Nowhere to go but up

With the economy now on the rebound, Myrtle Beach Farms Co. set about creating one of its most famous and enduring attractions, the Pavilion Amusement Park. Earl Husted brought in his traveling carnival rides and all at once neon lights were spinning and leaping, music was blaring, junk food was abundant.

The centerpiece of it all was a carousel with hand-carved ponies, lions, frogs, llamas, zebras, giraffes and sea monsters. It was created by Bavarian wood carvers, and the music that seemed to make the critters go around and around was pumped out of a Wurlitzer 165 band organ that weighed 32 tons. It was built by A. Ruth & Sohn, a German company, and had been on display at the World Exposition in 1900. It had 400 pipes and 98 keys, not to mention 18 little carved figures, 12 of them movable. The vintage organ, already an antique, arrived on the scene circa 1950.

But it was the pavilion's jukebox that spread fame throughout the land. The Myrtle Beach Pavilion is where the early shag dancing started years before the shaggers moved up to North Myrtle Beach, where a very devoted dance cult continues to do the boogie walk and the fly-back. An open-air pavilion was vital before air conditioning, and the ocean breeze was no doubt a component of the fuel that powered the belly roll and the 360 pivot. Incidentally, the R&B music and the dance steps of the shag - now ruled by the state legislature as South Carolina's state dance -- were derived from clandestine Jim Crow-era visits to The Whispering Pines on The Hill, involving sneaky white teenage boys watching and listening from a balcony.

In 1948 the four-lane US 501 was completed over the 14 miles from Conway to Myrtle Beach. In a non-denominational spirit the Burroughs family donated land for the First Baptist, First Methodist and First Presbyterian churches, and very soon the downtown skyline was studded with steeples. This is the Myrtle Beach that old-timers remember, a small-town atmosphere with a couple of amusement park rides, quaint little cottages strung like small pearls along the strand, picnics on Sunday afternoon and maybe some dancing on Saturday night.

Spirituality on the strand

Evangelist George Whitefield visited in 1741, sojourning along the coast to preach, baptize, and correct wanton behavior. To rapt audiences he communicated his Calvinist principles of individualism and equality, bringing about a "Great Awakening." A lot of that old-time religion in this region stems from those early efforts.

In 1944 Simeon B. Chapin, the man who now had an ownership stake in the vast land holdings of Burroughs & Chapin, made a gift of 465 acres to his daughter Elizabeth Chapin Patterson. She had traveled the world and become a disciple of Meher Baba of Poona, India, "the Compassionate Father," and used the virgin pinewood forest between US 17 and the Intracoastal Waterway to create a spiritual retreat dedicated to Meher Baba's teachings.

Thousands of visitors make the pilgrimage each year to the Meher Spiritual Center, with its two freshwater lakes just a mile from the beach. "I have come not to teach but to awaken," Meher Baba often said. He died in 1958, and no signs mark the entrance to the retreat, though many have found their way using the only available landmark, the Hooter's just across the street.

The Baha'i is active in Conway and Myrtle Beach. A small Islamic mosque can be found in Conway, and there are Conservative and Orthodox synagogues, Chabad Lubavitch Center, and some Messianic Jews. The shag dancers at OD Pavilion in North Myrtle Beach hold a Sunday service just prior to hitting the dance floor.

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