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Jersey Icon 'Tillie' Has New Reason to Smile

June 12, 2004|From Associated Press

ASBURY PARK, N.J. — A cherished Jersey shore icon was successfully preserved Friday when workmen plucked the 6-ton face of "Tillie" from the amusement arcade it called home for nearly 50 years.

With about 150 people watching from a cordoned-off street, a work crew from Universal Fabricators of Jackson secured a steel frame around the 14-by-16-foot slice of the Palace Amusements building cinderblock wall, lifting it up and away before laying it on a waiting flatbed truck.

"It's absolutely overwhelming," said a thrilled Deborah Robinson, 48, of Baltimore, a member of Save Tillie Inc. "So many people told us this could not be done."

The smiling cartoon face, a beloved piece of kitsch symbolizing both the heyday and the decline of the Jersey shore resort where Bruce Springsteen got his start, is believed to have taken its name from the brother of George Tilyou, an amusement park operator.

The Palace Amusements building, which was built in 1888 to house a Victorian carousel and saw the addition of Tillie in 1955, was immortalized in Springsteen's "Born to Run" and pictured in his "Tunnel of Love" music video.

It has also been seen in "The Sopranos" and in the 2002 film "City by the Sea."

The building is being demolished to make way for a $1.2-billion hotel and entertainment complex.

The redevelopers plan to return Tillie and other artifacts taken from the building to the new hotel, where they will be exhibited.

The removal, an elaborate, slow-moving spectacle, drew a crowd of Save Tillie members, Springsteen fans and curiosity seekers for the final act in a preservation effort that started in 1998.

Bob Crane, 61, of Silver Spring, Md., who founded Save Tillie Inc. six years ago and built it into a 1,000-member nonprofit with members in 27 states and 16 countries, said Tillie and the building regularly drew music tourists from all over the world.

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