- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Month: June 2000

The March King in Cape May

sousa2WOn August 20, 1882, the United States Marine Band and the Washington Light Infantry Corps traveled to Cape May via locomotive, arriving early in the morning. Among them was a young man who would redefine how the military used music to drum up patriotism.

John Philip Sousa, 26 years old, had been leading the Marine Band since 1880. Not wanting to appear too young, he had grown a beard — a gesture which would eventually become his trademark. He came to lead a series of seven concerts performed at Congress Hall. The Secretary of the Navy and the Commandant of the Marine Corps granted special permission for the Marine Band to hold the concerts in Cape May.

As the light infantry erected 28 tents on the Congress Hall lawn to house the troops, a special music stand was constructed, resembling a seashell, and an innovative arc-lamp illuminated the bandstand. About 3,000 people attended that first concert, which featured works from Mendelssohn and Wagner.

Into this setting stepped Sousa, with his newly-penned composition titled “Congress Hall March,” written to honor H.J. and G.R. Crump, owners of the Congress Hall Hotel. A jaunty, happy piece, “Congress Hall March” was a minor composition, written for an occasion.

While in Cape May that summer, Sousa relaxed and enjoyed himself, finding time to umpire a baseball game — one popular Cape May past time — on the Congress Hall lawn between local residents and the corps. The corps won 17 to 2.

Sousa1WDuring his Cape May visit, Sousa, later dubbed “The March King,” left behind one composition and a noteworthy concert that formed the seeds of what later would be the greatest example of military marches written in America. His most rousing compositions “Stars and Stripes Forever,” “El Capitan” and “Semper Fidelis” were yet to be written.

Sousa was born in Washington, D.C. in 1854, the third of ten children. His father, John Antonio Sousa, had Portuguese parents but was born in Spain. His mother, Maria Elisabeth Trinkhaus, hailed from Bavaria. Sousa’s father served as a musician in the United States Navy and met Maria Elisabeth in Brooklyn and were married there in 1848. The family moved to Washington in 1854 where Antonio joined the U.S. Marine Band, playing trombone.

Young John Philip may have received his first music lesson in 1861, with solfeggio lessons at home. In 1862, John Philip was enrolled in a conservatory at the home of John Esputa, a respected violin and viola instructor. John Philip proved to be a gifted pupil under Esputa’s tutelage.

Sousa’s enlistment in the Marine Corps came about accidentally, when the boy was overheard playing a violin by a circus bandleader. The bandleader offered the young man a position for a tour beginning the following day. However, Sousa’s father discovered the scheme and immediately took his son to marine Corps headquarters where Sousa was enlisted as an apprentice in the U.S. Marine Corps band for seven years.

Serving with his father in the Marine Corps band, Sousa received instruction and training in the fife, drum, clarinet and trombone. It was here where Sousa’s ideas of military marches germinated, where his compositions were given positive attention by instructors. In 1872, Sousa published his first composition, “Moonlight on the Potomac Waltzes,” a piece commissioned by a friend who wanted to present a lady with a composition dedicated to her.

In 1873, Sousa composed a march “Salutation” for Louis Schneider, the new leader of the Marine band. When Schneider learned a novice band member wrote the march, he forbid it from being played. Sousa performed with the orchestra at the Washington Theatre Comique and Ford’s Theatre around this time, attracting the attention of William Hunter, assistant secretary of state. Hunter arranged for Sousa’s special discharge from the Marine Corps in 1875. Sousa divided his time teaching music and working with the orchestra at Ford’s Theater.

Philadelphia became Sousa’s home for four years in 1876. He composed several pieces for the city’s theaters and shows, and continued teaching music. In 1877, he performed in a vaudeville orchestra in Cape May Point.

While rehearsing for Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore in February, 1879, Sousa met Jan van Middlesworth Bellis, a Philadelphia carpenter’s daughter. The two were married that December and vacationed in Cape May afterwards. It was around this time Sousa composed “Our Flirtations,” variety show music.

Sousa’s life probably would have been relegated to playing orchestra pieces in opera houses and theaters if he hadn’t been considered as a leader in the U.S. marine Band. He enlisted in the Marine Corps for the third time in 1880 and won the commandant over with “Our Flirtations.” Sousa became the first American born U.S. Marine Band leader.

