The Haunting of Cape May: Stories From America’s First Seaside Resort
Cape May, located on the New Jersey shore, has been a sought-after vacation destination since the 18th century. The area has a rich history, starting with the indigenous Lenni-Lenape people and later being settled by European colonists in the mid-17th century. By the late 1700s, Cape May gained popularity as a tourist destination, attracting visitors with its scenic ocean views, fresh air, and delicious seafood.
This early popularity has led some to claim Cape May as the first resort town in American history.
More Hotels to Accommodate Increasing Number of Tourists
Over the years, more and more hotels have been built to accommodate the increasing number of tourists. In 1878, a large fire destroyed 35 acres of the town. Regardless, this disaster prompted residents to rebuild and present Cape May as a family-friendly alternative to racier resorts like Atlantic City and more expensive destinations like the Hamptons.
Even though Cape May may not be everyone’s cup of tea, its quaint attractions have certainly been popular with beachgoers.
Every Building Has a Ghostly Story Behind It
As the tales on the popular nighttime trolley tours suggest, some visitors never depart from Cape May. Moreover, every building and landmark in the seaside town appears to have a ghostly story, leading one to believe that the town is haunted.
Local psychic Craig McManus, who has built a career out of gathering and sharing these ghost stories, claims that Cape May is particularly haunted. A visit to this picturesque town may leave you with the same conviction that Cape May is indeed haunted, just as McManus suggests.
Emlen Physick Estate Was Once a Family Home
The Emlen Physick Estate, now a museum and the headquarters of the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities, was originally a family home. Frank Furness designed a grand 18-room mansion for Dr. Emlen Physick, his widowed mother, and two unmarried aunts. Even though Dr. Physick held a medical degree, he never practiced and lived leisurely.
After Dr. Physick’s passing in 1916 and his aunt’s departure in 1935, the estate went through several private owners who reported ghostly activities. McManus claims to have encountered two female spirits and the spirits of multiple dogs during his visit. You may tour the historic estate and encounter the good doctor or one of his beloved dogs yourself.
Cherry House Gives Each Inhabitant a Ghost Story
The Cherry House, a private residence in Cape May, is a site of many ghost stories and rumors of supernatural activity. The home, built in 1849, has been inhabited by many people over the years, and it’s the past residents who are said to be the source of the ghostly rumors.
One of the most notable former inhabitants was James McCrey, who purchased the house in 1854 and went through the unfortunate experience of losing three wives while living there. Even though the Cherry House is a private residence, the ghost stories surrounding it continue to persist and capture the imagination of those interested in the paranormal.
Contractors Are Not Left Out of the Experience
The owners of the Cherry House, Beth and Frank Acker, have experienced strange occurrences, such as doors opening by themselves even after being deadbolted. Contractors have also had similar experiences. For example, an electrician reportedly saw the apparition of an elderly woman coming out of a wall, causing him to scream and flee the house.
Beth believes that the ghost may be Lois Kulp, who bought the house in 1969 and was fond of its historic character. With the renovations, Mrs. Kulp may have wanted to keep an eye on her former home from the afterlife.
Demolition Couldn't Silence the Hauntings
The Hotel Cape May was a grand hotel that was built during the early 20th century in Cape May. It was intended to be a central part of the town’s development plans and a key attraction for wealthy guests. Regardless of its grandeur and initial opening in 1908, it faced problems and had to close just a few months later for repairs.
Over time, the hotel faced financial difficulties and changed hands several times, renamed the Christian Admiral in 1963 after a teetotaler reverend took over. Even with its history, the hotel eventually fell victim to the passage of time and financial struggles, and it was demolished in 1996.
Hotel Cape May Had a Ghostly Reputation in Its Time
Jennifer Brownstone Kopp wrote about her visit to the old hotel before it was demolished. The interior was so cold that icicles formed. Kopp took timed exposures and captured strange white blurs and possibly the profile of a ghostly woman.
The chill reminded her of the story of a woman who died trying to get into her room through the fire escape. She is said to haunt the bed and breakfast that was later built on the site, causing disturbances with technology and shaking beds.
Persistent Knocking in Hotel Macomber Is Another Ghost Story
The Hotel Macomber was built in 1916 and remained the newest hotel in Cape May for over 50 years. Room 10 has a haunted reputation due to persistent knocking, but when guests open the door, no one is there.
Some believe the ghost is Irene Wright, a widow who stayed in the room on her visits to Cape May and was known as the “trunk lady” for her distinctive steamer trunk. McManus, who has stayed in the room multiple times, experienced loud banging on the door one night but found no one there. He also heard sounds of doors opening and closing, but the staff told him he was the only guest in the hotel at the time and the housekeeper had already left.
Even the Beaches Might Have Their Own Hauntings
If Cape May’s reportedly haunted buildings are too much, head to the local beaches for a break. Nonetheless, beware, even the beaches might have their own hauntings. Higbee Beach is said to be one of the most haunted outdoor areas in the town.
