Growing up on the Steel Pier was the best time. When I was 9 years old, my sisters and I went backstage (every day) at the Circus Water Show with my dad, Joe Hackney, who was one of the high-divers and clowns in the show and he babysat us girls because my mother worked. We got to know everyone and attend all the shows on the Pier. In 1945, my father dived from a blimp for publicity for Steel Pier. When I was 13, my friend, Marie Osborne DeMari and I would swim out to the end of The Pier to see my dad between shows every day — we’d stay out there for a show or two and swim back to the beach. At 14 I worked at The Pier’s hot dog stand. In the 1950s, my sister, Marion, was a Diving Horse rider for 10 years, and her twin Barbara was in the Disappearing Water Ballet also. They also danced in the Daddy Dave Theater, which came before Tony Grant. They were acrobats and daredevils — I just followed them to all their shows. The Steel Pier Days were GREAT, GREAT, GREAT. — Jo Ann Hackney Wescoat, Absecon
My favorite Steel Pier memory comes from a class trip. The biggest thrill for me was going into the Diving Bell. I remember leaving the bus and running to be the first one to go in that bell. Only a few people were allowed in the bell at one time. We all stood. I made my way to one of the windows. The doors closed and we went down into the water. I remember we were shaking a bit until the bell hit the bottom of the ocean. I anxiously looked out the window. I couldn’t see a thing — the view out the window was very cloudy from impact of the bell with the sand. I was still amazed to realize I was on the bottom of the ocean. I since grew up and became a scuba diver. I credit the bell with my excitement of being on the ocean floor. I loved that bell — Michele McLaughlin, Somers Point
It was my first job as a teenager. I just got my working papers and had been hired to work the pinball machines in the rotunda and in front of the ballroom.
I remember making friends with the owners of Kohr Bros., and when they would make the butter-almond custard, they would give us cups when it just came out of the machines. It was the best. During my second year on the pier, I was promoted to the Skee Ball machines. There you had to hawk the customers to “come on in and win a prize!”
My third year, I took a job with Bobby Jones running the “Goldfish Race.” In that game we had live goldfish in a long tube with a mechanical shark controlled by the player. The first one to chase their goldfish across the finish line won a prize. We were right next to the steps of Tony Grant’s theater, and would get the biggest crowds when one of the shows dismissed, so it was either no one playing or the board was full. It was a great time.
We met girls, went to the shows, saw the “dancing waters,” and got to see the great acts, including Ricky Nelson, and were part of the Ed Hurst dance show in the Ballroom. We visited the General Motors display every year at the introduction of new models.
It was a special time on the pier for all the employees. There was no other place like it at the time. I had to take the bus from Northfield every day to get to work.
The following years I worked pizza shops, pretzels shops and Italian ice stands on the boardwalk, but nothing ever compared to my time on George Hamid’s Steel Pier. It was the entertainment capital of the world and working there was something very, very special. — Richard F. Myers, Millville
I was born in ’49. We lived just off the Boardwalk in the South Inlet — what a great place to be in the summer.
I have indelible memories of trips to Steel Pier. I may have been 10 at the time. My father was an Atlantic City policeman, so he always had discount coupons to get into the Pier — which made the ticket cost about $.35.
We would go in and I still remember the smell — the musty odor of the old wooden pier over the ocean combined with hot dogs, pizza and fries. We would eagerly look over the schedule to plan our day. So much to do, so little time.
We always hit Tony Grant’s Stars of Tomorrow. To see those kids, not much older than me, doing their dance and singing routines was just so cool. I remember meeting one of the young dancers in the Pier. I think there may have been a kiss involved, but I really can’t confirm that. Then we were off to the main theater to see the top performers of the day.
We would marvel at the Diving Bell, the way it went down and exploded back to the surface. I went down in it. All I saw was murky water but the ride up was exhilarating.
The highlight of my day was the Water Circus. Those intrepid diving clowns were amazing as they plunged into the Atlantic doing their hilarious routines. I recall the motorcycles in the ball and the trapeze artists. The day culminated with the Diving Horse. How they coaxed that huge animal to jump was beyond belief. Sure enough, the horse would put his two front legs down on the apron and then the big push off. Then came the enormous splash and the crowd goes wild. It was pure amazement as the horse and its rider proudly emerged from the diving pool.
I had more entertainment than a young kid could ask for — all for 35 cents. — Joshua Braunstein, Margate