Steel Pier memories

Vicki Gold Levi, historian and author of an Atlantic City book, talks about the Steel Pier in the living quarters above the Irish Pub in Atlantic City. 

Ben Fogletto

Vicki Gold Levi may have been only 7 years old, but she was already a savvy veteran of Steel Pier publicity photos and stunts. There was one experience, however, that was a little harrowing - becoming the flower girl for a wedding inside the famous diving bell.

"I was terrified to be in the diving bell," Gold Levi said. "I hadn't been in there before. ... I always saw the diving bell come up with a ‘whoosh', and I remember saying, ‘Please, please , please don't make it come up fast!' In my memory, and memory is a funny thing, it went up slower."

Gold Levi, 70, the author of the book "Atlantic City, 125 Years of Ocean Madness," was a "pier rat" - one of those Atlantic City kids who would hang out at the Pier during the day and dance in its ballrooms at night.

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"Growing up in Atlantic City, it was your home away from home," said Gold Levi, now of New York, N.Y. "The Showplace of the Nation, an Amusement City at Sea. It was just an incredible place. And the one thing everybody remembers is that you could leave your lunch on a picnic table, come back an hour or two later, and it was completely undisturbed."

Gold Levi, the daughter of official Atlantic City photographer Al Gold, had quite a childhood on the pier in the late '40s and early '50s. She went from having her own radio show at the age of 5 - "Views by Vicki" on WMID - to performing a poetry recitation in the Tony Grant Stars of Tomorrow, popping out of a huge birthday box her mother made, to meeting Frank Sinatra at the party for his 10th anniversary in show business.

"There was a big map of the U.S. filled with congratulatory postcards," she said. "I remember meeting Sinatra and getting his autograph in my little girl's autograph book.

She later got a job in the Steel Pier's publicity department as a high-schooler - there was one job, though, that she never attained.

"I told my mom, ‘I want to ride the high-diving horses'," Gold Levi said. "I had to scrape her off the kitchen floor. But my dad, in his Solomonic wisdom, took me to the pier and said, ‘Go up there and jump into the water without a horse.' I couldn't do that. And that was the end of my experience with the high-diving horses."

All these years later, she has great hopes for the new Pier.

"The Steel Pier is going to be renovated and restored, and I look forward to that," she said. "Now, you're not going to get Justin Bieber to do five shows a day. But it's really going to be very exciting. I'm glad they kept the name alive. It's going to be one of our strongest attractions - a real destination."

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