Wednesday, August 29, 2012

All Those Years Ago



On August 29, 1977, exactly thirty-five years ago, the world was a decidedly different place from my youthful perspective and, too, in practical reality. Simpler pleasures ruled the roost. This day in history saw three Bronx boys—Kingsbridge denizens aged twenty-six, seventeen, and fourteen (me)—embark on an adventuresome itinerary that kicked off just after sunrise.

Our first stopover was the Brigantine Castle in the shore town of Brigantine, New Jersey. In the mid-1970s, the commercials for this haunted house attraction on the Atlantic’s edge inundated local New York City television station airwaves. It was something we just had to check out and we did. But the overall experience didn’t quite live up to the grand hype. It seems the castle's employee-performers were phoning it in that morning while springing out of shadowy niches, stabbing us with rubber knives, and flinging phony rats into our paths. The Brigantine Castle was out of business several years later. It burned to the ground before a developer could demolish it. Perhaps it really was haunted.

Our journey found us next in pre-casino Atlantic City, where we strolled the historic boardwalk. I don’t remember why, but the three of us expected Atlantic City to be a sparkling jewel on the ocean and not a dilapidated and seedy eyesore. Seaside Heights was eye candy by comparison. Nonetheless, it was nice to see that a Philadelphia Phillies' player named Greg "the Bull" Luzinski and a former one named Richie Ashburn were scheduled to appear at the legendary Steel Pier. We didn’t stick around long enough to uncover what they were going to do when they got there.

Onward to Philadelphia and Independence Hall, where I finally laid eyes on that crack in the Liberty Bell—up close and personal. Finally, with evening fast approaching, the icing on the day’s layer cake: a visit to Veterans Stadium and a Phillies versus Atlanta Braves baseball game. And yet another first for us—witnessing live a game played on artificial turf. Veterans Stadium was among the multi-sport, cookie-cutter, synthetic grass stadiums that were the rage in the 1970s. They’ve since become passé and most of them have been demolished, including Veterans Stadium. Fortunately, Greg Luzinski made it back in time from the Steel Pier and and was in the starting lineup.

After a fourteen-inning game that took a little over four hours to complete, it was back to the Bronx in the wee hours on a sleepy high—a thrill-packed, 1970s-style adventure and one that cannot be replicated in the new millennium. Whereas both the Brigantine Castle and Veterans Stadium are gone with the sands of time, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell endure. And the Bronx boys—now sixty-one, fifty-two, and forty-nine—humbly accept there will not likely be another thirty-five-year anniversary to commemorate.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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