(Jan. 25, 2019) As the old adage goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and with a collection of approximately 6,000 photographs and 3,000 postcards at the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum, it couldn’t be truer.
One can only guess there are thousands of stories within those pictures in a collection that’s more than 40 years in the making. They feature the faces, places and events of the resort town many visit and call home.
Museum Curator Sandy Hurley said the project started back in the 1970s, when her in-laws, George and Suzanne Hurley – who she said were active in the museum society that was formed in 1978 – were approached to create a book chronicling the “pictorial history of Ocean City,” and collected dozens of photos from community members.
For Hurley, one could say photography is a passion.
“You can’t find anyone that’s not interested in looking at photographs,” she said.
When Hurley first began working at the museum, located at the southern end of the Boardwalk, she took a class to learn to care for the precious pieces of history.
Holding onto these photos is a labor of love for Hurley, who said the museum’s goal is to preserve the history of “America’s Finest Family Resort.”
“That’s definitely our mission, and I think if you don’t hold onto your history, you tend to repeat the past,” Hurley said.
Nancy Howard, president of the museum society board, said preservation is key.
“I think the people of Ocean City are smart enough to respect and agree that we have to preserve our history in Ocean City,” Howard said.
Howard and Hurley concurred protecting photographs of the town is also crucial, and it’s especially “important to show the younger generation coming up,” Hurley said.
In order to maintain the condition of the photos, Hurley said steps are taken that involves using “acid-free folders and special archival materials.”
With the advent of technology, Hurley said the museum also has backup copies of photographs and postcards. Photographs are scanned so people who contribute can keep the originals.
Hurley also said the museum’s postcard collection can’t be overlooked.
“The postcard collection has been a great asset as far as images because ... photographs were taken for postcards, and that’s how people communicated back in those days, and they were actually sent to Germany to have them hand colored,” she said.
In addition to old photographs and postcards, Hurley said pictures from advertising booklets are part of the museum’s collection.
“We did an exhibit on the 1960s not too long ago and we realized we didn’t have that many photographs, but we did have advertising booklets,” Hurley said. “That’s another thing, these advertising booklets have photographs in them, and … [George and Suzanne Hurley] when they did their book they used … these beautiful advertising books and they became ... photographs.”
Why didn’t they have many photos from the 1960s to use for the museum’s exhibit? Hurley said when the museum opened in the 1970s, people weren’t looking for photos from the previous decade because it was too recent.
Christine Okerblom, Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum assistant curator, said the photographs showing the town’s history can have a “profound emphasis.”
It can also serve as a learning tool for “people who didn’t grow up here, [or are] not from [a] certain generation,” she added.
“Pictures speak to everyone, and they tell our story,” Okerblom said.
It begs the question, who is taking the time to stop, look and absorb Ocean City’s history? Hurley said there’s no one demographic in particular, but they are people who crave to go back to yesteryear.
“As you get older, you get more nostalgic and you want to see pictures of the good old days, and everybody likes photographs,” she said.
However, Hurley said it might not be long before people can view the museum’s photographic collection from the comfort of their home and purchase photos online. She’s referring to the museum’s potential plans to upgrade to a software that “allow[s] for an online catalogue.”
Hurley has a plea for anyone with old family photos of their own: write down important details including names, dates and locations with care.
“If you’re grandmother had a family photo album with a whole bunch of pictures, but it doesn’t have any information in it, it doesn’t do you any good,” Hurley said. “At least just take a pencil and write on the back, not an ink pen.”
In addition to the photograph collection, Hurley said there are other artifacts and exhibits highlighting the history of Ocean City and the efforts of the Life-Saving Service, which she said predated the U.S. Coast Guard.
“We have … one of the finest collections of life-saving era artifacts,” Hurley said. “The big surf boat ... is on loan to us from the Smithsonian, [and] the other things we’ve collected over the years.”
Hurley said the original Life-Saving Station, built in 1891, was located on Caroline Street. It was moved to its present location on the southern end of the Boardwalk in December 1977.
The Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum on 813 S. Atlantic Ave. is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday during the offseason, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday in April and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday in the summer.
For more information, visit www.ocmuseum.org.