Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Golden Nugget

A sad day, readers: The Golden Nugget is going to finally be dismantled.

The Golden Nugget was THE ride in Wildwood back in yee olden days (e.g. when my parents were teenagers!) On January 31, the Moreys will take apart the ride and give pieces of the ride to anyone in attendance. I'll be there, and I believe my father will be as well.

I give the Moreys credit, even if they are taking the ride down. They hoped to save it and even moved it from one pier to another with the hopes of one day re-using it. But at a price tag of $3 to $5 million just to bring it up to code? That's a tough call.

In its place will be something that I look forward to seeing -- a roller coaster that could possibly stretch between two piers. It'll be sure to sell a lot of tickets, though I bet a few people would like one more ride through that abandoned mine town.

Got any Golden Nugget memories to share? Either drop them in the comments or email me at jenmiller27 [at] gmail [dot] com.

I wrote an essay about the Wildwood boardwalk and the Golden Nugget in my book (page 170 if you've got it handy). In honor of the Golden Nugget, I've reprinted it here:


Obviously, I spent a lot of time on the Wildwood boardwalk while researching this book. But it wasn’t until the very end of the summer, a week before I was to deliver the manuscript to my publisher, that I enjoyed it the way most people do: as a tourist.

My dad wanted to ride bikes on the Wildwood boardwalk, so I said I would go. A strong love of Wildwood runs in his family. His great-grandmother asked to be taken to the Wildwood boardwalk when she realized that she was in the last days of her life. The family took her to the boards, where she sat and watched the scene of people and ocean go by. She died the next day. My parents walked the boards, rode the Golden Nugget, and went to the movies on the boardwalk. They even honeymooned in Wildwood Crest.

They brought me and my siblings to the boardwalk, too, though the last trip we took together was in the early 1990s, which is when the boardwalk had turned less family-friendly and had more tattoo parlors and T-shirt shops. I remember thinking that the boardwalk here didn’t look anything like the one in Ocean City, which was and is a bright, colorful, and happy place, or so it seemed to me. Even as a preteen, I could see that Wildwood’s boardwalk was getting much the worse for wear. My father hadn’t been back since, and neither had I until I started writing this book.

We made it to the beach early and parked by the Wildwood Convention Center. I could see flocks of bikes already wheeling up and down the boardwalk. After renting two bikes, my dad ignoring the owner’s warning not to ride the bike up and down the ramp, we started to ride.

It was a Sunday, and not nearly as packed as a Saturday morning would be. Along the way, he told me what used to be where, like the movie theater, or the rides he remembered at what pier. I saw families taking a walk, runners, and a few people who looked like they hadn’t slept the night before. The amusements and games were just coming alive, and people waited in line for a breakfast sandwiches from the Hot Spot restaurant. I saw a lot of bathing suits, boogie boards, and beach bags on people crossing the boardwalk to the beach. Sure, I saw a few of those unsavory T-shirt shops, but also candy stores, restaurants, and people selling Wildwood shirts without also offering less G-rated options.

We had just passed a go-kart track when I saw my father do a double take and abruptly stop his bike. “It’s the Golden Nugget!” he shouted, and promptly turned his bike around, rode back to the pier, past the go-karts, and right up to a fence that blocked us from riding back to a building on the pier.

The Golden Nugget was the highlight of the Wildwood boardwalk. The ride was built in the 1950s and, for 40 cents, you could zip through an indoor “abandoned mine” roller coaster. It might seem tame now, looking at the low, squat brown building at the end of the pier, especially when you look at the heights and spills offered by other Wildwood roller coasters, but my father says it was the ultimate thrill when he was a kid.

The Golden Nugget is still in Wildwood, though it’s not operating. The ride is owned by the Morey Organization, which runs all the amusement piers in Wildwood, and you can see it, as my father and I did. You can still read where the name of the ride was, and see where the carts zipped in and out of the enclosed coaster.

It didn’t take us long to ride the boards—the boardwalk’s only 2 miles long—and then it was back to the car for bottles of water and air conditioning. We spent the rest of the morning driving around town so he could see how the place had changed, and what remained.

