By Josh Kim, Staff Writer
(Oct. 31, 2019) The western wall of Hunter “Bunk” Mann’s living room is covered from ceiling to floor with history books.
“I put them up when journalists come over,” Mann joked.
Despite a long, fulfilling career in the insurance industry, Mann said his dream — if he could go back in time — would be to become a history professor at a small college.
His love of history is what inspired him to write his first book, “Vanishing Ocean City,” and now his latest book, “Ghosts in the Surf.”
“The title of the book … it’s not about Halloween or something,” Mann cracked. “The ghosts are the memories and the people that have passed on.”
Mann’s new, 340-page book has well over 700 photos and hundreds of anecdotes from Ocean City inhabitants, past and present.
The book is available for purchase for $54.99 at select locations in Ocean City, Berlin and Salisbury. It is also available online at vanishingoc.com.
Mann was born and raised in Salisbury, but spent many summers vacationing in Ocean City with his family.
During high school and college, he worked every summer at various jobs: on the beach as a beach boy, at English’s restaurant on 15th Street and as a waiter at Embers restaurant on Philadelphia Avenue.
He double-majored in political science and history at the University of Maryland College Park, and graduated in 1969.
“The day after I graduated … my parents moved to Ocean City permanently,” Mann recalled. “I spent eight years paying rent in the summer, and they moved to Ocean City the day after I graduate, when I have to go out and get a real job.”
Despite his love of history, Mann chose to pursue a career in the insurance industry and founded Mann Insurance in 1979, which later became Mann & Gray Insurance Associates with the addition of business partner Charlie Gray.
Before retiring, Mann spent seven years working on his first book, “Vanishing Ocean City,” which documents life in the resort from 1870 onward.
“Vanishing Ocean City,” was a great success—the original 5,000 copies sold out quickly, and another 4,000 soon followed.
“Of the 170 people I interviewed for ‘Vanishing Ocean City,’ at least 50, possibly more, have passed away,” Mann said. “Their memories—if they hadn’t been recorded at the time— would be lost.”
Mann said he decided to write, “Ghosts in the Surf,” which documents the resort’s history from 1945 to spring of 2019, following his retirement from full-time work four years ago.
“I didn’t know what to do with myself, I was bored,” Mann said. “I always had somewhere to go, something to do…and for about three or four months I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
During this slump, several people encouraged Mann to write another book.
“I thought about it, and I said, ‘No, I did everything I could in the first one,’” he said. “But I thought about it more and more, and I realized there were so many people I had not inter- viewed … and there were a lot of stories out there that had not been told.”
His second book would take him two and a half years to complete.
He spent the first two years con- ducting interviews and doing research for the book, often using archival resources at the Ocean Pines Public Library and the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum.
In the final six months, he focused entirely on writing.
“To appreciate where you are today, you have to understand where they were years before,” Mann said “… Everybody has a story. The people I’ve interviewed for both books, many of them would say, ‘I don’t know much … I wasn’t important,’ [yet] everybody I talked to I learned something from them.”
Mann said one of his favorite interviews he conducted for this project was with members of Ocean City Beach Patrol—Capt. Butch Arbin, Lt. Ward Kovacs and Kristin Joson.
“I got to spend the day with [Arbin], riding up and down the beach in his Jeep, and see how the Beach Patrol worked … I was so impressed with that organization,” he said.
Mann said his most memorable one-on-one interview, however, was with former Ocean City Mayor Roland “Fish” Powell, who passed away last year on Aug. 29.
“He was a child when the inlet was created,” Mann said. “He tells me this story about how he saw the inlet for the first time. He was five years old. This gentleman, a friend of the family, had taken him down to see it and he said, ‘Take a good look, you’ll remember this the rest of your life.
“And Fish looks at me, and he was in his 70s when we did this, and he looks at me, he looks straight in my eyes and says, ‘And I have.’”
When he asked Powell where his nickname “Fish” came from, the former mayor told him, “I don’t know, they just started calling me that,” Mann recalled fondly.
He dedicated two pages in his new book to the former mayor, whom he greatly respected.
The book is generally sectioned off by decades and each decade’s notable events. However, there are individual sections such as “Stinky Beach,” and “Lost Buildings of Ocean City,” as well.
On the first page of each section, Mann begins with a short historical overview of the decade, before allow- ing the anecdotes and photos to paint the nitty-gritty details.
He said he was incredibly grateful to the people who took the time to tell him their stories, to his publisher Sandy Philips and to Arlington artist Paul McGehee, whose artwork is the cover for both of Mann’s books.
Mann’s new book, “Ghosts in the Surf,” does not simply tell the story of Ocean City, but it immortalizes and breathes new life into the memories of those who witnessed the city’s transformation from a sleepy, small village to a booming beach resort.
“It [Ocean City] is a town formed by fires and storms, and the people that lived in this town, that made it great, they had obstacles to overcome,” Mann said. “It took a whole lot of really special people to make this town into what it is today.”