eBay Tuesday: Danceland At Ocean Beach Park

"Garden of Roses" at shoreline casino proved a popular nightlife spot before the Hurricane of 1938

Although this week's auction item portrays a quiet moment for a former landmark, this hall once attracted hundreds of dancers to the shore for weekend entertainment.

The postcard of "Danceland, the Garden of Roses" is being offered by seller 88wsop888. The pavilion was festooned with the flowers and offered seasonal open-air dances. The first concert on April 19, 1922 brought in a jazz orchestra led by Fred Swanson and Thatcher Shepard as well as about 350 dancers from as far away as Norwich and Westerly. Despite less than pleasant weather, the music of the opening night was "all that could be desired and the various members were encored freely."

Danceland saw some well-known guests in its time, including an appearance by Miss America 1930 in August of that year to select a "Miss Ocean Beach." But the hall was a perfect venue for get-togethers of all kinds, from the Bulkeley School junior prom to the police ball to a dance for the servicemen at Sub Base New London. Shepard and Swanson ran Danceland as well as the adjoining Club Valhalla, replacing the former Wordell's Casino. They suffered a minor setback in 1932 when a fire damaged the hall, but firefighters were able to quickly contain the blaze.

Much more scandalous was the death of 17-year-old Ellen Sullivan on July 18, 1936. Sullivan fell 25 feet from the second-story window of Danceland, suffering fatal head injuries. A band leader, 23-year-old Robert E. Simpson, was charged with murder. Simpson said Sullivan was intoxicated and that he let her into the dance hall after it closed so she could recover; he claimed he was not in the darkened hall with her at the time of her death. However, a police investigation determined that Sullivan had been sober at the time of her death and that she had been assaulted, lending credence to the theory that she was pushed or thrown through the window.

Simpson's trial began in January of 1937, with the potential for a death penalty punishment if he was convicted. Witnesses offered differing testimony as to how much Sullivan had been drinking. Simpson maintained that he took her to the hall to recover from the alcohol, but now added that Sullivan became hysterical at the prospect that she was going to have a baby. He said Sullivan threatened to kill herself if Simpson did not marry him, and that he heard her plunge through the window after going to get help to calm her down. The judges hearing the case agreed to dismiss the charges after a defense motion that the state had not proved its case, leaving Simpson "hilariously happy."

The whole affair marked something of an ill omen for Danceland. Although Sullivan's sobriety was in question, all of the witnesses concurred that the underaged girl had been able to acquire alcohol at a nearby restaurant. The state liquor board promptly revoked its liquor license, and the revocation was upheld in May of 1937. A year later, the Hurricane of 1938 devastated the Ocean Beach area.

In the wake of the damage, musical performances moved to the auditorium at the beach's recreation hall. Numerous swing bands, including the , played during the 1940s. Duke Ellington made a one-night performance in July of 1956. The hall has since been remodeled into the Port N Starboard. The swinging days of Danceland may be gone, but it is still possible to catch musical acts at the beach. The next one is scheduled for Friday, when the Beatles tribute band plays the boardwalk stage at 8 p.m. prior to a fireworks show.

This postcard measures three and a half by five and a half inches, with some soiling and a brown stain in one corner. The starting bid is $2.49, plus 75 cents for shipping and handling. The auction ends at about 8:57 a.m. this morning.

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Barto August 14, 2012 at 10:16 PM
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