A newlywed reporter remembers covering the big storm

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Anthony Zurawski of Avalon remembers the aftermath of the 1962 storm. Anthony Zurawski of Avalon remembers the aftermath of the 1962 storm. (photo by Jen Arthur)

Islands were inaccessible for weeks

Anthony Zurawski would likely remember the March, 1962 storm no matter what, but he has another strong reminder – he was married a few days before the storm hit.

At the time, Zurawski was a writer with The Cape May County Gazette, then under different ownership and edited by Lou Rodia. He was married in Philadelphia on March 3 and he and his wife had a one-night honeymoon in New York City, a gift from the late local poet Andrea Lippi, who often advocated for local issues and once ran for Congress.

Zurawski and his bride returned in a small car to his little apartment on Atlantic Avenue and Route 9. They didn’t know that they were heading toward one of the worst storms of the century.

“The thing’s getting blown all over the Parkway as we’re driving down,” he said.

Now the owner of the Whitebriar Restaurant in Avalon, Zurawski was 21 in 1962. In an interview this week, he said he wanted to go to dinner at Ed Zaberer’s in North Wildwood. He would take pictures for the well-known restaurateur, and in exchange he would get dinner once in a while. His wife said she was too tired, Zurawski recalled, but if they went, they would have been trapped by five feet of water with the high tide.

The next morning, he headed to the Cape May County Airport in Lower Township to cover the storm. Although he was mostly a sports writer, he was among those who covered the nor’easter, which lasted several days and devastated shore towns in Cape May County and throughout the Northeast. He said in Cape May Court House, he was pretty high and dry.

“I remember more the aftermath of not being able to get over to the islands,” he said. At the time, reporters were also expected to deliver the papers. He could not get to the barrier island towns, he said, with Sea Isle City being the worst hit.

“I couldn’t get into Sea Isle for weeks,” he said, and he remembers getting a big hug from a woman in the Gibson family when he was finally able to get into town, who was happy to finally see someone from out of town.

Several sources remember that officials kept most people out of the barrier islands even after the high water finally went down, unless they could prove that they were residents or had a house there.

Zurawski’s brother worked for the Philadelphia Bulletin, who helped him get the job at the Gazette. At the time, he made $35 a week, but when he got married, he also got a $10-a-week raise.

Soon, he took a job with a local firm called Wisteria Advertising, with an offer of $95 a week, which he described as too good a chance to pass up. He made some contacts in Avalon while attending the Avalon Chamber of Commerce, and was offered a job by the owners of the Whitebriar. He was in Diamond Beach in the mid-1960s, and in 1967, when the owners were trying to sell the Whitebriar, he tried to negotiate a chance to run the business. Instead, he ended up buying it with $10,000 from the sale of a property, he said.

Zurawski saw numerous changes over the coming decades, but is now back at the Whitebriar.

 


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