Ocean City of Years Past

Ocean City of Years Past

For many families, visiting Ocean City is a summer tradition. Some of the older folks who have been vacationing here for decades can still remember when the boardwalk wasn’t past 33rd street. In some ways, barely anything has changed: the beach and boards have been here seemingly forever and Coastal Highway will eternally be lined with hotels, motels, mini golf and Dumser’s. But there are subtleties that make the town just a little different from year to year, too: businesses come and go. Amusements are replaced and remodeled. Sky-grazing condos are built and uninitiated families are constantly discovering all the joys that OC has to offer.

It’s these little differences that spawned a thread on our forum in 2004 called “Reminiscing – Ocean City of Yesteryear.” A user by the name of songbird made the first post and opened up a nostalgia-inducing six-page-long discussion that continues to this day. On the thread, users share their memories and reflect on the restaurants, motels and rides that they frequented back in the day, some of which still exist and others that have been sadly lost to the sands of time.

I discovered the thread when I was looking up old pictures of my favorite place on Earth, the Trimper’s Haunted House, which has undergone tons of renovations and changes over its 50+ year history. I love old haunted houses and dark rides, so when I stumbled across the forum, I thought maybe someone would have some old Trimper’s haunted house photos to share. What I discovered was even better. I’d never even heard of the spooky old walk-through ride on the boardwalk that haunted families for 20 years, but sure enough, someone had old pictures of Morbid Manor to share with others who remember the defunct haunted house. This is one of my favorites of many cool finds from the “Reminiscing” forum.

Morbid Manor
Morbid Manor in the early 90s. More on this place later.

Below are some notable posts from “Reminiscing,” and if you’re interested, you can read more or add your own right here. Some people want to know what ever happened to their favorite old jaunts, so after a little research, I was able to compile a bit of information about such places of Ocean City’s past. Others, it’s like they never existed – not even a mere mention online other than on the thread. So if you remember any of these old places, be sure to search your scrapbook for pictures and share your memories with fellow vacationers.

From JJ_Walters:

“Most of my memories come from circa 1980s:

– The old haunted house at the Pier Rides. I can’t remember the name of it now, “Haunted Manor” or something like that. It was a fantastic, walk-through haunted house. Great interior design work, and very scary. At one point, they had a guy who would chase you out at the end with a chainsaw! They don’t make haunted house attractions like this anymore. I think it closed in the lates 80s or early 90s.

– Bozo the Clown at the Pier Rides. He sat in a cage and you tried to dump him in the water by hitting a target with baseballs. Nothing special about this, but it was Bozo himself who was, how shall I say it, “unique.” This guy would taunt you with all kinds of derogatory insults! “Your girlfriend is so ugly…” – That kind of stuff. Not exactly family friendly stuff, but for a teenager, it was hilarious! Bozo got the boot sometime around the late 80s, early 90s.

– Freak Street! AKA S. Division street. The street that leads into Trimper’s Amusement Park. Back in the 80s this street was known as “Freak Street” because it was the main hangout spot for “Metal Heads” and “Punks.” On any given night, you would see dozens on them just, well, hanging out! Again, this O.C. tradition ended sometime in the late 80s, early 90s. Loitering is not allowed there anymore.

– Elvis, AKA “Norman.” Elvis was a well know OC institution for over 30 years! All day, every day he would cruise up and down the boards in his polyester shirt and pants and cowboy hat, while carrying an old 8 track cassette recorder (which always played Elvis tunes), while humming along with a kazoo. My Dad knew him from the 60s. I know him from the late 70s and 80s. I have not seen him in years. He may have passed away, but I am not sure.

– Lombardi’s Pizza on the boardwalk. Best damn pizza in OC They closed the boardwalk shop several years ago, unfortunately. They still have one in North OC.

– The Day the Moose Fought Back. Well, not really, but one night in 1988, some drunk patron at the Purple Moose Saloon ripped the moose head off the wall and threw it through the front window! Must have scared the hell out of people walking past it on the boards.

