New Jersey never figured into my past in any big way. Now ironically New Jersey is a big part of my more recent past, my present, and undoubtedly will be a major part of my future since three of my daughters now live in this Atlantic coast state along with four of my grandchildren. I don't see any of them moving from here anytime soon so I guess New Jersey is now a big part of me.
Prior to my touring show career starting in the late 1970's, I'd only been to New Jersey twice for brief visits. The state flew low below my radar most of my life. My mother used to tell me stories when I was very young about her visit to Atlantic City when she was still in high school. I longed to see the amusements at the Steel Pier and ride the rides.
Then in the mid-1950's--I forget exactly when--our family took a vacation trip to the Big Apple and then to Atlantic City. I don't remember too much about either place other than having been there. Snippets of memories of visiting Coney Island, going to the top of the Empire State Building, and riding the Staten Island ferry vaguely reside in some dusty corner of my brain. Only a hazy remembrance of visiting my mother's cousin at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where he worked.
The Atlantic City memories are even less vivid. One that stands out most is my ride on the Bathysphere or Diving Bell as it was most commonly known. My search on the internet found little about this attraction though I did find some confirmation of what I remember.
The Diving Bell (my parents called it The Bathysphere which is a term that was apparently more well known back then) was a small vessel that dropped to the depths at the pier giving riders the experience of being under the ocean for a brief period. I still recall the stuffy cramped interior that now would probably give me feelings of claustrophobia, but at that time didn't bother me much. It was more than an amusement ride for me. It was an adventure.
As we dropped into the depths I gazed out the porthole before me in wonderment. The murky greenish waters were mysterious and foreboding. I had expected to see fish and other undersea life--maybe even an octopus. All I saw was the algae encrusted pilings of the pier and unknown particles floating in the water, but to me even that was exciting. I felt the pressure change in my ears as we descended to the sandy ocean bottom.
Then suddenly the small capsule that we were in rushed to the surface with riders squealing with delight or maybe terror--I couldn't tell quite which. For me it was a thrill, but I was glad that we were back out of the water. The ocean bottom was a fascinating place to visit, but I wasn't too keen on staying there for long.
Though my internet research gleaned little knowledge about the Atlantic City Diving Bell, I did find an informative little article at The Atlantic City Free Public Library website. There is also a very brief video (embedded at the top of this post) that shows the Diving Bell submerging and then reappearing on the water surface. Apparently the Diving Bell can still be seen on display in Atlantic City. Maybe after my wife arrives to rejoin me in New Jersey we'll take a trip down to Atlantic City to see what it's like now.
Have you been to Atlantic City? Do you have any memories of Atlantic City in the pre-casino days? Does a brief dunk into the ocean depths interest you or does the thought make you uncomfortable?