Wildwood celebrated its heyday this weekend with its Fabulous Fifties weekend. It’s a chance for old-timers to remember the days when Wildwood was a rock and roll hot spot, and big entertainers came here to sharpened their chops.
Today, we love to name drop.
The marquee of famous folks that played here back in the day includes: Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis, Jr., Johnny Mathis, The Drifters, Fabian, Joey Bishop , and Diana Ross and the Supremes. Dick Clark used to spin records on the Boardwalk. Bill Haley and his Comets first played “Rock around the Clock” here, and Mr. Twist, himself, Chubby Checker says he performed his iconic song and dance for the first time at Wildwood’s old Rainbow Supper Club.
Who, my 10-year-old daughter Katie wants to know, is Chubby Checker? He still hasn’t been inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but many believe he deserves to. Billboard Magazine voted ‘The Twist’ the #1 hit of the last 50 years. Who can argue with that? For now, however, it’s Wildwood paying him his props. We even named a street for him.
The 50’s were big here, as America’s post-World War II prosperity gave way to our love of the automobile. Folks braved their first traffic jams to come enjoy a few days at the beach and a few nights, partying to that newfangled Rock and Roll sound. It was wild…everyone says so.
Eventually, however, Wildwood fell on some tough economic times for a while, and things got kind of run down. Then things got better. Then things promised to get really fancy, and developers came to town in herds and demoed whatever older buildings they could get their hands on. Then condos rose out of the rubble, and familiar streets became difficult to recognize. I started to get lost driving to get milk at WaWa.
Then, boom, the boom was gone. Now we are regrouping. We do a lot of that down here.
But no matter what changes, some things, you can always count on. For example, summer will always bring tourists, whether times are tough, or not. They might not stay as long as we’d like. They might not spend as much money as local businesses would like. But we’ve built it…and they will come.
We can also always count on folks reveling in Wildwood’s glory days, hoping some day ‘”big name acts” will forego the big bucks and high style of Atlantic City for a taste of the good old days. And sometimes they do, thanks to the folks at our convention center that tenaciously plug away at bringing new acts and visitors to town.
This weekend, however, is a romp down memory lane, where folks bring along their classic cars and listen to the raspy voices of rock ‘n roll’s past. There are hula hoop contests. Folks dress up like they are going to sock hops, and some try to win prizes for looking the most like Elvis or Marilyn Monroe.
This year Chubby Checker came to town again, and event organizers are trying to break a record for having the most people twist in one place at one time. They need something like 1200 twisters. I wish them luck. Then we’ll really have something to reminisce about.