Longtime friends reunite, recollect the ‘golden days’ of Wildwood
Victor Di Sylvester with Joe Gaines.
A longtime friend of Richmond County resident and Warsaw native Joseph Gaines paid him a special visit this past week. It was Victor Di Sylvester, the former Mayor of Wildwood, New Jersey and the very same man to whom Gaines had spoken and longed for his beloved city of 40 years.
Gaines was able to return this year to Wildwood where he reunited with family and friends. Commissioner Pete Byron presented Gaines with an official proclamation celebrating his many accomplishments—the city’s first Boardwalk Inspector, a United States veteran of the Vietnam War and a mentor and coach for city youth sports teams being among them.
That day, May 10, was proclaimed to be Joseph H. Gaines Day in the City of Wildwood.
Things came full circle when Gaines’ friend from Wildwood came to see him in the town where he was born, and near which he lives today.
At The Daily in Warsaw, the two friends, who first met as opposing players on the football field six decades ago, rekindled fond memories of politics, music, famous performers and a city that once was.
“I couldn’t sleep last night waiting for him,” Gaines beamed.
“I look at him and I relive my youth!” Di Sylvester said in return.
Gaines was all smiles as he and his friend relived Wildwood’s golden days through stories, remembering names, laughing about the fun times they had and even the disagreements that they shared.
“It’s a small town in the winter months,” Di Sylvester said of Wildwood. “There’s 15,000 on the island, but in the summer, it balloons to a quarter of a million visitors a day. We go from a quiet place like [Warsaw] and all of a sudden, madness!”
On any given day, there could be over a hundred thousand on the beach in Wildwood, and at night, the same number of people on the two-mile boardwalks.
And to Di Sylvester and Gaines growing up there as children, the crowds were okay by them.
“That was the golden period when all the big entertainers played there in the summer. You had 54 bars in that small area, but you name the entertainer, they played there,” Di Sylvester said. “…Lloyd Price, Little Richard … Bill Haley, he got his start here with ‘Rock Around The Clock’ in my brother-in-law’s bar … that’s where rock and roll really started, with that song!”
“I tell you, what really got you, too, was the smell of the hot sauces, the roast beef,” Gaines said.
For a kid growing up along the boardwalk in Wildwood, there were more amusement rides than Disney World, and jobs were available.
“You were in the action at 12 years old with adults. We grew up fast,” Di Sylvester said; Gaines agreed.
“It’s funny. Your parents never worried about [you], not like today,” Di Sylvester said. “You come home. ‘Where were you?’ ‘The boardwalk.’ It’s midnight … it was safe.”
Di Sylvester said their parents in Wildwood had a strong work ethic and did everything for the kids.
“They just wanted to make sure that you weren’t lazy and you hustled,” Di Sylvester said. “At a young age, in the summer, you weren’t going to be sitting around the house,” Di Sylvester said.
Gaines said that kids back then could make $40 to $50 at the shoeshine stand.
Di Sylvester agreed, saying that you could stand in front of the nightclubs and shine shoes because in those days, the gentleman dressed up.
“Not like now, we all wear sneakers!” Di Sylvester said. “There was a buck to be made!”
“Everybody wore sports jackets and suits!” Gaines said, adding that The Hurricane, which Di Sylvester managed, had the “best atmosphere of any club” he had ever experienced in his life.
“It was unbelievable,” Gaines said. “The sounds, the lights, the everything!”
“Some of these groups, when you would be in there, and it’s quiet and it’s like in between the set, then all of a sudden they come onstage, they’re all dressed like, ‘Man!’ and boy, when that house band would start up, the chemistry!” Di Sylvester said. “The hair would stand right up [on end] … the club had this environment that when you went in it, the lighting was phenomenal.”
Gaines said the only thing he was sorry he never did was take pictures of all the entertainers he knew, including Chubby Checker and Zola Taylor from The Platters.
Di Sylvester said that as close as people are in Wildwood, everybody is opinionated, and “if you have an opinion, you tell the other guy ‘I don’t agree with you!’”
Di Sylvester then said to Gaines: “You came up to that microphone and chewed me a few times!”
Gaines laughed as they recalled one such meeting where Gaines came down on him.
“Joe was always articulate—you always were, that’s why you were an announcer at the club,” Di Sylvester told Gaines, who chuckled and agreed. “He talks and he can get emotional, and that can be dangerous if you’re on the receiving end.”
Di Sylvester also said to Gaines: “You were always good on your feet.”
“It was good fun,” Gaines laughed, adding: “I wanted a little more, but I accept the way it ended up.”
“Well, we play the cards we’re dealt with,” Di Sylvester said.
“That’s right. I’ve enjoyed my life,” Gaines said.
“You’ve done well. You’ve got a lot left, pal,” Di Sylvester said.
“Only thing I can do when I think about Wildwood is smile,” Gaines said. “And I say to myself, ‘How do you remember all of this?’”
“It was part of us,” Di Sylvester said, adding of his friend whom he had come to see in Warsaw, “I love him. We grew up together. Nothing I wouldn’t do for this guy.”