The last day of summer vacation at the Jersey Shore was always a real treat……hello, Asbury Park!
I’m talking about the days before that city’s boardwalk area crumbled to pieces. Before the rides were all sold off. Before the beautiful turn of the century buildings at each end of the boardwalk were left to rot; rain and snow pouring in from hole-riddled roofs, shattered panels of glass, extensive Victorian exterior detail half missing.
The building on the south end was The Casino, filled with indoor rides, a carousel, amusements and even an exhibit hall. I don’t know for certain, but it sure looks to me like Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love video was shot there.
After spending most of the summer at Lavallette in a rented house a block from the beach, my family would spend a full day at Asbury Park's boardwalk, enjoying rides, greasy fries, and funnel cakes. Me, 6 years old, wearing a size 6X red dress with white polka dots from Sears, giggling in a spinning teacup and feeling queasy from numerous rotations on the Tilt-O-Whirl.
A highlight was a visit to Palace Amusements, across the street from The Casino, just steps away from the boardwalk. The bold illustrations on its minty green exterior had all the right elements to beckon you inside. Tillie’s larger than life smiling face beamed a toothy grin, similar to the one I’d have after spending some time on the rides there.
A trip on the Ferris wheel was mandatory. On each gondola, gleaming white letters proudly displayed names of New Jersey cities, reminding us of the great state we were in. And, how many Ferris wheels do you know of that were boarded inside a building and popped into the sky through an opening in the roof? I’ll never forget the bird’s eye view that unfolded below of the boardwalk, ocean, Madame Marie’s booth, and my favorite teacup ride.
The fun house featured a slanted room with rows of metal railings that kept me from slamming into the wall while fighting gravity on the downside. Ancient wooden floors creaking under pressure, dusty dark corners, skinny hallways, strobe lights and fast blasts of air contributed to simple delight for a fun house experience that probably doesn’t exist nowadays.
The Palace was where I was introduced to gambling. My mom and I decided to play a wheel. Now, how hard can it be to win a prize? I immediately had my eye fixed on a stuffed saint bernard on the far wall that was summing me up with a rather dopey expression. Oh, victory was going to be mine! I could feel it.
Mom helped me up on a stool so I’d have a better view of the action. The hurdy gurdy sounds from the carousel blending with screams of joy riders added to my winning aura. Being so young and wise, my mom of course consulted with me on which number we would play. She followed my advice and placed a coin down.
The wheel started spinning. And spinning. Fast. Oh, when will it stop? This is taking forever, I thought, as I wiggled on my perch. Finally, the ticking of the pins on the wheel were farther apart. And then, even farther apart; eventually slowing to a trickle. Tick….tick…....tick…….…
C’mon already! While my mom gazed intensely at the wheel with a calm look on her face, the anticipation of the outcome was causing me to nearly burst inside. Finally, it stopped. My eyes went wide. Hopping off the stool, then jumping up and down with the velocity of a pogo stick, I proclaimed “We won we won WE WON!” and pointed at my already chosen prize. The attendant unhooked the object of my desire from the wall and handed that brown and white bundle of fake fur and stuffing to me. I hugged him. No, not the attendant, my prize, which I had already determined was a he. I looked at my mom and shrieked “His name is Zero”!
Here's a short video from 1984 of Palace Amusements. It really didn't change that much inside over the years. Gone now, but the memories remain.