Steel Pier: Oasis for Fun
My photo essays are mostly about heavy subjects like homelessness and racism. So it’s about time for something lighter and more fun. As is often the case, the subject for this photo essay found me.
We had our annual family vacation “down the shore” at Brigantine, N.J which is just above Atlantic City. One evening I went to the Atlantic City boardwalk to do some photography. I came upon Steel Pier which I knew nothing about. Its website: “features more than 25 extreme rides, an amusement arcade filled with fun and challenging games, and tantalizing food.”
I’ve always been attracted to amusement parks, but at the same time repelled by the rides- why would anyone want to do that to themselves? But because I’m so interested in capturing human emotion with my camera, Steel Pier seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Depending on your point of view, the Atlantic City boardwalk can be seen as a fun place by the ocean, a place to gamble and see a show, or as a very sad place. So many of the casino hotels are either shuttered or operating at limited capacity. The Showboat Hotel, where I stayed the night for this story, feels like a morgue. Curtains shroud the former gaming areas and grand staircases. Most of the restaurants are closed.
Next to the Showboat is the former Revel Casino Hotel, which just a few years ago was a glittering new monument. It’s now abandoned. Most striking is the Trump Taj Mahal which in its day was a gaudy caricature of opulence run amuck, is now a boarded up carcass covered with liquidation signs. The AC boardwalk is supposed to be fun but this is sad.
Adjoining the Taj jutting out into the ocean is Steel Pier. It stands as proof that things can be revitalized and fun is still an important commodity, if not a required escape from daily stressors.
Steel Pier opened in 1898 as an entertainment extravaganza. It's gets its name from the Steel Pier Company that built it and its steel components.
Over the years Steel Pier had its own ups and downs from offering entertainment such as the Miss America Pageant, top stars and the High Diving Horse, to destruction from fires, storms, and the decline of Atlantic City. It was once used just for storage, and once was owned by a future President.
Today Steel Pier has been revitalized as an amusement park packed with rides, games and food. The brand new Observation Wheel, said to be the second largest Ferris Wheel on the East coast, is evidence of its vitality. During the two days I spent for this story, Steel Pier was busy with people just focused on fun. For many, fun means subjecting their bodies to spins, twists, being upside down, great heights, quick falls, G-forces fit for an astronaut, and lots of speed. These bodily assaults seem to cleanse people’s spirits perhaps in the same way that a shock treatment provides an emotional reset. Clearly, Steel Pier is an Oasis for Fun.
I focused my camera on the faces of these revelers to capture those moments of excitement, fear, smiles, laughter and pure joy. I couldn't bring myself to join them since I'm happy with my stomach location just where it is!
This story has four sections:
1. Steel Pier Overview
2. Moderately Aggressive Rides
- Crazy Mouse
- Twist & Shout
- Freedom Flyer
- Sling Shot
- Swing Carousel
I hope through these images that readers will have a smile or even a shriek without any rise in blood pressure. Enjoy!
Steel Pier Overview
Steel Pier’s 1000 foot structure reaches over the Atlantic City beach out into the ocean. It is entered from the Boardwalk at Trump Taj Mahal.
A photoshoot at the entrance to Steel Pier: This bride, whose gown looks like one of the Taj’s pink canopies, gets the once-over from a pint sized critic- she doesn't seem pleased.
Entering Steel Pier at its 3:00PM opening- the crowds will build quickly durning the afternoon and into the evening. The decay of the Taj is quickly forgotten.
Game operators anxiously await their first customers of the day.
One operator was definitely not “behind” in sales.
This operator had an awakening of his spirit.
The moon shines through the beautiful 250 foot Observation Wheel which opens August 2017.
All rides, no matter how moderate, offer some degree of risk. Each provides hight requirements and a series of warnings. With the exception of not being an expectant mother and not being under the influence, I’m disqualified- thankfully!
Even the easiest ride can be a challenge for tiny tots- I hear ya “bro”.
