(June 14, 2013) In a bizarre testament to the power of social media, or the naiveté of Ocean City’s high school-age visitors – probably both, actually – an apparent off-hand remark at a Harford County high school dance has caused the Boardwalk’s legendary Ocean Gallery to be flooded with confused visitors.
“My philosophy is that something happens here every weekend that didn’t happen the weekend before,” said Ocean Gallery owner Joe Kroart. “I couldn’t have made up a story like this.”According to Kroart, passers-by on the Boardwalk this past Saturday alerted him to the fact that several young men were on the roof of his gallery, waving and yelling to pedestrians. The only way to access the roof would have been to go through the emergency exit at the back of the store and climb the fire escape, Kroart said, leaving him at a loss as to why the youths would’ve ended up on the roof in the first place.
When he confronted them, and threatened to call the police, the teenagers tried to flee, Kroart said. But after several minutes of conversation, the young men admitted that they had found their way to the roof after searching for a “secret room” in the gallery.
Unbeknownst to Kroart, the deejay at the Bel Air Senior High School prom had made a facetious announcement to the effect that prospective senior-weekers in Ocean City should be on the lookout for a “secret room” in the landmark art gallery.
“I’m sure it was done as a spur-of-the-moment, fun kind of thing without any consideration as to the possible implications,” Kroart said. “They had been scavenging everywhere for this ‘secret room.’”
Kroart did not, in the end, call the police. “I made the judgment, based on the story, that these were nice kids, they were just a little hyped-up,” he said.
What happened over the next several days reinforced this. Group after group of high school students would snoop around the shop, and when asked would respond that they were, in fact, from Bel Air. In some cases, they had actually been at the prom. But in many more, Kroart said, they had seen some kind of Facebook, Twitter, or other social media post that referenced the alleged secret room.
“Apparently it somehow became a thing with them,” Kroart said. “We’ve had people coming in for days looking for a secret room. The kids they know that are still at the high school know about the deal, too.”
“I used to think it took a few days for this sort of thing to get around,” Kroart said. “It actually takes hours…it’s exponential, when the story goes it really goes.”
To get ahead of the curve, Kroart has posted signs in his store dispelling the rumor. But one of the signs also tells students that the store “has elves.”
“It’s not entirely untrue. The truth is that there has been a rumor, for years, that there are little elves in this gallery,” Kroart said. “It’s something to sate their curiosity. Something to give them a little taste of a secret so that they come back.”
Kroart said he harbors no ill will towards the students or the deejay in question.
“I think it’s a good story, a fun story of how you can generate something from one announcement that reaches so many kids,” he said. “99 percent of these kids are excellent. It’s a much smaller and slightly older crowd that causes problems on the Boardwalk.”
Ed. Note: Jason Walsh of Bay Deejays wishes to submit that, while he was the entertainer at the 2013 Bel Air senior prom, he did not make any comments similar to those alleged by the visiting students. Mr. Walsh was not previously contacted regarding this matter.