Saturday, September 10, 2011

Lynda Van Devenater "Dunes Til' Dawn"

Lynda Van Devenater – Summer of ’69

Summer of ’69 at the shore, turns into a season on China Beach

Nightbeat – the SandPaper, Friday, June 13, 2003
William Kelly

Lynda Van Devanter spent her last summer before shipping out to Vietnam at the Jersey Shore, but it was another beach – China Beach, that made her famous.

The author of the book Home Before Morning, on which the TV series China Beach was based, passed away recently.

It was sad to read her obituary in the Washington Post last November, dead before her time of systemic coliagen vascular disease, which she attributed to her exposure to the defoliant agent orange while stationed at a MASH field hospital in Pleiku, Vietnam, near the Cambodia border.

Her life, the short time she spent in Ocean City and Somers Point, her military service, post-war experiences, activism and the changes she caused in the way the military and the government treats its veterans should be honored and memorialized.

Writing her book was an attempt to exorcise the demons of war and post-traumatic stress disorder. It also touched the lives of thousands of vets who had a similar experience, and created a firestorm in Washington, where it forced the military to respond to veteran’s medical needs and include the women in the Vietnam Veterans memorial in Washington.

While her book is a gut-wrenching account of her Vietnam war experiences, it is the chapter on the short time she spent here that stands out. It captures the way it was like here in the late 1960s, when I too, came of age at the same time in the same place.

In her last summer of nursing school, before joining the Army and being sent to Vietnam, Lynda Van Devenater and her schoolmates lived in a group rental in Ocean City. They worked in the emergency room at Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point, studied their schoolbooks on the 14th street beach and danced the nights away at Tony Marts, Bay Shores and the Dunes.

It’s all recounted in the chapter “Dunes Til’ Dawn,” a brief, dreamy summer of ’69 that as she puts it, “we thought would never end.”

She met a local guy from Tuckahoe on the dance floor of Bay Shores, who she still calls Jonathan James Smith, aka, “J.J.,” a Vietnam veteran.

As Lynda tells it in her book, “We went out to dinner together, walked on the beach in our bare feet and laughed at the silliest things. On weekend, we would party with my friends and their newly acquired boyfriends. We’d start out at the Anchorage, a neighborhood bar that offered seven beers for a dollar, and leave there about ten o’clock to go dancing at Bay Shores. When Bay Shores closed around two, we’d head for a place called the Dunes, on the peninsula in Somers Point. It was open until six, and the theme was ‘Dunes Til’ Dawn.’ Those words were on the black T-shirts J.J. and I were given the night we won the dance contest.”

I’ve been unable to find J.J., the Vietnam veteran soldier from Tuckahoe who knew Lynda Van Devanter, but I know somebody must remember him.

Lynda is dead before her time, at the age of 55, though she did indeed make it home before morning.

And we are left with her account of the war, and the time she spent here with us.

Dunes 'til Dawn - By Lynda Van Devanter

Dunes ‘til Dawn – By Lynda Van Devanter (Chapter 4 of Home Before Morning The Story of an Army Nurse in Vietnam (University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 1983, p. 51 to 61).

….Everyone who met J.J. – Jonathan James Smith – agreed that he was exceptionally handsome. My mother called him a "pretty boy," and at the beach, I would notice my friends stealing glances at him when they thought I wasn’t looking. With his short dirty blond hair and a face that looked boyish and yet rugged at the same time, J.J. bore a certain resemblance to Troy Donahue if you looked at him from a distance. Up close, he was even more attractive. He had these cute little laugh lines around the edges of his mouth and a cleft in his chin.

The thing that made J.J. most exceptional, however, was that he wanted to marry me, a girl who wore Clearasil to be every night and who still could live up to the nickname my sisters had given me when I was ten. They called me Crisco. It was sort for "fat in the can."

He said he loved me that night in August when he gave me the ring, a third-of-a-carat oval-shaped diamond. We had been lying on the beach, looking up at the stars, and holding hands. It had been the first time a boy spoke to me of love. I thought I was dreaming. But it wasn’t a dream. He wanted to marry me. And I said yes. Now, I was wearing that diamond.

J.J. and I had met two weeks after my graduation from nursing school, when he came up to me at Bayshores, a nightclub in Somers Point, New Jersey, and asked me to dance. He was one of the two best dancers I knew. The other was Barbara. Maybe it was fortunate for me that she wasn’t there that night.