– The George Washington Hotel is on fire! I remember it well. I was at the Atlantic Hotel (The best hotel in OC I might add. We always stay there) when we heard all of these sirens. The hotel suffered major damage and never reopened. It was one of the oldest hotels in OC.

– The Wild Mouse ride at Trimper’s. Extremely fun Wild Mouse ride that was operated by a very scary looking man. He had literally two or three teeth in his mouth and he was always covered in grease! This ride closed sometime in the late 80s.

– Laughing Sal from the early 30s! I really miss her! Ok, just kidding.”

From DianeR:

“Geez, I remember Elvis from the 70s and 80s. I’ve been going to OC since about 1974 and almost every year since 1990. I remember the haunted house also from the 70s. My favorite and still a tradition for us is Tony’s pizza. It used to be this dark, long, narrow pizza and beer place before they remodeled and put in windows on the side and added the upstairs and made it a family place…I also remember riding the bus all day for something like a quarter when I was 14-15…”

From ML:

“The Back of the Rack had Castle in the Sand’s 25 cent beers beat with their Nickel Nights. God what a free for all those could be, but soooo much fun. That was the first place I ever saw Great Train Robbery play back in the early 80s. Of course, what was the Rack is now Fortress Ocean City (the police department).”

From Phil:

“I have fantastic memories of a summer spent in Ocean City in 1988 on a student exchange from England. I nearly ended up at the wrong OC from the bus station in New York, but luckily spotted my mistake at the last minute. Met a great bunch of English and American students and between working at Dayton’s Chicken and Seafood for two interesting characters, Paolo and Eddie, spent most of the time partying. I still have the t-shirt from the Surf Rat Café, and can just about remember Talbot Street Café and a place lower than 1st street, I think called Bush’s?

Dayton’s was a great place to work, with amazing characters like Smokey, Tina, Jimmy-Dee, Dee, Darlene and Brett – who really should have been in Las Vegas. I spent the time washing dishes and failing badly at chatting up the waitresses (it was only later that the English accent started to work…) It looks like the place has moved up the peninsula now as this was somewhere between 1st and 3rd street if I remember correctly. The soft-crab sandwich was the big thing, but as impoverished students, we were given the leftover fried chicken at the end of the night and basically lived on that all summer (something you can only do at 19).
I remember the fantastic boardwalk, the amazing beach and for some reason, the Cure playing loud on the speakers at the fun fair on the pier. Our flat was less good. Just behind 1st street, the toilet at the end of a bed behind a curtain – class!”

From Madman:

“Samantha’s and Scandal’s were the best clubs for hoppin’ night life! Let’s just say that Labor Day weekend in ’88 will live in infamy for me and my friends! ‘Nough said. Almost all of those clubs have either closed down, changed names, or moved. Samantha’s was the first to close in ’90. Tiffany’s and Graffitti’s are gone. Scandal’s moved in the old Samantha’s location before closing in ’05. But the Paddock was still open in ’07, as was the Purple Moose on the boardwalk (and DJ Batman, who used to do the “Best Body on the Beach” contests, was STILL there in ’07!).

For munchies…Soriano’s…Thrasher’s French Fries (hold the vinegar)…the Dough Roller for breakfast…pizza on the boardwalk near 5th Street! (I forget the name of the place)…Dumser’s Dairy (for custard ice cream like Dairy Queen)…Dayton’s Chicken for the BEST fried chicken and soft shell crabs, on the boardwalk by the pier at South Division Street…and the Bull On The Beach for awesome bbq roast pork and roast beef sandwiches.

What I loved best about OCMD was that it was clean, it had a little bit of everything for everyone, and you had all sorts of people from all walks of life – different cultures, backgrounds, ethnicities, incomes, all ages from babies to octogenarians, single people, families – and everyone had smiles on their faces.

