1963 was a pretty good year — dare one say, a high-water mark? — in the history of American beach culture.
The summer of ’63 has been pegged as the birth of the beach party movie trend, with the movie “Beach Party” leading the way.
The third of three Gidget movies was in theaters that summer too, and the third of six original Gidget novels could be found in bookstores.
On the radio, The Beach Boys were churning out Top Ten singles and albums, like the anthemic “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “Surfer Girl” and “Be True To Your School.”
Lesser California acts had a pretty good summer too. In the week ending July 20, 1963, Jan and Dean’s “Surf City” (co-written by the ubiquitous Brian Wilson) became the first surf song to hit U.S. Number One.
In that sand- and sun-kissed summer, the Blumenau family of Hope Street was fortunate enough to have an ocean close to home. And while they weren’t surfin’, like Cal-i-for-ni-a, they enjoyed escaping the summer heat with a sedate, well-covered trip to the seaside.
This week we go with them to a semi-historic location that’s still around, and is probably packed as you read this:
A town or two up the coast from Stamford is Sherwood Island State Park, in the town of Westport.
According to various sources, the park on Long Island Sound was Connecticut’s first state park, with the first land purchases beginning more than 100 years ago. You can swim, picnic, bird-watch and fish there.
You can also see the New York skyline from parts of the park, which only adds to its summery appeal.
Nothing makes a cold lemonade taste sweeter, or a breath of sea air feel more refreshing, than seeing the sweltering city a stone’s throw away and knowing you’re not stuck there in a fourth-floor walkup or a traffic jam.
(On a more somber note, local residents gathered at the park on 9/11 to watch the aftermath of the attacks, and the part of Sherwood Island that faces Manhattan is now home to a living memorial to those who lost their lives that day. Having noted that, we return to the beach-crazed Camelot summer of ’63.)
What did the Blumenaus of Hope Street do at Sherwood Island on July 3, 1963?
The family’s worldly-wise 20-year-old son smoked a cigar, for one thing …
… they ate marshmallows …
… and, they ate 39-cent Wise potato chips.
My dad and aunt wore their bathing suits, and no doubt they enjoyed the water. I’m guessing my grandfather didn’t feel like bringing his camera down to the seashore to get pix. Didn’t want to risk getting salt water in the works, most likely.
This was not the family’s first or only visit to Sherwood Island; the pic below was labeled “Probably Sherwood Island ’58” by my dad, and shows my grandpa in full beachside grilling mode.
I’m not near a beach this holiday weekend, but these pictures bring back the feeling of sand in sneakers, and the cries of birds, and the sweep of tides … without the hassle of finding a beachside parking spot. A pretty sweet deal, all in all.
Pardon me while I put on some Beach Boys …