Welcome to Ocean City, Maryland, where the sun shines brighter and the history is just as lively as a day at the beach! Our charming coastal city is not just a haven for sun-seekers but a treasure trove of intriguing historical gems. From the heroic exploits of surfmen to the nostalgic echoes of the boardwalk's past, every story and artifact helps paint a vivid picture of Ocean City's rich heritage. To truly immerse yourself in our storied past, a visit to the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum is a must. Here, you'll find everything mentioned below and more, beautifully displayed and waiting to tell their tales. Let’s dive into some historical tidbits that make our coastal city a standout destination.

Hurry Up and Swim: The Tale of Wiki Trunks

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The Tale of Wiki Trunks Photo courtesy of the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum

Back in the swinging 1940s, the Gantner-Mattern Co. of California introduced the revolutionary "Wiki Trunks," crafted from the innovative fabric, Lastex. This miracle material, known for its elastic qualities and excellent recovery, revolutionized swimwear by adding stretch and maintaining shape even when wet, a superior alternative to the droopy cotton or wool suits of the past. Inspired by Hawaiian surfers, these trunks were aptly named "wiki," the Hawaiian word for "hurry up," a cheer used to spur surfers swiftly across the waves. Imagine Ocean City's lifeguards sporting these trunks, their speed and agility on display as they dashed through the surf.

Key Takeaway: The Wiki Trunks not only revolutionized swimwear but also symbolized the spirit of speed and efficiency, much like the swift services of Ocean City's Beach Patrol.

The Founding Shirts of the Beach Patrol

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The Founding Shirts of the Ocean City MD Beach Patrol Photo courtesy of the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum

Fast forward to 1957, and picture this: lifeguards rocking the very first Ocean City Beach Patrol T-shirts. These weren't just any shirts; they marked the start of something big. The Beach Patrol itself was born in 1930, all thanks to Mayor Wm. McCabe and U.S. Coast Guard Captain William Purnell. Before the Ocean City Beach Patrol hit the scene, if you wanted to take a dip, you were stuck between N. Division and Talbot Streets, where members of the Coast Guard were available to watch over them—talk about a tight squeeze!

Can you imagine if we were all still crammed into that one block today? Luckily, Edward Lee Carey and John Laws were hired by the Town of Ocean City as Ocean City's first two official lifeguards, armed with nothing more than smelling salts, iodine, and a 30-inch ring buoy for each guard.  Nowadays, the Ocean City Beach Patrol hires around 200 lifeguards each summer to keep the beach safe and sound. Sure, the number might wiggle a bit each year, but one thing’s for sure—those lifeguards are the unsung heroes keeping our summers safe and fun. 

Key Takeaway: The introduction of the Ocean City Beach Patrol and its iconic T-shirts marked a significant evolution in ensuring the safety and freedom of beachgoers in Ocean City, MD.

Laughing All the Way: Laughing Sal circa 1940

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Laughing Sal circa 1940 Photo courtesy of the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum

Laughing Sal, the iconic cackling figure at Jester’s Fun House on the Ocean City Boardwalk, had been making people laugh since purchased in the early 1940’s. Purchased by the one and only Mr. Lloyd E. Jester, Sal quickly became a local legend for her infectious laughter that echoed down Worcester Street, drawing crowds and sparking giggles.

After the Fun House was replaced by the present day Sportland Arcade in 1972, Sal found herself in storage, and damaged by vandals. Thankfully, Laughing Sal was generously donated to the Museum by Mrs. Irma Jester in 1980. Under the skilled hands of Christy McGrath, a diligent student from Salisbury State College (now Salisbury University), Sal underwent a makeover that restored not just her paint, but her pep and is back on display!

Key Takeaway: Laughing Sal embodies the joy and resilience of Ocean City's boardwalk culture, continuing to delight visitors with her infectious laughter at the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum.

Surfman’s Badge of Honor

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Surfman’s Badge of Honor Photo courtesy of the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum

Ocean City's Life-Saving Stations, spaced about five to ten miles apart, were critical to early maritime safety. Surfmen exchanged brass tags showing their rank and station as proof of their diligent patrols. The badge is worn pinned to the surfman’s lapel and states his rank and crew (1-8), the number of the station to which he belongs, and the number of the district in which he serves.  These tags were passed at each shift change, symbolizing their continuous vigilance.

Key Takeaway: The brass tags not only ensured accountability among the surfmen but also symbolized the relentless dedication required to keep the shores safe.

Sticky Competition: Trimper’s Taffy

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Trimper’s Taffy Photo courtesy of The Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum

Known for their amusement rides, the Trimper family also ventured into confections with their own brand of saltwater taffy to stay competitive among other Boardwalk businesses. Amid the colorful stalls, Trimper’s taffy stands out, sparking a delightful rivalry among candy vendors.

Key Takeaway: Trimper’s taffy is a hallmark of the Ocean City boardwalk, blending delicious flavors with the spirited competition that makes the boardwalk a dynamic place to visit.

Heavy-Duty Heroics: The Life-Car, circa 1880

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The Life-Car Photo courtesy of the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum

Diving into Ocean City's heroic past, the life-car emerges as a remarkable relic of rescue history. This hefty apparatus, tipping the scales at 225 pounds and crafted from galvanized sheet iron, was once a crucial tool for saving shipwrecked souls. Positioned like a stalwart sentinel in every Life-Saving Station along the East Coast, the life-car was engineered for action when disaster struck within two football fields of the shore.

