My Story


Write What You Know

Ocean City in the Spring, 1972

Ocean City in the Fall, 2008


Write What You Know

Maryland On My Mind is a blog for Marylanders, about everything Maryland. The focus is on life in Ocean City, MD, with a dose of Maryland politics. Sometimes I wander into wider political and economic issues. My goals are to resist cynicism, encourage hope, to be respectful, to inform and entertain. Reader participation is invited. Please comment early and often.

My name is Bernard John Hayden. (I answer to both “Bernie” and “John.”) I grew up and went to school in Maryland, kindergarten through college. I’ve worked for four newspapers in Maryland, not counting the Diamondback at the University of Maryland, College Park. I majored in journalism and even graduated. In those days the University wasn’t very selective; they let just about anyone in.

My great-grandparents came from Bel Alton, inCharles County in Southern Maryland, and that’s about the only part of Maryland where I haven’t lived. I am a Baby Boomer, a child of the ’50s and ’60s, a child of the suburbs. My family moved to a brand new ticky-tacky house in Wheaton Woods in 1952, put down deep roots, and multiplied. We were far out in the wilds of Montgomery County, in the 1950s. Veirs Mill Road was a two-lane country road, and so was Georgia Avenue. Veirs Mill Village was the first subdivision in those parts, built for World War II veterans and their brides and children, and Wheaton Woods was the second subdivision.

The Veirs Mill Shopping Center was at the corner of Veirs Mill and Randolph Roads. (The shopping center is there today, but the stores have all changed.) It had an Acme grocery store, a Rexall Drugstore, a hardware store, Suburban Trust Bank, barber shop, a movie theater, and Esso gas station. My father would buy $3 worth of gas, pumped by an attendant with a change machine on his belt. Another attendant washed the windshield and checked the oil. Rockville and Gaithersburg were little farm towns. For shopping, my mother went to the big Hecht Co. Department Store in downtown Silver Spring. Hecht’s is long departed, but the distinctive building remains, big as ever.

Wheaton Woods was a sprawling subdivision of three-bedroom brick ranchers. We were the second family to move in. The developer had clear-cut the trees, and there wasn’t even grass. It was nothing but brick ranchers surrounded by dirt yards as far as the eye could see. About a week after we moved in, two men came with a television set. They went up on the roof and attached a big antenna to the chimney. Sod was put down and soon chain-link fences separated the yards. Tiny trees were planted, held up by stakes.

There were fireflies in the summer, and Japanese beetles to catch in jars, but I never saw a squirrel in Wheaton Woods during my childhood. Nine children grew up in that three-bedroom house (the basement was converted to a dormitory for the boys). My family lived on Faroe Place for a long, long time. We owned the house long enough to plant anelm tree and a weeping willow tree in the backyard; long enough for those trees to grow to grand maturity; and long enough that both trees had to be cut down. All but two of my brothers and sisters live today in Montgomery County.

Since college in Prince George’s County, I’ve lived and/or worked in Hagerstown inWestern Maryland, Ocean City on the Eastern Shore, Bethesda in close-in Montgomery County, Carroll County in Central Maryland, Baltimore City andBaltimore County. I’ve lived in six different apartments in Baltimore County alone. When I started this blog (Oct. 2007), I lived in Olney and worked in White Oak. In Oct. 2008, I moved (again!) to Ocean City. I hope to call this home for a long time.

Contrary to rumor, I do not live in oceanfront splendor. It’s more like marshfront simplicity.

I have many blessings and few needs. As always, I’m a renter. I write about life in Ocean City these days, but I don’t intend to ignore Maryland politics. I enjoyed six months of joblessness during the winter of 2008-2009. For the 2009 summer season, I was back at work on the boardwalk, after 33 years away. In summer 2010, I worked at a high-rise in North Ocean City. Summer 2011, I’ll be assisting vacationers at a motel in the heart of Ocean City. I keep my ear to the rhythm of life and business in the resort, and file reports as time permits.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Write what you know, I say. My knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep. I know about Maryland, and even a little bit about the wider world, but I don’t claim to be an expert on anything.

