When I was fifteen, my mom took us to Atlantic City; my uncle insisted, and so we were dragged to that wonderful circle of Dante's Inferno. Well, while there, my mom and uncle went into the casino. I, my sister, my cousins, and my best friend Leslie were bored with the tiny game room, and we decided to venture forth unto the boardwalk.

The boardwalk is nothing to speak of. Sleazy stores with sleazy t-shirts, abandoned buildings, and Donald Trump's Steel Pier. Now, the Steel Pier is across from the Trump Taj Mahal. Knowing what I did about the Taj Mahal, being a monument built by a Muslim in India, a tomb for his wife, I immediately sensed the sheer crassness of selling hamburgers and hot dogs outside a casino which desecrates one of the greatest architectual wonders of the world.

And so, I began a little guerrilla theatre, pretending I was a preacher, exhorting people to bow down before the elephants of greed, the camels of corruption; enjoy the hot dogs, flesh of unclean animals, the murdered-cow hamburgers; praise money, we are in the promised land, brothers and sisters!

The security didn't like this. They called the cops. I ran like hell. My sister didn't think it was funny, but a couple of older black women thought it was great.

Atlantic City, New Jersey, is located on Absecon Island, which sits right on the Atlantic Ocean about 60 miles southeast of Philadelphia and 100 miles SSE of New York City. It began as a city built around bathing and health; today, it is a city built around leisure, amusement, and glitz.


The island on which Atlantic City sits was originally land occupied by the Absegami people of the Lenni Lenape tribe. The tribe spent the summer months on the island to escape the warmer climate of the mainland. They travelled over the Old Indian Trail, a 5-mile-long trail through the swampland.

In the late 1670's, a Brit named Thomas Budd claimed the island as well as some other surrounding property in settlement of a dispute against the holders of the royal land grant. Budd allowed the Absegami people to continue to use the island, as well as some early hunters and settlers.

The first permanent structure built on the island was erected by Jeremiah Leeds in 1785. The Leeds family was the first to claim official residency in Atlantic City. Their farm, Leeds Plantation, held cattle, corn and rye. After Jeremiah's death in 1838, his second wife Millicent opened a tavern called Aunt Millie's Boarding House; this was the first business establishment opened in Atlantic City. Once the city was actually legally established, the Leeds family remained important; Robert Leeds was the first postmaster, and Chalkey Leeds became the first mayor in early March, 1854, just after the city's incorporation.

Dr. Jonathan Pitney, a physician from nearby Absecon, was the first to really attempt a realization of the island's potential. He partnered with several businessmen to develop South Jersey; in 1852, they obtained a railroad charter running from Camden to Atlantic City. The men then retained Richard Osborne to engineer the city; it was he who would design and name the city.

In early July, 1854, just two months after the incorporation of the city, the first train made the 2 1/2 hour trip from Camden to Atlantic City, carrying press, officials, and a few guests. The tourist industry in Atlantic City was born.

As well as the train access, being a shore town made Atlantic City easily accessible by sea. Indeed, many ships carrying all kinds of goods and people were coming into Atlantic City. The relative inconsistency of the New Jersey coastline in terms of topography and weather made this a treacherous excursion, and many ships were wrecked. The most famous of these wrecks occured in mid-April, 1854, when the vessel Powhattan wrecked off nearby Long Beach Island. The loss of all crew and passengers on the vessel (including 311 immigrants from Germany) led to the building of a lighthouse, which was placed on the shoreline and turned on in 1855.

Tourism was beginning to boom by the 1870's; the first road directly to the island was built in 1870, originating in nearby Pleasantville and carrying a hefty-for-the-time $.30 toll. Even the railroad was overcrowded; the Camden-Atlantic City train couldn't handle the passengership. Therefore, the Narrow Gauge Line was built in 1878, running from Philadelphia. At this point, much of the island was covered with hotels and boarding houses. Many of these establishments were considered quite luxurious, carrying the most up-to-date amenities and being massive in size.

With business booming, and people flowing into and out of the city on a daily basis to spend time at the beach, a big problem arose with keeping the sand on the beach. Alexander Boardman and Jacob Keim presented the idea of the Boardwalk to City Council in 1870, and the first walk was built that year, an eight-foot-wide wooden walkway which was taken up every winter. In 1880, the Boardwalk was expanded, but a hurricane destroyed the structure in 1889; the Boardwalk as it stands today was built as a replacement. The Boardwalk now stands 60 feet wide and 4 1/2 miles long, with casinos and shops and one side and amusement centers and piers on the other side.

The city officially opened as a resort in 1880; by the end of the decade, the city was the premier summer resort in the state. With all this attention the city was receiving, business boomed even more; the first bank was opened in 1881, and in 1882 the city saw its first use of electricity. More people meant more safety measures, too; the Beach Patrol was founded in 1881, and the first hospital opened in 1898. More people also meant more transportation needs; trolleys ran through the city from 1893-1955, extending up to Ventnor in 1900, and the jitney service began in 1915 at $.05 a ride. By the 1920's, Atlantic City theatres were being used for pre-Broadway tryouts and shows from Hollywood personalities and vaudeville acts. Amusement piers such as Steel Pier began appearing along the Boardwalk around the turn of the century; these, along with all kinds of other special attractions and museums were developed to appeal to people from all walks of life.

With the rising tourism came a rise in permanent population. The first public school was opened in 1858; the first public library opened in 1900. Homes began popping up all over the city in the early years of the 20th century.

