Shore scenes remembered, in pictures

"Beach Holiday," taken in Seaside Park, is among the photographs in Michael M. Koehler's book "Seaside."
"Beach Holiday," taken in Seaside Park, is among the photographs in Michael M. Koehler's book "Seaside."
Posted: October 09, 2013

SEASIDE PARK, N.J. Lovingly collected over several years, a series of beach photographs depicted family, friends, fishermen, beachgoers, and scenery along the oceanfront here and in neighboring Seaside Heights.

Philadelphia photographer Michael M. Koehler had gathered the pictures for a book he self-published in August called Seaside.

The images were meant as a tribute to those moments captured by his lens before Hurricane Sandy pummeled this section of the New Jersey Shore nearly a year ago.

But it's the backdrop of some of them, such as the shots of the Carousel and Funtown Piers, that draws the eye in. So much of what he caught in the photos is now gone.

Sections of the boardwalk rebuilt in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights after Sandy were struck again on Sept. 12, when a raging fire turned five blocks into an ash heap.

Though law enforcement authorities said the blaze was accidental, likely caused by electrical wires corroded by salt water during Sandy, no one has officially said who owns those wires and could be at fault for the fire.

Seaside Park Borough, where the fire is believed to have originated in buried wiring beneath a building that housed a candy store and a frozen-custard shop, has not yet produced inspection reports to indicate whether those wires had received proper scrutiny after the storm, despite an Open Public Records Act request by a local newspaper.

In a radio appearance last month, Gov. Christie said that the borough was responsible for such inspections after the storm because a 16-foot easement near the site of the fire had been given to the borough by a property owner.

But no matter where any fault may lie, the "sea is permanent, the shore accepting its slights," Koehler wrote in the foreword of his book.

Koehler said in an interview that he wants the book - through its pictures - to "talk about the importance of all those memories we have of the shore . . . the evolution of those memories and what they mean to our lives."

"Because memories like these, the images we have implanted in our brains, are all the stepping-stones of who we are today," said Koehler, 31, a resident of the East Mount Airy section of Philadelphia who began visiting Seaside as a teenager after meeting the girl who would become his wife.

Koehler said he was "always a South Jersey Shore kid," but fell in love with Seaside after meeting Lauren and her family. The couple have two young children.

A professional photographer who is an artist-in-residence with Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program, he was inspired to create the book after giving one of his pre-Sandy photographs - published in the book The Last Picture - to his wife's grandmother, Jo-Ann Verrier, 76, who owns a home in Seaside Park and witnessed the storm's devastation firsthand.

"It touched her so much, she was in tears looking at the photograph. . . . It just moved her," Koehler said of the woman called "Gram" by her family.

Koehler's 54-page softback edition is part family memory book, part homage that everyone who loves the Shore can relate to, with the requisite beach-life shots of sunsets, children playing in the sand, a clown, anglers showing off their catch, a guy catching a smoke on a boardwalk bench.

A portion of the $25 cost of each book is being donated to the nonprofit NJ Hometown Heroes fund to aid residents of the area affected by the storm.

Asked about her connection to the beach, "Gram" wrote: "Whenever I am asked to close my eyes and go to a place I love, I go to the beach. The ocean is always there. It represents God to me. Always there, powerful, worthy of respect, soothing, turbulent, fun, scary, and unfailingly constant."

Koehler said he used her wisdom as motivation to begin assembling the photos for the book. With his grandmother-in-law, he is working on creating a publishing house for works about the Shore such as his.

Koehler said he realized the importance of capturing images of the area after the fire. He had photographed New Orleans after Katrina and the oil rig fire, he said.

"As we move forward and the boardwalk is rebuilt again, I think it is so important for people to be able to hold onto the memories of what was there . . . because it's just not there anymore."

The key word is memories, his grand-mother-in-law wrote in the foreword.

"I feel that memories are the glue that holds a family together. To sit on the front porch and say 'remember the time' and have several people join in - this is a priceless gift to me that I can't put into words," Verrier wrote.

"Every year is a gift. The light of May is so different from the light of September. Anticipating how each new baby will adapt to the sand and the water. Watching the cousins connect and knowing they will be there for each other always . . . Lovingly, Gram."

Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or Read the "Downahore" blog ay Follow @JacquelineUrgo.

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