— John Hayden




Dr. Townsend’s Drugstore, with soda fountain, once operated in this building. Then came the Boardwalk 5 & 10, sans soda fountain, and lately, the T-Shirt Factory.
Much of what I know about Ocean City, I learned during the years I managed the Boardwalk 5 & 10. The store had a high, decorative tin ceiling. Like much of history, the old ceiling is hidden from view, above a more modern dropped ceiling.
The building still stands today on the Boardwalk at 6th St. The second and third floors contain big, old-fashioned summer apartments. Beneath the store is a shallow basement with a sandy floor.

Ocean City In the Spring, 1972

I came to Ocean City, Maryland, on a gray afternoon in early May. My possessions fit inside a Ford Pinto. It was 1972. The town was quiet and empty.

The three-story house at 5th Street and Baltimore Avenue was deserted, and the front door unlocked. I walked in and found that the electricity was on. It was a summer house sided with white shingles, big and sparely furnished. Running water, hot and cold. A small sign said Gordy Hall.

I had no plans, no skills, no evident talent, no money and hardly any sense. Of course I considered myself well-prepared. The room had been rented and a job lined up, after all. Working seven days a week did not faze me.

The cool Ocean City, Md., afternoon turned into a cold night. Not only the house was empty, but the street as well. My Pinto was the only vehicle parked on 5th Street from Baltimore Avenue to the Boardwalk. No television and no telephone. No heat! I settled down to read.

By and by, the landlord appeared, a rough but friendly old man, and practical. He got right to the essentials. It was cold, he observed, and we should burn some wood in the fireplace. He offered me a beer and we pulled two chairs close to the fire. Right away, I knew Ocean City was going to be all right. . .

My landlord was a retired FBI agent, Paul Ernest, and he preferred to be called Mr. E, or Paul. He and his wife leased the place and ran it as a rooming house for young men. The first floor rented by the week to families. The Ernests and their daughter lived on the second floor. The third-floor rooms they rented to eight or nine college boys, lifeguards and such. The Ernests ran the house as if their roomers were relatives. The only rule: No girls allowed on the third floor.

On the corner across 5th Street was a larger house, four stories, with dark weathered siding, Berkley Hall. The first floor was the home of Mrs. Strohecker, a prominent Ocean City businesswoman, and a member of the Showell family. The second, third and fourth floors were a rooming house for young women, many of them waitresses at Phillips Crab House. Their uniform: white shirt, white shorts, red apron, tanned legs. Berkley Hall had a long list of rules, most prominently: No boys allowed past the lobby.

Mr. and Mrs. E ran a rooming house, not a boarding house. Meals were not part of the bargain. Mrs. E was your idea of a perfect grandmother. She allowed us to keep beer in her refrigerator. She maintained order with a smile and a kind word. It never occurred to anyone to misbehave in her presence.

Roomers on both sides of 5th Street worked long hours and spent any free daylight hours on the beach. I hardly remember where or how we ate. From early May to late September, the only amenity at the the boys’ rooming house was a spacious porch with rocking chairs. The only air conditioning came through screened windows; it must have been hot on the third floor, but I don’t recall the heat.

Evenings were spent rocking on the porch, talking and sipping cold beer, watching the comings and goings of our neighbors across the way. . . .

Both of those sturdy houses at 5th Street and Baltimore Avenue have long since been demolished. The Tidelands Hotel at the Boardwalk and 5th has expanded down the south side of 5th Street to Baltimore Avenue, and around the corner.

A Comfort Inn sign and landscaping now occupies the lot where Berkley Hall stood on the north corner of 5th and Baltimore.

— John Hayden


Ocean City in the Fall, 2008

The first time I came to live in Ocean City, Maryland, it was May 1972.

I stayed for four seasons on the Boardwalk, and three winters. At the end of the 1975 season, after inventory was finished, I moved on.

I return to Ocean City 33 years later, in October 2008.

In 1972, I was young and needed to work. I did work, seven days a week on the boardwalk. Four summers, May 1 to Sept. 30, 150 straight days, (and five days a week in the winters). No matter how long or hard I worked, there were always others working longer or harder. (Later on, some clever consultant conceived the chimera that everyone should “work smarter, not harder.”)

