OCEAN CITY – One of the great advantages to year-round residence is the ability to take advantage of tourist attractions in the relative peace and quiet of the winter months, especially those experiences enhanced by quiet and the space to enjoy them at your leisure. With the goal of increasing locals’ access to and familiarity with the Ocean City Life Saving Museum, the museum is offering a free admission day this weekend, giving people who’ve not yet been the chance to see what they’ve been missing.
Museum curator Sandy Hurley, pointed out from the beginning of a recent tour that the museum is as much about Ocean City history as it is about the history of life saving on the Atlantic Coast. The upstairs rooms are devoted as much to beach living and the evolution of the resort as the downstairs is to the practice and apparatus’ of life saving over the last 150-or-so years.
On the museum’s second floor there is a room devoted pretty much exclusively to the boardwalk over the decades, much of which has been donated by people for whom the history of the resort’s main attraction is more important than their mementos. There’s a display dedicated to photo booth strips, some identified and some not, showing people as they were throughout the years and as their looks and styles changed.
Hurley said that many of the photos were donated by since-married people who’d met or had an early date in Ocean City and memorialized the evening with a multi-photo shoot. Several of the photo strips are before and after as people married, lived their lives and then retired to the resort area and had other photos taken.
Family photos donated by some of the resort’s founding families, like the Showells, Trimpers, Fishers and others, give a picture of the area’s evolution from fishing village to resort powerhouse.
“Laffin’ Sal” a remnant of Jester’s Fun House is encased in a glass display case for preservation purposes. The larger-than-life woman best represents the fun house culture because she straddles the border between amusing and terrifying. While Laffin’ Sal’s person is beyond reach in the case, a press of a button brings her belly laugh – or, to some, her cackle – back out of the past.
A simple poster not far from Sal shows the evolution of “Boardwalk Elvis” from businessman to icon. Before Boardwalk Elvis hit it big on the scene he tried out a few other visages trying out being a cowboy and a greaser in addition to a businessman and other characters and the display traces that lineage.
Other upstairs rooms are devoted to shipwreck salvages, the different bathing suits – including early 20th Century rental suits – representing popular styles over the years and other remnants of Ocean City’s past.
The main attraction, though, is as impressive a collection of life saving apparatus as you’re likely to find on the Atlantic Coast. As a country that depended so heavily on sea trade and transport saving ships and sailors was a dangerous, important job valued as much for its respect as its potential for adventure. Seeing the replicas and restored gear all in one room helps pique the imagination allowing visitors, especially as docents describe the uses of the equipment, to get an idea of the kind of commitment the early life station attendants used to have.
Best of all, locals have the opportunity to collect the kind of sharable trivia their guests will find interesting. They’ll also likely find it worth recommending to people who haven’t yet been.