I had gone to Ocean City with five other girls who also graduated from Mercy. Together, we got a house near the beach and jobs at a local hospital in Somers Point, where I worked the seven-to-three shift in the emergency room. Our plan was to spend all our free time during June helping each other to study for the Maryland state boards, which would be given at the end of the month. When the exams were finished, we would spend the remainder of our summer celebrating and waiting for the exam results. It was a good plan.

Each day, as soon as we were through at the hospital, we would grab our bathing suits and books and head down to the beach where we worked on our tans and our nursing fundamentals, quizzing each other on everything that had been covered in the previous three years.

Although Barbara came up to visit on weekends, she spent the summer with her father, who had orders transferring him from the Pentagon to the Presidio of San Francisco in September.

Gina was in Philadelphia, where she and her fiancé were making final plans for their wedding, which was to take place in July. "I’ll give him about one year of fun," she said. "Then we’re gonna start making a whole bunch of babies. None of this birth control crap. I’m going back to being a good Catholic girl."

That first night with J.J., we danced until we were both ready to drop. Then we danced some more. When the band played the slow songs and he gently eased my head onto his shoulder, I had new and unfamiliar stirrings inside. I could small a musky scent from his sweat and I felt both protected and afraid when his strong arms encircled me.

His parents had a house nearby in Tuckahoe, but he was only visiting. J.J. was a soldier, a buck sergeant, who had returned that week from a year as an infantryman in Vietnam.

"What was it like?" I asked.

"It sucked."

During the next few weeks, I saw him every day. He would join us for our study sessions at the beach and he sometimes served as our quizmaster, firing questions at us as quickly as his machine gun must have fired rounds at the Vietcong.

"What did you do in Vietnam?"

"I sweated all the time, took a lot of crap from people, and dreamed about the kind of car I would buy when I got back to the world."

"No, really. What was your job like?"

"I humped the boonies and got shot at too many times."

"But what was it like?"

"I told you; it sucked."

We went out to dinner together, walked the beach in our bare feet, and laughed at all the silliest things. On weekends, we would party with my friends and their newly acquired boyfriends. We’d start out at the Anchorage, a neighborhood bar that offered seven beers for a dollar, and leave there about ten o’clock to go dancing at Bayshores. When Bayshores closed around two, we’d head for a place called the Dunes, on the peninsula in Somers Point. It was open until six and the theme was "Dunes ‘til Dawn." Those words were on the black T-shirts J.J. and I were given the night we won the dance contest.

"Isn’t your father proud that his son fought in the war?" I asked.
"I don’t know."
"As soon as I finish my training, I’m going to ask them to send me to Vietnam."
"Don’t do it."
"Why not?"
"Because it sucks."

He had a way of dancing that was wild and flamboyant, yet somehow controlled. He seemed to be not just moving to the music, but a part of it, his body another instrument being played by the band. He would laugh in the middle of a song, get a faraway look in his eyes and then release an energy that would automatically draw everyone’s attention. Curiously, I found myself keeping up with him. It was fun. And exciting.

"What are you laughing at, J.J.?"
"Myself. I never knew I could feel this way about a girl."
"Which way?"
"You ask too many questions."

We made out on the dining room floor while my girlfriends slept in their beds. We used to kiss until it felt like my lips might fall off. I wanted to crawl up into his arms and spend my whole life there. My heart would beat so fast that I thought it was going to pound its way right out of my chest.

"I can’t breathe."
"I don’t care."
"But I’m afraid."
"Don’t be."

When Barbara came up two weeks after I’d met J.J., I couldn’t wait to let her in on the good news. She listened with amusement and then grabbed my wrist. "Three hundred and twenty-eight," she said. "Fastest pulse I’ve ever seen. Let’s see if I have all the symptoms right: heart palpitations, rapid pulse, chills and sweats, clammy palms, loss of appetite, and an overwhelming desire to jump someone’s bones."

"I didn’t say anything about wanting to jump someone’s bones,"
"But you do. Don’t you?"
"Ah, ha,’ she said, "what is it?"
"Well, nurse," I said, "what is it?"

She furrowed her brow and paced the floor with her hands behind her back. "In my professional opinion, after three years at the best medical facility in the world, studying under the sharpest minds God ever created, I would unequivocably diagnose this rare affliction as a case of love."
"Oh, no," I said in mock horror. "Do you think it’s curable?"

"Curable? No," she said. "In your case it’s probably chronic. However, there is one possible way to keep it under control."
"Please, nurse, please tell me."
"You must jump his bones."
I was genuinely horrified. "What?"
"I can see that the patient doesn’t quite accept my professional recommendation."
I was too shocked to respond.
"There is also another possible way to help this case," she offered. "Perhaps a method that would be more acceptable."
"What is it?"

