The Steel Pier Baptism

The Steel Pier Baptism

Sheryl Keiper, Brunswick Forest

Sheryl Keiper-9d840d76

I was about nine years old when my parents took me on a road trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey. As an only child, I had the entire back seat of a huge, black, shiny Buick to myself. The trip took approximately two hours but I was not one of those “are we there yet?” kids as I enjoyed the long car ride through the beautiful New Jersey pine barrens.

I remember arriving on the boardwalk dressed in a brown and white checkered shirt waist dress and brown sturdy shoes. My Mom, ironically, wore spike black heels.

I remember my Dad having to hold her arm as she kept getting her heels caught in the cracks of the wooden boardwalk planks.  She wore rubber heel guards to enjoy the walk but they obviously did not work well. But the real event of the day was the diving horse show.

There were four shows daily at the very end of the Steel Pier through the turnstile gate. I was so excited to see the horse and the girl with her helmet riding him.

We sat in the round bleachers at the venue and stared into the black and blue ocean pit in the center of the circle. The horse was trained to jump into this tiny space.

My tiny nine-year-old heart was fluttering as the girl guided the horse to the top of the ramp. The silence was eerie. All I could hear was the sound of the cold Atlantic Ocean waves crashing against the boards of the pier. I silently prayed that this structure was stable.

The horse was huge and brown. I caught a glimpse of his eyes and he looked terrified. I was so frightened that I squeezed my Mom’s hand too tightly.

The rider leaned over his mane and spoke gently into his ear. I was slightly mollified at this intimate gesture. It proved to me that she had trust in him and that hopefully, he trusted her. He lifted his right hoof three times as she continued to speak to him.

The late warm afternoon sun hit the horse straight in the face and I thought this was hopeful.

I held my breath for about 10 seconds and all of a sudden, the rider and the horse leaped together off the diving platform into a straight vertical dive into the tiny ocean space.

We were soaked with cold water. I immediately shivered and gazed intently at the brown foam in the center circle.

I began to panic. Where was the horse? The rider? Did they drown?  Were they at the bottom of the ocean with the sea creatures?

My mind began to wonder as my imagination ran wild with sharks and octopuses and eels entangled with the horse and rider.

I started crying. My Mom hugged me and my Dad assured me that all would be fine.

I didn’t believe them. As I started praying for the beautiful horse and rider, I heard a sound like splashing thunder and their heads miraculously appeared like bobble heads in the water.

The girl clung tenuously to the horse’s mane as they swam over to the exit ramp. I stopped crying.

The applause was thunderous. I breathed a sigh of relief.  It was an unforgettable experience.

That diving horse was, ironically, adopted years later when the Steel Pier permanently shut down.

He lived a life of well-deserved retirement in a small rural farm near New Hope, Pennsylvania.

And, of course, part of his weekly retired routine was jumping in the Delaware River for his bathing ritual.

He absolutely loved the water. It was a weekly, joyful baptism.

The colder the water, the wider he smiled…