OCEAN CITY — Eastern Shore native Hunter “Bunk” Mann has seen Ocean City change drastically just in his lifetime, prompting him to take a long look at the resort’s storied history. In his book, “Vanishing Ocean City,” Mann attempts to preserve that history from Ocean City’s start in the 1870s through today with the use of more than 500 photographs and 170-plus interviews.
All of the major moments of the town’s past are laid out in “Vanishing Ocean City.” The backgrounds of landmarks are explored, the storms and fires that shaped the area are remembered as are the people who have been a part of the resort’s past.
“I’m very proud of it,” Mann said of his 220-page finished project. “I have seven and a half years in it, actually a little more than that counting some of the photography I did. And I met some really, really great people. I said originally that even if I don’t sell a single copy it’s been worth it for the friends I’ve made and the people I’ve met.”
The seed for “Vanishing Ocean City” was planted when Mann noticed that many of the old hotels and motels he was familiar with from his childhood summers in the resort were being torn down. Mann decided to take pictures of the old buildings so he would have something to remember them by once they were gone. Eventually, he started to take more photographs of town landmarks and to search for older pictures from places already gone.
With photographs in hand, Mann considered doing some kind of “before-and-after” style book on Ocean City and decided to speak to the residents, business owners and community members that have called the resort home over the years. Some of his interview subjects, of which there were 171 total, have been on the shore for 80 or more years, and Mann said he was blown away by the experiences they have lived through.
“As I started interviewing people, I realized that the buildings were interesting, but the story really was about the people,” he said.
Born in Salisbury, Mann had a lot of his own experiences with Ocean City to add to the growing history book. From operating beach stands in the 1960s to bartending during college, Mann has held a variety of the quintessential summer jobs on the shore growing up. Mann remembers his summers in Ocean City fondly and didn’t want to let any of those moments disappear with the changing town.
That summarizes the spirit of “Vanishing Ocean City,” the title coming from a remark made by Mann’s mom while they were watching yet another demolition of an old building. Mann remembers that his mother felt the Ocean City she knew was “vanishing” at the time and he determined that even if it’s gone it won’t be forgotten.
Along with the hundreds of hours’ worth of interviews and first-hand accounts, Mann has dedicated a tremendous amount of time to research, especially of the town’s distant beginnings when eye witnesses weren’t available.
“I couldn’t find anybody that was alive in 1875 to interview,” he joked.
Much of the research was done in local libraries and newspaper archives. Mann was able to track the evolution of Ocean City from a small resort and fishing village to major tourism destination. He encountered some surprises and more than a few interesting facts during his exploration.
For example, the beach used to have military patrols during the early days of World War II with the government fearing that the Germans might decide to land an invasion force on Ocean City’s shores.
The famous storms like in March of 1962 and Sunfest disaster in 1994 were magnets for Mann’s interest. The granddaddy of all the extreme weather was the hurricane of 1933. That event completely re-shaped Ocean City by creating the Inlet.
Accompanying all of the personal stories and research are hundreds of images of the resort over more than a century. Many of the pictures have never been published before. They were taken from old postcards or documents or borrowed from family albums.
“To me a good history book is visual as well as written. When people pick this up, they go through it first, they look at the pictures,” Mann said.
Even the cover of “Vanishing Ocean City” is a slice of resort nostalgia. The illustration is one of Ocean City when it was smaller and simpler and typical beach attire tended to stretch from neck to ankle. The artist that did the original painting was Paul McGehee, a popular regional illustrator.
Mann also recognized his publisher Sandy Phillips’ contributions to “Vanishing Ocean City” as she was responsible for making his concept into a reality as well as organizing the layout of the manuscript.
The coffee table book has been selling well just through pre-orders, according to Mann, and is available for sale at a number of area businesses, a full list of which Mann will be advertising within the next week or two. “Vanishing Ocean City” is also available online at www.vanishingoceancity.com. Mann will be holding a number of book signings in and around the resort over the next few weeks.
Because history never stops once the story is told, Mann hopes to continue writing about Ocean City in the years ahead. He has already started collecting the next batch of photographs.