Greek Temple Monument

In 1907, the city of Atlantic City – in collaboration with Carrère and Hastings, the New York City architecture firm who famously built the mid-Manhattan branch of the New York Public Library – conceived of a plan to design a decorative monument. The project was delayed by the beginning of World War I. The City decided that the monument would be built in memory of those who served in the Armed Forces during the War, and in 1917 a site for the monument was purchased from the West Jersey and Seashore Railroad Company. On February 5, 1920 the City Commissioners passed an ordinance approving the appropriation of $150,000 in funds for the monument’s creation, and in April of 1920 another ordinance approved the creation of a Monument Commission. There is some discrepancy regarding the actual date the monument was constructed; however, the Greek Temple Monument, also referred to as the World War I Monument, was finally erected between 1922 and 1923. It was dedicated to the residents of Atlantic City who fought in World War I.

H009.ChelseaPark001web The Greek Temple Monument rests at the far south end of the city, in O’Donnell Park at the intersection of South Albany and Ventnor Avenues. The rotunda of the monument was built by Emile Diebitch Inc., with modifications to the Carrère and Hastings design, at a cost of $97,039. The structure is124 feet in diameter, is comprised of 16 Doric Columns, and is made from Indiana limestone. The paving between the columns is slate and bluestone. The rotunda has four entrances that roughly correspond to the cardinal directions. In 2008 the entrances were closed off by ornate metal fences. The monument’s frieze displays the names of the battles in which Atlantic City men fought: Montdider-Moyon, Ypres-Lys, Cambrai, Aisne-Marne, Meuse, Vittorio-Veuetto, St. Mihiel, Lys, Oise-Aisne, Champagne-Marne, Somme, Argonne.  The monument is inscribed with the shields of the Army-Navy Aviation and Marines and an interior inscription reads “This Monument Was Erected In 1922 By The City Of Atlantic City In Honor Of Those Of Her Citizens Who Served The World War 1917-1918.”
1920s. This view of Chelsea Parkway shows the World War I Memorial in the distance, as well as the Atlantic City High School, which was opened in 1923. The Soldiers and Sailors Monoment is in the foreground.(H009.ChelseaPark001 Alfred M. Heston Collection, Atlanitc City Free Public Library)
The rotunda houses a nine-foot bronze, Beaux-Arts statue titled, “Liberty in Distress” by Frederick A. MacMonnies. The City commissioned this work from MacMonnies at a cost of $19,000. It was installed in June 1929 on an octagonal pedestal of green Vermont marble, which cost $3,200. Some controversy ensued after the statue was commissioned and purchased when, in 1934, the City discovered that MacMonnies had created a similar statue for the French government (“France Aroused”). Atlantic City had paid for what it supposed was an exclusive design. The French statue was larger and was installed for the 20th anniversary of the first battle of the Marne and is located at Varredes, France.

Since that first controversy, the Greek Temple Monument has been the center of several city planning discussions and institutive actions. In 1949, the visiting New York Art Commission executive secretary called attention to the statue’s neglect, which was defaced by vandals. In the same year, perhaps as a measure to discourage vandalism, the City installed floodlights in the Temple’s interior to illuminate the statue. In 1961, the City traffic supervisor recommended moving the Greek Temple Monument from Albany Ave. to Memorial Park across from the, then, Atlantic City High School. The suggestion was made to improve the flow of traffic. City Commissioners voted to demolish the Temple in 1962 and relocate the statue to the Memorial Park with a marble wall inscribed with the names of the World War I and II servicepersons. By 1963 the plan to move the statue and demolish the Temple was abandoned because of the cost – upwards of $60,000. In 1965 the City re-explored the possibility of moving the Temple or the statue to improve traffic conditions and the idea was again rejected.  In the 1990s, some efforts – including new landscaping and lighting – were made by the City’s Urban Beautification Committee to improve the monument and its site. In 1998, the Greek Temple Monument and “Liberty in Distress” were rededicated.

1940. World War I Memorial. (H049.725.94Wor004 Atlantic City Heritage Collections, Atlantic City Free Public Library)


City of Atlantic City City Ordinances, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1925.

