The Times and Tides of Ocean City, Maryland
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In Memory of Suzanne Brittingham Hurley
January 25, 1937 – April 5, 2016
by Gordon Katz
May 2016


Suzanne Brittingham in her May Queen portrait 1954
Suzanne B. Hurley, long-time curator of the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum, passed away on April 5, 2016. Known simply as “Sue” to her many friends and acquaintances, her stewardship of the museum from its founding in 1978 until her retirement in 2010 provided Ocean City with a treasure that has been enjoyed by thousands of visitors over the years.
Sue was born in Ocean City in 1937, the oldest daughter of John W. Brittingham (1911 – 1968), a Sussex County, Delaware native, and Grace Cropper Brittingham (1915 – 1994), the daughter of Ocean City fisherman Lyle Cropper and Grace S. Cropper. Her father moved the family two years later to a 53-acre poultry farm in West Ocean City that he purchased with the help of a loan from Minnie Hearne Jones, the proprietor of The Belmont Hotel on Dorchester Street. The business was not successful, and the family relocated to a house on North Division Street in Ocean City. Sue graduated from the Ocean City High School in 1954 and was also the May Queen that year.
While working a summer job as a waitress near the Boardwalk, Sue met her future husband, the late George M. Hurley, who was employed as a beach boy nearby. Sue recalled George showing up at her family’s house on Sunday mornings to accompany her to the Presbyterian Church across Baltimore Avenue. Her mother would send them off together only after eliciting assurances that they were in fact going to attend the church service. Sue and George were, however, able to slip out during the sermon for a little time alone. They married on November 10, 1956, the day after George’s discharge from military service.



(L to R) David, Johnny, Betty and Sue Brittingham pose for a family portrait at their home in
West Ocean City circa 1947
Following a brief residence in Baltimore, where Sue worked as a nurse, she and George moved back to Ocean City. Sue took a job with the Bank of Ocean City as a teller. One of her memories from that time was the smell of “chicken money” brought in by some local farmers for deposit. The money had been earned from the black market that developed in Worcester County and elsewhere on the Eastern Shore for poultry during the meat rationing years of World War II. The bills were stashed in the chicken houses for safekeeping, thus acquiring their unique odor.
Sue and George had four children who occupied most of her time, but she was still able to help George with managing their rooming house on Caroline Street. The first time I met Sue, she shared this personal story about raising her children. In the early 1970s, Ocean City families were concerned about the arrival of Hare Krishna society members, who had opened a temple on Talbot Street in 1971, fearing that their children would be lured in by the group. Sue noticed that her sons were not coming home for lunch as usual, and one day she asked one of them where he had been. He told her he had been with some of the Hare Krishna members. When she asked him why, he told her, “Mom, they have better food than you do.” After she finished telling her story, she gave me a wry smile that said, “Now I’ve told you something you didn’t know before.” I would see that smile quite often after that.
Sue and George enjoyed traveling, whether it was with George at the controls of his plane or on a trip abroad to places like China, Pakistan, India and France. Certain trips required a little more in the way of advance planning on their part. Before embarking to Islamic countries where alcohol was forbidden, they mixed a batch of Manhattans that they bottled and asked a doctor to label as “medication”. According to Sue, the medication was truly needed.



Sue and George Hurley planting the flower boxes on the Boardwalk outside the Museum in May of 2010

In the late 1970s Sue opened a store in the Shantytown complex in West Ocean City called “Country Kitchen”, where she sold anything you could ever want or need for a kitchen. But I believe she found her true calling when she was hired as the first curator of the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum. Following the museum’s dedication on December 25, 1978, she set about tracking down items for exhibits and initiating programs designed to attract summer vacationers. The exhibits and programs reflected her keen eye for what was of historical importance as well as what would draw visitors to take a closer look at the fascinating stories imbedded in the operations of the U.S. Life-Saving Service and in Ocean City’s past.
Sue was most interested in the life stories of people from the past. She possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of local Worcester County families, easily relating who was related to who and how. During our conversations about one person or the other, she often commented, “I would have loved to have met that person and look them in the eyes.” I can only imagine that some of those people would have wilted under that look.
Sue enjoyed looking at old photographs and identifying the people and places depicted in the frozen moments in time. She and George occasionally disagreed about the who or the what, but in the end George usually (but not always) conceded that Sue was right. Sue told me that before the two of them began work on their seminal book, “Ocean City: A Pictorial History”, she already knew exactly which pictures she wanted to include. While I was working on my book some years later about the Atlantic Hotel Company and its stockholders, she kept after me to “find out who those people were, and tell their stories before they are completely forgotten.” But she also had these admonitions about what to include: “We never speak of the living” and “Whatever you learn about someone, Gordon, have a heart for their families.”
The passing of both George and Sue Hurley within a short period of time leaves a large void in the collective memory of Ocean City and its history. We should be grateful that they preserved much of that history, in their books, in their conversations and correspondence, and in the museum. Nothing can replace their personal touch, however, and that will be greatly missed.

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