ACFPL Living History Project
Collection Number: H040
Extent: 2.0 cubic feet (68 interviews)
Repository: Alfred M. Heston Collection, Atlantic City Free Public Library, 1 North Tennessee Avenue, Atlantic City, NJ 08401, (609) 345-2269.
Preferred Citation: Interviewee's Name, Atlantic City Free Public Library Living History Project, Alfred M. Heston Collection, Atlantic City Free Public Library.
The Atlantic City Free Public Library (ACFPL) conducted oral history interviews in 1978, at the advent of casino gambling in Atlantic City. The interviews were conducted with grant funding from the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), a program of the United States Department of Labor.
The 68 interviewees represented Atlantic City’s culturally and economically diverse citizens - small business owners, lifetime residents, city government officials, transients, school teachers, and local celebrities. The interviewees were chosen based on their experiences in Atlantic City, as well as their backgrounds and careers. Interviews focused on the history of the city, the interviewees’ relationship to the city, and their thoughts on the future of the city.
ACFPL employee Cynthia Ringe was the project supervisor and conducted most of the interviews, with project assistants Marie Cooney and Sandra Miller. Dian Spitler, ACFPL Reference Librarian, summed up the purpose of the Living History Project: "[The Oral History Project serves] to capture the color and the atmosphere and the flavor of the times...[T]he way it felt to be alive at a time when the city was the Queen of Resorts...[W]e are going to shift our focus and start capturing now – ...the people like me, like you, who are watching the city go through its other transformation into, we hope again, the Queen of Resorts, and the city will be known all over the world again, with good connotations."
IN-DEPTH INFORMATION ABOUT THE COLLECTION
Scope and Content:
Each interviewee was selected for his or her unique background and experiences. Interviews address topics such as:
- earliest memories of Atlantic City
- important events in Atlantic City (Miss America Pageant, fires, storms, World War II)
- places and businesses in Atlantic City (Steel Pier, Traymore, Marlborough-Blenheim, Dennis, Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy, 500 Club, 1 Atlantic Ocean, White House Sub Shop, Gormley Funeral Home, Fischer Flowers, Atlantic City schools)
- prominent people in Atlantic City (Nucky Johnson, Dean Martin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hap Farley, other frequent celebrities and performers and local politicians)
- predictions for the future of Atlantic City in the casino era
Each interview was recorded on standard audiotapes and transcribed to paper by local transcriptionists. Interviews are approximately 60-90 minutes in length. Some notable interviews include:
- Chris Columbo, renowned musician at the Club Harlem: "In my early days in Atlantic City it was just a whole lot of fun, because we had a city that you didn’t have to have a key to the front door. No one ever locked their doors."
- Franklin W. Kemp, Atlantic City Fire Department Chief and author: "[T]oday, in 1978, there’s nothing remaining in [the St. Charles Place] area. It’s all been torn down by Urban Renewal."
- Frank Havens, photographer for the City of Atlantic City: "With the advent of gambling ...we’re going to have to find many more ways to entertain the people who come here when they are not gambling, or when they have their families with them..."
- Joseph Hackney, local resident, born in 1898: "I don’t hesitate to say that the future of Atlantic City is so good that these people that talk about 'They can't do this' and 'They won't be able to do that' are talking through their hats...[W]ith what we have, the best city in the country, we won't have any trouble."
System of Arrangement:
The interviews are arranged alphabetically by the interviewee's last name. Seven anonymous interviews are at the end of the 61 other interviews. A complete list of the interviewees is included, with brief biographical information and interview content. Notes and subject terms were added by the ACFPL project staff in 1978.
Because the audio recordings are fragile, only the paper transcripts may be consulted in the Heston Room, unless special advance arrangements are made with Heston Room staff to listen to the audio recordings. Please contact Heston Room staff for more information.
OTHER INFORMATION FOR USERS OF THE COLLECTION
Subject Access Points:
Atlantic City (N.J.) – History
Crime – Atlantic City – New Jersey
Oral History – New Jersey – Atlantic City
Salt Water Taffy – History
Tourism – History – New Jersey – Atlantic City
Atlantic City Beach Patrol
Atlantic City Free Public Library
Atlantic City Post Office
Fischer Flowers – New Jersey – Atlantic City
Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy – New Jersey – Atlantic City
Gormley Funeral Home – New Jersey – Atlantic City
Knife and Fork Inn – New Jersey – Atlantic City
Kornblau’s Restaurant – New Jersey – Atlantic City
White House Sub Shop – New Jersey – Atlantic City
Casey, William F.