Atlantic City Press articles, various dates.

Fine Arts Commission of Atlantic City. History of the Greek Temple Monument – War Memorial. N.d.

Hewitt, Mark Alan, et al. Carrere & Hastings: Architects. New York: Acanthus Press, 2006.

Resources in the Atlantic City Free Public Library Atlantic City Heritage Collections:

Atlantic City Free Public Library Collection of Atlantic City Photographs (H009)

Atlantic City Free Public Library Collection of Atlantic City Postcards (H049)

Atlantic City Free Public Library Collection of Maps (H020) 

City of Atlantic City City Ordinances

Local History Subject File - World War I Memorial

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Jack Dempsey's Atlantic City Days

William Harrison Dempsey (June 24, 1895-May 31, 1983) was born in Manassa, Colorado, one of ten children. His parents were of Irish, Scottish and Native American ancestry. His brother Bernie, a part-time professional boxer, chose the name “Jack Dempsey” after a famous middleweight champion “Nonpareil” Jack, and William started boxing under other names. When Bernie retired, William took the Jack Dempsey name.

At first he found it hard to make a living from boxing and started working in a Seattle shipyard until the death of one of his brothers. In order to pay the funeral expenses he accepted another fight. His formal boxing career began in 1914 when he earned $3.50 for a match, and then in 1918, under the management of Jack “Doc” Kearns, he boxed 21 times with only one defeat. He went on to win many fights and become heavyweight champion of the world. His overall record was 83 contests: 62 wins, 9 draws, 6 no decisions and 6 defeats.


In 1921 Doc Kearns and George Lewis “Tex” Rickard, a fight promoter, set up a match for the world heavyweight championship with Dempsey and Georges Carpentier, the European champion.  The boxing committee considered Atlantic City for the location of the fight. New Jersey State Boxing Commissioner John S. Smith thought a temporary stadium could be built in time at the airport, but the decision for the location of the match was Jersey City, New Jersey. The date was set for July 2, 1921.

Carpentier’s training camp was set up in secluded Manhasset, Long Island. Dempsey started training in Long Hill, New Jersey near Summit, but Atlantic City offered a location at its new airport and erected a grandstand so fans could watch his workouts. Dempsey and his entourage arrived in Atlantic City on May 6, 1921, and checked in to the Hotel Alamac. At City Hall, Mayor Edward L. Bader presented him with the ceremonial key to the city. Dempsey’s training camp at the airport became a popular site as the public came to watch his daily workout sessions. Doc Kearns charged admission as the daily crowds numbered 1,000, collecting one dollar per person. Dempsey’s training also included Boardwalk strolls and running on the beach. He had many different sparring partners during the months he trained in Atlantic City.

On June 29, 1921 he concluded his training and left the city soon after, aboard a chartered Pullman coach attached to a Reading Railroad train. He headed for the fight at Jersey City accompanied by Teddy Hayes, his trainer, Trant, his bodyguard and Mayor Bader, who had become Dempsey’s friend and who hoped to attract future boxing matches to Atlantic City. The championship fight, called “the battle of the century,” took place in Boyle’s Thirty Acres Stadium in Jersey City, and Jack Dempsey knocked out Georges Carpentier in the fourth round. The champ returned to Atlantic City in August 1921 for rest and relaxation.

Cover from the fight program, July 2, 1921, in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Courtesy of The Pop History Dig).


Read the Atlantic City Press coverage from the fight: July 2, 1921 and July 4, 1921.
(Right click and select "View image").
ACPress07021921_01 ACPress07041921_01ACPress07041921_06


Five years later Dempsey returned to Atlantic City again to train for his 1926 fight against Gene Tunney. He and his bride, Estelle Taylor, went quietly to the Ambassador Hotel, avoiding crowds and fanfare. The Dempseys then rented a bungalow on the Fox tract at 205 Florence Avenue, West Atlantic City. His training facility was set up at Greyhound Park at Absecon Boulevard and North Carolina Avenue. This time the public was barred from the sessions. When it rained, Dempsey worked out at the gym at the Elks Lodge.

