Jersey Shore deer memorialized on beach tag

Bucky roamed the streets of Margate last year, until wandering into Atlantic City. There, it was shot to death by a police supervisor.
Bucky roamed the streets of Margate last year, until wandering into Atlantic City. There, it was shot to death by a police supervisor. (ELAINE FOGLER)
Posted: July 01, 2012

MARGATE, N.J. - It's a bit surprising - even for New Jersey - that a Shore town would grace its beach tag with the image of a victim of a police shooting.

But then, Bucky the Deer was no ordinary martyr.

And so, as the summer season rolls forward, unsuspecting day-trippers such as Frank Pucci of Medford are left to sit at the ocean's edge and ponder the 2012 Ventnor-Margate beach tag dutifully pinned to their swim trunks.

"It's a freaking moose," Pucci said. "What's a moose got to do with the beach?"

"It looks like a reindeer," said Loretta Wehmeyer, 64, of Pleasantville. "It's very strange. The reindeer is on the pier."

No, no, no, no. It's not a moose or a reindeer. It's just a plain old deer - one that once roamed the island. And it's on the pier.

Deer on the pier. Get it?

Locals know the story of the Margate deer. For months last spring, it wandered the town and got chased down streets - a single white-tailed deer made famous through YouTube.

How did it get on the island? Swim? Cross the bridge? Although the place is filled with wild rabbits, possums, and burned-out surfers, the deer seemed so out of place, a rare and regal animal taking an unscheduled beach trip. It became the stuff of legend.

Then, one day last October, it wandered across the border into Atlantic City, where, as has happened to so many others, the deer's luck ran out.

An Atlantic City police officer encountered the deer near the porte cochere of what was then the Atlantic City Hilton (now the much more accommodating Atlantic Club, where no doubt Bucky would have been able to park free and eat at the buffet).

A police supervisor shot the deer after witnesses said they had seen it jump over a car and nearly get hit by a bus.

Downbeach mourned.

Not long after, Ventnor Beach Patrol Capt. Billy Howarth was standing on a Ventnor street with Police Capt. Doug Biagi, pondering what to put on the 2012 beach tag, when the idea hit him.

"I said, we never had the Ventnor pier on there," he recalled. "I heard somebody talking about the deer. We looked at each other and said, 'Deer on the pier.' The Atlantic City police killed him. So we'll put him on the end of the pier, with the deer-in-the-headlights look, and immortalize him on the badge."

He knows the significance of the deer is lost on most people.

"When they buy the badge, they look at it," he said. "Some people get it right away - yeah, I saw him hanging out on the edge of Claremont Avenue - and some people don't. They all like it."

Wehmeyer, when told who the deer was, remembered the story.

"It's kind of a sad story," she said. "If it had a happy ending, maybe I'd feel better about it being on a beach badge. Last year was the sun, a castle, a lifeguard stand. More appropriate for a beach badge."

But Howarth stands by the design, for which he drew the rough sketch himself and had the company that produces the badge tweak the deer-in-the-headlights look. Ventnor and Margate alternate designing the tag used by both towns.

The design has sand and water dividing the bottom, the geometrically rendered pier, and good old Bucky staring straight out at you, looking, well, like a deer whose time is up.

Howarth is not one to shy away from memorable or somber beach tags. A former firefighter, he put the Twin Towers on Ventnor's beach tag in 2002. "People collect them, so I put a lot of thought in them," he said.

"A lot of times we put beach scenes, chairs, umbrellas. This time, it was, let's do the pier. Let's put the deer on there and see what happens. Then I had to follow through. I'm the one who gets in trouble."

In Margate, many assume it was a children's contest that produced the badge, not the mastermind of the Ventnor Beach Patrol captain.

"Someone asked me, what's with the deer," said Marianne Christian, who runs senior services in Margate. "I thought, oh, no, the deer's the Christmas one."

Lisa McGloughlin, the town's financial officer, thought it looked like "a deer on a balance beam."

Despite having to explain the tag over and over, Noelle Falvo, who supervises Margate beach-tag checkers, approves. "I think it changes it up from the normal beach tag," she said. "People usually get a chuckle out of it."

She says the tag sellers explain the deer's demise only if somebody specifically asks (in addition to explaining the seasonal tag's $15 price).

Meanwhile, the tag has turned these Jersey beaches into unlikely debate venues over civil rights and police powers. "I think what they did was horrible," said Maryann McElroy of Ventnor. "Why couldn't they relocate it?"

On the Huntington Avenue beach, Carol Miller, 57, said she asked the tag seller what it signified and was told it represented "a deer wandering up and down Ventnor Avenue."

She was not told about the deer's ultimate fate, she said, but once she knew was left to ponder the injustice of it all, even on a beach day that brought soothing breezes and warm ocean water.

"Did the deer have a hoodie on, and carry ice tea and Skittles?" she asked.


Contact Amy S. Rosenberg at 609-823-0453 or arosenberg@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @amysrosenberg.

Staff photographer Sharon Gekoski-Kimmel contributed to this article.

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