By Phil Jacobs
If Hunter “Bunk” Mann ever had it to do over again, he probably would have been a historian or a university history teacher.
History is my “hobby,” and on Monday evening I enjoyed talking to the Ocean Pines resident about his soon-to-be released book “Vanishing Ocean City.”
He is having 5,000 printed with almost 20 percent already sold.
The book is due to be released on or about the week of Labor Day.
Mann started this project he said “seriously” in 2008. His very first interview was with Marion Cropper in August of that year. Flash forward, and he’s interviewed over 170 people.
He said with almost a tear in his eye that he learned while writing the book that he started out wondering about what ever happened to buildings in Ocean City. But interviewing the number of people he’s interviewed taught him that the real story behind Ocean City’s history were the storytellers in the book.
There was a title to the book before there was a manuscript or any photographs taken or scanned or designed.
The title “Vanishing Ocean City” came in November 2004 when he took his mother, Hannah, to watch the Belmont Hotel on Dorchester Street get razed. A long-time Ocean City resident, Mann said his mom commented with remorse “everything I remember about Ocean is being torn down. The town is vanishing.”
Mann remembers many of those “vanishing” buildings himself. After all, he spent his youth at the ocean playing and working at the beach. He was a beach boy; one of those kids who rented and set up umbrellas, chairs and those blue surf mats (rafts) kids would invariably get tossed off in the ocean.
The coffee-table book already has a high expectation from all over Ocean City. There are so many people who contributed photographs, post cards and other images. It was their stories, Mann, said that he just couldn’t get enough of. He probably could have kept going, but with well over 300 photo images and the 170-plus interviews, there’s precious anything he hasn’t covered. It’s all there. From the 1933 hurricane that created the inlet and changed Ocean City to the famous 1962 storm to even the Great Fire of 1925, there are so many stories, so many memories.
Leafing through a copy of the book, one can see its beautiful design that makes the reader want more and then even more from each ensuing page. The looks in the faces of many of the photo subjects’ makes one wonder what they were thinking. Mr. Mann can tell you where they were at the time. But his book also gives us a look of how Ocean City was impacted by war, by economic depression, by natural disaster.
“I wanted to do this,” he said. “I learned where old buildings once were, and what is there now. But mostly I talked to the old-timers, the people who were there.”
Mann, an insurance broker at Mann & Gray in Fruitland, said that one of his first interview subjects told him that “the story of Ocean is about its people.”
And that’s what Mann emphasized at our meeting, “that really the people built this town. They faced some hardships, they were largely blue-collar people, and many were fishermen.
“I learned more and more about Ocean City as I went along,” he said. “I enjoyed it. It was like detective work. And after years of doing this, I still have a lot to learn.”
The point is, there was a fascinating, rich story to tell, and Mann worked hard to bring the past to the present. People from all over the state who have ever any connection to Ocean City in any way need to find there way to this book. So many of us have memories connected to the resort. I grew up with a mother who had multiple sclerosis. She went from walking, to walking with a cane, then a walker into a wheelchair in a very short span of time. One summer when we were vacationing in Ocean City and staying at the Sandy Hill Motel, I can remember as a young boy watching men we never knew help my father lift the wheelchair out of the car and help him get my mother in that chair. I was 12 when we started vacationing here, and the friendliness and help of strangers was what brought my parents back here as my mother slipped further into grasp of her debilitating disease.
Most important part of Ocean City’s history? Mann talks about how the August 23, 1933 hurricane creating the inlet gave the resort the ability to have a harbor instead of pound boats that would have to hit the ocean from the beaches. There would not have been an availability to launch a worldwide tournament such as the White Marlin Open without the inlet, he said. Other important aspects he refers to include the 1952 opening of the William Preston Lane, Jr. Memorial Bridge, better known as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Also, he referred to the storm of 1962, which resulted in the Ocean City annexation of what was then called North Ocean City or anything above 41st Street.
But Mann also said that the stories and photographs he collected also taught about the city’s connection to the bigger world, be it economic depression or war. Ocean City residents landed on Normandy Beach on June 6, 1944. Ocean City residents survived difficult circumstances but also in many ways thrived. It’s all in Bunk Mann’s coffee table book. The book will be available at the Lifesaving Station Museum, Chamber of Commerce, and Ocean City Art League and at various stores.
You can check out more information by going to vanishingoceancity.com or by hitting the Vanishing Ocean City Facebook page.
Bunk can’t wait to hear your reaction to the book. I can’t wait to get my own copy.