Historic, indeed. Atlantic City built the world's first boardwalk as a way to keep guests from tracking sand into beachfront hotels. A small portion of that Boardwalk — now uppercased as a formal street name — was destroyed in the storm, though the Boardwalk in front of the nine oceanfront casinos remained intact.
In Wildwood, the widest beaches in New Jersey — a half-mile from the boardwalk to the water in some spots — helped protect the famous boardwalk amusements in what is routinely voted as the Jersey shore's most popular beach. Will Morey, president of Morey's Piers, said his rides sustained some electrical damage from flooding, but nothing that won't be fixed well before Memorial Day.
"This is a part of our culture; it's deep in the soul of Jersey," he said. "The whole Jersey shore phenomenon is pure Americana. Is it the sense of freedom, the sun, the water, the Greek joints and the pizza stands? I think it's a symphony of all these things. It's an authentic experience and a very powerful one."
Morey said it is at least theoretically possible for wrecked attractions such as the Casino Pier in Seaside Heights to be rebuilt by next summer, provided state government cooperates with expedited permits and minimal red tape.
The pounding surf wrecked part or all of boardwalks in Belmar, Sea Girt and Point Pleasant Beach. Walkways in Asbury Park, about which Springsteen often wrote, and Ocean City sustained lesser damage.
Kimberly Blackburn grew up at the Jersey shore but has been living near her husband's family in Joliet, Ill., for the past four years. She described feeling "helpless" over the past week from 750 miles away as she viewed devastating images of the communities she holds dear: Belmar, where she went to high school and took her senior class picture at the 5th Avenue Pavilion; Seaside Heights, where she'd always pick up a pizza from Maruca's; and Point Pleasant Beach, where she constantly hung out with friends and even worked on the boardwalk one summer during college.
"It's like someone washed my childhood away," Blackburn said. "That's how it feels. It's like this storm literally just came and washed it all away."
She now treasures photos of her young daughters taken at Brick Beach over Labor Day weekend, the last time she visited home. And while she believes New Jersey will rebuild the boardwalks and piers "bigger and better than ever," there will still be something missing.
"They can never take the memories away," said Blackburn, briefly breaking down. "But it's never going to be the same."
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC
Associated Press writer Kathy Matheson in Trenton contributed to this story.