In the early 19th century, the beach had a tavern and later a hotel called The Hermitage. Thomas Higbee, brother of the Hermitage proprietor, passed away in 1879 and was buried near the beach; in 1937, his remains were moved to a traditional cemetery plot.
Disturbed Burial at Higbee Beach May Be the Source
According to McManus, the disturbed burial at Higbee Beach may be linked to the hauntings there. Reports of a ghostly man seen walking along the beach at sunset have been heard. He always vanishes before anyone can get a clear look.
McManus also claims to have sensed the spirit of a young blonde girl from the early days of Cape May and the shades of two unhappy American Indian people during an encounter with himself and a friend.
Queen's Hotel May Has a Unique Story
The Queen’s Hotel in Cape May has a unique history compared to other family homes and seaside hotels in the area. According to “Haunted Places,” the hotel once housed a gambling establishment and brothel, with working women living on the third floor.
Today, this floor is said to be one of the hotel’s most haunted spaces, with reports of furniture moving on its own and an unseen presence hitting beds in certain rooms.
Guests Were Reportedly Locked Out of Their Rooms
Guests of the Queen’s Hotel claim to smell perfume in the haunted Plum Room. One incident involved guests being locked out of their room, although the owner, Dane Wells, was skeptical. The rumor of a guest sleeping on the landing due to a stuck door is persistent but denied by Wells.
Some people elaborate on the hotel’s haunting, including renovators who named the spirit “Martha” and believed her to be one of the women from the hotel’s past as a brothel and gambling establishment.
Visitors Claimed to See "Ghosts" Inside the Lighthouse
Lighthouses are often rumored to be haunted due to their association with lonely lighthouse keepers and nearby shipwrecks. The Cape May lighthouse is no exception, with reports of ghostly activity due to its three previous structures.
Visitors claim to see a ghostly woman and child on the first landing inside the lighthouse, dressed in a long white dress and holding a lantern. Another haunting is said to be from a man who fell from the top in 1995. The tales are further embellished by the Southern Mansion hotel, which suggests the woman holds a lantern.
A Restaurant Famous for Other-Worldly Visitations Too
The Peter Shields Inn and Restaurant in Cape May is known for its delicious cuisine but also for its ghostly visitations.
According to local psychic medium Craig McManus, the inn’s namesake Peter Shields, former Cape May Real Estate Company president, may still haunt the staircase. During a dinner with friends, McManus felt a sense of despair in the bathroom, later discovering that Peter’s son Earle had died there in a hunting accident. Whether it’s Peter or Earle, dining at the Peter Shields Inn may come with a ghostly side dish.
Congress Hall Hotel With a Collection of Ghosts
The Congress Hall hotel, built in 1816, is rumored to have collected a few ghosts over the years, despite a fire in 1878 that destroyed the original structure. The hotel was promptly rebuilt in 1879 and has undergone various renovations while maintaining its original character.
Some believe renovation work may have disturbed the spirits, as is common in restored buildings in Cape May. Today, Congress Hall is said to be inhabited by many spirits.
A Story Highlighting Possible Spiritual Activity
Gail Farace, a medium writer, claims to have experienced various spirit encounters at the Congress Hall hotel. During lunch, Farace spotted a well-dressed woman carrying a parasol, but her companion did not see her. She followed the ghost to the lobby, where she pointed at nothing before disappearing.
The next day, a fire occurred near the same spot the ghost was pointing, according to Farace. Her story highlights the possible spiritual activity at the historic hotel.
A" Spirit" That Knows Everyone by Name
The Washington Inn, a drinking establishment in Cape May, is rumored to have a ghostly resident. A young girl’s spirit is said to call out the names of staff members, but only when they are working alone. Regardless of the eerie experience, the staff has named her Elizabeth.
This shows that even drinking holes in the resort town are not immune to ghostly residents. The Washington Inn is another example of the rich history and potential supernatural activity in Cape May.
Visiting the Washington Inn Bar Could Mean Visiting Elizabeth
The Washington Inn building, which houses the restaurant and bar, was built in 1846 in the style of George Washington’s Mount Vernon home. Private for nearly a century, it became a public establishment in 1940. Identifying Elizabeth’s spirit may be challenging given its long history and numerous visitors.
Elizabeth is known to make vocal and visual appearances and is even said to have appeared in a photo. Changes to the building, such as removing a staircase, may have affected her activity. Nevertheless, the Washington Inn’s history and ghostly reputation add to the charm and intrigue of Cape May.
A Unique and Intriguing Vacation Is Guaranteed
Cape May is indeed a historic seaside resort with a rich history and a reputation for ghostly activity. From the Congress Hall hotel to the Washington Inn, many buildings in the town have their ghostly residents and tales of supernatural experiences.
Yet, even with the challenges in tracking down the identity of these spirits, the haunted history of Cape May adds to its charm and draws visitors looking for a unique and intriguing vacation experience.