Seaside amusements have changed over the years. In the days before cable television and video games, Bingo was a staple of the beach year round.
Columnist Jack Aulis described its popularity in 1974.
No place seems quite as deserted in winter as the arcade area of Carolina Beach. The food and drink stands, the thrill houses, the arcades filled with coin-operated games, the shops -- almost everything is closed.
But wherever you are in that area you can hear an amplified body-less voice saying: "Under the B, 39. B-39." A pause and then: "Under the O, 17. O-17."
It could be the ghost of Bingo past, come back from the dead summer to haunt the place. But it's real. One Bingo parlor is open. Always.
"For years and years now," Vera Holland said, "there's been a Bingo open on Carolina Beach, 365 days to the year." Even Christmas? "365 days to the year," she said firmly.
Mrs. Holland, a Carolina Beach native with white hair and eyeglasses, has owned Jim's Bingo since 1959 (Mrs. Mildred Bame is her partner). They inherited the name.
"The name originally, years and years ago, was 'Uncle Jim's.' But for the last 40 years it's been Uncle Jim's or Jim's right here on this spot." Really -- 40 years? "Give a little, take a little," Mrs. Holland said.
It was Jim's week to be open. The beach has five Bingo parlors in summer. In winter, four of them keep the game going, operating one wee at a time, in rotation. -- The News & Observer 1/28/1974
N&O staff writer Martha Quillin returned to Carolina Beach nearly a quarter century later to find that Bingo had lost some of its appeal with boarwalk visitors.
For more than five decades, Lois Walton's family has run Carolina Bingo on the boardwalk of this once-booming seaside resort. Now, she wonders if its number is up.
It isn't just that beach bingo, with its $10 maximum prize, has lost business to casino-style operations that can pay out jackpots in the tens of thousands of dollars. It's also because most people don't yearn anymore for summer nights filled with snow cones and corn dogs, nor do they save their money all year to spend a week in a small motel where they're not sure the air conditioner and the cable TV will work.
Vacationers' tastes have changed, but Carolina Beach - home of one of the last Coney Island-style boardwalks in the Southeast - has mostly stayed the same for the past 50 years.
But summer in the bingo hall used to mean cigarette smoke so thick you couldn't see the lighted number board, and crowds so large players had to spread out cards on the window sills. Summer now is a lot like winter; there is room enough for the players to spread out along the narrow tables if they want.
"People used to come down here from all over North Carolina, " Walton says. "Some of 'em would come back year after year. They'd spend all day in here, playing bingo from 9 o'clock one morning until 1 o'clock the next.
"It was wonderful here then. There were rides, and places to eat, and little shops, and people out on the boardwalk all the time. It was wonderful."
Carolina Beach got its start as a resort in the mid-1880s when a local entrepreneur began hauling people to the little island by steamboat down the Cape Fear River from Wilmington, about 20 miles away. The trip took about an hour. It took 30 minutes more in an open narrow-gauge railroad car to cross the two miles to the beach.
By 1897, Carolina Beach had about 40 cottages and 48,000 summer visitors. Later, hotels were built, as was the Carolina Moon Pavilion, a romantic open-air place with a 10-foot wraparound porch and live bands that played over the sound of crashing waves.
Most of the buildings that make up downtown Carolina Beach today are of World War II vintage, built after a September 1940 fire that took out the pavilion, 24 other businesses and the wooden boardwalk that ran along the beach. Touted early on as a working man's retreat, the resort attracted vacationing factory workers from the Piedmont and servicemen from the military bases in the eastern part of the state. -- The News & Observer 1/5/1998