After Cape May, Sousa’s stature grew. In 1889, he composed “The Washington Post,” a march penned as an essay contest promotion for The Washington Post newspaper. Soon after, John Philip Sousa would be known as “the March King.”

He would go to compose 15 operettas, 136 marches, 11 suites, 4 overtures, 70 songs, 11 waltzes, 14 humoresques, 2 concert pieces, 12 trumpet and drum pieces, author 7 books and 132 newspaper and magazine articles during his lifetime. Sousa’s best known works were his exciting military marches, whose combination of brass and percussion resonated with American patriotism and pride.

Troops fighting in the Spanish-American war and World War I went to battle filled with Sousa’s marches, and his “Stars and Stripes Forever” became the official march of the United States. His works were some of the first ever to be recorded, with “Stars and Stripes Forever” selling more copies than any other composition for years in the phonograph’s early history.

John Philip Sousa’s image as a uniformed band leader conducting marching bands remains part of the American culture today in military processionals and parades and will live on for generations to come as high school marching bands continue the Sousa tradition.

If You Knew Sousa …

John Philip Sousa came to Cape May in 1882, part of an entourage that included Marine Corps personnel and musicians. The end result of that concert series for Sousa fans anyway, was his “Congress Hall March” dedicated to the Congress Hall Inn owners.

But that visit was just a beginning on a long career that redefined the military march as a musical style. The instruments, wind and percussion, joined to form a pounding beat, a cadence of vibrant noise and clanging cymbals, like Fourth of July firecrackers.

Sousa’s legacy is reflected in some of his most endearing and respected marches, composed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

One myth attributed to Sousa was conceived by Colonel George Frederick Hinton, a publicity manager during Sousa’s European tours. According to the legend, Sousa was an English immigrant named Sam Ogden and saw a label, “S.O., U.S.A.” on a steamer trunk. Out of patriotism, “Ogden” added U.S.A. to his initials, forming “Sousa.” Totally untrue, but a wildly circulated piece of Sousa lore.

Some of Sousa’s works are still heard during military pageants, processionals and patriotic celebrations.

Sousa died March 6, 1932 of a heart attack. He was interred in Congressional Cemetery, Washington D.C. Carved on his grave marker is a partial piece of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” in musical notation. At his funeral, the band played “Semper Fidelis,” a musical theme intertwined indelibly with the U.S. Marine Corps.

Many of Sousa’s recorded works are for sale in the classical music section of record stores. Some are immediately recognizable — Sousa’s music has been ingrained into the American psyche.

When trains and boats collide…

In April, National Geographic Traveler Magazine published a story and provided readers with an Internet open forum regarding Cape May’s traffic problems. Interestingly, many pointed to the Cape May Seashore Line Railroad as a definitive answer to parking difficulties and traffic congestion. But some are not pleased with this “solution.” Author Brad Murphy presents the other side of the coin.
To many, the Cape May Seashore Lines Railroad is a pleasure to behold and to ride. A nostalgic mode of transportation that adds to the historic lure of Cape May, and according to some, one which could help alleviate the city’s traffic and parking problems.

But there is a group that is generally unhappy about the railroad’s return to Cape Island. And it’s a large group, one which encompasses Cape May’s second largest industry.



Many pleasure boaters and those who earn their living on the sea and in the bay dislike the swing bridge across the Cape May Canal which closes to allow the train to cross, delaying boat traffic.

After an 18-year hiatus, trains returned to Cape May last year. They operate on weekends during the late spring and early fall and daily during the summer, this year starting June 12. There are four round-trips scheduled daily between Cape May Court House and Cape May City.
Each trip requires the closing of the bridge twice, once on the southbound leg then again 40 minutes later when it heads back north. Usually, the canal is closed for five to ten minutes each time. When closed the boats must wait and depending on the season and the day’s weather, vessels can accumulate rather quickly on each side. Further delays are incurred when the bridge reopens and the boats try to navigate through the small channel.

Party fishing boat captains say that safety is the major problem. “From day one it has been a safety issue for the boating public in the canal,” said Fred Ascoli, captain of the fishing boat Miss Chris. “There is two-way traffic and only a single lane at the bridge. Boats have been hitting the bridge.”
“There is another problem, the bridge does not work properly, it gets stuck,” he continued. “Last year there were boats that sat there for over an hour.”

He said that on one occasion he had to go out and around, and instead of arriving back at his dock at 5 in the evening as scheduled, he didn’t get back into port until 7 p.m.

