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Mays Landing's Sunshine Park a victim of its own success

Sunshine Park

A billboard that stood alongside Route 50 advertised Sunshine Park as a place to get a 'total tan.'

(Look Back is an occasional series with content and images from the Atlantic County Historical Society.)

There was a billboard on Route 50 that advertised if you want a Full Tan go to Sunshine Park in Mays Landing.

The famous nudist park was co-founded in the 1930s during the heyday of the naturalist movement by Dr. Ilsley Boone, referred to as "Uncle Danny," a minister and geologist.

Sunshine Park wended its way through the Pine Barrens of South Jersey along the root beer-colored Great Egg Harbor River. The tidal river, stained by the cedar trees that lined it, ran from the bulkhead in Mays Landing to the Atlantic Ocean.

The park lasted for decades with as many as 750 families who would gather on weekends, staying in cabins, enjoying the swimming pool, playing tennis, using the sauna, whirlpool and playing miniature golf. While the park was for families, it also attracted showgirls from Atlantic City who wanted the full body tan.

Bronzed bodies were the norm. Newcomers to the lifestyle were readily apparent from their stark white bodies and were told they would catch up. Most people would gather in the evenings before the mosquitoes would start biting and play volleyball. Older members would watch from the sidelines and also play bocce and shuffleboard. On weekends, everyone dressed up in their fancy clothes and attended dances, plays, sing-a-longs, talent and fashion shows in the recreation hall.

A story was told by a young girl of just 13 who had a summer job as a waitress at the park. She was slinging hash wearing a ruffled, white apron and a smile, which was normal for her since everyone else wore just a watch and jewelry, except for Pennsylvania Dutch girls who wore white net caps at the back of their head over woundup braids.

The park eventually became a victim of its success, as its sanitary systems were overwhelmed by crowds of people who were attracted by the $14 per couple weekend rate.

Neighbors eventually became critical of Sunshine Park and township officials cracked down on the facility for health violations. A judge eventually ordered the park closed in 1983.

At the end the property at one point drew the interest of a casino owner, who offered $2 million, however nothing materialized and the buildings were left to decay and rot away.

Founded in 1913, the Atlantic County Historical Society has been preserving historical materials in its library and museum since. Every week, Wednesday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., it opens its doors to share these collections with anyone who is interested. The society building is at 907 Shore Road in Somers Point. More information is available at www.atlanticcountyhistoricalsocietynj.org and on Facebook, or by calling 609-927-5218.

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