The Alfred M. Heston Collection houses other oral history collections related to Atlantic City and its residents. These collections include:
- Dr. James R. Karmel Atlantic City Project Oral History Interviews, 2002-2006 (Collection H005)
- Dorothy J. Beatty "Black History of Atlantic City" Oral History Project (H057)
- "30 Years, 30 Voices" Atlantic City Free Public Library Oral History Project, 2008 (H064)
- Dr. Richlyn Goddard "Northside History" Oral History Project, 1995-1996 (H097)
Local History Biography Files include information, such as newspaper clippings and photographs, about some of the interviewees and the people to whom they refer in the interviews. Local History Subject Files include information about the subjects to which they refer in the interviews. Also check the Library Catalog for other biographies of Atlantic City residents and people with connections to Atlantic City.
Processing Note: The collection is processed. Finding aid written by Heather Halpin, archivist, February 2007. Revised June 2008.
Copyright Notice: The Atlantic City Free Public Library owns the copy and reproduction rights for the Living History Project. The Library may not own the rights for interviews 43, 51 and 53. Please consult with ACFPL Heston Collection staff before copying or duplicating any materials from this collection.
LIST OF INTERVIEWS
- Basile, Anthony. Co-owner of White House Sub Shop. Born in Atlantic City in 1926. Father came to Atlantic City about 1903. History of submarine sandwich. Famous visitors to sub shop.
- Binder, Leon. Resident of Atlantic City for fifty years. Owner of grocery store. Memories of former days, Nucky Johnson, celebrities, etc.
- Borzellino, Joseph. Eighty-five year old resident of Atlantic City. Former barber, with many memories of early Atlantic City. Transcription not completed and tape is unavailable.
- Casey, William F., Maj. Resident of Atlantic City since 1918. City Commissioner from 1934 to 1968. Very active in town. Stories of early Atlantic City, churches, various mayors, landmarks, etc.
- Columbo, Chris. Resident of Atlantic City since age nine. Top musician of town for many years. Drummer at Club Harlem. Memories of famous musicians who appeared here. Also talks about prejudice in the old days and now. Discusses the future of Atlantic City.
- Crim, Barbara. Principal clerk, ACFPL. Resident of Atlantic City since 1920. Memories of N.J. Avenue School, ACHS, Inlet Neighborhood, Great Depression. Side 1 transcribed only. Side 2 has no volume.
- Cunningham, Eleanor. Formerly with ACFPL. Resident of Atlantic City nearly fifty years. Memories of Thornton Wilder, early days of Library, etc.
- Davis, Ed. Radio announcer for WFPG. Many memories of Steel Pier, Steeplechase Pier, etc. Celebrities on the Piers, and on the radio, night clubs, much of the entertainment world.
- Dichter, Herman. Russian immigrant in 1906; moved to Atlantic City in 1922. Meat salesman, cigar store owner, then small hotel owner. Father of Shirley Gordon and Ruth Raphel. Origin of Gordon’s Children Shop and Gordon’s Alley.
- Fischer, Charles. Owner of Fischer Flowers. Born in Atlantic City 1898, father born 1867 in Atlantic City. 5 generations of Fischer’s in Atlantic City. Raising and selling flowers means of livelihood since 1876. History of same.
- Fixler, Abe. Bar owner. Resident of Atlantic City since 1949. Milk business and bar business.
- Fox, Mildred. Hotel owner. Resident of Atlantic City for 45 years. Now employed at Sheraton Seaside Hotel as hotel executive. Worked for many years for Senior Citizens and has many stories about that. Also stories of the war years in the hotel business. 2nd side: Ada Taylor Sackett, Hotel Skills Contest.
- Gaines, Norman. (SEE ALSO: Weekes, Primrose) Employee of Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy. Born 1901. Origin of name "salt water taffy." History of Macaroons.
- Ginnetti, Frances. Came to Atlantic City in 1929. Rex Restaurant. Bio Guest House. Built A.C's first motel, John’s Motel. Gives good reasons for decline of Atlantic City.
