In the summer of 1954, my Aunt Mary took me to Steel Pier. This was how she rewarded me for doing chores around the house; I also helped my grandmother, who was handicapped. I was 11 and we were very poor. My aunt worked at the Madison Hotel as a waitress and saved her tips. She dressed me up in my very best clothes, braided my hair and made our lunch. But going down to the Boardwalk from the Northside neighborhood was different — we weren’t allowed to cross Atlantic Avenue without an adult. We arrived at The Pier and my aunt paid about a dollar to get us on. We saw several movies, then ate our lunch while we watched the waves. After lunch, we went down in the Diving Bell, a big round machine with a pole in the middle. We looked through the windows and saw fish, seaweed and other things. The bell took us down underwater, then brought us back to the surface by a hydraulic lift. This was my favorite holiday, but I never had a chance to revisit Steel Pier. — Josephine Parker, Absecon
Our family’s memory of Steel Pier was going to see the shows and just enjoying the Boardwalk and The Pier. But my brothers and I also had a local band — we’re from Absecon — that became quite popular. We were known as Monarch, also as The Sidekicks and The Redcoats. One of the highlights of our career was when we got to play at the Golden Dome Ballroom at The Pier. — Randy Bocelle, Absecon
Going to Steel Pier when I was 10 years old was like going to Disney World today. There was so much to do when we got there, after taking the train ride from Minotola to Atlantic City. Once every summer, my mother, sister, friends and I would leave early in the morning, taking along our lunch, of course — just as everyone did in those days.
We were on the go as soon as we we entered Steel Pier. Signs and posters were everywhere, looking like circus signs of the turn-of-the-century style to me. There was something for everyone, and something to do every step of the way from the front of the Boarwalk to the back of The Pier, where we sat on the bleachers in the sun, waiting for the lady on the horse to dive. I wasn’t sure about the horse diving, since we had horses on our farm — and they never went near water. But the lady on the horse seemed confident and in charge, and it seemed like it was easy for the horse, who had been diving for some time.
My grandmother, my mother Irma (now 98), aunts and cousin went to Steel Pier before the 1920s, on their vacation day. They later attended the dance marathons where Red Skelton was the emcee, or host. They had relatives and friends who danced in the marathon.
We played and rode on all the rides in The Pier, then stopped to eat lunch on benches lined along the ocean side — not far from the scary Diving Bell. There were movie theaters with vaudeville acts right after the movies.
In later years, as an older teenager and young adult vacationing in the city, we would always end up at the Steel Pier — that was the place to go. We could hardly hear Johnnie Ray sing because the crowds of girls just kept screaming. We danced in the Ballroom to the latest big band — especially Ray Anthony! One night, after a young Tony Bennett sang his smooth style, we waited for him at the stage door. He was such a nice gentleman and after he signed his name, he wrote our names at the top of his picture as a personal gesture.
When the Beatles came to Atlantic City, we were standing in front of The Pier. Someone shouted, “There they go,” and my teenage niece took off, running down the Boardwalk after them. I ran after her too, but it was only four youths disguised as the Fab Four.
The Steel Pier kept up with the changing times for many years. It was certainly good for children and adults alike in the good old days. — Thelma S. Bucikowski, Vineland