"Having him jump your bones," she said, "and make him think it’s all his idea. Of course, this is the more effective method, because it will call you to have a strong resolve while he spends some time whining, wheedling, and cajoling. Those elements are absolutely required so that he’s convinced it’s his idea and you’re only going along with it to please him."

"But I’m a virgin," I said.
"Ah, yea, that rare species: American Catholic Virginus. Probably of the type that believes in saving oneself for marriage."
"That’s right," I answered firmly.

Although I may have been sexually naïve that summer, I had the misforture to become known as "the penis expert" at the hospital. The unofficial title didn’t have anything to do with my virtue, or lack of it. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It seemed that whenever I worked the ER, I always ended up with the males who had problems with their genitalia. One day I got his guy whose wife had put a wedding ring on his penis. He became hard and the ring wouldn’t come off. With the blood supply blocked, the penis wouldn’t go down, either. Although it may sound funny, any man who has been through anything like it probably doesn’t think of it as a laughing matter.

We tried a couple of different methods to remove the ring, including soap and grease. None of them worked. There was only one solution. I called the hospital’s engineering department. When we walked into the guy’s cubicle a few minutes later with a long-handled tool that looked like oversized cutting pliers, he looked like he would have a heart attack. "What are you going to do with that?" he asked.

"We’re going to cut it off," the doctor answered.

The guy put his hands in front of his private area. "No!"
"Not the penis, dummy. The ring."

Another time, I took care of a kid who had been surfing when he got hit in the groin area after falling off his board. The injury had stimulated his artery to shoot blood into his penis, which had become engorged. The bruise from hematoma had blocked the blood from returning through the vein, so he was in a state of pripism. "Jesus, Van Devanter," the doctor said. "If that’s the way you affect all men, spare me."

….The people who were making the jokes may have thought they were funny, but I began to feel that the real joke was on me. Here I was, a twenty-one-year-old girl who had probably seen hundreds of penises in nursing school and the emergency room, and I hadn’t yet seen a single one being used for its intended purpose. I began to feel like my virginity was an albatross. I had to get rid of it.

However, there was the problem of finding the right situation. When it happened the first time, I didn’t want it to be on the dining room floor while my girlfriends were asleep. On the other hand, I was afraid that if I waited for the perfect circumstances, I would end up being a fifty-year-old virgin, still anticipating "the night." Even at that, I still had to convince myself that the person I was going to make love with for the first time was the person I would marry.

J.J. came to Ocean City every weekend and some weeknights after he started working at Indiantown Gap. I began to notice how different he was from the boyfriends the other girls had. Once, when he fell asleep on the dining room floor, he woke up in the middle of the night screaming. When I mentioned it in the morning, he shrugged it off. Another time, he yelled something about "slopes" and "gooks" in his sleep. When I touched him to wake him out of the nightmare, he was covered in sweat. As soon as he felt my hand, he jumped on top of me, put one hand on my throat and drew back the other hand to smash my face. Then he woke up.

I was terrified. "Is something wrong?" I asked.
"Don’t touch me right now."
"Okay, but what’s the matter?"
"Just a bad dream," he said. "Go back to sleep." He rolled to his side away from me and I thought I heard him crying softly.

He had periods when he was moody and they could come at any time. He’d go into depressions for a few hours and wouldn’t talk to anyone. Maybe I should have questioned these things more than I did, but I figured him for the strong silent type. In a sense, his dark moods made him more intriguing.

Once, when a gas station attendant didn’t have any hi-test for J. J.’s Barracuda, J. J. to this wild look in his eyes and acted like he was going to kill the guy. He screamed obscenities, smacked his hand against the dashboard, and then floored the accelerator, leaving a patch of burning rubber and a perplexed pump jockey. He would sometimes come out of his depressions with a bang and immediately begin partying like there was no tomorrow. He could be a wild bronco – unruly, loud and full of fire.

But he was always gentle with me. I was sure I loved him, which was why, a few weeks after I got the engagement ring, I told him that I was ready to make love with him.

It was Labor Day weekend.

As soon as J.J. got over the shock, we began to search for a nice place. Unfortunately, trying to find an open room at the Jersey shore on Labor Day weekend is about as difficult as locating the Holy Grail. We started in Ocean City at seven o’clock. Next was Somers Point. Then Longport., then Margate, then Ventnor City and all the way past Atlantic City to Brigantine. It was all the same – NO VACANCY. We drove out to the parkway and headed south. By midnight, we had tried motels all the way down to North Wildwood and the only thing we had to show for it was frustration.

