By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Visitors ascending the stairs to the second floor of the US Life-Saving Station museum in Ocean City are in for a pleasant surprise.
They are greeted by “Charlie”, a mannequin sitting on one of the beds in what is an authentic recreation of the bunk room that served as a Spartan sleeping quarters for “surfers” who worked at the resort in the late 1800s. and early 1900s.
Charlie isn’t much of a talker, but he’s one of the centerpieces of the long-awaited second-floor renovations that were on public view Saturday during the museum’s open house for the New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge tour.
“The second floor is being completed by the end of the season. We made it about 90%,” said John Loeper, a local historian who is president of the lifesaving station.
The remaining 10% will include second-floor storage of the types of clothing, coats and shoes that would have been worn by surfers at the time, Loeper explained.
“They try to keep it as close as possible,” Loeper said of museum volunteers recreating an authentic feel for the bunk room.
The second floor renovations also include the caretaker’s room. The caretaker was the man in charge of the station. Reflecting his high status, he had separate living quarters from the surfing men he supervised.
The keeper’s bedroom features a modest bed, a rocking chair, an antique oil lamp on a vintage chest of drawers, and a card table with old cards on it, seemingly ready to be played.
Charlie, meanwhile, is dressed in replica clothing that matches the period between 1885 and 1915, the heyday of the lifeboat station. Loeper noted that the model’s navy sweater, embroidered in red lettering with the words “Ocean City LSS,” was knitted by Pam Boyce, an expert seamstress who lives in Massachusetts.
The building itself, located at Fourth Street and Atlantic Avenue, dates from 1885 and is one of the few surviving examples of a lifesaving station in the country. A precursor to the United States Coast Guard, the U.S. Life-Saving Service was tasked with rescuing passengers and crew from the many shipwrecks that occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the busy shipping lanes along the East Coast.
When needed, surfers rushed to the aid of ships in distress or sinking. If one was spotted near shore, they would frantically take action, either launching their lifeboats or deploying a rope system to rescue the ship’s passengers and crew.
The museum is full of authentic examples or replicas of the boats and other lifesaving equipment used by surfers during their extremely dangerous work. It also depicts the late 1800s and early 1900s atmosphere of the Lifeboat Station with vintage furniture and a range of other artifacts.
In a new feature, the museum combines its old-fashioned setting with new technology to educate visitors on the importance of the lifesaving station. Each room includes a QR code which, when scanned with a mobile phone, is linked to videos showing Loeper explaining the history and different features of the museum.
The QR code system was developed for the museum by Ocean City High School student Ian Crowley as part of his Eagle Scout project, Loeper said. Ian is the son of Ocean City Councilman Terry Crowley Jr.
“It’s the first blush,” Loeper said of the QR code’s potential for the museum. “This technology can be used as much as we want to use it.”
Visitors visiting the museum on Saturday as part of the New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge were able to use the QR code as they went from room to room.
The annual event allows visitors to explore New Jersey’s historic lighthouses and associated museums to help raise funds for their preservation and restoration.
The Lighthouse Route covers the Atlantic Coast from Sandy Hook to Cape May and the Delaware Bay and River Coast from Cape May to Paulsboro.
Terry and James Denniston, Lighthouse Challenge aficionados who live in Manchester, NJ, had planned to visit all of the lighthouses and museums that were part of the weekend tour. They got their first look Saturday at the second-floor renovations at the Ocean City Lifeboat Station.
“It’s beautiful,” James said.
“It’s amazing,” Terry added. “Everything is so well done.”
The Dennistons, who are married, were lucky enough to meet Charlie when they walked up the stairs to the second floor. Hoping not to scare them off, museum volunteers told them about the dummy before going upstairs.
“We knew there was a model. But when I turned to the room, I thought, “Oh, he’s right there,” Terry said laughing.
For more information on the Ocean City Lifeboat Station, visit uslifesavingstation30.com.