Atlantic City: The World’s Playground

by Ellon Labana


Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio

Atlantic City was cited as the Sundance Kid’s birthplace in the 1969 classic western film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  It was the home of the Miss America pageant from 1921 to 2005.  It was also a place frequented by New Jersey-based mob drama The Sopranos.

I came to know of Atlantic City only through the 1980 movie directed by Louis Malle, which starred the award-winning performers Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon.  So, when my sister Marilou told me that we would visit the city, I was excited.

Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio

True enough, after we did our one-day walk tour at Washington, D.C. during my recent visit to the United States, we went to “the Queen of Resorts,” as the city is known.  There were three of us – Marilou and her husband, David Eplite (who drove us), and myself.  We left Newark, Delaware at around six in the morning and by nine we were already in Atlantic City.

Now, I was ready to walk on the red carpet.  But, hey, let’s get to know the city first and foremost.  The first recorded owner of Absecon Island, on which Atlantic City rests, was Thomas Budd, an Englishman, who arrived in Atlantic County in late 1670’s. Budd was given the island and other acreage as settlement of a claim he had against the holders of the royal grant. His mainland property was then valued at $0.40 an acre, while the beach land a mere $0.04 an acre. (That same piece of beach front property today would be worth millions of dollars per acre.)

Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio

Atlantic City has always been a resort town, even to its first visitors, the Lenni-Lenape Indians, who spent the summer months by the ocean.  The city was incorporated in 1854, the same year that the Camden-Atlantic City Railroad opened, which linked the beach town to Philadelphia.

The city is known for its Boardwalk.  The first boardwalk was built in 1870, along a portion of the beach to help hotel owners keep sand out of their lobbies. The idea caught on, and the boardwalk was expanded and modified several times in the following years. The historic length of the boardwalk was about 11.2 kilometers.  Today, it is about 6.63 kilometers long and 18 meters wide, reinforced with steel and concrete.

By the way, the sticky confection salt water taffy is closely associated with the Boardwalk, and some have claimed that it was invented here after a flood.  If there’s truth to this, I can only guess.

Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio

On February 27, 1987, the Historic Atlantic City Convention Hall, now commonly referred to as the Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall, was listed on the United State Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark.

While walking through the Boardwalk, take a few steps down and visit the Brighton Park to see the New Jersey War Memorial.  It consists of a wall engraved with the names of 822 New Jerseyans who died or are missing in action and a 12-foot high statue of “The Mourning Soldier.”

Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio

The city experienced a major boom period beginning in the late 1800s.  However, tourism began to decline following World War II, but that changed when New Jersey voters approved casino gambling in 1976.   

Today, Atlantic City is host to 11 casino resorts, eight of which are located on the Boardwalk: Caesars, Bally’s, Showboat, Atlantic City Hilton, Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza, and Tropicana.  Open 24 hours a day, these casinos offer slot machines, poker, black jack, roulette, craps, baccarat, keno, race books, especially table games and more.  The minimum age for gambling is 21 and the law is strictly enforced.

Each casino has its own promotional program for providing freebies, or “comps,” as they are called.  Comps can be in the form of free show tickets, hotel rooms, dinners and more.  Visit the promotions booth in the casinos to find out how you can qualify.

Entertainment abounds in the city.  In fact, the Boardwalk was considered the premier tryout for theatrical productions.  The rise of Mike Tyson in boxing, having most of his fights in the city helped the city’s popularity in the 1980s.  When we were there, slated to perform were Chris Rock, Jeff Dunham, America, Backstreet Boys, and Bob Dylan.   

Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio

Another major attraction is the oldest remaining Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Odditorium in the world.  This is a franchise, founded by Robert Ripley, which deals in bizarre events and items so strange and unusual that people might question the claims.   More than 400 exhibits in 13 themed galleries. 

Since Atlantic City is near the ocean, swimming is also an attraction here.  Unlike other beaches in New Jersey, the clean shores are free of charge!  However, swimming is not allowed between 10 pm and 6 am.  Grilling with charcoal briquettes is allowed on the beach on three occasions only: Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day.

The city also offers numerous ways to enjoy the ocean – cruises dedicated to dolphin watching, happy hour, dancing and sightseeing; deep water fishing charters; and speed boat, yacht, canoe and kayak rentals.   You can also do fishing but not in bathing areas though.

If you’re lucky enough, you can also see the Atlantic City Airshow, called the “thunder over the Boardwalk.”  Michael Bruckler, spokesman for the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority, explained, “It’s a great event, a patriotic event.  It’s a perfect time to come out and see all Atlantic City has to offer.”

Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio

The Thunderbirds, also known as the U.S. Air Force Demonstration Squadron, performs aerobatic and solo maneuvers.  The Golden Knights, on the other hand, jumps out of planes then performs exciting and unusual (not to mention dangerous) parachuting techniques.  “You can watch the show anywhere on the beach and Boardwalk in Atlantic City,” said Bruckler.  “There’s not a bad seat in the house.”

If you’re looking for something to buy as souvenirs or gifts, don’t worry.  There are lots of stores along the Boardwalk.  In fact, my sister and I were able to buy three shirts for US$10.  There are also other items to buy like ball caps, sports memorabilia, etc.

Don’t worry about food and drinks.  There are plenty along the boardwalk.  But if you want some expensive meals, try the cornucopia buffet inside Atlantic City Hilton.  Dine on mounds of seafood such as steamed clams, shrimp and fresh fish as well as freshly carved turkey, steamship of beef and rotisseries chicken.  Make sure to leave room for the buffet’s signature dessert, bread pudding.

Beyond the Boardwalk, you can visit some historical sights.  There’s the Absecon Lighthouse, New Jersey’s tallest with 228 steps to climb.  Another is the Civil Rights Garden at the Pacific District and Martin Luther Boulevard.  Sculptures and inscriptions related to the history of people of the civil rights movement.

Now, I  know why this city always turned on.

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