"Lynda," please, let’s go back to your house."
"I want more privacy."
"All right, then I know a great spot where we can park and …."
"No! Not in the car."
"Well, I guess we’re out of luck."
"I guess so."

We headed back to the Anchorage to drown our frustrations at seven beers for a dollar. J.J. had such a sad expression on his face that he looked like a little boy who had just seen his puppy run over by a train. We sat in silence, both of us staring into our beers until around two in the morning. Suddenly, J.J. snapped out of his mood. He grabbed my arm, swung me around on the stool, kissed me, and laughed., "How could I have been so stupid!" he asked.

"We’ve got a place we can use right under our noses, or should I say right under our heads."

"What are you talking about?"
"This place," he said. "There’s an old room upstairs. They used to rent it out. What do you say?"
He took that for a yea, because he was off the stool in a flash. A few seconds later I saw him standing in a corner, talking to the owner and nodding his head. He came back to his seat with a key in his hand and a broad grin on his face. "Shall we?"
"Are you positive it’s all right?" I asked.
"Come on, Lynda."

We walked up the back steps to what must have been one of the all-time sleaziest rooms in the world. It had boxes piled all around, a dirty mattress without any sheets, and a single exposed bulb hanging directly over the bed. Outside the window was a neon sign that kept blinking on and off. "It’s not much," J.J. said.

"You can say that again."
"At least it’s private, Lynda."
"Does it have bugs?"
"Bugs?" J.J. repeated. "Don’t be ridiculous. Let’s get comfortable."

I’ve waited twenty-one years for this, I thought only moments before I felt the quick sharp pain that marked the end of my virginity. I think it happened when the neon sign was off. Or maybe it was on. It was hard to tell because the damned thing flashed so quickly. I guess I must have been in love...

BK Notes: Andrew, the owner of the Anchorage at the time, doesn't recall the incident, but said it rings true, and that Lynda sent him a copy of the book when it was published. I was at the Reagan Airport cafe waiting for a plane to Dallas when I was saddened to read the following:

OBITUARIES Thursday, November 21, 2002

Nurse Lynda Van Devanter Buckley Dies
By Graeme Zielinski
Washington Post Staff Writer

Lynda Van Devanter Buckley, 55, an advocate for women veterans whose influential 1983 memoir of her time as a surgical nurse near the Cambodian border, "Home Before Morning," painted a stark picture of the horrors of the Vietnam War and its psychological aftermath, died Nov. 15 at her home in Herndon.

Mrs. Buckley had systemic collagen vascular disease, which she attributed to her exposure in Vietnam to a combination of chemical agents and pesticides.

She was an Arlington native and a 1965 graduate of Yorktown High School. She served in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970 in a surgical hospital in Pleiku.

She described herself as an idealistic Catholic girl before she went over who thought, "IF our boys were being blown apart, then somebody better be over there putting them back together again. I started to think that maybe that somebody should be me."

Her illusions were shattered by the ugly realities of war, which she described graphically not just in her memoir, but in several other venues.

One of her letters home was included in a 1988 HBO documentary. In it, she described a Christmas Eve of amputations and death for wounded GI’s.

"This is now the seventh month of death, destruction and misery. I’m tired of going to sleep listening to outgoing and incoming rockets, mortars and artillery. I’m sick of facing, every day, a new bunch of children ripped to pieces," she wrote.

She wrote that she and other nurses and doctors turned to drink and drugs and sexual liaisons to find distraction.

Her book, written with Christopher Morgan, was the first widely published account of the war by a women veteran and among the first to deal with the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder, from which she suffered.

By her account, she developed a drinking problem and failed at marriage and nursing jobs n California as she struggled with flashbacks and anxiety. One recurring image was the nightmare of a teenage soldier whose face had been blown off. Returning to the Washington area in the late 1970s, she finally found a counselor who diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder and she began to heal, in part by writing the memoir.

It was a commercial success and still is used as a teaching tool about Vietnam, but it initially attracted fierce criticism from some veterans, including nurses she served with, who claimed Mrs. Buckley was embroidering the experience for profit and to burnish her antiwar stance.

"Lynda’s exaggeration and the negativism of her book distress me terribly," retired Army Col. Edith Knox said in a 1983 interview with the Washington Post. "This book makes us look like a bunch of bed-hopping, foul mouthed tramps."

But still others supported the account. One, a former Army nurse, Lynn Calmes Kohl, told The Post that, "actually, what Lynda wrote was mild."

