For decades, Wildwood, NJ has enjoyed its status as a playground for countless East Coast residents. In addition to the familiar Jersey Shore beaches, the city offers amusement parks and arcades, sightseeing tours, and scores of other family-friendly activities and events. Of course, the high tourist traffic and attending hotels, restaurants and related amenities begat a bumper crop of colorful neon signs and other environmental-graphic spectaculars.
Robert O. Williams, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer for more than two decades, and his wife, Melinda, a former Inquirer retail-advertising executive, paid homage to these signs with their new book, Wildwood’s Neon Nights and Motel Memories (Schiffer Publishing Ltd.). The 128-page book features more than 200 color photos that Robert has taken of signs that have given the Wildwood its personality, and Melinda paints the backdrop of the city’s history and talks to pioneers in the region’s sign industry, advertising world and construction business about their roles in building the city into a vacationer’s mecca.
In his introduction, Robert wrote, “The first time I drove into Wildwood, I was nearly twenty-one years old and the year was 1978. In fact, I am ashamed to admit that until that time, I had never stepped into the Atlantic Ocean either. I was a small town boy whose vacations usually took place within a hundred-mile radius of my upstate New York home.
When I first laid my eyes on the Wildwood strip with my then girlfriend, Melinda Campitelli (now my wife), I was awestruck. It was my version of Lost in Translation. I knew not what a hoagie or a Wawa was and "Yo" was half of a kid's toy to me, not a greeting. Driving into Wildwood was akin to the scene in the Wizard of Oz when the movie jumps from black & white to Technicolor.”
To provide a sample of Wildwood’s history and local color that the book imparts, here’s a gallery of several photos of the city’s signage. All photos, which were taken by Robert O. Williams and provided courtesy of Melinda Williams, are published in the book. For more information, about the book, visit www.wildwoodsneonnights.com.