Some of last year’s problems were due to brownout-related power shortages to the bridge on hot days, says Seashore Lines president Tony Macrie. But his company has since installed an automatic generator that kicks in when the power drops below a certain level.

Traffic congestion is another major concern.

“With the tide and a lot of boats there is going to be an incident,” said Bob Schumann of the Sea Star fishing fleet. “We’ve had our problems with it but lately it’s not been too bad.”

Paul Thompson, skipper of the party boat Porgy III said he’s living with the situation. “I can work around the problem,” he said. “I am aware of the schedule of openings and closings.” In addition to the advertised scheduled train crossings, the bridge tender announces it over a radio navigation channel and sounds a warning signal and swings the bridge closed.

When open, the bridge sits in the center of the canal and is aligned parallel to the boat traffic and water flow. While there are channels on each side of the bridge, only the northern passage is open to boating (see photos).

“There is no two-way traffic,” Thompson said. “So when the bridge opens there is a potential for problems.” Captains Schumann and Ascoli agreed. “We want to get the south side of the bridge opened,” Ascoli said. “We went to the Coast Guard and they are looking into it.” But there is much more to it than simply opening the channel.
Currently, electric power cables are suspended relatively low over the southern channel. Additionally, there are no fenders to protect the bridge on that side, nor does anyone know for sure whether the channel has enough depth to support boat traffic.

The United States Coast Guard is looking at the situation, according to Waverly Gregory, a civilian Bridge Management Specialist with the Coast Guard.

“We are still trying to get it investigated,” he said. “We were asked by the marine community to open the south channel for bi-directional use. But the south channel has never been an authorized or a federally-maintained channel.”

Many things need to be done. Funding must be had, commitments need to be made and the environment must be considered.

“We have to find out who will maintain the fender system,” Gregory said. “Environmental issues must be addressed with New Jersey Fish and Wildlife Department, National Marine Fisheries, the Corps of Engineers and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). There are a lot of agencies to make application to. But we took this on for the mariners.”

He at first hoped that New Jersey Transit, owners of the bridge and track, would voluntarily take on the task, but this is not the case now. New Jersey Transit intends to stay with the historic status quo of the system, according to spokesman Mike Klusas. “It is only closed for 80 minutes out of 1440 minutes in a 24-hour day,” he said. “We and our predecessors ran the service until October 31, 1981. The bridge was then left open until we renovated it.”

“Basically all we are doing is following the historic patterns,” he continued. “Basically it is only open for a brief time in an overall day. We have no plans to make changes or to make Tony stop running his trains.”

Macrie is neutral.

“Whether there is one channel or two it really doesn’t affect our operations,” he said. “New Jersey Transit and the Coast Guard are responsible for any and all decisions regarding the issue.”

Gregory said that “Macrie goes above and beyond” what other rail lines do regarding their bridge crossings.

“The Cape May Seashore Lines Railroad has issued approximate times when the trains cross that bridge,” he said. “Normally boaters don’t know when a bridge is going to close.”

Fishing Cape May

FishingCapeMay600BThe fever’s here.

One can quite literally see its affect on land and ocean, along the beach front and under bridges, on jetties and rock piles be it bay or sea, and on skiffs and dinghies and dories and cruisers and crafts of all shapes and sizes.

Its fervor is heard everywhere.

The gas station attendant invariably questions, “you catchin’ yet?” this time of year. “The weakies are running,” reports the mailman. And the woman standing in line at the local hardware store? That woman who’s a member of the Board of Education as well as the city’s Planning Board, and the one who manages the church food closet? “Caught a keeper striper yesterday!” she boasts.

Yes, fishing fever is here. It’s more like a fishing frenzy in Cape May, a town with eleven commandments — thou shall fish rounding out the bunch. A place where being “seaworthy” is next to Godliness. An island uniquely placed where the Delaware Bay shakes hands with the Atlantic Ocean.

Fishing begins earlier in the year in Cape May than in most other seaside towns along the New Jersey coast. The warmer bay waters lure mackerel and herring mid-March, followed quickly by weakfish and the most revered of all local fish — the striped bass, known simply as “striper” in these parts. To land a “keeper” striper, one measuring 28 inches or longer, is certainly a trophy to brag about.