The book was inspiration for the television drama series, China Beach," which ran from 1988 to 1991.

Mrs. Buckley became the first executive director of the Vietnam Veterans of America Women’s Project in 1979 and retired in 1984. She continued to write articles, edit volumes of poetry, conduct seminars and give speeches after she retired.

Survivors include her husband, Tom Buckley, and their daughter Molly, both of Herndon; a stepdaughter, Brigid Buckley of Raleigh, N.C.; her mother, Helen Van Devanter of Sterling; and four sisters.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bill McMahon's Point - The History & the Legends

William McMahon’s Somers Point

The History & the Legends

Somers Point – The Old Town

SOMERS POINT is so rich in historical lore and legends it is hard to determine where the former terminates and the later begins. Like Salem, New London and Mystic Seaport, its background has the salty taste of the sea. Unlike New England ports it has failed to capitalize on these potentials.

The Point is better known as the birthplace of Lt. Richard Somers, the hero of Tripoli, than as the former haven of Blackbeard, Captain Kidd and those other picturesque characters of the Spanish Main. Also lost in history is the name of that daring women who, with the men away in Washington’s Army, saved the Point from shelling by a British frigate through a ruse. Gathering the women and children about her she directed such a commotion and dust storm among the tall weeds of the shore that the British were duped into thinking they were facing a strong shore battery. History tells us the frigate turned tail and was never seen again.


Also lost in history and legend is that other gallant women of the Point, Mrs. William Eldredge, who during the War of 1812 aimed a mounted cannon at a longboat of British raiders and sent them scurrying back to their ship.

Legend or history, who can tell? Are the stories of pirate kings anchoring in the harbor and burying their stolen plunder among the reefs of the bay.

At one time a fort stood on Bay Ave., with cannon pointed seaward from the hillock as warning to all unwanted visitors to the harbor. The hillock was removed to make way for Bay Avenue.


The colony under its first known name Somers Plantation, was founded in March, 1693, by John Somers, whose family was an old and honored one in England. He left that country because of religious sentiments and became a follower of the famed Quaker, George Fox. Somers first settled in Dublin, Pa., later coming to the Point where he purchased 3,000 acres of land. Settling to the life of a country gentleman, he eventually became a representative of the Fourth Assembly of the Providence of Nova Casaria, which met at Pertha Amboy in 1706. He died in 1723 and was buried on the plantation. It was probably his eldest son Richard, who built the original Somers mansion.

Most famous of the clan was Lt. Richard Somers, born at the point in 1775. I n the war with the pirates of Tripoli in 1803 he commanded the Nautilus of Decatur’s fleet (sic. Stephen Decatur commanded the schooner Enterprise). On September 3, 1804 he commanded the ketch Intrepid during the blockade of Tripoli harbor. Commodore Bainbridge’s frigate Philadelphia ran aground and he and his men were taken prisoners. Decatur in a bold stroke destroyed the Philadelphia, and Somers proposed rescue of Bainbridge by exploding a fireboat in the midst of the pirate fleet, to cause enough confusion to accomplish the mission. 1500 pounds of powder were on the deck of the ketch.

Details of the affair were never actually known. It was over in a minute. Flames, bursting shells and reeling ships filled the harbor. It was a death blow to the pirates. Somers and his daring crew sacrificed themselves for the country. All were buried on the beach. A monument to Somers and his men stands in the Navy Yard at Washington. (sic. It is now at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis).

The Point honored its son with a monument in the little burial plot near the New York Avenue school. (sic Actually Richard Somers’ sister Sarah paid for the monument and is buried with it).


Somers Point has three fine waterfronts – Great Egg Harbor Bay, Great Egg Harbor River and Patcong Creek. The early town was inhabited by seafaring men who operated four shipyards along Great Bay. Here they built the famous old Clipper ships. Robert Fulton’s steamboat put an end to the shipbuilding activities at the Point. Larger sips could not enter its inlet.

A ferry between the Point and what is now Cape May County was in operation prior to the Revolution.

When the first public road in Atlantic County was laid out in 1716 from Nacote Creek (Port Republic) the Somers Ferry was its terminus. A customs house stood at this point until quite recent years. It was also the terminus of a spur from the old railroad that ran from Camden to Absecon.

The community dates its founding as Somers Point to the year 1750. It was incorporated as a borough in 1886 with a total voting population of 48. A census taken in 1890 revealed its population at 191; by 1900 it had reached 308. It was finally incorporated as a city July 7, 1902, with George Anderson as the first mayor.

