MARGATE — Every month, the holiday decorations at Debbie Lou Devlin’s home on Jerome Avenue in Margate would change like clockwork — from St. Patrick’s Day to Easter to springtime to the Fourth of July. But as the calendar turns to December, jack o’lanterns and black cats still smile down on passers-by.
“That’s really when the whole world stopped,” Devlin said. “Halloween.”
The Devlin house, like almost every home in its neighborhood, was devastated by flooding during Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29. For the first time in decades, the local landmark is no longer covered in a display of lights — and during one of the most popular times of year.
“Everywhere I go, everyone knows the house,” Devlin said. “People say, ‘You mean you’re going to be dark for Christmas?’ I say there’s nothing I can do. It all has to be rewired, inside and outside. I say that Sandy is the grinch that stole Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. But I told them all we’d be back.”
The Devlins have a long history on Absecon Island, with Devlin's late husband, Ed, “The Baron of the Boardwalk," having owned the Irene's stores on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. A mural of their families amid Boardwalk landmarks was painted on the wall of their kitchen — but thankfully on the second floor. The beautiful, faux-stone grotto just beyond, however — once filled with a collection of plaques honoring the Devlins, a full bar surrounded by hundreds of miniature liquor bottles, a '50s-style jukebox and a karaoke machine — was not so lucky.
“It’s been ‘de-grottoed’, to say the least,” Devlin said, walking among boxes upon boxes filling every available space in her living room. A giant framed Boardwalk Empire sat amid collections of picture frames, books and videos, while grinning skeletons watched over everything from the dining room table.
“This is all my stuff from downstairs,” she said. “All the furniture was a total loss. This was the stuff from the bar and everything that was up off the ground.”
The grotto itself is stripped bare, save for a remnant of the faux stone.
“That’s what remains of the bar, the top,” she said, pointing to the wooden slab lying on its side. “But we’re going to resurrect that.”
The flooding was the worst the street has seen, she said — and she moved into the home literally two weeks before the Storm of ’62. It was so bad, a Cadillac floated down the street. But like many other residents of Downbeach, she returned to her home after three days thinking that the damage was less than expected.
“At first it didn’t look that bad,” Devlin said. “Everything was wet and stinky, but everything was in place. We didn’t realize the (extent) of the damage. We didn’t realize the walls were all wet and had to come down, and that we’d lose all the furniture.”
A number of decorations stored in her shed were damaged, she added, and and a large “Happy Halloween” diorama behind plastic.
Walking to the front yard, she pointed to destroyed electrical outlets and pulled some damaged electric lights from a box.
“All of the lights outside are gone,” Devlin said. “On Tuesday, we went to Home Depot, Lowes, Big Lots and bought all new lights. You have to get them at Christmas, or not at all. Everything’s ready and stored, and as soon as we get electricity, we’ll start again.”
Of course, there’s still no heat in the Devlin house, and she thinks it will be Valentine’s Day at the earliest before the decorations reappear and the lights go back up.
“It’s so sad to come down the street and everything’s dark,” she said. “I can’t even find my own house. ... We will be back, and next Christmas I guarantee will be the best Christmas ever.”
Not that she’s not making an attempt to celebrate this year. Amid the boxes, she brought out her 2012 Christmas tree — about 2 feet high and so light she could hold out in front of her.
But even with all that happened to her property, she knows she’s not alone — everyone on the island lost something in some way, and some more than others.
“Some people don’t have a home left,” she said. “I only lost one floor and the outside. Some people have nothing. I’m very grateful I’m still here.”
Contact Steven Lemongello:
Follow Steven Lemongello on Twitter @SteveLemongello