The Ocean City boardwalk may seem an unlikely place to learn lessons of value. Not true. I worked for people who had lived and worked through the Great Depression, World War II, and many seasons in the five & dime business. They shared their wisdom freely by word and example.

In 2008, I feel old and need a rest. I’m not finished working, but I’m done with seven-days-a-week. I look forward to work in the Spring of 2009 with curiosity and anticipation.

Ocean City. May and October, Spring and Fall. Sometimes life surprises us with pleasing symmetry. October, BTW, is one of the fairest months of all at the beach.

— John Hayden

12 Responses “My Story” →
  1. Hi Bernie! Glad to have found your blog – great stuff. Thanks for finding mine – A Chesapeake Journal and for linking to it. I look forward to learning more about you and your world over on the other side of Delmarva. Best regards – Kathy Bosin

  2. I found your blog while trying to locate info about the WW elem school. I moved to Faroe Pl a few years ago; my neighbor is a WW II vet and original owner. I marvel at 9 children living in a space like this, knowing the layout of this 3 bedroom! What was your house number?

    • 4425 Faroe. Are you in the block directly across from the elem school, of the other block of Faroe? I didn’t think there were any of the original owners left.

    • Nearly all the original owners in Wheaton Woods were WWII vets and their brides, who created the Baby Boomer generation. What’s the name of your neighbor. It’s probably someone I know. My family was the second family to move into the Wheaton Woods subdivision. That was 1952, before there was any sod on the ground. No fences or trees, just dirt and houses under construction. Our house was 4425 Faroe.

  3. Hi John, I have not thought about Berkley Hall in many many years…I stayed there for a summer in 1987 when none of my friends were willing and brave enough to venture to the beach for the summer. I haven’t even been back to OC since that summer. It was great to read about both boarding houses (I didn’t realize that across the street had been a rooming house for males – though in 87 I don’t think it was serving that purpose). Sad to hear that both houses are now gone.

  4. And by the way, I worked first as a waitress at a family owned small restaurant called the Regal Restaurant, then moved on to a shop on the boardwalk (don’t recall the name), and ended up working at the water park which was on the Pier at the time. I don’t believe it’s still there, but it was almost new when I lived there in 87. Sharon.


  5. Mike K

    May 6, 2015

    I was a bartender with a buddy from Mount St. Mary’s College at the Heron Night Club down on Talbot Street. Pretty hot spot for rock, booze and fun. Run by an OC native named Bill Jones, not much older than the kids behind the bar. We even had a say in picking the cocktail waitresses! Bill was a U of Md. grad but majored in fun. Great times. Mike K.


  6. Steve K

    July 12, 2015

    Hi John, thank you for sharing your blog. What a great read. All of it. I stumbled upon your blog as I was researching information about OC in 1972, the same year my mother moved her & I from Baltimore to OC, where we lived year around at 8th & St Louis Ave, so I remember of those two houses mentioned and can vision them in my minds eye. I’m a grad of Stephen Decatur, class of 78 and was a member of the OC volunteer fire department. I now live with my wife [who I met in OC in 80 when I was an aspiring chef] and dog in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, and really miss OC, perhaps one day we’ll return year around.

    Steve K

    • Thank you Steve. I visited Florida’s Nature Coast just north of Tampa Bay recently. I’m sitting in OC as I write this, but I now live in the DC area. I’m debating if I should move to Florida or OC. Those are my two choices.

  7. Hello Bernie. I was searching for information about living year round in OC and saw your blog. Just wondering what your up to now and if you still live in OCMD.
    Any advice for a semi-retired guy thinking about moving to OCMD in 2016?

    • Hi Mike, retired, sort of, after the motel closed for the season in October 2013. Decamped from Ocean City after five years, and returned to Montgomery County for unclear reasons . . . Where I remain today in a suspended state of uncertainty.

      • Thank goodness for Social Security and Medicare. Is this a great country, or what? Most of the year-round residents now live in West Ocean City or in Ocean Pines. Still about 7000 or 8000 folks live year-round on the island of Ocean City, which goes pretty dark in the winter. Whether you choose the island or West Ocean City or Ocean Pines, I suggest you rent first, before you buy. You might find that Ocean City is too noisy in the summer or too quiet in the winter. But for many, it might be just right. It is a pleasant change From life in the metro areas.

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