The Dempsey-Tunney fight was held at the Sesquicentennial Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia on September 23, 1926. It rained throughout the bout, and Tunney defeated Dempsey in ten rounds. The boxing camp at the Atlantic City dog track was dismantled and the area returned to greyhounds chasing an electrical rabbit.

Jack Dempsey opened a restaurant in New York after his retirement. He died on May 31, 1983.

Jack Dempsey training in Atlantic City in 1926. (SDN-066299, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum).



Harry Mullen with Bob Mee. The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Boxing. Carlton Books: London, England. 2007.

Roger Kahn. A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring 20’s. Harcourt Brace and Co.: New York, New York. 1999.

Jim Waltzer. The Battle of the Century: Dempsey, Carpentier, and the Birth of Modern Promotion. Praeger: Santa Barbara, California. 2011.

Atlantic City Press. Various articles.

Resources in the Atlantic City Free Public Library Atlantic City Heritage Collections:

Atlantic City Press

Local History Biography File -  “Jack Dempsey”

Jim Waltzer. The Battle of the Century: Dempsey, Carpentier, and the Birth of Modern Promotion. Praeger: Santa Barbara, California. 2011.

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Atlantic City, circa 1923


H049.745.8Aer016 web

What went on in Atlantic City in 1923?

1923 was an important year for Atlantic City. A new high school, a new monument, traffic lights, and a radio station are among the highlights from that year. The city's logo was "Atlantic City All the Time", and there was so much to do and see! Sinclair Lewis' "Main Street" showing at the Savoy Theatre, the twice-a-day net haul at Young's Million Dollar Pier, and dancing to the orchestra at Steel Pier were options for entertainment. Edward Bader was mayor, Bessie Townsend was comptroller (a woman!), and Enoch Johnson was the County Treasurer. Mary Katherine Campbell was the reigning Miss America, winning for the second year in September 1923.

Find out more about Atlantic City in 1923.

1923. Aeroplane view of beach and Boardwalk. (H049.745.8Aer016) From the Heston Collection of the Atlantic City Free Public Library.

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Miss America 1921

The 1921 Atlantic City Pageant was designed to encourage visitors to stay in the resort past Labor Day, the traditional end of the season. The first pageant was held September 7-8, 1921, and eight finalists from cities in the Northeast competed for the title, which would later be known as Miss America.

The first pageant contestants were:
Margaret Bates, Miss Newark
Kathryn M. Gearon, Miss Camden
Margaret Gorman, Miss Washington, DC
Hazel Harris, Miss Ocean City
Virginia Lee, New York City
Thelma Matthews, Miss Pittsburgh
Nellie Orr, Miss Philadelphia
Emma Pharo, Miss Harrisburg
Atlantic City was home to the first Miss America Pageant in 1921 which included representatives from 7 cities and Atlantic City.
Sixteen year-old Margaret Gorman from Washington, DC (at far left in white hat) won the first competition.
(H009.394.5fir329; ACFPL Atlantic City Heritage Collections)

Ethel Charles, Miss Atlantic City, was the hostess, thus beginning a longstanding tradition in which Miss Atlantic City participated annually as the hostess of the Miss America Pageant.

Margaret Gorman, Miss Washington, DC, was the overall winner, and she received a statue of a golden mermaid, hers until the next year's pageant. Kathryn Gearon, Miss Camden, was the runner-up, and Virginia Lee, Miss New York City, was the winner of the professional division.

For more information and resources on the Miss America Pageant, please see the Atlantic City Free Public Library (ACFPL) Subject Guide on Miss America.

