Atlantic City Historical Museum
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Offering a needed break from the clockless, gaudy, coin-crazy frenzy of Atlantic City's casinos is the new Atlantic City Historical Museum, entertainingly educational and free. The museum was founded in 1980, but languished for decades on the weather-beaten Garden Pier, with its rotten pilings and abandoned amphitheater (Its far end, where Rudolph Valentino once gave dance lessons, was destroyed by a hurricane). Few visited, most considered the place an eyesore.
After a $3.3 million renovation of the Pier -- and with the new Revel Resort right across the Boardwalk -- the museum reopened in the summer of 2012 housed in a new, climate-controlled building and under the management of the Atlantic City Free Public Library (which has an extensive collection of memorabilia of its own).
The permanent exhibit is "Atlantic City: Playground of the Nation." Along with the usual historical museum staples of photos, maps, clothing, and ephemera, you can view Miss America memorabilia and a very large and jaunty Mr. Peanut. (Another Mr. Peanut, cast in metal, sits on a bench at the city Visitors Center). A documentary video featuring boxing cats and diving horses plays continuously in the background.
The museum also features temporary exhibits such as "Nucky's Empire: The Prohibition Years." Enoch "Nucky" Johnson was the real person who inspired Steve Buscemi's character, Nucky Thompson, on HBO's Boardwalk Empire -- a successful series that sparked a renewed interest in Atlantic City history as well.