CAPE MAY – The Nation’s Oldest Seaside Resort has been dealing with the ocean for centuries with the pounding sea pushing its way into town.
The March 1962 Nor’easter was perhaps the most documented storm as it tore up the boardwalk and mortally wounded Convention Hall.
Greater Cape May Historical Society President Harry Bellangy, at a meeting, presented photos and films provided by local residents who were there to experience the monumental March ‘62 storm. A sizable audience convened at Cape May’s VFW Hall, Sat. March 3.
Cape May’s boardwalk was destroyed like a toddler kicking over a house made of Popsicle sticks. Boards were torn off their pilings and some washed into town.
He said nor’easters are normally not given names, but the ’62 storm earned the name the “Great Atlantic Storm.” He noted it was also called the “Ash Wednesday Storm” since it formed on Ash Wednesday and the “High Five Storm,” because there were five high tides with a northeast wind keeping the water from washing back out to sea.
Bellangy showed a photo of Convention Hall’s ballroom with the back of building completely washed away. He said the floor was not designed for upward pressure but designed for a load resting upon it.
Water pushed up from below and lifted the floor away, said Bellangy. The remaining part of Convention Hall was demolished by the city after the storm.
The March ‘62 storm ripped concrete roadbed on the east end of Cape May.
In March 1962, Cape May did not have a seawall with huge rocks as it does today to stop water from rushing onto Beach Avenue. The demolished wooden boardwalk was replaced with concrete and asphalt known as the Promenade.
Bellangy noted storm damage on the beachfront “keeps happening to us.” In 1992, Hurricane Gloria sent water over the seawall, he said.
The Beach Theatre was flooded by the ’62 storm. Sand was cleaned out and the theater reopened rather quickly, said Bellangy. A member of the audience said six feet of sand was found inside Beach Theatre.
Bellangy said the only house that was destroyed in Cape May belonged to Joe Barker and Lou Pran, publishers of Pennywise, a hand-written, black and white publication.
He said the Casino/Playhouse was wiped out by the storm. It stood on the current site of the Atlas and Capri motor inns, said Bellangy.
The Navy bunker at Cape May Point sustained damage. In 1955, the Navy built a listening station on top of the bunker, near the Cape May Lighthouse, to track Russian submarines operating off the coast.
Bellangy said it received so much damage from the ’62 storm, that the Navy moved the SOSUS station across the bay to Lewes, Del. in what is now Cape Henlopen State Park.
Bellangy closed the meeting reminding residents to have an emergency plan in place for storm emergencies.
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