Worried about Ocean City losing its "family resort" image? The town had the same problem back in 1960 ...
Every year during the tourist season, we hear the same question debated ad nauseam: Is Ocean City even a family resort anymore?
Talk to locals and tourists alike, and you'll get both answers. The "yes" crowd will point to the Boardwalk and plethora of free family events while those on the "no" side will point to the heavy drinking and examples of debauchery that we've all seen in the headlines. There is certainly evidence for both. But what a lot of people don't know is that the influx of young "rapscallions" and the problems they cause aren't really new to the town.
Looking back throughout Ocean City's history, there are plenty of examples that, if they were happening today, would probably make families run for the hills. For all of the problems that Ocean City sees nowadays, few would hold a candle to the youth riots of the early 1960s.
In 1960, Ocean City was facing an identity struggle. The town's squeaky-clean family resort image was being challenged by the thousands of rowdy teens who had started to flock there as soon as school let out. Early that summer, then-Mayor Hugh T. Cropper worked with the town council to crack down on drinking and other illegal and immoral public behavior. Throughout the summer, there were a few incidents where police harshly reprimanded teenagers, and the town cracked down hard on beach parties, drinking, and even coffee houses. That tension reached a boiling point on Labor Day weekend.
Larry Baker, 18, was a Marine on leave from Camp Lejeune for the weekend. He was hanging out at a Boardwalk amusement center when he got into an argument with the owner over the jukebox volume. When Baker resisted, the proprietor called law enforcement to have him removed from the premises.
Local newspapers reported at the time that Baker resisted arrest and had to be hit over the head with a billy club and rushed away in a police car. By that time, a crowd of hundreds of teens had gathered to see what was going on. Those in the area claimed that the police used excessive force against the young Marine and didn't need to hit him over the head. The hundreds who had gathered on the Boardwalk began marching on City Hall and the police station. On the way, their numbers grew to more than 1,000. Hearing that the teens were marching on the station, on- and off-duty officers alike began to rally all of the men they could. A group of a few dozen police and firefighters stood in front of the police station ready to stop the marchers from getting inside and rescuing the arrested Marine.
When the crowd reached the station, their numbers had swelled to at least 2,500. They formed a ring around the police station and began pelting police officers and firefighters with bottles, rocks, sticks, and even lawn furniture—pretty much anything they could get their hands on. This went on for four hours and only got broken up at 4 a.m. Police had to turn the fire department's hoses on the rioters to get them to disburse. When all was said and done, 39 teens were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. At the time, Ocean City Police Chief Ollie Hudson was asked how many rioters had assembled and how many had been arrested.
"I haven’t got the time to count them," Hudson told the reporter, "but I know there is no standing room left in jail." Township officials were hopeful that the worst was behind them. However, the next day, a teen was arrested for walking on the Boardwalk without a shirt on. That prompted another wave of riots, with 1,200 teens assembling and marching on the station. That standoff ended peacefully, but more teens were arrested.
Most of the teens who were arrested ended up being brought before a judge and fined $50 for disorderly conduct. While that might not seem like a lot today, $50 back in 1960 was worth the equivalent of around $423 in today's money. Baker ended up being fined $550 for his role in inciting the riot (around $4,600 today), though a judge suspended all but $300 of it ($2,500). When the dust settled, Mayor Cropper put out a statement defending the city's actions.
“There is no reason Ocean City cannot be a good vacation site for families and young persons coming alone. We want to attract young people. We want to make the city and the Boardwalk attractive to all age groups, but we simply cannot tolerate rowdyism. We cannot tolerate a situation which means that the family trade will be discouraged from the resort.”
The resort town would see annual riots over the next four years as teenagers continued to clash with police over things as simple as being allowed to drink beer or congregate on the beach.
The point in sharing this story is to highlight that many of the issues plaguing Ocean City today are nothing new. While many despise the party atmosphere that has developed in town, we haven't had any teenager riots where angry boozed-up youths stormed the police station wielding beach chairs and liquor bottles.
Do you have any crazy stories from Ocean City back in the day? Were you a part of the 1960 riot? Tell us in the comment section below!