And yet, even with permanent residents of the city, there was a definite lack of tourist activity during the off-season. In 1921, the first Miss America beauty pageant was held; the winner was a 16-year-old girl from Washington. By 1940, the pageant's permanent home in the Atlantic City Convention Center made the city a viable post-season attraction, too.

After World War II, though, the city seemed to have lost its impact with tourists; the city fell into an economic slump, and even permanent residents weren't so permanent anymore. In 1976, gambling as legalized in the city in an effort by the state to entice more people back to their former favourite resort. The first casino, Resorts International, opened in spring of 1978.


Today, Atlantic City is slowly rising back into a classy resort town. The city is still accessible by several NJ Transit buses as well as one train running from 30th Street Station in Philadelphia to the Convention Center on Baltic Avenue, not to mention the entire fleets of charter buses that make daily excursions (there's so many that it's its own industry to Atlantic City) from the nearby metropolitan and suburban areas. The jitneys are still in service, though the trolleys no longer exist. There are currently a dozen casinos operating (discussed later). The beach is a public park owned by the city, and there is no charge for entrance (unlike most places in the state during the tourist season).


Monopoly was developed by Charles Darrow in 1930. Most of the properties existed at one point, with the exception of the Short Line Railroad, which was actually a bus company in the 1930's that had a stop in the city, and Marvin Gardens, which is actually Marven Gardens in Margate. (The railroads no longer run out there.) The streets chosen all fall along the Boardwalk, with the exception of Mediterranean, Baltic, Atlantic, Pacific, and Oriental Avenues, which run parallel to the boardwalk from the Convention Center to the beach (in order).


Since Resorts first opened in 1978, gambling has been a prominent part of Atlantic City culture, income, and attraction. The city currently houses 12 casinos, of which Donald Trump owns three:

  • Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort - Boston Ave and Boardwalk
  • Bally's Atlantic City - Park Place and Boardwalk
  • Caesars Atlantic City Hotel Casino - Arkansas Avenue and Boardwalk
  • Claridge Casino Hotel - Park Place and Boardwalk (across from Bally's)
  • Harrah's Atlantic City
  • Resorts Atlantic City - North Carolina and Boardwalk
  • Sands Atlantic City
  • Showboat Casino Hotel - Boardwalk between New Jersey and Delaware
  • Tropicana Casino and Resort - Brighton Ave and Boardwalk
  • Trump Marina Casino Resort
  • Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino - Mississippi Ave and Boardwalk
  • Trump's Taj Mahal Casino Resort - Virginia Ave and Boardwalk

Salt Water Taffy

Salt water taffy originated in Atlantic City in 1883. Legend has it that a man named David Bradley was selling taffy along the seaside when a storm tide caused a wave to splash all over his stock. The next day, he put up signs calling his candy "salt water taffy", and the business took off. Today, there are several companies that make their own salt water taffy (there were as many as 450 during the 1920's) all over the world; the two largest, James' and Fralinger's, both reside on the Boardwalk in good ol' Atlantic City.

Boardwalk features

Besides the taffy companies and the casinos, Atlantic City's Boardwalk boasts many, many businesses and attractions along its 4 1/2 mile stretch. Many of the intersections with avenues named for states are themed; for example, the intersection at New York Ave. boasts a Big Apple statue, and the intersection at Tennessee Ave. includes a massive statue of a guitar. Also at New York Avenue and the Boardwalk is the Atlantic City installation of the Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum.

On the other side of the boardwalk are all sorts of amusements, both in stands along the walk and on large piers. The most famous of these, Steel Pier, which originally opened in 1898 and was reopened in 1993 thanks to Donald Trump, boasts 24 rides, games, a food court, and no admission fee. The rides include go-carts, a double-decker carousel, a Ferris wheel, and a roller coaster. Steel Pier is across from the Taj Mahal at Virginia Avenue and Boardwalk.

Also on the shore side are:

The Boardwalk Cats

As you walk along the Boardwalk, you may see along the sand some cats running along the dunes. These are the Atlantic City Boardwalk Cats, a large group of cats that were released onto the beach years upon years ago, resulting in the feralization of the cats. The Cat Action Team of Atlantic City, a volunteer group associated with the Humane Society, maintains the population and health of these cats through a structured feeding program. Therefore, you will see signs posted all over the Boardwalk asking you not to feed the cats. There are also a couple of cat "havens" where the animals are viewable but not particularly accessible by humans, but where the cats can come and go as they please.



Where the noise never stops

Inside an Atlantic City casino, if you haven't prepared yourself by hanging out in Grand Central Terminal during rush hour or a steel mill, the noise can be overwhelming. It's all civilized and artificial noise. Nervous gamblers clacking their chips hand-to-hand or on the table; blackjack dealers reading off the value of hands in an affectless monotone; waitresses asking "Coffee? Soda? Juice?" every few tables as they walk; and the constant metallic brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring of the latest slot machine to pay off big.

But the funny thing about Atlantic City is that it's extremely close to the ocean of the same name. The casinos are all built to turn their backs on it, but it hasn't gone away. And if you walk out of the back door of the Tropicana--as I did before dawn this morning when my poker game broke up--the ocean is waiting for you.

Not a hundred feet away from where Chinese businessmen exhort their hands to come right and American retirees complain about the service, the overwhelming noise is the endless hiss and roar of the surf. It was there long before mankind invented the slot machine, and it will be there long after the last roulette wheel rusts to a stop forever. Long after Donald Trump and his works are forgotten, and the boardwalk is covered under drifting sands, and the hotels house nothing but rats and squirrels, the ocean will still be there.

The ocean has nothing but time.

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