- Gormley, Helen M. Owner of Gormley Funeral Home, and her father was before her. She is 67 years old, born and raised in Atlantic City. Stories of accidents, embalming, Gypsy funerals, her marriage to Tom Stafford, a landscape engineer, during the war, etc.
- Greenburg, Milton. President, Atlantic City Jitneyman’s Association. Memories of early jitneys, celebrities, future of Atlantic City as per jitney business, etc.
- Gundaker, George. Born and raised in Atlantic City. Presently employed at Rock and Shell Shop on Boardwalk. Many memories of Ducktown, the Inlet, clammers, fishing boars, many landmarks.
- Hackney, Joseph. Born in Atlantic City in 1898. Great sportsman and has many stories of sports, championships, etc., mainly swimming and diving. Worked on Steel Pier diving for thirty years. Memories of Miss America Pageant parades, etc. Tried to cross country on bike. Worked in lumberyards in Mid-west. Thoughts of a very great future for Atlantic City.
- Hamm, Arneita. Born 1901 in Atlantic City. Third grade teacher for 48 years. Memories of her early childhood, Asbury Methodist Church and its early ministers, her early school classes.
- Harris, Frances. Born and raised in Atlantic City. Waitress for many years in and around Atlantic City. Some recollections of celebrities.
- Havens, Frank. Photographer for the City of Atlantic City for the past 40 years. School day memories. Stories of rum runners in Atlantic City as seen first-hand by him. Dance contests and marathons during the Depression days. Most interesting stories of the Piers in Atlantic City, and their various entertainment. Excellent ideas for the Piers of the future, as gambling becomes more prevalent, the entertainment, etc. History of Atlantic City Convention Hall, all of its rooms, the organ, the height, space, etc. How he first began in the photography business.
- Hinton, Ruth S. Atlantic City native – born here in 1902. Black school teacher. Gives good history of Christ Memorial M.E. Zion Church, the two YWCAs, the two YMCAs, the "Philosophian Club," and her teaching experiences. Also names many of her grade and high school teachers.
- Hires, Frank. Born in Atlantic City in 1907, and raised here and in Pleasantville. Former Atlantic City Press Editor. Memories of his father’s and grandfather’s day on a farm, political figures that he knew well (Nucky Johnson, Hap Farley, Mayor Stoley, and many more). Early days of Atlantic City, fires, storm of 1944, some funny newspaper stories.
- Hoffman, Reuben. Born here in 1904 and raised here. Stories of early school days and first jobs. His father and grandfather were in the hardware business, as he is today. Memories of the 1944 hurricane; hardware prices of today, as compared to yesteryear, etc.
- Hume, Marvin. Came to Atlantic City as a youngster, from Collingswood, NJ. Has been on the Boardwalk 21 years with Rock and Shell shop. Memories of storms, customers, etc.
- Johnson, May Ackerman. President, Board of Trustees, Atlantic City Free Public Library. Former member of Atlantic City Hotel Association. Former hotel owner. Resident of A.C. for over fifty years. Memories of hotel business, through World War II, etc.
- Kammerman, Leslie. Lifetime resident of Atlantic City. Many memories of early Atlantic City, the Inlet, where he was born and raised; characters he has known, the storm of 1944 and others. Also politicians, such as Nucky Johnson, Mayor Altman, Hap Farley, and others. Memories of the twenties when the well-to-do inhabited the Inlet – fishing trips on their yachts, etc. also his views on the future of Atlantic City, as far as the “Plains," the Inlet, etc.
- Kato, George. Japanese owner of Nikko Shop on the Boardwalk. Many stories of early Atlantic City, his father’s coming here from Japan, the hurricane of 1944, the Piers, World War II and the investigation of the Japanese.
- Kauffman, Herman. Born here in 1914, and grew up here in the fish business, first with his father and now on his own. Many stories about the early days of fishing, fishing boards, the New Haul on Million Dollar Pier, etc.
- Kemp, Franklin W. Resident of Atlantic City since the twenties. Senior Deputy Chief of Atlantic City Fire Department, author of the book, Fire-fighting By the Seashore. Recollections of the early horse and wagons in the Fire Department, the Volunteer Fire Fighters, great fires in Atlantic City, etc.
- Kilcher, Walter. Born here in 1919, he is now owner of the Copenhagen Pastry Shop. Gives the history of his baking business. Tells of his childhood.
