SEA ISLE CITY — Sure, Charles Landis may have wanted to create a new Venice along the Jersey Shore, but there was also that other thing.
“He was accused of murder,” Sea Isle City Historical Museum volunteer Lisa Iannone said, “and needed a place to escape.”
So Sea Isle City was in part founded because Landis shot a newspaper editor in the back of the head — he was acquitted on grounds of temporary insanity, according to Emil Salvini’s book “Boardwalk Memories,” because it helps when you hire seven lawyers — but at such a beautiful location, there was bound to be a town here anyway.
Visitors were able to take in all of Sea Isle City’s history during Sunday’s historical trolley tours, part of the weekend-long Skimmer Festival celebration.
“I’ve been vacationing in Sea Isle since 1947,” said Maureen Olphert, of Norristown, Pa. “I wanted to see what else we can find out.”
Tourgoers put on jaunty red, white and blue hats and hopped on the trolley at JFK Boulevard and Pleasure Avenue to take in the island’s past, beginning with Excursion Park, named for the famous Excursion House that stood there before it was destroyed in the 1962 northeaster.
“It was a three-story, open-air house,” Iannone said. “People would sit and watch motorcycle races, believe it or not. The second floor had a porch, the third floor was enclosed and had dancing. But the ’62 storm, 50 years ago this year in March, washed it all away.”
Angelo’s restaurant was once the site of Braca’s, now a few blocks away, which in 1905 was only one of 400 buildings on the island.
Where Sunsations is today was once a gas station, and James Candy was a movie theater — complementing the theater on the old Madeleine’s Pier. Iannone said her husband, Arthur, recalled the days when he would watch a movie on the pier and the theater would sway on its piling.
On 46th Street, the trolley passed a house once owned by a pair of sisters who used to live across the street from each other — until they had a fight.
“So one sister picked the house up and moved it to the corner of 53rd,” Iannone said. “One lived on 46th Street her whole life, the other lived on 53rd her whole life.”
On 57th Street was the site of a home that fell into the ocean during the 1962 storm, thankfully without its owner.
“The man was sitting in his house waiting for a weather update,” Iannone said. “He swam with his family to his next-door neighbors, and he said he watched as his house slipped into the ocean.”
Beyond 60th Street used to be “just sand dune after sand dune, with a scattering of pine shrubs,” Iannone said, “(Mike) Stafford, the curator of the museum, said that back then people used to climb over the trees and they would all party at Passion’s Pit. Some people called it Loggers’ Retreat. Now it’s a far cry from Passion’s Pit.”
The area was so sparse, she said, officers at the lifesaving station would call her mother-in-law to say, “We’re running drills. Can you shut your windows so we can’t see your TV?”
On the way back, they passed the one-time site of a chicken coop on 44th Street, the tiny strip between 69th and 70th streets at what used to be the border with Townsends Inlet, and the old bell from the Methodist church, which remains at its old location high up in a modern condominium.
“I never knew there was a bell tower in a condo,” said Crystal Beck, of Lancaster, Pa. “I’ve been coming here since 1979, and my husband was born down here in 1957. His parents had a house for 53 years at 57th and Pleasure. And I always wondered about that little block at 70th, and now I found out after 30 years.”
“Overall, I loved it,” added Melanie Romig, of Milroy, Pa. “I’ve been wanting to do it for 10 years, but we never had the chance.”
There was even one recent event that made the tour — the closing of the city’s school just last week, with all students headed to Ocean City.
“It’s really sad that I have to say on the tour that the school’s part of history,” Iannone said.
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