Most knew her as the “Shooting Gallery Lady.”
Elizabeth Moreau, a Hampton Beach icon, died of a stroke on Monday night after nearly forty years on the boardwalk. In the days since, there has been an outpouring of response on social media. People have flooded the Hampton Beach Facebook page with pictures and memories of Elizabeth and the gallery.
At the beginning of this year's summer season, Elizabeth and her husband, Robert, shared their story with NHPR.
Elizabeth Moreau signified the beginning of summer for many visitors to Hampton Beach.
"Some people have told me," she beamed, leaning over the gallery counter, "I don't shoot, but if I drive by and see you standing there, the beach has been opened. 'Cause I've been here for so long!"
Elizabeth was the face of the Hampton Beach Shooting Gallery. Petite and elegant, with her silver hair tucked behind a signature silk head scarf, she presided over some 300 flashing, roaring targets. At 72 years old, she said the noise never bothered her. In fact, the louder, the better.
"Everybody says you go home with a headache," she laughed, "Not me. Hit the loud ones, everybody's laughing."
Elizabeth’s husband Robert, by contrast, said his favorite part of the day is going home. After repairing targets in the early morning, Robert would return to their house in Salisbury, Massachusetts, where Elizabeth was already eager to get to work. Though Robert found himself tired at the end of the day, he was amazed to find Elizabeth never did.
"He doesn't want me down here," she shrugged, "he thinks I'm working too hard. But I just rest down here."
It was clear to Robert, too, that Elizabeth was a legend on the boardwalk.
"She's gone through at least three generations," he said, explaining his wife's fame, "She lets the kids sit on the counter, shows them how to shoot. They grow up, their kids come, they get on the counter and shoot. It just goes on and on. They take her picture all the time, so they can go home and show their grandmother that the old lady's still there."
It was Robert’s work that brought the couple to the shooting gallery in 1977, when it first opened. Each light-activated target is custom made and required a unique set of skills to maintain, something Robert could do.
"I was navy trained," Robert explained, "You can fix anything in the navy. At seven o'clock in the morning, I'd be down troubleshooting it and people'd be banging on doors to get in."
At that time, Robert and Elizabeth were running a TV business out of their six-car garage. But business wasn’t booming, due in part, Robert says, to the fact that their customers were mostly limited to close friends. After a few years of juggling both jobs, Robert decided to close up shop and buy into the gallery.
The targets at the Shooting Gallery range from life-sized piano players to pigs in overalls. Woodland creatures sit with grinning ghosts and tugboats. The witch nestled between two clowns --Elizabeth’s favorite -- sets off a buzzer loud enough to make kids jump. All but forty of these targets were added by Robert over the decades. He customized the mechanics, lights and sounds—something that’s pretty rare today. Robert takes pride in maintaining and building a gallery that nobody can match.
"It would take somebody like Disney," Robert said, "But you go to Disney and theirs is nowhere near as good as mine. Face, I was there one year, they have an article in a booklet, and the guy mentions, 'The shooting gallery isn't as good at the one at Hampton Beach.' I kind of like it.
Over the years, Elizabeth became synonymous with the Shooting Gallery her husband cultivated. So much so that she was recognized everywhere she went.
"We went to Florida one time - we never go to Florida, I probably went once," Elizabeth shared, "and somebody said, hey, hey, you're Hampton Beach, aren't you! You run the shooting gallery. It's all I hear, any place I go."
The Moreaus owned the gallery for almost three decades, but sold it a few years ago. Robert says Elizabeth was a big reason they continued to work there. For him, the job became more of a hobby. But he was always happy to keep the game up and running for her. Elizabeth was always eager for another long day at the gallery.
"She stands up all day, never sits down. Just works it out," he marveled, hands on his hips, "She loves it. I never seen a person who loves it so... so easy going. I have a wonderful wife. I just lucked out in life. Yeah. She's special."
Elizabeth would stay at the gallery as late as she could, heading home around 11 P.M. most of the time. Every night, Robert said, she would come home happy, with new stories from the boardwalk. For Robert, that was reason enough for the work.
"If she loves it," he shrugged, "I love it.