In Memory of George Murray Hurley
September 16, 1934 - August 9, 2015
George M. Hurley
1934 - 2015
George was born on September 16, 1934 to L. Randolph and Lucille (“Lucy”) Hurley in a small house on the west bank of Herring Creek, a couple of miles west of Ocean City. His grandmother, Elizabeth Murray, a widow originally from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., had purchased a 19-acre parcel along Herring Creek “a few hundred yards north of the State stone road that leads from Berlin to Ocean City” in 1929 for about $3,000.
George recalled his grandmother’s decision to relocate to Worcester County this way:
“After my grandmother married Joseph Murray (they eloped and were married at the World’s Fair in St. Louis), they lived for a time in Fort Worth, Texas, and later in the little town of Kalida, Ohio, which was where my mother was born. I think that after my grandfather’s death, reportedly from a runaway horse, Elizabeth migrated to Maryland because of the good times the two had had vacationing in Ocean City. She once mentioned the Atlantic Hotel and the train ride. I always thought she referred to the Atlantic Hotel of Berlin. I am pretty sure now that it would have made no sense to vacation in Ocean City and stay in Berlin. Even so, that had to be a long way to travel in those days to vacation!”
George’s father Randolph was also the son of a widow, Ollie Beatrice Hurley. In 1930 the two of them were living in a rented house on Purnell Avenue in Berlin, where Ollie worked as a restaurant cook and Randolph was a helper in an auto repair shop. Randolph and Lucy moved in with Lucy’s mother after their wedding.
During the summer months, Mrs. Murray, who gave her occupation as a “practical nurse” in the 1940 census report, worked as a housekeeper for William B. Mann, one of the more enigmatic figures in Ocean City history. “Colonel Mann”, as he liked to be called, owned a beach house on the surf bank at 36th Street. Mrs. Murray and her family lived nearby in a house located midway between 37th and 38th Streets that was owned by Colonel Mann’s business associates, and where Mann garaged his Cadillac touring car. George remembered carrying groceries for his grandmother to Mann’s house across a boardwalk laid on what was then barren sand. In recent years George and I spent considerable time delving into Colonel Mann’s story. We learned that he was a retired lawyer from Chicago with a mysterious connection to the notorious “Lucky Lindy” roadhouse at 42nd Street. According to George, “My grandmother would tell tales of signal lights at the Lucky Lindy flashing across the bay, and answering lights from Isle of Wight near the entrance to the St. Martins River, after which a boat would push off from the backside of the island, no doubt rumrunners.” He was intrigued by the notion that as a boy he spent time in the house of a man who, in all likelihood, had been a bootlegger.
George M. Hurley
36th Street in Ocean City
“Our Scout troop would boat across the bay for an overnight hike on the island, which was not connected to the mainland then. A particularly interesting feature was an old hunting clubhouse on the southwest shore of the island. Near it was a little outbuilding with piles of old land deeds tied in packets and suffering from weather exposure. How I wish I had confiscated a few!
“The island was also famous at that time for the reputation that some previous owner had drilled a very deep well and bottled and sold ‘mineral water’ which was supposed to do all sorts of things. There were cases and cases of empty dark green bottles lying about the wooded area about a half mile to the northeast of the clubhouse. A surveyor once told me the location of the well but I never got around to looking for it.”
George shared this less pleasant memory from his school years:
“As we have often noted, every old building has a story. The building on the northwest corner of Dorchester Street and Baltimore Avenue is such a case. During World War II my Dad worked for my uncle delivering finished WACO gliders for the Normandy invasion from Dayton, Ohio to the New Jersey shipping terminals. Everything was rationed, and mom moved my brother and me into town and rented a year round apartment, because she would not need gasoline, school was only a few blocks away and grocery stores were nearby. She insisted that I take violin lessons from the Sacca patriarch, Frank Sacca, who also organized and directed a boardwalk band in the summer then. It played several times a week, much like an English band at their summer resorts. Every night on my way for lessons I had to walk by the soda fountain hang-out for all of the delinquents that were not home doing their homework. It never failed that they would confiscate my instrument and try to play it, scratching out tones. I hated the thought of even going to the evening classes!”