Living by the sea — and for some, from the sea — generates extraordinary circumstances and responsibilities. It becomes a way of life with its own language, both verbal and physical.

Notice the barefoot man riding an old bike, milk carton strapped to the back and fishing pole in hand. Anywhere else, one would consider him secondary, hardly worth the glance. But in Cape May, he’s the vice president of one of the largest insurance agencies in the state.

Annually, spring fishing begins on land and sea. Party boat captains — those who earn their living running charters — fish for the mackerel and herring for use as bait during the summer months when fishing for the larger catch. During this mackerel “trip” as it is called, the fish are caught hand over fist, most poles averaging six hooks apiece.

WBWCaptain“Captain Fred” Ascoli runs the Miss Chris Fishing Fleet out of Cape May.

With eyes ever watchful and words matter-of- fact, his face does not belie the fact he’s a man who’s spent most of his life at sea – respectful and reverent of its ways, reaping its benefits. Living off the sea is a difficult existence, financially inconsistent at best and deadly at worst. A life governed solely by the weather where one checks wind conditions and tide tables as regularly as a landlubber glances at a watch.

But Captain Fred says he wouldn’t have it any other way. The sea is everything, he says and plans to fish as long as he’s able.

“I’ve loved to fish since I was a kid,” he told “And I’ve always liked taking care of other people fishing. My dad would take me out and I’d help net and cut the bait. As soon as I turned twenty-one, I got my captain’s license.”

Twenty years later, Captain Fred says his knowledge of ocean’s bottom is “priceless.” “Forty miles out, I know every wreck, hole, rock and slew,” he says. “I fish eleven months of the year in every kind of weather imaginable.”

From February through December, the Miss Chris ventures to the “rips” — the natural area at the mouth the bay where the “upwelling” of water entices marine life of all sizes to feed – and further.

“Between the weather, the varieties of fish and the ocean itself, no two days are ever the same,” Captain Fred says. “And that’s the challenge and thrill of it for me. I enjoy seeking out the fish and watching my charters catch them. For many it’s their first fish. Their excitement is mine, and that’s what it’s all about.”

So it seems it’s the challenge of finding and catching – whether keeping or releasing – that leads people to dedicate hours to the hobby and lifetimes to the profession.  On the water, or off, the same thrill is there.

On the Rocks…

WFishtheLureFor Bob Jackson, this thrill of the catch combines with a passion for nature.

He fishes the beaches, jetties and rock piles along the bay and the beach.  A surf fisherman, Jackson owns a bait and tackle store in West Cape May where he rents equipment and leads surf fishing expeditions. He told it’s the same challenge on land as sea and of the integral part nature plays in a fisherman’s world.

“I come out here practically every day,” Jackson said during an interview on the beach. “Right now, I’m waiting for the weakfish to come in. I heard a few were caught already.”

Jackson explained his passion for fishing as he wedged the four poles into the sand. “I love the beach and the ocean, watching the birds and other life,” he said emphatically. “Watching the birds, where they flock and feed tells fishermen where to look.”

“This place we have here, this place we call home, is one of the most unique areas around. And I worry about it. If we don’t protect it now, it won’t be here for the next generation.”

“I don’t always take the fish home that I catch,” he continued. “Mostly I catch and release, unless I know I’m going to have it for dinner that night. I’ll never freeze fish, if I know I’m not going to eat it that night I always throw it back.”

Over-fishing, in fact, has forced state and national regulations on most types of fishing. The striper population, for example, was so depleted that strict rules have been enforced this last decade. Until this year, only two fish — both measuring 28 inches or longer — were allowed to be kept. This year, a third is being allowed and must measure at least 24 inches — a good sign that these regulations are working.

But over-fishing is but one threat Jackson sees. Over development and man’s seeming insensitivity to nature could put Cape May’s current “quality of life” as well as its economics in jeopardy.

WFisherCasting“Cape May is one of the world’s foremost bird migratory paths,” Jackson said. “Thousands of bird watchers from all over the world come here. The World Series of Birding is held here. And birds follow food. Over development removes exhausts their food supply and natural habitat.”

Jackson cites the town’s beach cleaning machine as another infringement on the environment. It’s a large sweeping machine which does its job well, removing all debris from the beach. Jackson thinks it does its job a bit too well.

