- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Month: October 2002

Long Gone but Refusing to Leave: The Ghosts of Cape May

All images were enhanced for this article. The woman on the bed is  not real nor was the picture taken in the Queen’s Hotel. has not been able to catch any of the ghosts on film yet.

hotelmacomber-room10blkIt was a dark and stormy night…. well….it was dark. Desiree, our guide to ghostly apparitions, has already led us up Beach Avenue, along Jackson Street, over to the Washington Street Mall, down Ocean and, now, we stand peering up into the window of Room #10 at the  Hotel Macomber, formerly the Stockton Villa, circa 1914, on Beach Avenue and Howard Street.

The Hotel Macomber seems to be positively loaded with spirits from the beyond.

Desiree tells of radios going on in the shops beneath the porch –  the ghost seems particularly keen on Country Western music. There are tales of a woman “wearing a shabby waitress” uniform who likes to move about the dining room of the upscale Union Park Restaurant lifting table cloths from the tables, or roams the kitchen moving the chef’s vegetable knives from one spot to another, always when he is alone.

The lady of Room #10 is a particular favorite of Al Rauber’s who has been coming to Cape May for 28 years, generally staying at the Hotel Macomber. Rauber, an investigator of paranormal phenomena (something he does as a hobby) decided to share his findings regarding Cape May and started the Haunted Cape May Tour 8 years ago. He is assisted by tour historian Diane Bixler.

By Rauber’s definition, a ghost is an entity with an electromagnetic field of energy surrounding it and one which also has a level of consciousness. “For example,” he said, in the case of the ghostly sightings at Winterwood, a gift shop on the Washington Street Mall, formerly Keltie’s Newsstand, the mischievous sisters who supposedly haunt the building have been guilty in the past of knocking over shelves of books and, under the new owners, knocking over displays of Christmas ornaments. “The owners and staff who have been bothered by them have” from time to time “told the Knerr sisters (who operated a millinery store in the building) to stop and usually they do. That shows a level a consciousness which cannot otherwise be explained. A paranormal event is one which is unexplainable by natural laws as we know and understand them today. We don’t understand why it’s happening, but it’s happening.”


Room 10

Desiree tells a story of an older woman whose children treated her to a stay at the Macomber the summer after her husband died. She continued to come summer after summer, always arriving with her steamer trunk and always staying in Room #10. “Apparently,” says Desiree, “she still comes back.”

People over the years report feeling a presence in the room, cold spots in the room, watches stop and start again when the guests leave the room. Doors slam for no apparent reason, There have been frequent reports in the dining room below of the sound of heavy furniture being moved, despite the fact that all the rooms are now carpeted and all the furniture wicker. “She seems to come about four times each summer,” says Desiree, “staying from Thursday to Thursday. Last year she only came three times.”

Door to Room 10

Door to Room 10

Rauber decided to test the waters in Room #10 by checking into the room last summer with his wife and a friend. “I made sure the windows were closed,” he said “It was June and still cool at night. I didn’t want any outside sources to interfere with what was going on inside the room. When we went to bed, we made sure the bathroom door was shut. At about 2 a.m. we woke up to the sound of a double slam.” When Rauber jumped out of bed, he ran to the bathroom door and noticed the mirror on it was still moving. “It was a heavy wicker mirror. When we tried it, we discovered that if the bathroom door were closed with enough force the mirror would also slam against the door itself. So, a double slam.”


The Queen's Hotel

The  Queen’s Hotel, at Ocean Street and  Columbia Avenue, circa 1876, has been the source of many weird tales as well, but not so much under the ownership of  Dane and Joan Wells, who also own the stately  Queen Victoria, circa 1880, just across the street. Dane Wells said they took over the Queen’s Hotel, then called the Heirloom, in November of 1994 and, after extensive renovations, reopened Memorial Day weekend 1995.

According to Maria Walters, the hotel manager, most of the tales have been confined to a third floor room called the Plum Room under the previous owner. The building originally was the site of Ware’s Pharmacy, which was also used as a front for gambling activities and possibly a brothel.

