By TIM KELLY
Under normal circumstances, Friday would have seen the 17th annual staging of the “Business Person’s Plunge” and “unlocking” of the ocean to commemorate the start of the Ocean City summer tourism season.
Quite obviously, these are not normal circumstances. With the coronavirus pandemic still raging worldwide and the town’s reopening happening in stages, the plunge was among the many Ocean City events canceled or postponed.
That didn’t stop John Walton.
Ocean City resident and realtor Walton is an originator of the plunge, a wacky event in which dozens of people dressed in business attire march into the sea fully dressed. As part of the day’s agenda, Mayor Jay Gillian and other city officials normally use an oversized prop key to “unlock” the ocean for the season.
Only about a dozen or so plungers took part in the first staging in 2004, one of 125 events planned to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Ocean City. Ever since, the plunge gained traction with fans and the media, whose coverage grew each year.
Bad weather and Superstorm Sandy failed to prevent the Business Person’s Plunge over the years. Walton said he was determined to beat the virus in that regard.
“I wasn’t going to allow us not to have the plunge,” he declared. “I think that’s an important statement.”
So at noon on Friday, “just like every year,” Walton said, there he was on the beach, ready to take the plunge.
Rather than the huge crowds associated with the old normal, a few bystanders looked on as a mask-wearing Walton set up a briefcase, a pair of shoes and a small American flag. The barefoot Walton “plunged” up to his ankles.
Walton also paid tribute to his plunge co-founder Stacy Demcher by producing a pair of fashionable high heels Demcher destroyed in last year’s event.
“She has no problem trashing a pair of shoes every year,” Walton said, chuckling. “She gets into it.”
A group of visiting young women, recent graduates of Penn State University, cheered Walton on and celebrated, while maintaining social distancing. In Walton’s mind, the event had taken place.
“I felt it was important to do something to keep the continuity of the event going,” he said. “At least in my mind.”
“Keeping with tradition, the plunge made its mark, albeit without its zany pomp and circumstances,” he added.
Still, Walton said it was an important act of symbolism. He also urged visitors, residents and second homeowners to have fun this weekend but to not lose sight of the reason for the holiday, to honor American servicemen and servicewomen who made the supreme sacrifice.
“The vibe of the plunge has always been a super-fun spectacle,” he said. “The many veterans who take part remind us of the sacrifices they have made so that we can have a great Memorial Day weekend and enjoy fun stuff like this.”