In this photograph from the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, a line of men in bathing costumes and swim caps march across the beach in Atlantic City, New Jersey. This unusual sight was photographed on the morning of July 13, 1904, when the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine hosted their annual meeting in the resort city.
This two-day event was the thirtieth annual gathering since the founding of the order in 1873. Thousands of Shriners and their families traveled to the Jersey shore and participated in a variety of activities and programs. According to the Annual Proceedings of the AAONMS, this session hosted 276 representatives from eighty-nine temples throughout the United States. During the meeting, the secretary of the group, called the Imperial Recorder, reported a net membership gain of 8,545 in 1904, and a total national membership of 87,727.
In addition to business meetings and evening parties, members of the AAONMS took part in an activity for which their group later became renowned–parades. The 1904 Annual Session, or meeting, opened with a parade that differed from the norm. A Shrine unit called the Arab Patrol, hailing from Moslem Temple in Detroit, Michigan, took part in a beach parade at 10:00 AM on Wednesday, July 13.
Accompanied by the first regiment band of Michigan and a bugle corps of twenty-nine men, they “marched from the Grand Atlantic Hotel in bathing suits to the beach between Young's Pier and the Steel Pier, and plunged into the ocean,” according to the Camden, New Jersey Morning Post. The front page of the local paper, the Atlantic City Daily Press, clarified that the men were dressed in “bathing suits, specially prepared for the occasion” and called the whole affair “one of the most unique and picturesque incidents of the gathering of the Shriners here.”
Camera operators of various sorts took advantage of the picturesque quality of the plunge. Alfred Camille Abadie (1878-1950) of Thomas Edison’s company Edison Films captured this beach parade on a 35mm motion picture camera. Per Edison’s September 1904 advertising circular, the 2.5-minute film showed “the entire body drilling on the beach and entering the surf” and could be purchased for $21.75.
This photo is one of two of this parade in the museum’s collection. Both are marked on the back: “Fred Hess, Photographer, 2506 Arctic Avenue, Atlantic City, NJ.” Hess (1858-1932) was a commercial photographer in Atlantic City from around 1893 until his death. Hess’ home studio was located about a mile from the spot where he took the beach parade photos.
This beach parade photograph–in addition to being a surprising and captivating image–depicts the details of a unique and intriguing event. It also provides information about Atlantic City, the AAONMS, and commercial photography and cinematography in the early 1900s.