The winter of 1972-73 was an anxious time in Ocean City – there was an arsonist at work and nobody knew where he would strike next.
The first victim was the Colonial Hotel, built in 1897, which burned on Dec. 14, 1972. On Dec. 30, a fire was set at the Stowaway Motel on 22nd Street and 60 guests, clad in pajamas and bathrobes, scrambled to safety as flames leaped from Ocean City’s largest motel at the time. A third major blaze destroyed the old Roosevelt Hotel on Jan. 16, 1973.
Rewards were offered, and some hotel owners began spending the night guarding their buildings with rifles and shotguns. Many local residents were afraid to sleep fearing another fire while law enforcement agencies intensified their search for the so-called “firebug.” Small fires occurred at other locations, but the last major blaze took place at the Nordica, an aging Boardwalk hotel on Jan. 25, 1973.
It has been nearly half a century since the “firebug arsons” but this chapter of Ocean City history remains a mystery. The arsonist’s identity and the reason for the fires remain unknown.
To purchase one of Bunk Mann’s books, click over to www.vanishingoc.com.
Photo from after the Nordica fire courtesy Sam Villani Jr.