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A.C. Library hosts a closer look at black history, 1920s 'Experience'

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Where can you find photos of Sarah Spencer Washington's Apex Rest hotel, or find out which modern golf course she founded - Pomona Golf and Country Club - when she was rejected for membership elsewhere because she was a woman and black? How do you begin to trace the naming of Chicken Bone Beach, or track down photos of Club Harlem?

The Atlantic City Free Public Library can help. In addition to making the Heston Collection of books, photographs and other items available to patrons for research, the library has a varied program planned for Black History Month.

A photo array that just opened in the upstairs meeting room tells the story of Atlantic City's historically black Northside, and books including "The Northside," "Boardwalk Empire" and Turiya S.A. Raheem's "Growing Up in the Other Atlantic City: Wash's and the Northside" are available to check out.

The library plans more Black History Month events, including:

More A.C. history

HBO's recent "Boardwalk Empire" series put Atlantic City's history before a national audience. But TV shows sometimes embellish. For those who want the real story in all its gritty glory, the library has created the "Atlantic City Experience: 1920s," a multimedia display of photos, printed material and other artifacts of the city's history.

"It was a story that needed to be told, and (the show) gave us a chance to tell it," archivist Heather Perez said. "This is just the beginning. We envision creating a cultural history center where people can come to explore and learn what Atlantic City was and is and have their questions answered."

"Nobody really knew who Nucky (Johnson) was before this year. Now they see him as someone who shaped this city's history."

One dream Perez has is to find a permanent space for a sort of museum - with all the cultural artifacts and none of the stuffiness - where Atlantic City children can learn about Club Harlem and visitors can take a deeper look at the resort. Although there's no word yet on how big or where it will be, library spokesman Don Latham said it is more than a pipe dream.

"We have some pretty ambitious goals. The library is committed to preserving and sharing Atlantic City history, and the board is behind us on it," Latham said. "We see the space as a significant non-gaming attraction that can appeal to tourists and residents."

For now, library patrons can begin a self-guided tour in front of the main circulation desk. A vintage white wicker push chair at the base of the stairs draws the eye to black-and-white photographs and crowded newsprint announcing the beginning of Prohibition. A flapper dress and old-fashioned "bathing costumes" in a glass display case hint at Nucky Johnson's Boardwalk, back when people used to pay 25 cents to see premature babies being rehabilitated in a relatively new invention - incubators.

For those who want to go a little deeper, Perez and photo archivist Shannon O'Neill will help research the history of a house or the evolution of the Miss America pageant from 9:30 a.m. to noon Thursdays and 2 to 4:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, or by appointment. You can even copy old photographs and news articles for your own scrapbook or research project.

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