As part of the festivities, an annual parade was held with floats from businesses, civic organizations, and the pageant contestants competing. In 1921, as part of the very first parade, the Atlantic City Free Public Library submitted an entry. Below is a description of the library float, written soon after by one of the librarians:

H009.1921MissAmericaPageantLibraryFloat1_webwatermark The floor space was 8 by 10 feet. The front was a replica of the library entrance painted on beaver board. The back was about 3 feet high also painted beaver board. These 'walls' on the inside were lined with publishers' stretchers to represent book shelves. The front doors were cut so they could be opened. There was not room for a table or desk. There were four chairs facing out; they were occupied by four young people to represent Literature, Medicine, genealogy, and the children's department. Genealogy wore a very old dress and was interested in a copy of "The Daughters of the American Revolution". Medicine wore the surgeons white. And the cap and gown for Literature. The children's librarian had two children and suitable books for their use.

The valance was painted by a member of the staff & represented the types of borrowers of any library. Eight boy scouts served as motor power. Each represented various subjects and carried some article to illustrate his subject. There were two girl scouts advertising books on Food & Cookery and Household Management. There was a bunch of flags of all nations flying from the real 'wall' and the stars and stripes on the front. Plants and ivy for decoration. Two janitors in uniform.
Atlantic City Free Public Library float entry in the Atlantic City Pageant parade, September 8, 1921. (H001.1921MissAmericaPageantLibraryfloat; ACFPL Atlantic City Heritage Collections)

More information on the history of the Atlantic City Free Public Library.

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Sarah Spencer Washington

"Madame Washington" as she was widely known, was a millionaire black businesswoman and founded the Apex News & Hair Company. She was born June 6, 1889 in Beckley, Virginia and died March 23, 1953 in Atlantic City. Washington attended Norfolk Mission College, and later studied at both Columbia University and Northwestern College. Her first job was as a dressmaker, but her mother's health led her to seek out Atlantic City as a new home - in the early 20th century, the ocean air was publicized as being very beneficial to the sick.

In 1913 she started a hairdressing business in Atlantic City, and later expanded the business, teaching students and developing beauty products. After an employee referred to Washington as "Madame" out of respect, she adopted the title in her professional career. In 1920, noting the lack of beauty products for African Americans, she founded the Apex News & Hair Company. Apex maintained a lab and school in Atlantic City, as well as an office in New York City. Eventually her beauty colleges were located in twelve states and there were 35,000 agents all over the world. After Washington's death, her daughter, Joan Cross Washington, led the company until it was sold.

Madame Washington has been called one of the most important business executives in the black community. She was honored at the 1939 New York World's Fair as one of the "Most Distinguished Businesswomen". She was also an active member of the Atlantic City Board of Trade.

She was also dedicated to her local community. Madame Washington founded a nursing home - Apex Rest - for the elderly in Atlantic City, and, after encountering discrimination at the local golf course, she established her own for people of all races to enjoy a round of golf. Many also told stories of Washington either buying carloads of coal and leaving them out on the streets for the needy to take, or flying planes over the city which dropped coupons for coal. During the Great Depression, access to this resource was invaluable for surviving, especially in the winter months.

Her charity also extended to adopting a young cousin in unfortunate circumstances as her daughter. This daughter, Joan Washington Hayes, later became the president of the Apex company after Madame Washington's death. Although she suffered a stroke in 1947 which left her paralyzed, Madame Washington continued to provide for Atlantic City's black community, founding an African-American Easter Parade after her efforts to dress two local girls in the best fineries still found them ignored by white judges at the Boardwalk parade. Even as a millionaire, Madame Washington never turned her back on her community.

Madame Sarah Spencer Washington, founder of Apex News & Hair Company in the 1940s. (H038.Apex001. Alfred M. Heston Collection, Atlantic City Free Public Library)


Resources in the Atlantic City Free Public Library Atlantic City Heritage Collections:

Atlantic City Board of Trade. Board of Trade: Annual Directory. Atlantic City, NJ: The Board, various years.

Richlyn F. Goddard. Three Months to Hurry and Nine Months to Worry: resort life for African Americans in Atlantic City, NJ 1850-1940.Ph.D. dissertation. Washington, DC: Howard University, 2001.

Local History Subject File - Black Businesses 

Local History Biography File - Sarah Spencer Washington

Apex Country Club Photograph Collection (H038)

Sarah Spencer Washington Exhibit Materials (HEx001)

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