- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Month: July 2004

An Artist Creates a Victorian Home

Asking Sandy Sheller how she went about bringing the Gallagher House, circa 1882, back to its stately glory is rather like asking Michelangelo how he did the Sistine Chapel. There is no definitive answer – it comes from inspiration.

“I thought of it in layers- it was like a gestalt,” she said standing by the fireplace her arms reaching up as though touching the roof of the 3-story Jackson Streetgallagherhousefireplace house. The house was built by the whiskey distiller Christopher Gallagher of Gallagher & Burton and is an example of Second Empire architecture.

“We (referring to her husband Steve, a Philadelphia attorney with the law firm of Sheller, Ludwig & Badey) knew we wanted to bring it back to its authentic Victorian past but we also wanted it to be light and airy.” Another important consideration, said Sandy, was to fashion a house the family (they have four daughters) felt was a home not a museum in which they had to carefully tread. She started with the outside of the house and picked up the color themes from there. She looked at the front garden – the greens from the foliage and the colors of May’s flowers.

In the living room, the inspiration came from the 1920’s Chinese area rug. The gallagherhouselivingroom2wallpaper, the furnishings, the textures of the room were chosen because they blend and accent the unusual pastel colors and patterns of the rug.

With each room, the visitor can see that a focal point, usually an area rug, sometimes, as in the case of an upstairs room a piece of customized furniture, is used to pull together the rest of the décor. Drapes, wallpaper, furniture, bed linens – all draw from a single focal point to make a complete, yet subtle finish to the rooms in the house. There are six bedrooms in total, numerous bathrooms, a living room, game room downstairs and upstairs and an expanded and modern kitchen.

When the front door opens, the interior of the house beckons, like Alice inviting the visitor to walk through the looking glass. The Gallagher house offers the visitor an invitation to walk back in time. Many of Cape May’s Victorian houses and B&B inns offer the guest that same invitation. This is, after all, a Victorian seaside resort, but what distinguishes the Gallagher house is that, although still licensed as a B&B, it is a private residence which evokes a powerful sense of place through the décor and an extraordinary attention to details.

Wandering into the game room a jigsaw puzzle is spread across the gaming table with four tapestry chairs around the table. One has the sense of intruding upon an imaginary gathering.

Upstairs in a small parlor a chess set is on the coffee table in front of a rattan cushioned settee. A secretary for some letter writing is in the corner of the gallagherhouseamoireroom.

Each bedroom is furnished with period pieces. Lovely perfume bottles and dresser sets adorn the dressers and marbled tables.

Demonstrably present in the Gallagher house is Sandy’s ability to think out of the box. Mantelpieces found in salvage yards have been used to frame gallagherhousebathroomeither the bathroom mirrors or the bathroom countertops. One of the upstairs sitting rooms includes a daybed and an armoire, which turns into a wall unit housing not only a stained glass window but a sink and marble countertop as well.

Faux marbled columns dramatize and frame the living room entrance.

The stained glass windows, although original to the house, have, in several instances, been rearranged to better fit Sandy Sheller’s vision.

And, as her husband attests, what a vision it was and is. Steve Sheller was one of five owners of the Humphrey Hughes bought from Dr. Hughes’ widow back in the late 70s when Tom and Sue Carroll of the Mainstay Inn were about the only B&B owners in town. But the Shellers found that running a B&B from a distance proved to be more difficult than they had imagined. Soon they were thinking about a property of their own as a private residence.

About 10 years ago Sandy Sheller spotted the rundown Jackson Street property. It had been renamed The Gibson House, the story being that the gallagherhouseentranceowner, who bought the house from the Gallaghers, had been a Gibson Girl back in the day. A Gibson Girl was the idealized woman of pen-and-ink illustrator Charles Gibson. The “Gibson Girl” became the early 20th century model for fashion mimicked by women and admired by men.

Mary Kramer ran The Gibson House as a “Bed & Board.” After Mrs. Kramer’s death, her son Herbert lived in the house until the late 80s, early 90s when the property went into bankruptcy.

When her husband saw the interior of the property, he shrugged with disgust, although structurally the house was sound everything else had gone to the dogs. Additionally the house hadn’t quite made the transition into the 20th century – everything from electrical wiring to indoor plumbing had been treated with some pretty imaginative innovations none of them in compliance with the present day codes.

But when Sandy looked at house, all she saw were possibilities. With a degree in gallagherhousehallwaypicadvertising design, Sandy Sheller has always been intrigued with interior design and the challenge of blending the old with the new. Formerly the art director for a large advertising firm, Sandy adjusted her sights to interior design. Former Sixer’s basketball star Moses Malone was one of her clients.

