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Diane Mufson: Sandy couldn't smash boardwalk memories

Jan. 08, 2013 @ 10:35 PM

This past weekend city officials formally announced the demolition of the 2.2 miles of a well-loved Boardwalk in Long Beach, N.Y. This may not be big news to people around the globe, but to the 35,000 residents of that city and to visitors and former residents, including myself, it is a major event.

The boardwalk was built in 1914, with elephants allegedly used to help or for publicity by the developer, William H. Reynolds. The small city went through many changes in the past century, but one thing remained stable. It was the Boardwalk.

Hurricane Sandy dealt a harsh blow to Long Beach. Many homes and business suffered immense damage and the Boardwalk was smashed beyond repair.

Just about everyone who ever lived in or visited Long Beach walked on the Boardwalk. Surrounding buildings and businesses changed or closed over the years, but the Boardwalk remained a constant.

Hurricanes were always something to contend with in Long Beach, but none ever devastated Long Beach as Sandy did. In 2011, The Weather Channel sent Al Roker to cover Hurricane Irene, but the storm damaged areas much further north and the Boardwalk survived intact. One of my favorite teenage memories was running the three blocks from my house to the Boardwalk during the eye of a hurricane to see the ocean's fury. There would have been a hurricane in my house had my parents known!

When I was little, my grandfather and I took long walks on weekend afternoons. We'd sit on the benches overlooking the ocean, while he showed me tricks that produced nickels and dimes that could be used for buying ice cream from Boardwalk shops.

On warm summer evenings everyone from infants in carriages to senior citizens strolled the Boardwalk. There were amusement games and food snacks for all. As young children we played "skee ball" and other games of chance where either skill or luck let you win tickets, which you saved, and by the end of the summer you could trade in your accumulated tickets for some useless but wonderful object.

As teens we walked or rode our bikes along the Boardwalk to see and be seen. We never thought that walking the long stretch of wood was exercise, but rather a part of life. The Boardwalk wasn't just a pathway connecting one part of the community to another; it was a community.

It was where couples met, fell in love and sometimes broke up. It was a place for quiet reflection when events were bad, a place of joy when things were good and a place for gossip at all times. It was a place to view sunsets, waves crashing over jetties, occasional fishermen and sunbathers.

Over the years I have returned to visit friends and the Boardwalk. Long Beach has doubled in population from my childhood years. Economics are good there now, but were not always so. Yet, the Boardwalk was always good.

News reports say about 3,000 people showed up to say good-bye to the Boardwalk and take away wooden remnants for memories. The original Boardwalk cost a little over a million dollars to construct. A new one, estimated to cost $25 million and able to withstand Sandy-level violence, is due to be built this year.

Due to Hurricane Sandy, Long Beach's 99-year-old Boardwalk soon will be gone and replaced, but the memories created there will never disappear.

Diane W. Mufson is a licensed psychologist. She is a former citizen member of The Herald-Dispatch editorial board and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.

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