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By the Sea: 1915

Circa 1915. "Surf bathing at Atlantic City." Where not all the suits are for swimming. 8x10 inch glass negative, Detroit Publishing Co. View full size.

Circa 1915. "Surf bathing at Atlantic City." Where not all the suits are for swimming. 8x10 inch glass negative, Detroit Publishing Co. View full size.


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"Towels" were linen or cotton, along the line of what we consider dishtowels (like those decorative souvenir dish towels). Just a tightly-woven sheet. Not particularly absorbent and not very big.

At the beach, a blanket would usually double as cover for changing in and out of costumes (if you didn't want to pay for the use of a bathing hut), keeping the wind off, and drying off at the end of the day.

End of the innocence

After this season, things on the Jersey shore would never really be the same. 1916 brought a polio epidemic in New York City that send thousands fleeing the the city to the shore and other places, just in time for the arrival of the "man-eating shark" (that struck first at Beach Haven, just north of Atlantic City). Two wartime summers followed.

"Beach towels"

The reason you don't see them isn't because the idea hadn't occurred to anyone. It's because big, body-size cotton towels, especially the terrycloth kind, were practically nonexistent in 1915. People bathed with washcloths and dried off with hand towels. Big towels didn't become a mass-market item until the 1930s. The alternative was woolen blankets, which you wouldn't take to the shore (or would be supplied by the hotels to their patrons) for obvious reasons. Also realize that doing any kind of laundry in 1915 was a major undertaking.

Something else missing

Shorpy beach scenes have elicited lots of comments about the lack of beach towels, overweight people, etc. But here's something else that's missing: not a single person is holding a bottle, cup or drink of any kind. Nor are there any on the ground. Such a scene would be inconceivable today when nearly everyone walks around such places with a drink in hand.

For that matter, with the exception of a few parasols there are virtually no personal articles of any kind on the beach -- no satchels, no bags, no food, no toys. Just people and sand.


In addition to Don Struke's comments, I just caught myself get all captivated thinking, "I wonder what they're saying to each other." Particularly the mustachioed man and his son (?) in the centre at the front. I wonder what they said when they turned away from the camera?

Wonderful shot, this.


I can feel the sand in my undies just looking at this photo!


That's a decent little A-frame there, too. Nowadays there would be about a dozen surfers splitting that peak.

Surf's Up

The older guy is probably telling the young kids what surfing was like in the old days.

Possible eureka moment

Is the person in white on the right side actually lying on a beach towel? Someone contact the patent office!

Beach tent

Should we assume that the (red?) cross on the tent erected on the platform indicates that it's a refuge for the injured, ill, sunburnt, sun-stroked, or just down-with-a-case-of-the-vapors beachgoers? The sign posted reads "No Packages or Garments Permitted on or inside of railing." Because?

[Probably to keep the place from turning into a cabana. - Dave]

On the Beach (apologies to Neville Shute)

There's a lot going on here and it might be a record for Shorpy beach action photos: The light-haired person surrounded by captivated youths and holding forth about Sure-Wish-I-Knew-What, the apparently abandoned and (I hope) babyless carriage, the kid with the Buster Brown collar, the two casual wrestlers to the left of the Socrates Club, the Red Cross tent, the one overweight beach visitor (to the left of the wrestlers), the only person fully dressed in white asleep or dead in the right foreground, and so much more. The surf's up, and the horizon way off has a two-masted (I think) schooner heading north under full sail. Somebody get Gordon Lightfoot on the phone.

Lost horizon

I like the sailing ship in the background.

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