Steve Sheller recalls a time when they bought an apartment in Paris overlooking the Luxemburg Palace and Gardens. “Sandy decorated it in American Southwest,” said Steve laughing.

Standing at the kitchen sink preparing for their daughters’ homecoming, she cocks her head as though trying to remember. “Well the décor there was so formal and ornate,” she explained, that she thought a little rebellion was in order and that she would bring something different to the French interior decorating landscape.

Redecorating the Gallagher house took a total of nine months. The dark wood was lightened to give the rooms an airy feel. All the plumbing was replaced and properly connected and the electrical wiring completely redone. A back staircase leading to the kitchen was built in case future owners want to use the house as a B&B. Sandy credits the people she had helping her with the restoration as being instrumental in getting the job done and done properly.

The kitchen is expansive and modern but oak cabinets as well as antique fixtures keep the Victorian décor consistent with the rest of the house. Prominent in the kitchen is an old placard from the Gallagher & Burton Whiskey Distillers. Steve Sheller’s father sold Gallagher & Burton whiskey in the liquor store he owned in New York City.

The Victorians have always fascinated Sandy especially their ability to creatively deal with the practical. For example, she points out that the long gallagherhousebroom1mirrors so typical in Victorian houses are actually petticoat mirrors designed so that women could, at a glance, make sure their petticoats weren’t showing.

Sandy Sheller’s fascination with the Victorians and her own ability to creatively blend the old and new – the 19th century with the 21st century has brought the Gallagher House back to life in way befitting a grand dame of Cape May.

A Hero’s Welcome in Normandy


Harry Kulkowitz

It isn’t easy coming up with a present for someone whose father is approaching his 80th birthday. But Mark Kulkowitz, proprietor of The Mad Batter Restaurant & The Carroll Villa on Jackson Street, found the perfect gift – a trip to France to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy on June 6th.

His father, Harry Kulkowitz, started The Mad Batter Restaurant in 1978, the opening of which triggered Cape May’s restaurant revolution, participated in the Normandy Invasion and had not been back to those sites since the end of the war.

Father and son left for England about a week before the event. Mark organized the entire trip with the help of the French government which coordinated the event. Before they left, Harry received a handwritten invitation issued by the department of war. All the villages near Utah Beach, where Kulkowitz’s unit landed, participated in the event.


Harry Kulkowitz with his son Mark

So, why did he wait 60 years to return to this historic site? “My life has been wrapped up here,” said Kulkowitz, meaning in the United States, “It never occurred to me to go back. In those days, the government did so many things to help GIs forget the war. There were GI bills for your education, for housing, for a mortgage. It made it very easy to think about this life and forget about the other one.”

When the boats carrying the 60th-anniversary participants crossed the English Channel and landed on Utah Beach June 6th of this year, Kulkowitz was flabbergasted by the response. “I wasn’t aware of the impact we had on the people. The thing that came across very strongly was that we did something beyond what I thought it was.”

In 1944, when Kulkowitz landed on Utah Beach and approached the village of Houseville, he had only one thought in mind – to rid the world of Adolph Hitler. He felt it was his duty as anharryatutahbeach American and as a Jew to enlist. And enlist he did – at the age of 17, six months short of his 18th birthday.

Although Harry wanted to be in the photographer’s unit (he was already a studying under a professional photographer back in the States), he was instead assigned a job in the intelligence corps. He carried with him at all time a card which stated that he was never to be transferred into a unit where he might be captured.

As a radio operator, his unit went in ahead of the rest of the troops. He was assigned the task of trying to identify the location of German troops by listening to the enemy’s radio transmissions.

“Each radio transmitter,” he said, “has a fist” or a unique manner of signaling codes. His mission was to try and single out the particular radio transmission of the German operator and thereby identify his unit and the troop’s whereabouts.

Six months after the Normandy Invasion, Kulkowitz still found himself in France in The Ardennes. He and another radio operator picked up the signal of a German radio dispatcher. They told their sergeant that, according to their calculations, the Germans were right around the corner. “But the sergeant didn’t believe us and asked us to “get another beat.” There was no second beat. The Germans went off the air and six hours later The Battle of the Bulge started. Had that sergeant listened to us, I don’t know, I think we could have saved thousands of lives.”

harrywithsoldier1Later, Harry did get that transfer into the photographer’s unit. “I was so happy” he recalls, but he ended back in the radio operator’s chair when a few months later one of the units needed a replacement

Sixty years later, Kulkowitz was welcomed with opened arms in the small villages of France. The mayor of Houseville honored him with a special medal and accolades at a public ceremony. Women who remembered the invasion came up to him and kissed him. Women who weren’t even born in 1944 came up to him and kissed him. In one town a photographer waited for father and son to arrive. Mark and Harry got a little lost and arrived at the village three hours late. The photographer was still waiting for them and Harry’s picture appeared on the front page of the local paper the next day.

