Ocean City Historical Museum’s latest exhibit explores the hundreds of US vessels that were downed off the Jersey Shore during World War II
Learn about local World War II shipwrecks at the exhibit’s opening reception, which will feature a talk with Dan Cashin, from 1 to 3pm on Saturday, June 4.
Ocean City Historical Museum President John Loeper has a stack of papers, about a quarter-inch thick, filled with names.
There are about 30 to a page, and each one – recruits with the United States Navy, members of the U.S. Coast Guard, Merchant Marine civilians – represents an individual who went down in a shipwreck off the Jersey Shore during World War II.
“There’s this whole history here people don’t know about,” John said. “We’re going to try to portray as much as we can so people can understand it.”
Hundreds of ships were sunk by German submarines in New Jersey’s coastal waters,
and OCHM details these shipwrecks and related history in its newest exhibit which opened in mid-May.
“I just think the whole exhibit is a fascinating piece of history,” John said. “I think if it isn’t told now, people will totally forget it.”
The exhibit’s importance
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates there were a total of 16,112,566 U.S. service members in World War II, and projects there will be 168,278 of these veterans remaining by September of this year. According to the National World War II Museum, there are only 6,748 World War II veterans left in New Jersey.
And in chatting with the Ocean City American Legion Post 524, Loeper said he was told the organization only has six World War II veterans in its membership.
As the “Greatest Generation” – as World War II veterans and comrades have come to be called – passes away, the little-known stories of the war will die with them. This makes the OCHM exhibit especially important, according to Loeper.
“If it’s written down where somebody can see it, then it’s always there for somebody to see it in the future,” he said.
The exhibit’s inspiration
Loeper personally knew about the nearby World War II shipwrecks, but it was actually a Pennsylvania native who inspired the museum’s new exhibit.
It wasn’t that long ago John received an email from Dan Cashin, who had sent over a 100-page document he assembled from researching New Jersey shipwrecks during World War II.
“I called him up immediately,” John recalled. “It was fascinating because it was all the ships that were sunk off the Jersey Shore. Basically, more people died off the Jersey Shore than died at Pearl Harbor. That’s what this document goes through.”
Through talking with Cashin and using his research, OCHM staff plotted the site of each shipwreck on a map. Shipwrecks included visually stretch from Long Island in the north to Hereford Inlet in the south, while shipwrecks outside of this area are listed on the map, too. This large-scale document is the centerpiece of the current exhibit, which also includes artifacts, photographs of some of the ships and – of course – plenty of history.
Visitors can expect to learn about how the U.S. defended itself against these German submarines, the different groups involved in local defense measures, the extensive civilian fleet that helped patrol up and down the coast and many more intriguing tidbits.
“There’s a whole lot of history there. We’re going to try to portray as much as we can so people can understand it,” John said.
The exhibit’s future
Local wreck divers have uncovered some of the shipwrecks and sunken submarines over the years. During the summer, OCHM will welcome a New Jersey wreck diver to speak at the museum, showcase artifacts and discuss some of the details of the shipwreck exhibit.
The exhibit has spurred another project for OCHM members, too. A group of volunteers have started researching local shipwrecks from 1915 and as far back as they can find.
“That will be another document that we’ll have on display at the museum,” John said. “They’re fairly far along, but not close to completion. There’s a lot there, then you have to verify. You really want to make sure what you’re doing is accurate.”
With learning so much more about the state’s hundreds of World War II shipwrecks and thousands of lives lost, Loeper laments there is still no memorial to these individuals. Something like that, he said, could also make people more aware of the history.
“I think it’s a story that just has to be told,” John said. “And who knows? Maybe this will spur the building of a monument.”
Hobo has a home at OCHM
Dog of Ocean City legend is museum’s new mascot
The Santa Barbara Museum of National History has Chad the whale.
The Chemung County Historical Society has Mark the mammoth.
Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History has Dippy the Diplodocus.
And now the Ocean City Historical Museum has Hobo the dog.
“They’ve talked about mascots for years,” current OCHM President John Loeper said. “It dawned on me that we have Hobo, who was an 18-year-old dog that belonged to no one. He wandered the streets of Ocean City and everybody took care of him.”
The long-lived pooch (18 is 126 in dog years!) was discovered as a stray in 1920, but instead of claiming one family as his own, Hobo decided to spend much of his life
exploring Ocean City, making friends with everyone along the way.
A statue outside the historical museum is a tribute to the curious canine, and, according to John, there’s something extra unique about the memorial – when New Jersey was compiling a list of statues around the state some years ago, Hobo’s was the only one dedicated to an animal.
“It would be nice to move it indoors. We’d like to see it better preserved,” John commented.
To celebrate its new furry mascot, OCHM is in the process of creating embroidered Hobo the dog baseball caps, which will feature the mixed breed dog’s profile and the town name.
“It’s a warm and fuzzy thing,” John said, adding there are also plans to tie the new mascot into Ocean City’s spring Doo Dah Parade and fall Dog Day on the Boardwalk.
Each hat purchase will come with a card telling Hobo’s story, too.
“So when you’re wearing your Hobo hat in Key West, Florida, you can tell everybody who Hobo is,” John said.
The baseball cap-style hats will be available in white, tan, green and navy. Stop by the museum at 1735 Simpson Ave., Ocean City, or keep an eye on the museum’s website (www.ocnjmuseum.org) or Facebook page @ocnjmuseum to learn more.
Find this story and more in the June issue of Ocean City Magazine