As we sit in the little alley between M.R. Ducks and the Marina Deck in Ocean City, Md., about an hour before Mike “D.J. Batman” Beatty goes onstage, the longtime entertainer and occasional mischief maker recalls what brought him to the resort about 50 years ago, and how little, for him, it seemed to change during that time.
“People feel the same things they did coming across the Route 50 bridge they did 50 years ago — I’m here, I’m in Ocean City and I’m on vacation,” he said. “This town never changes, but society does.”
Beatty doesn’t mean that literally. He’s quick to recall there wasn’t really anything north of 40th Street in his first summers here, and how some of the hangouts had changed.
“Back then, Ninth Street was the big hangout. There was no other place to go, it was the big hangout. Every kid was there. If there were eight cops in town, then seven of them were on Ninth Street,” Beatty said.
At the time, police were addressing the invasion of what people considered an undesirable element, much like now, except that current complaints are about “thugs,” “miscreants” or worse, while back then it was the hippies.
“People would say families would never ever want to come to Ocean City because of the dirty, rude, filthy hippies,” Beatty said. “You know, the ones that bring their grandkids here today.”
In those days, Beatty said, you couldn’t carry a blanket on the Boardwalk, because people would just assume you were staying at the Underwood Hotel — slang for sleeping under the Boardwalk, which was between 3 and 5 feet higher than the sand in those days, and highly discouraged by officials.
“Pat O’Brennan had his guitar and would sing on the beach,” Beatty said. “The police would stand guard and let him get away with it for about 20 minutes before they would break it up. All the kids would circle up, listen, and we called it a ‘hootenanny.’”
Beatty also recalled that anyone who ran afoul of the law back in those days had a long ride ahead of them — the only police holding facility was in Snow Hill, about 30 minutes south.
He also said the police were more liable to motivate crowds with nightsticks, rather than the tactics used today.
Beatty recalled getting picked up for under-age drinking — a half-gallon of Bali-Hai wine and some Ripple wine — and was fined $450, or, in today’s terms, about $3,500.
He said his mother had to take out a loan to pay the debt from one of the only places that would lend a woman money in those days.
Beatty said all of the men had to wear shirts, but almost no one wore shoes. He said the others would look down on you for wearing shoes.
But then development came.
“If someone wanted to build near the water, they just pushed in some dirt and went for it,” he said.
Eventually, someone did the unthinkable: opened a restaurant offering bayside dining.
“When John Fager opened up [Fager’s Island], everyone thought he was crazy. Leighton Moore at Seacrets, Billy and Maddy Carder at B.J.’s — everyone [else] thought they were nuts,” he said.
The madness deepened when restaurants started opening up in West Ocean City, too.
“No one in 1967 would ever think to go back across that bridge,” he said.
Seacrets — in Beatty’s estimation — changed all of that.
“Seacrets made Ocean City a destination. You look at the trade magazines for the top-performing bars, it’s all New York City, Las Vegas, New York City, and then, Ocean City, Md. And that’s all mainly done in four months out of the year,” he said.
But even as the resort grows, it stays the same. As the quote goes, history never repeats itself, but it rhymes.
“This here,” Beatty said, gesturing at the docks, the waves, the sunset, “this doesn’t change. People do. The vacationers do. As people get older, if your ball goes in my yard, then it becomes my ball.”
Beatty said he was performing for the Class of 2009 six years ago, got on stage and told the crowd he didn’t understand the music or their attitudes.
“You could hear a pin drop, OK? Then I said I wasn’t talking about them, I was talking about me, us — everyone else. The place went nuts,” he said. “Ocean City will always survive. It’ll survive Junebugs — it’ll survive people smoking marijuana, OK?”