Could there really be ghosts at the Queen's Hotel?

Could there really be ghosts at the Queen's Hotel?

“I know prior to our ownership,” said Dane Wells, “there were several reports of guests sensing a presence in the room, followed by the smell of a woman’s perfume, and sometimes the impression of someone sitting on the bed.” Vacuum cleaners supposedly would come on with no one in the room and various other electrical mishaps. “I’m pretty familiar with the electrical wiring in that building,” said Wells, who is neither a believer nor a non believer of ghostly occurrences, “and those types of things are easily explained. However, I had one incident there in which the guests were locked out of their room and I’ve never been able to explain it.”  Each room at the Queen’s Hotel has a privacy lock, so that no one can enter the room, including the staff, without a special pass key. “Now in some instances,” he said, “there is a gap between the door jam and lock, so, one could speculate that the privacy lock had been inadvertently tripped. On this particular door, however, there was no such gap. It was a snug fit, and I could never quite figure out how the door got locked from the inside.” He does not however, have any recollection of a woman being locked out of her room and having to spend the night on the landing, as one story goes.

Maria Walters said the workmen who did the renovations named the ghost “Martha” and like to think of her as a “working girl.”  Paranormal experiences, said Walters, who spends 12 months of the year at the hotel, are for the most part “far removed from our experience.” She does cite one particular October fours year ago when something seemed afoot. “The full moon coincided with a full eclipse of the moon. That weekend I had three different guests tell me that they felt a presence in the house. And one woman said she definitely sensed someone on the bed with her.”


Windward House

Not everyone is accepting of the ghost tales of Cape May. Walters said they’ve had a few cancellations, and one incident when the guests checked out after inadvertently hearing the lady on the landing story. “We can’t pretend the stories don’t exist,” she said, “but we don’t play it up either. We know that sometimes these things can be offensive to people.” Are all the ghosts of Cape  May female? Al Rauber nods, “It does seem that way. You have to understand that hauntings are emotional energies looking for a source.” Most reports of hauntings, he said, occur during a renovation of the property when energy is being released from the building or a change
of ownership, or during a time of emotional stress. “In Cape May,” he said, “we had a lot of girls coming over from Ireland to work as domestics in these hotels. They were young girls, sometimes 13 or 14. They were alone and generally, they stayed on the second or third floor rooms. Can you imagine the loneliness? And there is so much about Cape May which we’ll never know because of the fires and floods which destroyed records that could tell us more.”

“We call our ghost Bridgette,” said Sandy Miller, owner of Windward House, circa 1905. Sandy and Owen Miller took over the inn in 1977 and did not become full time residents until 1983. Sandy Miller speculates Bridgette was Irish, hired as a servant and stayed in the third floor room. Prior to remodeling, Miller said the room in question was the hottest and most uncomfortable room in  Windward House. “It’s on the backside of the building, away from the ocean breeze. Of course there was no air conditioning. It was very, very hot up there.”

Although she herself never had a sighting, there have been numerous reports of them, particularly before the rooms were redone. She estimates 6 to 8 reports a season in the first 10 years of her ownership. “I’ve been told, ” she said “these occurrences are more frequent when a new owner takes over. The spirit is unsettled by the change and as they get more comfortable with the new owner the reports start to fade away.”


Is there a female presence at the Windward House?

Bridgette has been seen wearing a dress of shiny gold fabric. “I did have a report about month ago from a guest who said she felt a female presence in the room. I’ve had three or four women tell me of placing a pair of earrings on their bed stand before they went to bed. In the morning the earrings were gone and the guest would ask me to alert the staff in case they found them.

By the time the guests returned to their room that night, the earrings would be exactly where they remembered leaving them.”