Sam McDowell

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sir George Somers

Sir George Somers - Admiral of the Jamestown Fleet
Wrecked at Bermuda - Somers Island and inspired Shakespeare to write The Tempest.
Said to be a distant relative of the Somers family that settled Somers Point a century later.

Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails.
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is dispair,
Unless I be reliev'd by prayer.
Which pierces so, that it assaults
Mercy itself, and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

-The Tempest Epilogue, II, 11-20

Sir George was an Elizabethan privateer, merchant trader, MP, military leader and founder of Bermuda (The Somers Isles), England's first Crown Colony. He was also instrumental in ensuring the survival of the Virginian colony of Jamestown by sailing to their rescue from Bermuda (where he had been shipwrecked) with fresh food and supplies.

Sir George Somers was born in Lyme Regis, Dorset, in 1554, the son of John Somers. A friend of Sir Walter Raleigh, his career as a merchant trader and privateer made him a wealthy man and he was able to buy Berne Manor in Whitchurch Canonicorum near Lyme Regis in 1587.

As a privateer he took part in the sacking of Caracas, Venezuela in 1595. In 1600, he commanded HMS Vanguard which captured a Spanish treasure ship. In 1601, he captained HMS Swiftsure during the attack of the Spanish fleet off Kinsale and helped repel the Spanish invasion of Ireland.
In 1603 he was knighted by King James I and became M.P. for Lyme Regis.

In 1606, he became a founder member of the Virginia Company, at the time the largest, most expensive and most ambitious colonial expedition by any nation, financed privately by merchants and noblemen.

In 1609 he was made Admiral of the Virginia Company's Third Supply Relief Fleet, sailing from London and then Plymouth, bound for Virginia. The fleet of 9 ships, with Somers aboard the flagship Sea Venture, set sail from Plymouth with fresh supplies and additional colonists for the new British settlement at Jamestown. Also aboard were John Rolfe (who would become known as the husband of Pocahontas) and the governor-designate of the settlement, Sir Thomas Gates. On 25th July during a hurricane, the Sea Venture was separated from the main fleet and was wrecked off Discovery Bay, Bermuda. Somers and all aboard the Sea Venture were presumed dead by those who continued on to Virginia.

In fact, the ship was wrecked between two rocks or reefs and all 150 crew and colonists were saved. This marked the beginning of the colonisation of Bermuda, England's first Crown Colony. At the time Bermuda was known as 'Virgineola' in tribute to the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I. But with King James I now on the throne, the islands were renamed the Somers Isles, still today Bermuda's official alternate name.

To continue their journey to Jamestown the castaways needed new ships, so Somers and Sir Thomas Gates between them oversaw the building of the Deliverance and the Patience from the wrecked Sea Venture and local timber. There was no lack of food on Bermuda, and the castaways were able to live well on fish, sea turtle eggs, fruit and wild hog (which had been landed and left behind on the islands by Spanish pirates). So during their ten months on the islands, the crew and passengers started the Bermuda colony, building a church and houses.

On 10th May 1610 the two small ships set sail with 142 people and some supplies on board. On arrival some fourteen days later, they found the Virginia Colony almost destroyed by famine and disease during what has become known as the "Starving Time". Very few of the supplies from the Supply Relief Fleet had arrived (the same hurricane which caught the Sea Venture had also badly affected the rest of the fleet), and only 60 of the original 214 settlers remained alive.

Sir George Somers wrote to Robert Cecil reporting his shipwreck on Bermuda while on a voyage to Virginia, and telling of a famine at Jamestown so severe that people were forced to eat snakes. He planned to take the colonists by ship to Bermuda "the most plentifull place that ever I came to for Fishe, Hogges and Fowle". However the plan to abandon Jamestown was shelved upon the arrival of the fourth relief fleet commanded by Lord Delaware in July 1610.

It was only through the arrival of the ships from Bermuda and the arrival of the fourth relief fleet that the colony at Jamestown was able to survive.

Sir George returned to Bermuda in the Patience to collect more food, but he became ill on the journey and died "of a surfeit in eating of a pig", on November 9th 1610 in Bermuda. His heart was buried in Bermuda but his body, pickled in a barrel, was landed on the Cobb at Lyme Regis in 1618. A volley of muskets and cannon saluted his last journey to the church at Whitchurch Canonicorum where his body is buried.

