1968-69 LBI: The Great Escape, in More Ways Than One

Courtesy of: Diane Phillips Snelson The author (left) lounges on the Surf City beach in 1968 with friends.

I graduated eighth grade in 1968, 50 years ago. That summer I was invited to join my best friend Lynne, whom I nicknamed Bic, and her family at a place called Long Beach Island. I was excited to pack a small bag of clothes with all the important beach necessities such as my bathing suit, hat and hair dryer. I was especially glad to be getting out of my house and away from my father for an entire week. Summertime at home in Lincoln Park was especially stressful.

It was a hot summer morning when I walked two blocks to Bic’s house. As I approached the door, I could hear the excited voices of Bic’s five sisters and brother. I could see Bic’s mom with her beautiful smile through the screen door, packing a ton of food in brown bags from ShopRite. There were so many kids in the family I always wondered why she would want to bring one more.

Loading up the brown Ford station wagon seemed to take hours. Each bag was strategically placed to ensure there was enough room for all us kids. We knew we were ready to take off when Mrs. Bickner got her keys and pocketbook. Placed like little sardines in a can, we were off! The kids were jumping all around the car since none of us used seatbelts. All the windows were open. Hot, humid air made for a long few hours as we headed off to Long Beach Island. Of course being a teenager, my biggest concern was how I was going to keep my hair from getting frizzy and curly. My hat was the answer.

We approached a long bridge called the Causeway that connected us to Long Beach Island. I knew we were close since we were driving over the bay. The car doors finally opened and the kids ran out when we arrived at the Ebb Tide Motel in the early afternoon. Bic and I helped unload the car as we carried bag after bag up the stairs to our motel room. The motel was on the beach, but I couldn’t see the ocean. My anticipation was beyond belief.

I remember walking up the dunes and seeing the ocean for the first time. It was truly breathtaking. The waves looked so big and the sand so white, and oh so hot on my feet! At that moment I fell in love with Long Beach Island, N.J. It was the best week of my summer, hanging out at the beach all day. Every night we would walk to the trampolines, the 5&10 and the ice cream parlor. Walking on the beach at night was especially beautiful. The week seemed to end so fast. I cried as we drove over the Causeway, heading back to Lincoln Park.

In September, Bic and I went to separate high schools. I met my new high school friend, Deb. We would hang out and ride our bikes for hours. After a long winter as summer approached, Bic once again invited me to LBI.  What was especially cool is that my friend Deb also invited me to spend time with her and her family, too, on LBI. How lucky was I knowing I would be spending two glorious weeks in the most peaceful place I knew! I could get away from all the yelling and fighting that typically took place in my home. My house was anything but peaceful.

The summer of 1969 proved to be most memorable. Once again we packed up the Ford station wagon and headed to LBI. We arrived at the Ebb Tide Motel on Saturday afternoon. After unpacking the car we took all the kids to the beach while Bic’s mom organized the rooms. Seeing the ocean again was like we had never left.

Sunday morning Bic and I were walking around Surf City. We ran into a high school buddy named Charlie outside the church. He mentioned that his friends were having a party in Loveladies and invited us to come along later that night. Charlie mocked me when I mentioned my concern about alcohol at parties since he was older than us and we were underage. He assured us there was no need to worry. His friends, he said, had a good relationship with the local police.

As we got ready for the party, it took over an hour to dry my curly hair straight, and I hoped the humidity would not make it too frizzy. Bic also had the same concerns for her hair since we really didn’t use hair products at the time. I dressed in my cool pinstripe bell-bottom hip huggers with my yellow halter top. I brought my hat along to keep my hair from looking like Janet Joplin’s. Bic and I went barefoot because kids at the beach rarely wore shoes.

We waited anxiously for Charlie to pick us up in Ship Bottom around 7:30 p.m. As he pulled up in his convertible, we could hear the loud music from his eight-track cassette player blasting “Proud Mary” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. I felt a feeling of freedom mixed with deep happiness. I was overcome. We pulled into the driveway of a very small house. There were a lot of kids drinking beer. We happily joined in as we introduced ourselves to others. The strobe lights inside the house were getting brighter as darkness set in. I thought it peculiar that there was only one door in the front for the entire house. There was no back or side door to exit. 

