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Atlantic City

Where gangsters come to play...

Hi there- Bette Hardwick here from sometime in the 1920s. I finally got a few days vacation from the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I decided to see what all the fuss was about in Atlantic City.

I gotta’ say, it’s pretty amazing.
Miles and miles of boardwalk along the beach, fresh sea air, waves rolling in, and the most beautiful sunsets. I also checked out a few of the casinos while I was in town. Seeing as I was going to be here anyway, Sherilyn wanted a bit of research on the local kingpin around here, “Nucky” Johnson.

Atlantic City has long been a place of imagination and dreams and certainly gets its fair share of gangster headlines in the newspapers. Sandwiched between New York City at one end and Philadelphia at the other, AC is the setting for Sherilyn’s four book series, Bootleggers’ Chronicles .

Atlantic City’s Inter-City Beauty Contest” was held to entice tourists to stay for the Labor Day holiday weekend and enjoy other activities in the area.



I caught a ride up on the train, which hugs the rim of the bay at the edge of Atlantic City and connects the tiny resort town with Philadelphia.

Since they opened that railroad, it’s made it easier for more people to get here and the opening of new attractions brings 500,000 visitors a year to the city (and those are just number for the mid-1920s. It’s only going to get busier.)

Apparently, the hotels and other resort properties here are prospering like nowhere else in the country.

And that boardwalk I mentioned? Hotel owners created the first one merely to keep sand out of their lobbies. Eventually stretching seven miles to the tip of the Jersey landmass, the Boardwalk is the thing visitors remember most about a trip to AC. I picked up lots of postcards to send to folks back home.



The Golden Age of Atlantic City

Now, I’ve heard that this was a sleepy little place before 1920. Businesses were open mainly in the summer for the tourists, and nobody much came here in the winter. (Would it be cheesy to say ‘they rolled up the boardwalk after Labor Day? I think my editor at the paper would say it’s too cheesy.)

When they passed the Volstead Act in 1920, prohibition created the opportunity for Atlantic City to shed its seasonal tourist-based economy. That Nucky Johnson character made sure that prohibition laws were not enforced in Atlantic City. They even serve booze on Sunday. Heck stores aren’t allowed to be open in America on Sundays, let along serve alcohol.

Atlantic City’s location makes it an ideal spot for smuggling. I’ve heard that around 40% of all the illegal alcohol brought into the United States comes ashore in, or near, Atlantic City. No wonder the bootleggers love this place! 

The effect of all this underworld activity has been immediate, with increased prosperity and political influence at the state and national levels. They say Nucky can handpick senators and governors and even has his hooks into President Woodrow Wilson, himself. If they ever get rid of prohibition, it will spell disaster for Atlantic City, and for South Jersey as a whole.

Boardwalk Empire

When Sherilyn and I were talking about this trip to AC, she mentioned watching a show on television called Boardwalk Empire. Apparently, it’s a tragic tale of greed and violence set at the height of both Prohibition and Atlantic City’s golden age.

It’s centered on the story of Nucky Thompson (played by Steve Buscemi). Of course, like I mentioned before Nucky is real-life political juggernaut Enoch Johnson, who single-handedly controls liquor, gambling, and prostitution, among other crime markets along the Eastern seaboard.

The meeting

One of the rumors I hear (hey, even a gal reporter has sources!) is that Nucky is planning secret meetings between mob bosses from around the east coast and mid-west. They say that the “Atlantic City Conference”  will be for four days in 1929. It could lay the groundwork for the nation’s first organized-crime syndicate. I am definitely going to see if I can get sent to cover THAT story!


  1. Sandra L KAZMUCHA says:

    I have been told a distant cousin Wanda Sobczak Won the first beauty contest Before it was Miss America. Is this true? Sure it was called something else.

    1. Hi Sandra- and thanks for reaching out. All I have is the Wikipedia post:
      Margaret Gorman, Miss District of Columbia, was declared “The Most Beautiful Bathing Girl in America” in 1921 at the age of 16 and was recognized as the first “Miss America” when she returned to compete the next year. The contest that year was won by Mary Katherine Campbell (Miss Ohio), who won again in 1923.[37] She returned to compete a third time in 1924 but placed as first runner-up that year, and pageant rules were then amended to prevent anyone from winning more than once.

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