- Kornblau, Joe. Owner of Kornblau’s Restaurant. (He came over here in 1947, a 4 times refugee.) He gives the restaurant’s history (his uncle founded it in 1924). Talks about the decline and deterioration of Boardwalk and Atlantic City.
- Latz, James. Owner of Knife and Fork Inn, born and raised here. Memories of early childhood, childhood pranks, horseback riding on the beach, canoeing around the island. Prices in the early days and problems with rationing during the war, Nucky Johnson, celebrities who visited the Knife and Fork, etc.
- Leonard, Theodore. Former boxer, bantam weight champ 1925 to 1932. Settled in Atlantic City in 1918. His mother owned a hotel-boarding home. Interesting stories about that. Memories of fighters here, celebrities; also politicians that he knew.
- Levan, Russell. Resident of Atlantic City since early childhood, in 1925. Has held many different jobs – stagehand on Steel Pier, policeman, merchant, beach chair concessionaire, etc. Now has bike rental business. Many memories of early Atlantic City, celebrities, Piers, black entertainers, etc.
- McCabe, Joseph, Jr. Expert on theater. Many stories about Broadway tryouts in Atlantic City, celebrities. Tells a story of the disappearance of Judge Crater. Memories of his school days here in 1917, and his early jobs.
- Malag, Moe. Resident of Atlantic City for nearly sixty years. Currently an investigator for the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. Basketball official from 1932-1954. Discussion about liquor, gambling licenses, etc.
- Pileggi, Peter. Manager of White House Sub Shop. Tells of his childhood, neighborhood, etc. Famous patrons of sub shop.
- Pozgar, Frank. Owner of Frank’s X-tra Dry Bar and Restaurant. Resident of Atlantic City for thirty years. Memories of bar characters and celebrities.
- Prague, George. Resident of Atlantic City since 1917. Construction Operating Engineer in town. Memories of the storms, the Piers, characters in town, the old Railroad Station, etc.
- Primrose, Dolly. (SEE ALSO: Gaines, Weeks) Employee of Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy. Talks about "1 Atlantic Ocean," Captain Young’s (her uncle) home.
- Pulliam, Elizabeth. Resident of Atlantic City since age of five. School day memories, early girlhood and womanhood. She was with Girl Scouts, YWCA, and an organist with the Westminster Presbyterian Church. Discussion on War years, segregation, children of today and yesterday. Times on the beach and the Piers, etc.
- Ringe, Cynthia (and Spitler, Dian). Talks about this Living History Project, the proposed building of a new library. This is a radio interview taped from WFPG Information Central with Howard Berger. Dian Spitler, Reference Librarian, is also on this tape.
- Rogers, Willard Mason. Born in Atlantic City in 1910. Tells about his early days in Atlantic City, his childhood, high school days. Related to Mason family – gives brief genealogy (he was nephew of Dr. Willard Mason, a prominent doctor). Mentions "Six Foot Liz," "Big Boy Williams," etc.
- Samaha, Frank. Born in 1899 in Atlantic City. Fifty years in radio as an engineer in town. Also worked in early TV here. Went to sea many times, but doesn’t talk much about that in interview. Mostly stories concerning radio. Good history of Admiral Byrd’s first trip to South Pole. Stories of working with celebrities on radio. Easter Parade, Boardwalk shows, all the Piers. Memories of old hurricanes. Also early churches, and Miss America Pageant.
- Sayles, Jordan E. Waiter at Dennis Hotel for 20 years; Marlborough-Blenheim 26 years. Stories of his early days in Atlantic City since 1921. Many stories of hotel business, celebrities, politics, the youth of today and yesterday, the future of Atlantic City.
- Schwickerath, Frank, Jr. Jeweler on Boardwalk. Family in business since 1893. Many stories of the idle rich, hotels, auctioneers, early childhood days of fishing with his grandfather, also rum runners, politicians. A very interesting and complete picture of early Atlantic City. Also his views of gambling, past and present and in the future.
- Scott, John, Jr. 78 year old resident. Jitney driver for 52 years. Many memories of the past, present and future of Atlantic City.
- Sharbrough, David. Twenty year resident of Atlantic City. Memories of Piers, hotels, entertainers, Police Department, transportation. He worked in many hotels here in town.