Moderately Aggressive Rides
Whether a ride is moderate or downright blood curdling is in the eye of the beholder. The three rides covered here offer riders some definite thrills but not at the extreme level of the over the top rides in the next section.
Crazy Mouse: This relatively small roller coaster is quite beautiful against the night sky. The ride experience is intensified because cars spin in circles through corners.
Instilling confidence as the operator is ready to launch- one rider doesn't seem so sure this was the right decision.
“The Little Engine That Could” climbs the ramp.
Down the chute.
"OMG" by day.
"OMG" by night.
Speed and spins- hair is the giveaway.
Relief at the end.
Twist & Shout: Mostly used by children, this ride tests the stomach by rapid spins and drops. Shouts are very common.
This cutie shows that emotions can change from laughter to fright and back again in the blink of an eye.
Freedom Flyer: It’s a tough call whether this ride belongs in the moderate or over the top category. It does give riders a new perspective on the world.
Riders take their place in the pod at the bottom of a star spangled arm.
The pod begins to swing back and forth with ever increasing distance.
It gets closer to going over the top.
What’s up is down and what’s down is up.
Reaching for something to hold onto that isn't there.
Up and over, her hair tells the tale.
The hair on his legs stands at attention.
Speaking of hair!
They’re having way too much fun.
This 180 is totally acceptable for these two.
Some encouragement from dad for a young guy who isn't yet convinced about the wisdom of this idea.
Total joy- hopefully she won’t break her bright red nails.
Over The Top Rides
The two rides covered here would easily qualify for training astronauts or as "enhanced interrogation techniques". I would confess to anything not to have to board either of these monsters. But amazingly, many people take the plunge and live to tell the tale.
MIX: The name MIX must relate to the fact that this ride will MIX the brain into a blob of jello, or so it would seem. There must be a good reason to get on this thing, but at the moment it escapes me. Standing under it or within 10 feet was all the thrill I could stand.
MIX is a 140 foot shaft with pods on either end that hold four riders, two in each direction. Once up to speed, the pods move at 60 mph making a full rotation every few seconds.
A surreal view of a surreal experience.
Heading towards the base must feel like trying to land a runaway 747.
Sometimes it arrives with landing gear down.
Sometimes, not so much.
It’s like being on the Space Shuttle’s robotic arm.
Taking a closer look, we can now see the demeanor of the riders. These ladies look happy, but we can’t see the faces on the other side of the pod.
This young fellow looks totally unimpressed.
This guy looks downright sad.
These two women seem to be having the greatest time ever.
Just can’t get any better.
This man started out a bit concerned, but he quickly got into the flow.
He and his partner are having the same experience but neither knows the other exists.
I stood within 10 feet as this rider readied for his flight- he gave me a look of confidence. While I was firmly planted on the ground, I was a bit nervous about being so close. I’m glad the operators didn't chase me away.
Ready for lift off- completely calm.
First pass- not quite up to speed.
Reality sets in.
Passing by at 60 mph I couldn’t see him, but I heard his expletive.
Calm returns at the end of the ride. He departed looking no worse for wear.
Sling Shot: While the name MIX has less than obvious meaning for that ride, Sling Shot says it all. It’s a spring-loaded rocket ship. The statistics: 225 feet in 1.5 seconds, 5G acceleration, over 100 mph. The most unbelievable statistic is that around the world, more than 1 million people have subjected themselves to this extreme sport.
The circular pod which holds two riders, sits on the ground between two towers and a maze of cables. Behind the pod is a structure that houses hundreds of springs which are expanded prior to launch.
When released, the springs transfer huge power to the pod, or more precisely to the rider’s butts!
The pod reaches maximum height almost instantly, and then flails up and down multiple times.
In the process, the pod rotates up and over.
It’s time for the kiddos to give it a try- really?
They start out happy.
Rollover as the springs are loaded.
Upon return to earth, they seem to have lost some of their initial sparkle. But they left good as new.
Her screams began even before she left the ground.