The story of what happened to the Sea Venture is known through the work of Sylvester Jourdan, also from Lyme Regis, who was on board the Sea Venture and survived to record what had happened in a small book he wrote in 1610 called A Discovery of the Barmudas which was printed in London.
One of the backers of the Virginia Company was the Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s patron, and it is possible that Jourdan’s book about the shipwreck on the mysterious island, ‘the land of devils and spirits’, was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest.

Lyme Regis is twinned with St George in Bermuda, however the town is named after St George, the patron saint of England, and not Sir George Somers, founder of the colony of Bermuda.

Somers Family Crest

Friday, September 2, 2011

Dry Ocean City founded at Point Tavern

The Dolphin House - on Shore Road between New York and Brighton Avenues, was a hotel, tavern and restaurant where the Lake family met to name the main streets of Ocean City in February 1880. Photo is from the collection of Bill Carr, who is said to be related to Braddock, the owner of the Dolphin House.

The Dolphin House

“Somers Point served as the port of entry for Great Egg Harbor for many years, with a custom's House located there from 1791 until 1912. In 1834, the town consisted of several farmhouses, a tavern and boarding house. By 1850 there were at least two hotels run by Richard L. Somers and Constantine Somers, [2] increased to three by 1872, with W. E. Braddock as the proprietor of the Dolphin House.”

Today there is a street behind Somers Mansion called Braddock Avenue and the island closest to Somers Point on the bay by Rainbow Channel is Braddock Island.

From History of Ocean City New Jersey by Harold Lee

“According to family legend, the patriarch of the family, the Honorable Simon Lake, agreed to place a $10.000 mortgage on his Pleasantville farm and orchard to provide working capital to start the undertaking….The two principal covenants were a hard and fast rule against the sale, manufacture or keeping for sale of alcoholic beverages, and a prohibition against commercialism on the Sabbath. These restrictions have passed down to all deeds currently held by property owners.”

“The first annual report of the founders sounded a clarion call to maintain the observance of Christian ideals on the island, as follows: ‘We cannot pander to vile appetites or propensities, or seek to advance our interests by any questionable proceedings…Let us not falter. A perfect Sabbath must be maintained…. To secure lasting prosperity and preeminent success this place must be run in the interests of our Holy Christianity.’”

“While these preliminary business matters were being organized, work also was proceeding to obtain title to beach properly. The title situation on the northerly part of the island was fairly clear, as all of the land from Oil Creek to Great Egg Harbor Inlet, with the exception of the Parker Miller property, was owned by members of the Somers family. This land was not for sale, but Simon Lake was able to persuade the family to part with their holdings. Title deeds to all of the Somers tract had passed to the Ocean City Association or its agents before the end of February, 1880….”

“When winter weather came the survey work was halted, but it was resumed in February of 1880. At that time the founding fathers came here with the surveyors and fixed a course for the four principal longitudinal streets. Their names were chosen on February 10 around a dinner table in the Dolphin House hotel at Somers Point. Mrs. Harriot Lake, wife of Simon Lake, named the most easterly as Wesley Avenue; Simon named Central Avenue; J.E. Lake named Asbury Avenue, and surveyor William Lake named West Avenue, appropriately, as it was the most westerly thoroughfare laid out at that time.”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

When the world is going crosswise....

When the world is going crosswise,
and things seem out of joint -
Just pack your grip
and take a trip
to dear old Somers Point.

Former Somers Point Mayor John M. Campbell

The Anchorage - 1985 Flashback

The last working hours of the Anchorage Tavern in 1985 were like many others at the Somers Point bar. A few locals were sitting around, reminiscing over their drinks and a couple of strangers were playing pool in the back. The news had come suddenly, though not unexpectedly, that the tavern’s liquor license would be suspended for over a month for having served minors.

The day which would be the last of the year for the Anchorage began normally enough with Gary Duffy walking the dogs – Ebony and Ivory. But the night ended early the next morning when the door was closed to the public for the rest of the year, possibly forever. At least things there will never be the same again.

The dogs, which a customer had left as pups a year earlier, adopted the Anchorage as their home, just as many of the bar’s patrons later ended up working there. Duffy, resident caretaker, bartender and collector of old and odd things has practically kept the place together just to keep the bartenders working.

Hank, Pat, Tom and Joe would all be on hand at some time throughout the day as friends and longtime patrons drifted in to pay their respects as word of the closing spread through the neighborhood. Odds were given on when and if the place would be permanently closed, uprooted and moved down Bay Avenue to the vacant lot beside the causeway to Ocean City, where Orsatti’s and the Under 21 Club once stood.

