WILDWOOD _ Chubby Checker did “The Twist” here on Monday, like he did 55 years ago.
Checker, aka Ernest Evans, was here for the dedication of a mural at the corner of Pacific and Garfield avenues paying homage to the music legend that created a dance craze here in the summer of 1960.
Checker was just 18 when he first did the twist at the Rainbow Club, now the Cattle ‘n Cover Steak House at the corner of Spicer and Pacific, for the very first time.
A few weeks later, on Aug. 6, 1960, he performed it in Philadelphia on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and it swept the nation.
Still going strong at 73, Checker came back with his family to accept the homage and lead some 250 people in the twist. Mayor Ernest Troiano declared it Chubby Checker Day in Wildwood.
“Let’s twist again, like we did last summer,” the music blared as the canvas fell to unveil the mural by Northfield artist Susan Daly.
Checker was all smiles as he looked at six paintings of himself doing the dance that jump-started a career, one in which he sold more than 200 million records.
Checker said he had just graduated high school in Philadelphia and came to Wildwood, to the Rainbow Club, where he wasn’t even old enough to order a drink. Fame, little did he know, was right around the corner.
“Those two minutes and 42 seconds on American Bandstand transformed dancing,” said Checker.
It was done in the classiest of ways. Checker is wearing a coat-and-tie the mural.
“We were exploiting our sexuality while being fully dressed. We weren’t even touching each other,” said Checker.
Rock n Roll had a sound, and a beat, and now it had a dance. This led to other dances, Checker noted, like “The Fly,” and the “The Pony,” and “The Hucklebush.’
“They call it the Boogie and I’m the Boogieman,” said Checker.
The 12-by-40-foot mural is the third the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority, or GWTIDA, has put up honoring music legends that played in Wildwood. The others honor Bill Haley and the Comets and Bobby Rydell.
GWTIDA Executive Director John Siciliano said the murals beautify public spaces but also highlight Wildwood “as a living and breathing slice of Americana.”
Some came just to see the living and breathing Chubby Checker.
“It was the rage when we were in high school. It was the new thing after the jitterbug. It’s a fun dance. You just feel happy doing it,” said Mary Mason of Penns Grove, Salem County.
Margaret DiFilippantonio, also of Penns Grove, recalled doing the twist at parties and watching Checker perform on American Bandstand.
“It was fun. It was different. My mom even liked the twist,” said DiFilippantonio.
Pauline Levy, whose father Harry Levy owned The Rainbow club from 1952-1972, remembered top bands of the time playing there. She remembers Checker though she was “just a little kid” back then. She loved that he came back to his roots.
“He didn’t’ forget Wildwood,” Levy said.
And Wildwood didn’t forget Chubby Checker.