Ocean City Life-Saving Station Showcased During Lighthouse Challenge

Ocean City Life-Saving Station Showcased During Lighthouse Challenge

Margaret Papai and her daughter, Liza Dingman, look at one of the surf boats that were used to rescue passengers and crew members from shipwrecks off the Ocean City coast.


When Margaret Papai’s daughter, Liza Dingman, suggested that the two take the annual New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge tour together, Papai had one reaction.

“She’s crazy! To drive all that way is crazy,” Papai confessed as she and Dingman burst out in laughter.

But on Saturday, both of them were traveling throughout New Jersey, making their first five stops to visit 10 lighthouses, three life-saving stations, one museum, one virtual site and the Lighthouse Society of N.J. over the weekend to complete the challenge.

Papai’s feelings that her daughter was “crazy” quickly faded when the two walked into the Ocean City Life-Saving Station and were treated to an authentic re-creation of what the architecturally striking yellow building was like in the late 1800s and early 20th century.

“It’s lots of fun,” said Papai, 80, a resident of Franklin Park, N.J. “It’s an interesting mix of education and history.”

The Ocean City Life-Saving Station, dating to 1885, is one of a few of its type still surviving in the United States.

Papai was visiting the Life-Saving Station for the first time, but her daughter had toured it in 2019 during another Lighthouse Challenge excursion.

Two years ago, the station had only the first floor open while renovations to the second floor were still in the planning stage. However, Dingman, 58, of Toms River, was pleasantly surprised to find out Saturday that the second floor had just opened to the public a week ago.

“It’s neat to see how far it’s come,” Dingman said of the transformation of the station’s museum-like setting.

The second floor includes the re-creation of the main bunk room where the “surf men” who occupied the Life-Saving Station had their sleeping quarters, including their modest beds.

“This shows everyone how people lived in 1885 – how spartan the lifestyle was for the men who worked in the Life-Saving Station,” said John Loeper, a local historian who serves as chairman of the station.

Renovations to the second floor also included the keeper’s room. The keeper was the man in charge of the station. Reflecting his high status, he had separate living quarters from the surf men he supervised.

John Loeper, chairman of the Ocean City Life-Saving Station, speaks with visitors taking a tour of the historic building.

When needed, the surf men would rush to the rescue of distressed or sinking ships. If one was spotted close to shore, they would frantically take action, either launching their lifeboats or deploying a rope-operated system to save the ship passengers and crew.

The building itself dates to 1885 and is one of a few surviving examples of life-saving stations in the country. A forerunner to the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Life-Saving Service was responsible for rescuing the passengers and crew from the many shipwrecks that occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the busy shipping lanes along the East Coast.

Loeper anticipates the station, located at the corner of Fourth Street and Atlantic Avenue, will be visited by hundreds of people during the Lighthouse Challenge, which concludes Sunday. The annual event allows visitors to explore New Jersey’s historic lighthouses and related museums to help raise money for their preservation and restoration.

Greg Rheam, a Lighthouse Challenge aficionado who lives in Atco, N.J., was on his sixth stop when he visited the Ocean City Life-Saving Station on Saturday. He was able to get his first look at the renovations on the second floor.

“I enjoy the lighthouses, but I don’t consider myself a historian. Some of it is the view. Some of it is having a neat place to stop,” Rheam said.

Greg Rheam, a Lighthouse Challenge aficionado, shows some of the stamps he has collected as mementoes.

Rheam collects lighthouse pins as souvenirs. He also has a book that he has stamped for a memento of each lighthouse, life-saving station and museum he visits during the challenge.

The Lighthouse Challenge route covers the Atlantic Coast from Sandy Hook to Cape May and the Delaware Bay and River Coast from Cape May to Paulsboro.

Sisters Janice Rose and Karen Rose, both of Freehold, N.J., were joined at the Ocean City Life-Saving Station by Karen’s 6-year-old granddaughter, Sophia Mangarella, their friend, Deana Piatkowski, also of Freehold, and Piatkowski’s 14-year-old daughter, Anna.

As they toured the station, they marveled over the eclectic mix of historic items from the late 1800s and early 1900s. They also couldn’t believe the austere living quarters for the surf men.

“It’s really interesting,” Deana Piatkowski said. “I love the old sink and the old typewriter. It’s just so filled with history. And the beds are so small.”

Sisters Janice and Karen Rose, Karen’s 6-year-old granddaughter, Sophia Mangarella, and Deana Piatkowski and her 14-year-old daughter, Anna, tour the newly opened living quarters for the surf men who worked at the station.