Suzanne Brittingham and George Hurley
Ocean City, Maryland
Not long after graduation, George joined the Army. He was assigned to a military intelligence unit in the Philippines that was conducting covert eavesdropping in support of the French government (and on the French as well) in its ultimately unsuccessful effort to retain control of French Indo-China (now Vietnam). The day after his discharge from the service, November 10, 1956, George and Sue were married. They lived in Baltimore for a short time, where George worked for Atlantic Coast Freight Lines and Sue as a nurse, before returning to Worcester County. George and Sue were the parents of four children, and grandparents to eight grandchildren.
George obtained his teaching certificate from the Maryland State Teachers College in Salisbury (present day Salisbury University) in 1961. His first teaching assignment was at Stephen Decatur High School near Berlin as a 9th grade science teacher. In 1965 he took a teaching position at the Lord Baltimore Elementary School in Ocean View, Del.
To supplement his teacher’s salary, George held other jobs, including managing the Edwards 5&10 on the Boardwalk at 6th Street and running an apartment house with Sue at the northeast corner of Caroline Street and Baltimore Avenue that they called the “Sea Spray Rooms”. One story he told of their rooming house experiences took place during the Firemen’s Convention one summer. A few of their boarders decided that the chilled vending machine on the premises would be a convenient place to store their beer during the day. They removed the soft drinks, refilled the machine with beer, and headed out for a day on the beach. The firemen’s parade along Baltimore Avenue happened to be scheduled for the same day. As the parade passed by Caroline Street, a couple of men stopped at the vending machine to purchase a cold beverage. After finding that the machine was dispensing beer, a line quickly formed and the machine was rapidly emptied. The boarders were quite disappointed to discover upon their return that all of their beer was gone.
Ocean City experienced a building boom following the town’s annexation of the land from 41st Street to the Maryland-Delaware state line in 1965. George’s father, a carpenter by trade, helped George establish his own construction company in 1970, and provided him with a start by directing small contracts his way. George successfully operated his company for nearly thirty years, participating on both large projects, such as building the Sandbridge North condominium at 122nd Street, and numerous smaller ones as well.
George Hurley doing some repairs to the boat room doors of the Museum in 1981
Photograph by Sandra Davis Hurley
George found time for civic duties as well. He joined the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company in 1961, served on the Ocean City council from 1982 to 1990, on the Worcester County Board of Commissioners from 1990 to 1995 (vice-president in 1991 and president in 1992). In an article published in The Dispatch on August 14, 2015, former Ocean City Mayor Roland “Fish” Powell said of George, “He certainly was an asset in everything he was involved in, and it was a lot, from the council to the County Commissioners to the various boards and organizations to the fire department.”
There was time too for pursuing a passion for history. George was an avid reader of historical accounts on a wide range of subjects. His keen observation of the events taking place around him coupled with a sharp memory made him the person to go to when you wanted to know more about the people, places or events in Ocean City’s past. He shared his knowledge freely, and if he didn’t know the answer to a question he would track down someone who did. The book that he and Sue co-authored in 1979, “Ocean City: A Pictorial History”, is still the definitive account of the town’s formative years.
The Ocean City community owes a debt of gratitude to George and to Sue for their tireless efforts to preserve the town’s history. George’s presence will be missed greatly, but the Ocean City Museum Society is dedicated to building on his legacy for the benefit of present and future generations.
Author’s note: I had the privilege of meeting George for the first time about six years ago. We maintained a steady correspondence from that time up until shortly before his death. George opened doors in Worcester County that I never would have been able to enter on my own. Among my favorite memories of George are the times I rode with him in his old Ford pick-up along the streets and roads he knew so well, listening to his many stories from the past. I am honored to think of him as a friend.
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