The Times and Tides of Ocean City, Maryland
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Of Photo Booths, Penny Machines, and Pull the String
by Patricia Holland Colton
My sister, Ruth, and I have always been list makers. I think this probably started when twice a summer our parents would announce that we’d be going to the Ocean City Boardwalk for a Sunday afternoon. Those times were always the highlight of the summer for us. We would be given $1.50 each to spend (big money to us in the late 1950s), and we would wisely pool our funds, so we could enjoy the great time together. A few days before going, we would make our list and put our wishes into different categories: games, rides, treats, and a photo booth picture.

The big day would arrive. While our parents took our younger brother and sister on the “kiddie” rides, Ruth and I would go off on our adventure together before meeting up with them at Playland, where we’d play the penny machines with the help of our father. I can still remember the excitement of seeing the crane come down with its gaping jaws in the sea of marbles amidst assorted prizes we longed to win. I cannot recall ever winning one of those prizes; however, we certainly did amass quite a collection of marbles.
Armed with the list (now in our heads) we would walk the boardwalk. There were always free attractions like seeing “Laughing Sal” (we called her “The Laughing Ha Ha Woman”) or the mirrors that distorted our images, where the Trimper’s amusements were located.
We loved playing games but were always cautious choosing one where we knew we were guaranteed a prize - - “Pick Up the Duck,” “Pull the String,” “Pitch Till You Win.”
Money was always allotted for our favorite ride, the Tilt-A-Whirl, and if we were really daring, we would plan for the Octopus. It went up in the air, and that could be quite scary for us. Then we would head for Trimper’s Amusements, which housed the many rides from our earlier childhood – the water boats, the whip, the boats we rode that were on wheels. Of course, we're now too old for those, but not for the beautiful hand carved carousel, where we rode our favorites, the rooster and the ostrich.

No trip was complete without a sweet treat – a wand of sugary pink or blue cotton candy; a red candy apple; a walking sundae (a rectangular cone filled with vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate and sprinkled with nuts, topped off with a cherry); or my personal favorite, a frozen chocolate covered banana. It was hard to choose only one. In addition to one of those, we always included a small box of Dolle’s caramel popcorn to be shared on the way home.
Then we’d cram ourselves into one of the photo booths in the arcades where for a quarter you could get a strip of four pictures taken of yourselves to commemorate your visit. There was always great anticipation for the minute or so it took before those pictures were developed and appeared in the narrow slot in the machine.
If we were really fortunate, we might have had an extra dollar to spend – money my sister Ruth had earned from cutting grass or babysitting. On such occasions, we would go to one of the gift shops, usually “Grace’s” and buy ceramic figurines of small animal families. (The babies are attached to their mothers with small chains.) We had a small collection of these – a poodle with feathery fur and her two puppies; an elephant and her two babies, and a deer with her fawn. These graced our bedroom dresser for years!
It has been many decades since I have been that young girl, but those Ocean City memories are still vivid. I can still remember the dizzying thrill of rounding the corner in the Tilt-A-Whirl, of wondering if the number on the bottom of a plastic duck would yield a really nice prize, and of anticipating the first cold bite into a frozen chocolate covered banana. Some great times you just never forget!

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