National Geographic : 2001 Aug
OCEAN GROVE, NEW JERSEY People have been sleeping in tents at Ocean Grove, New Jersey, for more than 130 years. The little shore town is just 40 miles south of New York City, so the neighbor hood has changed, but the spirit of a rustic summer worship camp endures. "It's a place where God and country come together, like it used to be in days gone by," said Jeanne Dimmit, who drives from Arizona each summer with her husband, Howard, to relax and pray by the sea. "At night I hook the latch on the screen and say, 'Okay, we're secure. It's the ultimate act of faith." Then they sleep, perchance to snore. "One night I woke up and nudged Howard to get him to stop," said Jeanne. "When he rolled over, I realized it wasn't him snoring. It was someone in the tent next door." If pilgrims are tightly packed in the heart of God's Square Mile, as Ocean Grove is called, they can take comfort in a civil lifestyle that nowadays lures as many tourists as true believers. The modest little Methodist town has become a destination for urban Easterners weary of bright lights, thick smoke, and loud music. They come for weekends where the sea breeze and purr of surf lulls them, where strangers smile and say hello, and where you can walk wherever you need to go. Just over a hundred tents remain; the waiting list to nail down a lease on one can be seven years or longer. Tenters go to daily gospel sings and services near the century-old Great Auditorium. Others stay in bed-and-breakfasts, inns, and hotels that date from the late 19th century and frequent the beach, ice cream shops, and eateries on Main Avenue. There are no bars in Ocean Grove; alcohol is not for sale. There are no movie theaters or fast-food shops. There's a stately boardwalk lined with iron streetlamps but nary a business or advertisement on it, save a flyer for the Sunday sermon. PERMANENT POPULATION: 4,256 SUMMER POPULATION: About 12,000 WAITING LISTTO LEASE ONE OFTHE CAMP MEETING ASSOCIATION'S 114 TENTS: 7 to 10 years NUMBER OF MOVIE THEATERS: None FORBIDDEN ON SUNDAYS IN 1927: Driving, bicycling, swimming, dentistry, newspaper delivery FORBIDDEN YEAR-ROUND TODAY: Alcohol sales Victorian facades (top), low hemlines, and polished chrome on '54 Hudsons-old-fashioned means good here.