That is the plan of a group of bankers and businessmen who want to save the century-old historic structure by moving it and constructing something more contemporary on its present site. It is one project that wasn’t conceived at the Anchorage bar; bankers don’t hang out there.

Andrew, the owner, hasn’t been around lately because he’s busy working on his latest scheme, the reselling of the Schuylkill Expressway. After buying up large ton-size chunks of asphalt, certified as “composed of genuine roadway from Philadelphia’s Schuylkill Expressway,” he’s been reselling them as souvenirs on television. The ads feather a Rodney Dangerfield type characters who is pulled to the side of the road and given no respect.

Little about the Anchorage has been getting any respect lately, and it would be in a much worse state of affairs if it wasn’t for Duffy’s handiwork. A premier scavenger who can be found gathering bottles and debris along the shoreline after most storms, Duffy is responsible for salvaging an array of neon beer signs, gadgets and artifacts that some would consider junk. Duffy however, sees something in these items that deems them worthy of appreciation, like the Anchorage itself.

At one time in recent history, the tavern’s F-Troop of regulars began their own private club across the street and called it Ramblewood Cove that seemed to actually appreciate the value of the neighborhood. When Hurricane Gloria swept through a few patrons who took refuge in the bar watched out the large porthole windows as Ramblewood Cove was swept away. The Anchorage was left intact. Then a full 12 hours later, just when it seemed like everything was okay, chunks of brick from an upstairs fireplace came crashing through the tavern’s ceiling, an omen that the chips may fall when least expected.

Non one is around anymore who remembers when the place went under the names engraved on the silverware Duffy dug up in the basement sand. Only the last 50 years are recalled by living witnesses, and only the last 30 are recalled in the lively stories and outrageous anecdotes that are best told by one of the half-dozen regulars who might sit at the front bar. They take turns buying rounds for everyone, including strangers, and propose a toast, sparking a story that has been told so many times everyone at the bar breaks up laughing as soon as it begins.

Some of the stories are being transcribed for posterity however since the Anchorage figures in three novels penned by Vietnam veterans. Bartender Hank wrote Bars, now being edited for publication. Neighbor John McGonigle is completing a novel about his experiences in Vietnam, and Lynda van Devanter, a nurse and former Anchorage patron, fondly recalls losing her virginity in a room above the bar in her recently published book Home Before Morning.

In the chapter Dunes ‘til Dawn, Van Devanter recalls how, after graduating from nursing school in Philadelphia she worked at Shore Memorial Hospital and met her first love.

“He came up to me at Bay Shores, a night club in Somers Point, New Jersey, and asked me to dance,” she wrote. “We went out to dinner together, walked on the beach in our bare feet and laughed at the silliest things. On weekends we would party with my friends and their newly acquired boy friends. We’d start out at the Anchorage, a neighborhood bar that offered seven beers for a dollar, and leave there about 10 o’clock to go to the other bars where the bands played – Bay Shores and Tony Marts. We were college kids striking out on our own, having one last fling before settling down to a career and family.”

Van Devanter describes how, on Labor Day, the last day of summer, her and her boyfriend decided to do it, but all the motels and hotels in Ocean City and Somers Point were booked solid, so they returned to the Anchorage to cry in their beers. Then someone introduced them to the owner, Andrew, who gave them a key to a room upstairs, where some of the bartenders lived.

She describes the upstairs as, “One of the all-time sleaziest rooms in the world. It had boxes piled all around, a dirty mattress without any sheets, and a single light bulb hanging directly over the bed. Outside the window was a neon sign that kept blinking on and off.”

“I’ve waited 21 years for this, I thought, only moments before I had the quick sharp pain that marked the end of my virginity. I think it happened when the neon sign was off. Or maybe it was on. It was hard to tell because the damned thing flashed so quickly. I guess I must have been in love.”

The neon light is now off, and the jukebox is quiet. But the songs that played on the last night the Anchorage was open weren’t much different from those that played there over the past 20 years.

It’s one of the all-time great jukeboxes anywhere, with a mixture of Jimmy Buffet tunes sprinkled with classic oldies – Dion’s “Runaround Sue,” the Isley Brother’s “Shout,” and Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife,” offset by the most popular “Penny’s from Heaven” and Springsteen’s “Glory Days.” The last seems appropriate now.

The Anchorage, the last of the Bay Avenue nightclubs, has seen its glory days. It will either reopen briefly in January before being moved, or the move will be postponed until next fall with the bar maintained in its present condition for yet one more summer.

In any case, someday soon, what the owner Andrew calls the dinosaur of Bay Avenue will someday become extinct.