By MADDY VITALE
Walking into the Ocean City Historical Museum just weeks after the reopening since the long COVID-19 shutdown was like stepping into a new building, a new space.
The museum, located inside the city’s Community Center, 1735 Simpson Ave., has been transformed by museum director Kate Devaney and the members of the Museum Board of Trustees, notably historian John Loeper, trustee Carol Dotts and museum coordinator Karl Wirth, among others.
“You have to tell a story. Each exhibit does that. You need a narrative to go with the artifacts, items and photos,” Devaney said during a tour of the museum Wednesday.
She continued, “With the history of Ocean City, people are always drawn to the Boardwalk, transportation, the Sindia (which ran ashore in 1901 with china and other cargo onboard). It is important to provide historical context for the different artifacts.”
Exhibits showcase the city’s significance giving just enough detail, artifacts and a narrative to give patrons a glimpse into the distinct community, Devaney said. For some, it will be a fresh look at the dry town founded in 1879 by Methodist ministers.
“It has just been turned upside down and put back together,” Loeper, chairman of the museum board said in an interview Wednesday. “It is all new and fresh. Kate has done a great job.”
The walls detail the city’s timeline with photos and information about the Lenni Lenapes to the Lake family, who were among the founders.
The main exhibits continue to be the Sindia shipwreck and photos and a replica bridal gown of the late actress, princess and resident, Grace Kelly.
There are also new displays, including one featuring the theaters, Moorlyn, Village and Strand. Devaney said each theater display is distinctly different.
An Ocean City Beach Patrol display moved from the Bayside Center recently, comes complete with a trophy and large lifeboat that was in use from 1920 to 1937.
Loeper said the lifeguard display is a much-welcomed addition to the museum.
“It is very representative of the surf boats for Ocean City rescue,” he said of the lifeguard boat. “It will get a lot more exposure in the museum.”
Loeper said of the revamping of the museum, “It was a long time in the making. So many people were really instrumental in bringing it all back together.”
There were ideas. There were decisions. There were a lot of dedicated volunteers and board members involved in making it what it is now, he said.
Both Loeper and Devaney said that while so much has been done to improve the museum, there is still some more to be done, including a few things to the Sindia exhibit.
The Sindia contained china and other items that were brought up by divers. Some of the relics are on display.
The new Sindia exhibit creates a scene complete with broken crates and a “rusted” hull of the steel ship that carried some of the precious cargo.
“This is meant to emulate what a diver would have seen,” Devaney explained, while pointing out some of the details. “The treasures would have been falling out of the crates.”
Pieces are more prominently displayed than before when so much of the exhibit was behind glass, Loeper noted.
It is a display that is near and dear to Loeper’s heart.
“I had a vision of what I wanted it to be. Even the broken pieces are out on display now,” Loeper noted. “They were tucked in the back.”
Devaney and Loeper are pleased with the months of work that have led to the point of a museum that people could go to and enjoy learning about Ocean City or to visit and remember fondly the city’s past.
Devaney walked over to a display where mannequins were seated on a Victorian era couch and chair in a parlor, complete with end tables and a Victrola.
“These pieces evoke a feeling of early 20th century,” she said. “The pieces in here now represent Ocean City. Each exhibit tells a story.”
The museum, which reopened April 16, is open on Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information visit the Ocean City Historical Museum at www.ocnjmuseum.org or on Facebook.