The devastating fire on the boardwalk in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights last Thursday brings back memories of another boardwalk fire in the same area almost 60 years ago.
On June 9, 1955, a fire broke out at a shop on the corner of Ocean Terrace and DuPont Avenue in Seaside Heights. Driven by 50 mile per hour winds, the fire spread south, until it was finally placed under control at Stockton Avenue in Seaside Park, according to Emil R. Salvini, author of “Boardwalk Memories: Tales of the Jersey Shore.” Salvini states that the fire destroyed three blocks of the boardwalk.
The fire became known as the Freeman’s Fire, named after the Freeman’s Amusements enterprise, which suffered heavy losses in the blaze, including the destruction of a hand-carved carousel. Freeman’s Fire destroyed 85 buildings and caused an estimated $4 million in damages, according to the Asbury Park Press. Governor Christie estimates that Thursday’s blaze destroyed at least 30 businesses.
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While the cause of Thursday’s fire is still under investigation, Salvini writes that a “faulty neon sign” is believed to have started the 1955 fire.
J. Stanley Tunney, the Mayor of Seaside Heights at the time and owner of Freeman’s Amusements, as well as his associates managed to rebuild the pier and open it for next season. They also created Funtown U.S.A. which eventually became Funtown Pier, on the border of Seaside Heights and Seaside Park. Funtown Pier was one of the many structures damaged in Thursday’s massive blaze.
While those impacted by Thursday’s fire face an uncertain future, the Freeman’s Fire can at least provide proof that the boardwalk is more than capable of bouncing back. It’s a hope that many Seaside business owners, including Lou Cappetta, are holding onto.
“We’ll pull through this,” Cappetta said. “We will."