Family album survives fire that destroyed everything else

Not all changes along Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk require construction of new hotels
May 12, 2023

I’ve known Sussex Consortium Principal Dr. Vivian Bush for more than a decade. My wife used to work with her, and we would run into each other at after-school gatherings. 

A few weeks ago, in the early morning hours of April 22, a fire destroyed Vivian’s house and pretty much everything in it. I heard through the grapevine that, amazingly enough, one of the few things to survive unscathed was an old family photo album, so I reached out to Vivian to see if she’d be willing to share her experience.

She was gracious enough to say yes, but with a caveat – I wasn’t allowed to take a picture of her crying, because, she said, she’s an ugly crier. Figuring that’s a totally reasonable request – aren’t we all ugly criers? – we set an appointment and I met her at the consortium for an interview.

“Can you believe this survived? It’s crazy. It’s nothing but paper with nothing protecting it, and it survived,” she said showing me the album.

The album isn’t big. It’s not one of those old-school, four-inch-thick, three-ring binders. It’s about the size of a standard paperback book – small enough to fit in the drawer of the nightstand by her bed. The photos are of her parents, Irene and Marty, on their wedding day in Bloomfield, N.J., in 1961. Irene died in 1997. Marty died in 2018. Flipping through, it looks like everyone in attendance had a good time.

Vivian said she couldn’t remember the last time she had looked through it before the fire. Maybe when her dad died. “I still can’t believe with all the fire, smoke and water, that it survived,” she said.

Vivian’s house outside Rehoboth was built in 2003. She had lived there since 2017. At the time of the interview, the specific cause of the fire was still to be determined, but the general consensus is that it was an electrical fire that started in the garage.

“But you know, at this point, I don’t really care. It doesn’t really make a difference to me,” Vivian said.

The reality of the situation is beginning to set in and, she said, there are anxious moments about doing the monotonous day-to-day activities. For example, going to the grocery store to pick up something for dinner isn’t quick and easy.

“I’ve got to buy salt, pepper and anything else I want to go along with it,” she said.

Wearing a donated sweatshirt, pants and shoes, Vivian said there’s a feeling of lost identity.

“I truly do appreciate everything that’s been donated and all that people have done, but I’m wearing everyone else’s things,” she said.

In the end, Vivian said the only thing she feels guilty about is the death of her rescue cat Tahini; her other cat Tanoose survived. In the frantic moments between being woken up at 1:17 a.m. by a loud pop and making it outside, she attempted to find her cats in her basement. After a few seconds, she decided to get herself out. A few minutes later, the house was full of smoke and engulfed by flames.

Vivian has watched the video from her home security camera of the fire and, she said, it does provide some comfort to see how quickly the house was consumed. She knows that had she decided to keep looking for the cats, she might not have made it herself.

“The cat that died was probably the one that I probably could have found, because it was a friendly cat and would have come to me,” she said, holding back those tears I wasn’t allowed to photograph. “But watching the video, I know that I’m lucky to be alive.”

Signs of change on the Boardwalk

With a couple of Boardwalk hotels proposed for either side of Rehoboth Avenue, things are probably going to look a lot different in Rehoboth Beach in the next decade.

That said, not all the changes to the Boardwalk are going to be so obvious. One change that I noticed recently is the Stuart Kingston Gallery sign on the north end of the Boardwalk is being painted over.

The business held its last auction in March 2022, then moved out to the highway after having been on the Boardwalk for more than 90 years. I took a photo of the old sign before it was completely gone because while it may not be as noticeable as new hotels, in the context of the city’s history, the gallery is no less significant.

Joke of the Week:

Reader Jim submitted this joke. It got me thinking about hippopotamuses. It’s my understanding hippopotamuses can actually be quite aggressive. However, the thing that pops into my head when I’m thinking about hippopotamuses is them dancing around in tutus in the Disney classic “Fantasia.” As always, send jokes to

Q: What is the difference between a hippo and a Zippo?

A: A hippo is a very heavy animal. A Zippo is a little lighter.


  • Chris Flood has lived in or visited family in Delaware his whole life. He grew up in Maine, but a block of scrapple was always in the freezer of his parents’ house during his childhood. Contact him at

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