“I remember for years there were huge amounts and varieties of crabs that lived on the beach,” he said. “Today I’m hard pressed to find any. The beach cleaner eats up that which they need to feed on. And remember, sea birds and fish feed on crabs. It’s all connected. And we as a people are connected to that, too. We must think about these things.”

In the Canyon…


Captain James "Rookie" Heinold

Nature’s vulnerability is not lost on those who “fish the big ones” like marlin, shark and tuna. Beginning in  mid-June, these “sports fishermen” often fish near the 100 fathom line, locally called “the Canyon,” the edge of the Continental Shelf which attracts small bait fish that draw in the larger ones.

Captain James “Rookie” Heinold fishes the canyon every summer in various tournaments including the prestigious Mid-Atlantic $500,000 — one of the largest cash purses in the sport. Rookie — captain of the 48-foot Ocean Yacht Second Time Around — told tournament fishing is a “gentlemen’s sport,” mostly catch and release.

“Most of the big fish caught in tournament fishing are catch and release,” he said. “Because there are no tournament monitors per se on the boat, your word is your honor. Often there are hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake. If you’re caught cheating, odds are you’ll never be allowed to enter another tournament.”

These fishermen go so far as to tag the fish before releasing them so they may be monitored by the Billfish Foundation, a non-profit organization conserving and enhancing billfish populations worldwide through scientific research, education, and advocacy. If by chance the fish is caught again, the original angler receives a plaque from the foundation.

Of course, not all fish must be thrown back and certainly not all are. Fish caught and cooked the very same day is commonplace in these parts. And it’s the rare resident seen during fishing season at a market buying fish.

WAcatch“Caught a bunch of weakfish, want some?” asks the neighbor around the corner. “How ’bout some sea bass? The drumfish are starting to run. I’m goin’ fishin’ next week. They’re good eatin’!”

Whether fishing the rocks, chartering a party boat or deep sea fishing, the thrill and challenge of fishing can be addicting. “Hooked on fishing,” reads many a bumper sticker in Cape May.  Smiled Jim “Rookie” Heinold, “It’s something you’ll never forget.”

If you go …

Party Boat Fishing

  • Fish run at different times of the year. The early spring season starts with mackerel, herring, striped bass and are followed chronologically by tautog, flounder, weakfish (or sea bass), bluefish, croakers, porgies, shark, marlin, swordfish and tuna. Striped bass return in the fall.
  • Party boats run daily through the summer. Captain Fred Ascoli says it’s important to show up at least a half-hour before the boat is due to sail. Usually, a 4-hour trip and an 8-hour trip are available.
  • Captain Fred also says soft-soled shoes should be worn and it is imperative to dress for the weather. It is also advisable to take along sunscreen, a hat and a jacket or extra sweatshirt.
  • Rods and reels are available at extra cost. Bait is supplied.
  • Professional crews are on board to handle the “first-timer” through the expert.
  • Any fish caught will be cleaned any no charge. “Just take it home and cook it,” Captain Fred says.
  • Photographs are available at the end of the day.

Surf Fishing

  • Bob Jackson also says it is important to dress for the weather agreeing sunscreen, a hat and a jacket or extra sweatshirt are necessary items to bring along.
  • Bob offers two and four hour surf and fly fishing trips as well as seminars..
  • “Come visit the center to get your needed bait and tackle,” invites Bob. “Or take one of my fishing seminars so you too can enjoy the outdoors with surf fishing.”

Sport Fishing

Boat charters to the Canyon can be booked by calling the South Jersey Fishing Center at 884-0177.

And if you get lucky!

Striped bass has been long admired as one of the finest “eating fishes” around. Firm and white-fleshed, it’s subtle flavor can stand alone grilled, baked or pan-fried. For a delicious treat — especially with freshly-caught striper — try this simple beurre blanc sauce.

Lemon Beurre Blanc

4 Tbs. shallot, minced
4 Tbs. fresh garlic, minced
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice (lime juice may be substituted)
2/3 cup white wine
8 Tbs. lightly salted butter, cut into pieces and chilled

Combine shallot, garlic, lemon or lime juice and white wine in small saucepan. Over medium-high heat, reduce mixture to 3 tablespoons. Set aside. Grill, bake or pan-fry fish. Just before serving, return pan to low heat and whisk in butter, a piece at a time stirring just until soft (not melted), removing pan from heat if necessary, until mixture emulsifies. Spoon over fish and garnish with fresh chives, if desired. Serves four.