And I always liked seeing the beautifully done Christian-themed sand sculptures at the beach by North Division Street. From what I understand, the job of doing them had been handed down over the years (Chuck Ritchley Sr. and Randy Hofman were two of the men who’ve done them).”

So what became of some of these old Ocean City landmarks?

Morbid Manor

This two-and-a-half story walk-through sat on the boardwalk near the Inlet from 1975 to ’95, and looked more like an actual abandoned house than an amusement park ride. The Manor was designed by legendary dark ride creator Fred Mahana, who is best known for rides like Dracula’s Castle and Theater of Blood in Wildwood, NJ. 

Morbid Manor
A view of Morbid Manor from the beach in 1983. Photo from ochh.net by Gerald U.

Mahana didn’t design the Manor for the faint of heart: actors, mostly theater students on summer break from college, donned terrifyingly realistic monster makeup and costumes and chased visitors with chainsaws and shrill screams and moans. According to ochh.net, many of the ride’s employees had an especially personal relationship with the haunted house:

Unknown to many, the Manor was a hip place off-hours. The management and workers of the ride would often hold band practices behind closed doors and sleep there throughout the nights despite a lack of air conditioning and uncomfortable 100 degree beach temperatures.

Unfortunately, in 1995, only a year after Morbid Manor had undergone interior and exterior renovations, the Manor burned to the ground in a fire that was likely the result of an electrical malfunction. The ride had a sprinkler system in place, but it had been turned off to keep the pipes from freezing during the winter months, and fire crews were unable to salvage any of the building.

Morbid Manor fire
The fire blazes on in November 1995. Photo from an article published in Ocean City Today.

Laffing Sal

Thankfully (to some, at least), Laffing Sal is still laughing it up in Ocean City today. In the 1940s, Sal guarded the front of Jester’s Fun House, an amusement site that Sportland Arcade occupies today. The Fun House was demolished in the 70s, and in 1980 Sal was restored and donated to the Ocean City Life-Saving Museum at the Inlet. Sal now stands behind a glass window on the museum’s second floor, and with the push of a button, you can make her laugh and jolt around just as she did in the 40s. Some say she’s haunted, and rumors say she’s been known to start laughing and gyrating all by herself . Whether that’s true or not, you’ll have to find out on your own. 

Laffing Sal
Laffing Sal in her new home at the Life-Saving Museum.

Wild Mouse Coaster

According to those who remember this particular coaster, the Wild Mouse was also known as the Monster Mouse and was located at the beginning of the boardwalk from the 1960s to the mid-80s. The ride originally belonged to Melvin’s Amusements, which is thought to have been purchased by Trimper’s in the early 70s. 

Trimper's brochure
On the cover of this Trimper’s brochure from the late 70s, you can see part of the Wild Mouse track in the lower left corner.

Boardwalk Elvis

Norman Webb, otherwise known as Boardwalk Elvis, has been entertaining his fans up and down the boardwalk for decades. He’s a legend in these parts, and today the King lives on at 78 years old. You can still see him biking around the Ocean Pines area, sometimes in full Elvis regalia.

In 2013, Webb was hit by a car while riding his bike, but was able to walk away with only a few minor injuries. His bike, on the other hand, was smashed to pieces. After hearing about the accident, “The Rude Awakening” radio show raised $678 in under an hour and bought beloved Boardwalk Elvis a new electric bike with a back-up battery, lights and a basket.

Boardwalk Elvis
In his heyday, Boardwalk Elvis would sign custom postcards like this one for his adoring fans.

Bozo

Don’t worry – Bozo, too, lives on. According to forum user Danny Jr: 

“Bozo was a hilarious guy, I’ve known him for about 21 years. He actually never got fired, he left because he had a child.” 

3 Comments on this Post

  1. I always liked the guy on the boards who played guitar and his eyes were seen shut

    Reply
  2. William Moore

    Boardwalk ends at 26th or 27th st. At least since 1970. Did it ever go to 33rd st?

    Reply

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