Rollover- final prayers.
Orbit has been achieved.
Swing Carousel: Of all the thrill oriented rides at Steel Pier, Swing Carousel seems less challenging. With few exceptions, people seem to find this a very pleasurable ride. From the photography perspective, I found it beautiful.
The name perfectly describes this ride.
In preparation for rotation the canopy is raised by two center sections. As it turns, the canopy oscillates adding an up and down motion to the circular tour. At maximum speed, riders become almost horizontal. Many emotions are expressed on the ride.
These riders are concerned about losing their hats.
It’s hard to believe that at such an angle, this rider seems bored.
This rider isn't having the best of times.
But this rider seems to be in heaven- is that the Revel in the distance, or is it Oz?
It will be a long while before that smile wears off.
Just doesn't get any better.
At night the beauty of this ride becomes very apparent- all the interplay with the background.
People become the art.
My favorite image of all.
During my time at Steel Pier I heard nothing about politics, global warming, or ISIS. It was about rides, games, prizes, and food all directed at having fun. The sadness of Atlantic City and all the troubles in the world were a million miles away. I’m not sure who had the best time- the people having fun, or I when taking pictures of their joy…. Probably both.
Everyone needs to find an Oasis for Fun!
History of Steel Pier (Wikipedia)
The pier was built by the Steel Pier Company and opened on June 18, 1898. It was built on iron pilings, using a concrete understructure with steel girders. In 1904, a storm washed away part of Steel Pier and many engineers stated that it could not be rebuilt. Future mayor of Atlantic City Edward L. Bader, and his company, accepted the challenge to rebuild it. His success with that job led to more work for him in Atlantic City.
In 1924, a fire caused significant damage to the pier. Frank Gravatt purchased the pier the following year and renovated it. He was called the "salt water Barnum" by the local newspaper. The pier hosted dance bands, three movie theaters, exhibits, operas, children's shows, a water circus, stunts and other attractions. He signed John Philip Sousa for a series of annual concerts. The General Motors Exhibit opened in 1926, continuing through 1933, when it was replaced by Ford. General Motors returned in 1947, continuing until 1968.
From 1935 through 1938, Steel Pier was where Miss America was crowned. It was described as "An Amusement City at Sea" and "A Vacation in Itself." It also was once called the "Showplace of the Nation" and included such acts as the High Diving horse; Rex the Wonder Dog, a water-skiing canine in the 1930s; the diving bell; and musicians, Frank Sinatra and Al Jolson among others. Diana Ross and The Supremes played week-long engagements during the summer in 1965, 1966 and 1967, to sold-out business in the Steel Pier's Music Hall Theater and the Marine Ballroom. "Rain or Shine ... There's Always a Good Show on Steel Pier" was another phrase used to describe the venue's varied entertainment.
In 1945, the pier was purchased by George Hamid, who operated the competing Million Dollar Pier. He brought popular and rock and roll music to the pier starting with Bill Haley and the Comets in 1955. Parts of the pier were damaged or lost during the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962. The Beatles were booked in 1964, but overwhelming demand for tickets forced them to move to Boardwalk Hall. The pier used to be much longer, but a December 1969 fire six months before the opening of the 1970 season shortened its size by about a third.
By the end of the 1960s, the pier was feeling the effects of declining tourism in Atlantic City. The pier was sold to a group of local businessmen in 1973. After gambling was legalized, a developer proposed turning the pier into a hotel-casino. However, the necessary governmental approvals could not be obtained, and the pier was sold to Resorts International in 1978, which mainly used the pier for storage. The original wooden pier with steel underpinnings was destroyed in a 1982 fire; the current concrete structure dates from 1993. Trump Entertainment acquired ownership of the pier when it acquired the Trump Taj Mahal in the late 1980s. The Trump Steel Pier opened in 1992, but had been reduced to about 1,000 ft (300 m) and featured mainly amusement rides. The Steel Pier continues to operate as an amusement park to this day.
Published August 8, 2017