“It’s better than it used to be, much better than when you were a kid,” dad said as we headed up Ocean Drive toward Stone Harbor. “Much better than when I was a kid, too.” Except for the Golden Nugget being out of commission, of course.

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Mary Lebeau said...

Bummer, Jen. I came to your site to see if there were any holiday shore happenings, and instead I find this. It's like a death in the family.

wildwoodwaitress said...

Hi Jen,
Thanks for letting us know about the final fate of the once-wonderful GN. Here's my GN love letter that was posted on my blog, the Wildwood Rewind (
Thanks for the opportunity to share. -- Michele
The Golden Nugget

Hands down, Hunt's Pier and Hunt's Ocean Center were my favorite places in Wildwood when I was a kid. I loved the neat, clean and fun assortment of rides, shops, movie theater, rooftop mini golf course as well as the Polar Freeze refreshment stand.

The Hunt's Pier most of us remember opened on Memorial Day 1957, almost 15 years after a Christmas Day blaze destroyed the old Ocean Pier (also owned by William C. Hunt), taking a popular dance hall with it.

When Hunt's Pier opened that summer, it offered baby boomers like myself a few tame kiddie amusements, as well as the fabulous Flyer, small by today's standards, but still thrilling wooden coaster. Little, by little, the pier filled up with more elaborate rides –and rivaled anything at the first Disneyland-- like Jungle Land, Whacky Shack, Pirate Ship and Keystone Kops. Most of the newer, larger amusements were named “dark rides.” These attractions were either walk- and ride-through affairs featuring dark interiors stocked with special effects and figures that startled, surprised, and sometimes scared.

The first one of the modern Hunt's Pier era was the Golden Nugget, and my favorite ride next to The Flyer. Like the merry-go-rounds found on the Wildwood boardwalk, the GN was made by the craftsmen at the Philadelphia Toboggan Company.

The GN, stationed on a far corner of the pier with a sweeping ocean view, was a three-story combination roller coaster dark ride. It transported riders via a narrow steel track like a coaster and offered both audio and visual effects. It opened in summer 1960.

Passengers boarded at a train station with movie set-like props once latched into the two-seater cars immediately went through a dark tunnel that lead to the open sky semi-circular top of the ride.

From there, riders were plunged into mineshaft darkness, where old miners and skeletons would pop up unexpectedly, a giant waterfall that stopped before cars passed through, toppling barrels, an almost head-on collision with an oncoming mine car, a trip through a golden-lighted long spinning barrel and mineshaft entrances that partially collapsed as the cars passed under.

I rode the GN dozens of times through the mid-70s, and never tired of it corny special effects. The hurtling trips around tight corners and sudden dips more than made up for them.

Hunt's Pier was sold in 1985 and subsequently dismantled. The only original ride still standing is the Nugget. I'm not sure why it stayed, but it hasn't operated since the mid-90s.

Rumors over the year have the ride either moved to another pier on the Wildwood boardwalk, or have it refurbished by the Morey organization, the pier's current owner. It's also speculated that the GN is full of asbestos and may never reopen. Yet it still stands, the exterior looking much the same as it did in the '60s. So close, yet so far away.

The Golden Nugget ride, one of Hunt's Pier most popular and beloved attractions, stands vacant in its original location. It overlooks a go-kart ride on Morey's Pier.

Leigh Wetterau said...

Thats so weird that they are demolishing it.
I was there last Spring, trespassing and taking panoramic pictures on the pier when I was caught, of course my one of the maintenance men- anyway, after yelling at me he came back and apologized and then we started talking and he said that they were going to move the nugget and put it on the other pier, and that The Discovery Channel was going to come and tape the whole process for a TV show. :'(
He said they were just waiting for Discovery Channel or something. Booo... This makes me sad though because I guess the whole thing fell through... ugh...

Anonymous said...

I saw that thing and I took a picture of it. I didn't even know what the heck that thing was until I looked online.