Imagine a submarine, designed for sheer urgency rather than stealth. The life-car was the go-to method for swiftly transporting large groups from perilous plights at sea to the safety of the shore. Despite its effectiveness, the life-car's substantial weight made it a challenging piece of equipment to deploy, and it was used only when absolutely necessary.

Fitted with air holes to ensure that its passengers could breathe and an inflatable bumper to aid its buoyancy, the life-car could accommodate between two to five people. Once the rescue lines were fixed to a sinking vessel, the life-car would be launched from the beach, braving the surf to bring people back to dry land safely. This historic piece of rescue equipment not only showcases the ingenuity of past lifesaving efforts but also tells a tale of the bravery and determination of those who manned the life-saving stations of yore.

Key Takeaway: The life-car, an engineering marvel of its time, was essential for dramatic sea rescues, representing a significant advancement in emergency maritime operations.

The Congressional Gold Medal Replica, original from 1888

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Congressional Gold Medal Replica, original from 1888 Photo courtesy of the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum

In the annals of Ocean City's maritime history, one remarkable artifact stands out: a replica of the Congressional Gold Medal originally awarded in 1888. This prestigious medal was presented to Joseph Francis by President Benjamin Harrison, recognizing him as the father of the United States Life-Saving Service. The original medal, crafted from solid gold and weighing three pounds, was valued at $6,000 back in 1889—a fortune at the time.

Joseph Francis was celebrated for his groundbreaking invention of the metal life-car, a vital rescue tool that dramatically improved the safety and effectiveness of maritime rescue operations. His life-car was credited with saving over 2,100 lives from shipwrecks between 1850 and 1854, cementing his legacy as a pivotal figure in the history of lifesaving. 

Key Takeaway: Joseph Francis’s contributions to maritime safety are not only heroic but also a pivotal moment in the history of lifesaving technology.

The Mighty Surfboat, circa 1934

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The Mighty Surfboat, circa 1934 Photo courtesy of Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum

Dive into the dramatic history of the Ocean City Life-Saving Service with their impressive 26-foot, double-ended, self-bailing surfboat. This robust vessel, critical for maritime rescues, springs into action when a shipwreck lies beyond the reach of the Lyle gun. Mounted on a hefty carriage and weighing in at three thousand pounds, it’s pulled by the determined surfmen—often likened to oxen due to their strenuous effort—across distances of five to ten miles to reach distressed ships.

Upon arrival at the chaotic scene, these brave surfmen launch the surfboat into the tumultuous waves and row fiercely towards the vessel in need. This surfboat isn’t just a piece of equipment; it's a lifeline to sailors facing peril at sea.  Adding to its storied past, in June of 1980, the Museum Society successfully negotiated a loan for this heroic surfboat from the Smithsonian Institution, on the condition it was restored under the strict supervision of the Division of Naval History. The meticulous restoration was carried out by local wooden boat craftsman Mike Hastings, employed by the Hudson Boat Works of West Ocean City. 

Key Takeaway: The surfboat stands as a testament to Ocean City’s commitment to maritime safety, showing the historical depth and ongoing dedication to preserving lives at sea.

The Lyle Gun: A Lifeline from the Past

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The Lyle Gun Photo courtesy of Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum

In the toolkit of the United States Life-Saving Service, one tool played a pivotal role during maritime emergencies—the Lyle Gun. Designed by Lieutenant David A. Lyle of the United States Army, this line-throwing gun became the service's go-to device by 1878. Named in honor of its inventor, the Lyle Gun was essential for executing breeches buoy rescues or deploying the life-car when direct access to a shipwreck was not possible.

Boasting an impressive range, the Lyle Gun could accurately deliver a line up to 300 yards from the beach to a wrecked vessel, creating a lifeline for stranded sailors. Despite its hefty weight of 163 pounds, the gun was transported to necessary locations via an apparatus cart, ready to be deployed in crucial rescue operations. 

Key Takeaway: The Lyle Gun highlights the technological advances in lifesaving equipment and the harsh realities of maritime rescue operations.

Bunk Mann’s Literary Tribute to Ocean City, MD

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Bunk Mann's Books

For those enchanted by the storied past of Ocean City, MD, author Bunk Mann has masterfully captured the essence of this beloved beach town in his compelling series of books. His works, including Ocean City Chronicles, Ghosts in the Surf, and Vanishing Ocean City, delve deep into the rich history, nostalgic memories, and the evolving landscape of Ocean City. Each book offers a unique perspective, blending thrilling tales of the past with poignant reflections on the changes over the decades.

Key Takeaway: Bunk Mann's books are a treasure trove of local history, providing not just knowledge but also a heartfelt connection to Ocean City. They make perfect gifts for anyone who cherishes this Maryland gem, offering a nostalgic journey through Ocean City's past, present, and the ghostly whispers of its surf. Available at the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum and other local retailers, these books invite readers to dive deep into the soul of Ocean City.

By visiting the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum or exploring local history books, you can delve even deeper into the storied past of this vibrant beach town. From the fast-paced days of the Wiki Trunks to the life-saving innovations on the high seas, Ocean City’s history is as colorful and exciting as a summer day on the boardwalk. Come for the beach, stay for the tales—or at least for a piece of taffy!