- Silverman, Mrs. Herman. Visitor of Atlantic City 56 years. Resident for 35 years. Memories of early hotels, from a Jewish viewpoint. Kosher hotels. Also early gambling rooms and clubs, entertainers she knew. Fishing days. Discussion of what will become of Atlantic City now that gambling is here.
- Singer, Sarah. (transcribed from radio interview with Al Berger) Civic leader, former Head of Atlantic City Board of Education, Trustee of Atlantic City Free Public Library. Lots of local history, people, landmarks, etc.
- Solitaire, Eddie. Member of Atlantic City Beach Patrol for 45 years, starting in 1929. History of same. Also history of lifeboats, lifeguard stands, swimming rescues, shark scares, jellyfish. Tells about "Pegleg Ireland," "Six Foot Liz," "Big Iz Dowdy." Father was Dapper Dan Mitch Solitaire (assistant to Mayor Bader and Nucky Johnson), also a rum runner. Grandfather was Samuel Solitaire.
- Spitler, Dian. (SEE: Ringe, Cynthia) Radio tape from WFPG Information Central. Talks about this Living History Project and the proposed building of a new library. Dian was the Reference Librarian of the Atlantic City Free Public Library.
- Stein, Hettie. 85-year resident of Atlantic City. Small hotel business. Memories of Steel Pier in early days, schooldays, etc.
- Thomas, William J., Jr. Employee of Atlantic City Post Office since World War II. Memories of North Side entertainment, celebrities on the Piers, school days, etc.
- Tolin, Charles. Born in Atlantic City April 1, 1910. Memories of the town and how it was when he was growing up and going to school here. He mentions many of his classmates, and where they are today. Stories about scrap business, which he is in, as was his grandfather and father before him. Story about his son overseas with the CIA, and how he left this country disgusted with the Establishment. Speaks of how the hotels will be wrecked, many beautiful things destroyed, as was the Traymore.
- Van Kirk, E. Rae. Born in Atlantic City in 1894, worked for Atlantic City Press and the Dorland Agency. Very good early memories: Boardwalk fire 1902, 1906 train wreck, 1918 flu epidemic, history of Press and its owners, Milk and Ice Fund Bouts, trolleys, sand artists, etc.
- Weekes, Calvin. (SEE ALSO: Gaines, Primrose) Employee of Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy. Atlantic City native. Tells about the making of macaroons: the ingredients and the procedure.
- White, Marian. Waitress for many years at Haddon Hall. Tells of her experiences there: dormitory life, eccentric patrons, celebrities, marvelous kitchen, etc.
- Wise, Leo. Resident of Atlantic City since 1911. Former baseball star here in town. Many memories of early Atlantic City.
- Wolfe, Gerda. Immigrant from Germany in 1952. Nurse at Shore Memorial Hospital, Atlantic City Medical Center. Memories of past nursing experiences, doctors, nursing compared to Germany, future of Atlantic City, etc.
- Bill. Head of Major Crimes in Atlantic City. Born in 1930 and raised here. Stories of crime, grizzly murders, school days, gangs, etc.
- Camden. "Camden" is the nickname of an Atlantic City cab driver. Tells the history of Atlantic City cabs; also his experience in the WPA during depression. Tells of some unusual cab patrons.
- Chester. Born and raised in Atlantic City. Stories of early childhood, school days, and his working days as a bartender and manager. Stories of 500 Club, politicians (Nucky Johnson, Two-Gun Taggart, Hap Farley, etc.). How Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis got together. Information on gambling and prostitution in early days.
- Ed. Lifetime resident of Atlantic City – eighty years. Recollections of early Atlantic City, transportation, politics, landmarks, etc.
- Johnny. Born in Vineland, New Jersey, now resident of Atlantic City. Former roofer, now unemployed alcoholic. Discussion about the town in general, and the future of Atlantic City.
- Margaret. Tells about her prominent family (they came to Atlantic City in 1911). Tells also of eccentric characters: Bill Sunday (evangelist), prohibition, Grey Ladies of England General Hospital, Red Cross, Leeds family.
- Mrs. X. Black school teacher. Taught kindergarten for thirty years in Atlantic City. Father was a physician. Stories of early days in Atlantic City, school, etc. Origin of Fay-Mor-Wee home. 2nd side not transcribed.
Published 28 June 2008.