None of the innkeepers reported being particularly frightened by their ghostly visitors but rather sensed in reports from their guests and their own findings that the apparitions were non-threatening. A little girl ghost, named Elizabeth by the wait staff at the Washington Inn, used to cause quite a fright when she would call out their names in the dining room or kitchen, always when the person was alone. In recent years, however, her presence has faded, particularly since the Craig family, owners of the prestigious restaurant, removed the center staircase from the house.

Michael Craig does remember an incident occurring during children’s Nutcracker tea two years ago which the inn holds every Christmas. “The mother of one of the children,” he said, “stepped back to take a picture of her daughter who was sitting at the corner table. When the pictures were developed she called me right away. ‘You have to see this,’ she said. Next to her daughter was the image of another 7-year-old jacksonstreetgirl standing by the table. And we could find no explanation for this.”

When Rauber is called in to investigate a paranormal activity, he does not, he says, use an isolated incident. “We look for building blocks of happenings. Repeated occurrences that cannot be explained given what we know today. Listen, a ghost has no energy. It must draw energy from one of two sources. Either it uses an electrical source or our emotions. That’s why there are so many incidents of people feeling a cold spot, because the spirit is draining our energy. The more frightened we are, the more energy it drains. I’m 85% to 90% sure that ghosts do exist. Either they exist,” he says “or there is some part of our mind which tells us they exist.”

And as the tour brochure says of these residents, “long gone but refusing to leave. Cape May has been described as heaven on earth. Perhaps they don’t know the difference.”

Inside Cape May’s Wineries

It’s harvest time in Cape May. Not tomatoes, corn or lima beans but grapes. Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, White Rieslings, Merlots. Grapes from which fine wines are made.

Vineyards are popping up in Cape May County. The look is unmistakable. Rows and rows of wooden framed wire fencing with green vines stretching across them. You can see them driving along Seashore Road, Townbank Road, Jonathan Hoffman Road and Railroad Avenue in Rio Grande.

It all started in the late 1980s, according to Bill Hayes, of Cape May Wineries, when Dr. Joe Fiolla from Rutgers University’s Cook College presented findings that the soil in Cape May County tested well for suitability in growing a variety of grapes. “I had already retired from the Coast Guard,” said Hayes,crushing9 “and we owned Howey’s Nursery in the Villas.” Looking for another challenge, they sold the nursery and started planting grape vines on their 10-acre Townbank Road property.

“We started out with 7 rows of experimental planting and opened up July 1st, 1995 as a commercial winery.” Currently, 8 of the 10 acres of land are planted. “It costs $20,000 to plant one acre of grapes and that’s just getting it into the ground. Then there’s the processing.”

“It’s a labor of love,” said Joan Hayes, “And a tough way to make a living. It took six years before we realized a cash flow on the positive side.”

Recently, recognition is flowing their way. Cape May Winery’s 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon took the gold in the 2001 New Jersey Governor’s Cup competition. Their wines have been lauded in Forbes Magazine and the National Public bottles2Radio broadcast of “Splendid Table.” They are not daunted by competition as new vineyards crop up. “We’d like to seem more vineyards come here and use the land for agriculture not condominiums,” she said. “There’s plenty of room for all of us. Wines are distinctive. Some may like the taste of ours and some the taste of someone else’s. We’re glad to see the other growers are planting grapes to make premium wines not hybrids.” In other words, a cheaper and mass marketable brand.

Such is the case with Sara and Salvatore Turdo, who just harvested their first crop last month. In 1999 they cleared 4.5 acres. That translates to 4,500 vines of the finest European grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Viognier (a grape similar to Chardonnay). He has also planted grapes from his native Italy – Nebbiolo and Dolcetto from Northern Italy and Sangiovese from  Tuscany.

Unlike Cape May Winery, their site at Jonathan Hoffman Road will not have a tasting room. “We are really interested in wholesaling our wines to local restaurants. We’ve planted fewer grapes in the hopes of making a name for ourselves and to produce the finest wine possible.”antiquegrapechrusher

Having recently received their winery license, the Turdos will market their wine under the name “Turis.” The Chardonnays should be ready, he said, by early June. The aging process will require another 18 months for the reds to be saleable.

