The Times and Tides of Ocean City, Maryland
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Vacationing at the Stephen Decatur Hotel
by Shirley Hall

Shirley Hall in 1942
In August of 1939 our family made a long, uncomfortable drive from the New York World's Fair. We arrived in Ocean City late Sunday night. Of course, there were no accommodations at the hotels. Finally, we stopped at the Stephen Decatur. Mr. Earl Conley took pity on us and found two tiny rooms in the basement. After a few days we moved to the second floor, 2 lovely adjoining rooms with bath. So began our seven-year stay, two weeks of each August, at the Stephen Decatur Hotel.

The meals were wonderful. We had to dress properly, the men in linen or seersucker suits, the ladies in silks. No slacks or shorts even for teenagers. Each family was assigned to a table for the length of their stay, in the formal dining room, presided over by the formidable, yet gracious and dignified Mr. Brown, and his serving staff.

Of course, we spent our days on the beach, (no sunscreen-only pints of baby oil) admiring the lifeguards and flirting with the college boys (elevator operators) if they had an hour off. We teens sat as far as possible from parents and little brothers! I can still picture my Dad in his terry cloth robe coming out of the hotel bathhouse, and stopping to drop a quarter in the slot machine!

The same five or six Baltimore families vacationed at the same time every year so the daughters and I became close friends.

In the late afternoon, cocktail hour was very popular with the adults. One of the couples made a concoction called a "peach smash." The results were interesting!

After a fabulous dinner, the adults played cards or chatted in the pleasant lobby. Some brave souls moved to the wide porch, battling giant mosquitoes. We girls went out on the boardwalk to 9th Street, to either Jackson Casino or the Beach Club, to listen to the very popular combo and to sing endless verses of "Cut Down The Old Pine Tree." Bedtime was postponed until the rooms cooled a bit.

When the war started the town's lights were blackened and the hotels and businesses curtained. The girls bemoaned the shortage of young men. The Stephen Decatur continued its fine hospitality, thanks to the Conley's. There seemed to be no problem with food supplies. I guess the shore's watermen and growers provided everything needed.

Some nights we got together on the dunes in front of the old Catholic Retreat House, maybe 15th Street. One evening someone borrowed a car and we started for Rehoboth. Every few miles soldiers who questioned our identities and destination stopped us. We were frightened and ended that adventure!

We were all there in August of 1945 when V-J Day was announced. Everyone cheered and cried, and the children ran up and down the boardwalk making sure that people heard the welcome news.

One year our family stayed until Monday, Labor Day. Most of the hotels were closing and the shops were shuttered. What a difference from today, when the "shoulder seasons" are so busy.

The 40s were a safe and happy time and we loved every minute of our visits, and we still love the memories, 60 years later!

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