Splashback

1942: New Owners Give Old Baldwin a New Life

The Beachcomber
Jul 06, 2013
Source: Eighteen Miles of History on Long Beach Island/ Down The Shore Publishing The Hotel Baldwin held a stately presence behind the boardwalk in Beach Haven during the first half of the 20th century.

Beach Haven’s Baldwin Hotel, which filled the block between Pearl, Marine, Beach and Atlantic – the site of present day Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church – was a magnificent edifice 130 years ago when it rose by the ocean in 1883. Beryl and Charlie Yocum bought what was sometimes called “Dracula’s Castle” in 1940 and operated the Baldwin every summer until 1953, when they sold it. Beryl, who wrote a social column in The Beachcomber in the 1960s, described the hotel: “A hideous building from an architectural standpoint, cluttered with turrets and Victorian gingerbread, but with a matchless view of the ocean. Despite its ugliness it had an undeniable 1870s charm about it.”

The Baldwin burned to the ground in a spectacular blaze in September 1960. The following excerpt is from Beryl’s memories of the Baldwin years, which were compiled by her granddaughter, Lynn Rafferty.

— Margaret Thomas Buchholz

 

No year in the world could have looked more dismal than 1942, from the standpoint of a hotel man’s family. We had to count on making a year’s living in ten weeks of business. Even though the season ran longer, there were only ten weeks of a filled-to-capacity hotel. [War had been declared the previous December.]

We put up with food and other shortages. Beaches were smeared with tar from offshore ships sunk by Nazi submarines; reconnaissance dirigibles floated overhead all day; the Coast Guard patrolled the beaches at night, an ever present reminder that we were at war. Help was scarce, with many boys going into the Army and girls taking their places in business and industry. We wondered who on earth would want to go to the seashore, with husbands, sons and sweethearts leaving to fight? Somehow, though, the season finally got off the ground, and like many a late bloomer, did very well.

The first blackout was a farce. When the sirens blew, guests in the hotel failed to turn off their lights; black-out curtains were not drawn quickly or completely; and the air raid wardens went crazy trying to watch all 300 windows on several sides of the building. “You, on the third floor front, put out that light,” an irate warden would call out. “Say, lady, do you want to get us bombed to pieces? Second floor, front south side, lights out!” Or, “Where the hell is Charlie Yocum?” Usually my husband was there, but as likely as not, he could be downtown having a short one in someone else’s bar, to vary the monotony.

It finally became apparent that, human nature being what it is, to achieve a secure blackout, the master switch would have to be thrown, and lamps and lanterns used in the lobby during air raid drills. This became so effective that by the end of the third or fourth drill all the guests were thrown into consternation. They had to dash to the lobby before the lights went out, or if they did not move fast enough, find their way in the dark. What shrieks! What excitement!

One such night, en route down to the lobby, I heard a distressed female voice wail, “Help me, oh, help me!” and as I opened her door, saw a dear lady, literally without a leg to stand on. Her nurse companion had gone to the movies, and a useless artificial leg rested on a chair, where she could not reach it or put it on without help. She was terrified that it might be a real air raid, and wondered if she should try to get to the lobby or maybe die right here in her room.

I reassured her that it was very likely a drill as all the others had been, and offered to get her tea, or a drop of Old Kiltie, or whatever the prevailing wartime Scotch was. She refused, and decided to wait it out in the room, and I was back on my way to check the lobby. It was pretty dark, but noisy. Kids were enjoying bottled soft drinks, and Charlie, who was passing it out, announced that cold drinks of a stronger nature would be available to the adults, on the house, when the All Clear sounded. It was not too long before the town siren ended the drill.

When air-raid drills became routine, and techniques perfected, it was interesting to see how quickly and cozily the group assembled in the big lobby. When really good blackout curtains were up, it was possible to leave a lobby socket on for movies, and two-reel comedies were shown to keep the kids from getting fidgety. Sometimes there were games and record sessions.

Sometimes a married gal, whose husband was away somewhere in the Army, might get chummy with a guy she met in the lobby during a blackout, then later they’d be seen in some gin-mill in the village. Not only was “nothing too good for our boys in the armed forces,” there were patriotic wenches who felt that they should help amuse the men who were waiting to be called. All part of wartime U.S.A.

In the food department, the meat shortage was our greatest headache. We were grateful for local seafood. It was not cheap but it was plentiful and in the kitchen we knocked ourselves out and made the supreme war effort to create interesting meals without good red beef. Every course but the meat course was perfect. On each dinner menu, there was one selection of fish. In addition, we prepared golden scallops, crabmeat in all its varieties, shrimps, clams and lovely scarlet lobsters. Somehow people were wonderful sports about the lack of their favorite steaks and rib roast, which had always been abundant.

The local lobsters proved to be our undoing, and we had to switch to Maine lobsters because they could be bought in exact weight and uniform size. The local lobsters were handy, and reasonably priced, but they came in sizes up to five pounds and the girls who served them were opportunists and awarded the biggest lobsters to the best tippers. Then the Yocums were in trouble! When I went into the lobby of an evening, weary and wan from batting out meals and dying for nothing so much as a cool breeze, a bar stool, and the drone of the jukebox, a zealous matron would harpoon me, and with her voice only partly muffled by her hand, would tell me that her table had gotten tiny lobsters while “those people at the next table, got great big ones. Could I please do something about it?” Of course I tried to balance things, but found that the safe solution was to serve everyone the same size lobster, all the way from Maine.

In August the meat shortage became so acute that Charlie drove to upstate Pennsylvania to scout for meat and came back with four wooly sheep on the hoof. We penned them in the yard for a few weeks, and they became pets of the kids in the hotel. The lambs lived high, not knowing that they were to end up as roast leg of lamb with mint jelly.

On the same trip, another innkeeper from Beach Haven went along, and he scrounged a cow from some farm in the Pennsylvania Dutch country. It was butchered on the spot, divided, and brought back to be stored in the freezer. It was not Western Beef, and not tender enough to be cut into steaks, but it could be stewed or braised, and it was not black market. He paid the legal number of ration points.

Not too long after all this, a meat salesman whispered that he could supply us with a limited quantity of legs of lamb, and with the legal exchange of money and points they were ours. But the skids were still under our lambs on the hoof. During their stay the children had really come to love them. Glamorously described on the menu by me, I considered it a triumph. To the kids we were miserable cannibals. Several of them came to the kitchen door before dinner and asked us to please not serve them the home grown lambs, and I told them I would try not to, but once cooked, all legs of lamb looked alike and how was I to know? Happily, the adults were not so sentimental so all of the lamb was ordered, but not by many children. They boycotted it almost completely and in consequence we ran out of broiled bluefish, which normally you could not bribe kids to eat.

Margaret Thomas Buchholz is the former owner of this paper and author of Island Album, Shore Chronicles, New Jersey Shipwrecks, and the newly released book Josephine: A Memoir 1917-1959. She is co-author of Great Storms of the Jersey Shore. Reach her at lbipooch@comcast.net.

 

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