I became very uncomfortable as I thought about what would happen if the police came and busted the party. I had scary visions of how my father would react if I were ever busted for drinking at a party. I would be grounded for the rest of the summer and my life at home would be hell, more than it already was. After finishing my beer I went into the bathroom. I noticed a small window that looked to be glued shut. My gut told me to pry it open just in case we needed a quick exit. I tried hard to push the window up but it wouldn’t budge. After several minutes I finally got it to open.

I couldn’t believe what happened next. As I walked out of the bathroom I could see a dark shadow of a tall man with a cap. A flash of light was soon in my face. The next thing I heard was an authoritative voice asking me how old I was while the bright light shone in my eyes. With my empty beer bottle in hand, I mumbled, “Uh … 16.” Loudly, I heard, “That’s it … 16-year-olds here with 20-year-olds. I’m busting everyone.” The dark figure walked out the door to call for backup. Without hesitation I grabbed Bic and pulled her toward the bathroom. I could hear the kids laughing as they said, “Don’t leave. The cops won’t do anything.”

I quickly opened the window and jumped out, falling into a garbage can below. I had to help Bic through the window because she was shorter than me. I knew we had to hurry before more police arrived. Our brilliance to not wear any shoes had painful consequences. We had to run on the white pebbles behind the houses to avoid being on the street. Police car sirens rang so loud! We knew they were searching for us. We ran toward the bay several blocks away. Suddenly, Bic and I were staring at the water in the bay. We turned to each other, knowing we had to jump.

Thankfully the bay was warm. We cringed because the water felt slimy on our feet. I could see my favorite hat submerging into the water, but thoughts of having frizzy hair were the last thing on my mind. We hovered against the back of the dock as flashlights approached closer and closer. At one point, the flashlights were gliding over the bay and Bic was about to scream. I covered her mouth with my hand to keep her quiet. Apparently, we were hiding in the bay behind the mayor’s house! We could hear the conversation as the police informed the mayor about an ongoing situation down the street.

Soon the voices faded and Bic and I pulled ourselves out of the bay. We ran and hid from bush to bush behind the houses that hugged the bay. We needed to get as far as we could away from that party. Our feet were sore with cuts as we continued to run. When we approached Long Beach Boulevard we began to walk slowly to blend in with other people hanging around. There was an ice cream parlor on the corner with outside tables. We quickly sat down and tried to act natural without looking guilty. As the minutes passed we caught our breath and calmed down. We realized no one seemed to care we were there. Bic and I were mortified as we witnessed multiple police cars speeding by. 

Our friend Charlie saw us from his car as he drove north on the Boulevard. He, too, had managed to escape the bust. With much to talk about, he drove Bic and me back to the Ebb Tide. 

Bic’s mom questioned why our clothes were soaking wet. We had no problem telling her a little white lie about how our friends had pushed us in the ocean. We changed our clothes and headed back to the beach to unwind from the evening activities. A few minutes passed when another bright spotlight was in our eyes. We immediately yelled out, “We didn’t do anything.” The tall man with a cap laughed and said, “Girls, it’s late and you should go home.” We ran back to the motel as fast as we could.

The next morning Bic’s mother was reading the newspaper. She showed us an article on the front page. Our mouths dropped as we read about the big bust in Loveladies the night before. We learned mostly everyone at the party had gotten arrested.

Even after 50 years, our great escape proved to be one that we would never, ever forget. My family and I continue to have many great memories and experiences every summer on LBI. My husband of 41 years and I enjoy our Brant Beach summer home. I wrote this story for my friends Bic and Deb, who visited us last summer. We laughed, cried and hugged as we walked along the sand, together again on LBI.

Still barefoot.

Diane Phillips-Snelson lives in Farmingdale, N.J., and Brant Beach.

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