Promenaders strolled down the sun-streaked boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Ladies twirled their parasols while the gents tipped their straw hats as they passed each other and stroked their handlebar mustaches. It was Labor Day weekend, the unofficial end of summer, a perfect day with sunshine, blue skies and children laughing.
Margaret Wilson and her boy Sam came from Philadelphia for the fresh sea air, to gaze in awe at the hotels built like fairytale palaces along the seafront and to admire the piers dripping with neon lights. The most famous was the Steel Pier, known for its dance bands, water circus and other such attractions. In fact, it was revealed that the famous composer John Philip Sousa and his band would be performing that very afternoon.
There were barkers selling salt water taffy and cotton candy, minstrel shows, fairgrounds and the famous Diving Horse, specially trained to charge up a 60 foot ramp to a platform atop the Steel Pier where a woman clad in a smattering of sequins leapt onto its back just before it plunged off the pier. Horse and rider flew through the air, hitting the water to the applause of delighted throngs waiting below.
But one didn’t have to venture far from the boardwalk to sample less wholesome activities. In venues like the Paradise Club, tourists could watch nearly naked women dance to jazz music. And if they wanted something not just risqué but illegal, they could visit the brothels catering to every taste, gambling dens and slot machines. There was the criminal element, too, with occasional holdups and shoot-outs.
However today was a holiday. Children played gleefully, the start of school the furthest thing from their minds, while their parents strolled in their most fashionable clothes, making small talk. Nothing could spoil a day like today.
Suddenly the cacophony of gun shots rang out. People screamed and scattered as gun-wielding robbers ran from the pawn shop, shooting wildly. They jumped into a waiting car and took off. All was silent until a piercing wail rose to the heavens and everyone turned to see Margaret Wilson cradling the body of little Sam, shot in the heart by a stray bullet. In his jacket pocket was a folded essay, now stained with innocent blood – “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”.
The police arrived, removed mother and child and the band played on.
NAR © 2018