Buchholz says, “They show us history as it happened.” The editor summed it up best when she said in the introduction, “journals have an immediacy not equaled by reminiscense.”

“I argued for women’s Suffrage for all I was worth,” wrote Eleanor Browning Price at the end of a day in 1915. The comment was among more mundane notations about going to Manahawkin to order winter vegetable plants. And among the book’s 50 photos, there is a snapshot of her in a sailor-style bathing dress. A so-called “day in the life of ...” says as much about entire ways of life. Take this scene (today’s fishermen would love to) recorded by Field and Stream editor Van Campen Heilner of a 1917 fishing excursion at present-day Holgate. “A figure loomed up out of the ghostly dunes and Hal came into the light of the fire, dragging behind him a beautiful bass. ... We crowded close as he held the great copper warrior up in the flickering light, and watched the needle on the scales quiver at forty-eight pounds.” When he and a buddy put into the Coast Guard station to get a hot shave, they found this: “It was a bluff and rugged station we found, peopled by keen, rough, blue-eyed men — men who at any moment must be ready, if necessity called, in the dark of night, to put a boat through a wild northeast surf and make it live.”

We can also learn what authors such as Walt Whitman, Stephen Crane, Robert Louis Stevenson noted about the Jersey Shore. Arthur Conan Doyle’s view differed vastly from naturalist John James Audubon’s. Here’s how Sherlock Holmes’ creator chronicled an Atlantic City visit in 1922. “One of the famous amusements of Atlantic City when you are not moving along the Boardwalk in the huge invalid chairs is to go down to Young’s million-dollar pier and see the fish net being drawn. They are very numerous and very varied, it is rather a horrible sight, that mass of pullulating life, flapping and beating in its vain struggle against extinction.”

BELIEVE IT OR NOT: The Garden State Parkway approaching the Route 37 exit as it looked in the summer of 1955.


Photograph courtesy New Jersey Highway Authority

The Humorous Side Of Hurricanes

Whether other diarists had an inkling that their words would someday be read is an interesting question. An author only known as “E” probably didn’t. His or her (we can’t be sure) 1933 letter from Atlantic City was addressed to “Mom.” The words are perhaps unintentionally comedic, considering the grimness of the situation. “Don’t worry about the reports of our hurricane,” it starts. “E” goes on to say that the ocean is “rampaging around the streets every high tide.” At the Claridge, “they couldn’t run the elevator without danger of drowning,” and the 75-mph winds threw a jitney bus across the street. When the electric wires on Pacific Avenue started to “explode,” they made quite a gorgeous fireworks display, and “for an hour or so, anyone going out was in danger of being electrocuted.” Another storm anecdote proves that boys will be boys, no matter what the generation. In this true tale, as the hurricane of 1944 bore down on Atlantic City, we find young Ray Hansen in a dory with his pal, Buddy. “We didn’t notice the sky getting blacker by the minute,” he later wrote. They were plucked from their pitching boat by a passing fishing boat just before they capsized, and Hansen lived to tell the tale of getting the scare of his life.

Buchholz’s sources were libraries, historical societies, respondees to a newspaper ad, researchers such as Deb Whitcraft, Steve Dodson and Carroll Sheppard, and her own curiosity. Editor of The Beachcomber inewsmagazine, author of Seasons in the Sun i and coauthor with Larry Savadove of Great Storms of the Jersey Shore i(1993, Down the Shore Publishing), Buchholz began the book as an offshoot of editing her mother’s World War I diary. She began looking for “well-written diaries with a striking sense of time and place” but in the two-year quest broadened the scope to other manuscripts. Her personal favorite is artist and sailor Will Lathrop’s log. “I had read the New England portion of it in Yankee magazine in the early 1980s and reasoned that if Widge had been launched in the Delaware River, Lathrop had to sail along the Jersey coast to get to Long Island.” Through friends in New Hope, Pa., and Florida, she located his grandson in New Hampshire. “It took more than a year, but I finally got to read his log.”

There is something for everyone in these varying views, and everything to some who love all of the shore. “I like history, and if you have any love of the shore, I think it’s fascinating to see how others have connected,” Buchholz said. Beach activities like jumping up and down in the water and flirting on the beach, “it’s all very similar in feeling and experience, except that they’re wearing different clothes and have a different culture.” The editor said the book could have included even more than the 360 pages by the 49 writers. She stopped at 1955 for a reason — that’s the year the Garden State Parkway opened a road that was to alter “the unhurried, measured development of the shore.”

Readers craving more images — maybe more contemporary ones — will be glad to know the book is part of a trilogy capturing the essence of the shore. Down the Shore Publishing previously released Shore Stories: An Anthology of the Jersey Shore i(Rich Youmans, ed., 1998) and Under a Gull’s Wing i(Youmans and Frank Finale, eds., 1996). Today come the shore-bound automobiles, as Cunningham wrote, “filled with happy-faced people who believe today is the acme of Jersey Shore summertime.” This book shows that every age was its own acme.

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