Meet Some of the Keepers of Myrtle Beach History
I can’t get enough of Myrtle Beach history. While I don’t have every local history book ever published in my possession, I have a lot. These books, documentaries and historical markers are my primary sources of information. However, my favorite way to learn about Myrtle Beach’s past is listening to the stories of those whom I like to call the History Keepers.
For the fall of 2022 into the spring of 2023, a special, speaker-led educational series was initiated called Through the Lens of Time: Myrtle Beach History by the City of Myrtle Beach’s Seniors Advisory Committee and co-hosted by Chapin Memorial Library. Their press release regarding the series invited everyone to “Join us to hear about Myrtle Beach’s past from a local historian's perspective.”
Of the seven featured speakers, three I’ve known for so long that I don’t ever recall not knowing them. Two others have become some of my favorite people over the last few years as I have worked with them to share my hometown’s past. I’d like to tell you a few things about each member of this fab five from my perspective that may give you a little more insight into why these folks are so special.
I have literally known Jack Thompson all of my life and I have the baby pictures taken in his studio to prove it. He photographed my wedding and even did my in-laws’ wedding forty years before. While the other seven speakers are booked at the Chapin Memorial Library, Jack kicks off the series by speaking at the Myrtle Beach Train Depot and with good reason: It wouldn’t be standing if it weren’t for him.
Not only did he chair the “All Aboard” committee that raised the money to restore it, he actually put himself in front of the bulldozers that were just about to raze it. He happened to be driving by, realized what was about to happen, jumped the curb and drove in front of the heavy equipment in the nick of time. The property owner was called and he granted Jack a 24-hour reprieve in which Jack convinced the City Council at that night’s meeting to buy the property. They put him in charge of raising the money to save the building.
My other favorite Jack story is how he got to Myrtle Beach to start with. He hitchhiked…when he was 13. But don’t worry, he had two friends with him. They were both 12.
(no relation to Jack)
One of the most popular restaurants in Myrtle Beach is Flamingo Grill because it has something delicious for everyone, steak, seafood and pasta. But an even greater draw is the owners, both named Dino. This dapper duo makes everyone feel at home. At the door, you may notice a couple of books for sale with an author whose name may be recently familiar to you, Dino Thompson. Greek Boy is a substantial coffee table book that gives a vivid account of what it was like to grow up in Myrtle Beach from the mid-1940s through the end of that century.
Most people remember stories about their childhood that they tell friends and family, but rarely do you get the detail and entertainment value that comes from reading about Dino’s tales of growing up in what is now our new historic district. He and his parents lived above the family business, the Kozy Korner diner. Just a few doors down was Ben’s Broadway Theater that will one day be part of a cultural arts center under the auspices of the City of Myrtle Beach and Coastal Carolina University. Once when he was a kid, the guys who worked at the Kozy Korner took him to Charlie’s Place to see Little Richard in concert. Now Dino serves on the advisory board to preserve that local landmark.
By the time Buddy was a teenager, his family had relocated to Myrtle Beach. He embraced the beach town lifestyle and had a great time here. Later, he joined the Air Force, serving 26 years, but never managed to get stationed in his beloved Myrtle Beach. He retired in September of 1992, but three years later he took on a challenge of which he had no idea the magnitude. He accepted the position of Executive Director of the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base Redevelopment Authority. It had been established the year before, in 1994, by the South Carolina General Assembly to oversee the redevelopment and use for the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base that closed on March 31, 1993. The area, thanks a great deal to Buddy, is known today as the Market Common District.
It was a Herculean task. I’ve heard him say that wherever they needed a building, they didn’t have one. And wherever they didn’t want a building, they had one. For example, what is now the beautiful Grand Lake in the district’s middle was once land with dormitory style buildings where the single airmen once lived. In 2019, Buddy received on behalf of the Authority a prestigious national award from the EPA for their efforts.
Mary “cookie” Canty Goings
Cookie Goings is the City of Myrtle Beach’s Director of their Neighborhood Services Department. Its purpose is to, as they say in their online overview, enforce “the city's commitment to building healthy and vibrant neighborhoods. The department is located within City Hall and focuses on enriching the community to facilitate neighborhood growth.”
I met Cookie in 2019 when I started bringing guests to tour The Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum and Education Center. In November of 2020, I had the privilege of bringing the first official tour group to Charlie’s Place Historic Site.
On occasion, Cookie herself serves as host to my groups. She is impassioned when she tells the story of how the replica of the first school for African American children in Myrtle Beach came to be. The committee of alumni who saw the mission through spent twenty years making it happen. One of their fundraisers was a cookbook with recipes contributed by former students. They sold it for $10. If you are a collector of cookbooks or know someone who is, they have been reprinted and are available today for still only $10. Cookie’s mom, Mary C. Canty for whom a recreation center is named, was one of those students who was instrumental in making the museum a reality.
One man, Buz Plyler, is associated with two of Myrtle Beach’s most iconic features which can be found basically next door to each other, so to speak. The first is the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove.
His dad, Justin, for whom Plyler Park is named, opened Myrtle Beach’s most famous gift shop after World War II and Buz has kept that family tradition going to this day. While locals don’t tend to frequent “tourist” stores, The Gay Dolphin is one of my favorite haunts. These days, I like the nautical décor elements. When I was younger, I was all about collecting the vintage postcards that greet you when you enter from North Ocean Boulevard. But as a child, everyone from my generation would go just past the postcards to the countless miniature license plates with names on them. If they didn’t have your name as you spelled it, you got to go up on the roof to the lookout for free. Granted, the cost to go was a quarter which you would put into a turnstile on the circular stairs, but, still, hope sprung eternal that my name may have been overlooked when ordering the plates. It wasn't. The lookout closed years ago.
Today, the other icon with whom he is associated is the beautiful sculpture, Goddess of the Sea, who takes center stage in Plyler Park. Buz spearheaded the project as far back as 2005 to commission the work. She was dedicated at the 2018 Sun Fun Festival which had only been back since 2016, after a five-year hiatus. Before that, it had run for sixty years, from 1951 to 2011, launching our summer tourist season. Who was the key person to bring that festival back? Buz Plyler.