An electrical contractor in Bergen County, NJ, Turdo hopes to retire to Cape May in two years and devote all his energies to making wine as his father did before they came to America.
“You know,” he said, “when you get to be 40, the taste of beer becomes boring. I started to long for the wines I grew up with. I remembered a lot from my childhood and started making wine at home. But to grow your own grapes and make a vintage wine. That’s a goal!”

As it is now, he admits “It’s a challenge. It’s just me and my wife coming down on weekends, mostly and looking for help for the harvest. Mr. and Mrs. Hayes have been very helpful.” As Sara harvesting3Turdo gets on the bullhorn announcing to the grape pickers that lunch is served, her husband looks over his vineyard. “It’s very hard down here because the state of New Jersey doesn’t offer the help that other states like New York and Pennsylvania do for their wine makers. I know for a fact that New York offers grants. We seem to be on our own down here.” The Turdos picked Cape May County over Long Island because of the extended growing season here and an already entrenched tourist trade. “Right here in Cape May,” said Turdo, “you have the longest growing season in New Jersey with temperatures that don’t drop below freezing until November. It’s perfect for a large variety of grapes.”

Arthur “Toby” Craig, owner of the prestigious Washington Inn Restaurant, already known for having one of the largest wine cellars in Southern New Jersey, has also planted a vineyard this spring. Five acres of Chardonnay and Merlot are already planted with plans for other varieties of French and Spanish grapes. “Really,” said his son Michael Craig, “The vineyards [act as] anbsgrapes ambiance for the grounds which we intend to use for catering weddings and other functions. We’re about two years away from our first harvest. We haven’t really decided which direction we’re going.”

Acres of vineyards stretch along the back of the Craig property. A large barn was built on the site to accommodate gatherings. A small pond and herbal garden separate the grounds providing guests with a bucolic backdrop for mingling, strolling and enjoyment. Craig also agreed that although Joan and Bill Hayes as well as the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Agency have been helpful, “You are out there on your own,” when it comes to information and advice in deciding how best to proceed.

One of the reasons for this isolation is that there are so few vineyards compared to the number of vegetable farms, according to Russell Blair, the Cape May County Extension Agent. The research, therefore, tends to be in the area with the largest concentration of farms. “In New Jersey’s case,” he said, “that would be vegetable crops. Pennsylvania research specializes in field crops, and yes, New York has a very large concentration of vineyards and commercial wineries, so they offer far more resources in that area.” Additionally, when someone leaves a position,vines Blair said, it takes a long time to replace them. “My own position,” he said, “was open for two years”.

In the case of finding a wine specialist or small fruit researcher, the position could take even longer to fill. Dr. Fiolla has since left Rutgers for a position in Maryland. The closest wine specialist today is Dr. Larry Pavlis in Atlantic County. “As it stands now,” said Blair, “the only winery in Cape May County is the Hayes’ Cape May Winery. Another one is scheduled to come on board soon in Green Creek. I believe the Turdos just received their winery license and three other vineyards are being planned.”

“That’s another reason why we’d love to see more vineyards come to Cape May,” said Joan Hayes,” or, for that matter, the state of New Jersey. As we grow, so will the dollars spent on research. The vineyards in New York are well supported by Cornell University and we hope someday we’ll have the same relationship with Rutgers here in Cape May County, but that takes time.”

manontracktor3Pointing to the lush acres of grapes before her and the tractor pulling a wagon filled with buckets of White Riesling grapes, Joan Hayes, says, “Shouldn’t we do everything we can to encourage use of the land for agriculture? Don’t we have enough condominiums?”

If you go…

The Cape May Winery and Vineyards are located at 709 Townbank Road in North Cape May. Phone: 609-884-1169. The winery is open Monday though Saturday from 11am – 5pm for sales. Wine tasting hours are Friday and Saturday from 11am – 5pm. Please call ahead if you are inquiring about sales.