Commenting on the warm welcome Harry received, he said, “I just never thought of the other jewishgravemarkeraspects of the liberation. All I could think about was Adolph Hitler.”

What were his thoughts the morning of June 6, 1944? “For me, the most terrifying part of the war was the landing.” A freighter brought the troops in to meet the landing barge but the swell of the ocean was such that the barge and the freighter often collided and the soldiers who were climbing down the ropes onto the barge were sometimes crushed in the attempt.

“You had to time it just so,” said Harry, “but in the meantime, the Germans were shooting at you and the guy above you was yelling ‘get going, kid.’ For me, that was the scariest time of the whole war. Everything else was anti-climatic.”

What were his thoughts 60 years later? “To tell you the truth, I was very nervous. I don’t speak French.” No problem, the mayor of Houseville arranged for Mark and bunkersHarry to stay with an English couple who lived in the village. “They saved my life,” said Harry who was relieved to have someone who could translate for them.

As he sits on the veranda of The Mad Batter, he pulls over a scrapbook of pictures he took overseas during his enlistment. Also in the scrapbook are the newspaper clippings of his war years – one is in Hebrew – the other is the front page picture taken last month. “I just never expected such a reception. It had a profound effect on me.”

Always the consummate photographer, he took 38 rolls of film to begin filling a new scrapbook for new memories which his children and his children’s children can cherish for years to come.

On Assignment: Up, Up and Away with Paramount Air

airplaneheader2Guess what? My boss sent me up in a banner plane this month. He even offered to drive me there. I’m sure it’s a perk for a job well done. So, let me tell you about it.

We turned into a long driveway with a blue farmhouse on Route 47 in Green Creek. That’s the home of Paramount Air. Andre and Lois Tomalino started the business in 1945. Andre was a fighter pilot in WWII. Afterwards he returned to Upper Darby, PA and flew banner planes in Philadelphia, mostly over racetracks and stadiums but he knew the place to be was the Jersey Shore.

Now, nearly 60 years later, Andre and Lois hold down both offices (one in the farmhouse and the other at the hangar) and their daughter Barbara runs the operation with her husband Jim Dahlen.

The nine Piper Cub planes Paramount Air uses to fly the familiar banners over theairplane Jersey Shore aren’t exactly the original planes they started out with but they’re pretty old. The baby of the bunch was built in 1956.The one I’m going up in was built, according to Jim, in 1946. Andre thinks it’s more like 1942.

I’m not at all nervous because Jim says he just worked on the plane and it’s running fine now.

“No stars, no electric,” said Jim patting the plane. Just point and go. Speaking of pointing, Jim is pointing to a wire stick. “If the stick is all the way up, we have gas. If it’s all the way down, we’re out of gas.”

Oh that’s nice.

“I don’t know exactly how to say this,” says Jim, “But we recommend you dehydrate.”


“Do you have to go to the bathroom? Because it’s very bouncy up there.”

“Oh. OK.”

airplanecockpitSo I drive back to farmhouse because the port-a-potty by the hangar doesn’t look too inviting. Lois points to a very lovely bathroom. As I’m leaving she says, “You’ll be fine and don’t worry about it not having any doors. That’s nothing to worry about.”

“Oh. Have you ever flown?”

“Oh yes. I’m a pilot.”

“Wow. Cool.”

Back at the hangar, I’m looking at the plane. It seems very, how shall I say, small. There are only two seats, no windows, no doors, and I can’t quite figure out how I’m going to get in the thing. I really don’t want these guys shoving my derrière into the back seat. When in doubt – don’t think – just plunge ahead. I grab onto the thingy on the plane and step onto the wachamacallit and swing my leg around the giant gearshift and down I plop. Great! First mission accomplished.

Jim straps me down and warns me not to play with the gearshift because he has the exact same thing in the pilot’s airplaneearplugsseat and I could mess things up. Also, mental note to myself, as I’m looking around, do not touch the thing that says throttle – I figure that must be important too.

Jim, is very nice and suggests that I should wear a sweater and maybe take my glasses off. Also, he hands me a package of earplugs and shows me how to get the most use out of them.

Now the glasses – that’s a problem, because, well, how do I say this? I can’t see. On the other hand, I don’t airplanestart1want my glasses to land in the bay either. Decisions, decisions. Off go the glasses. Now how am I going to take pictures?

I look at the camera – yes –it’s set on automatic – so I guess I’ll just point and click.

OK. I’m ready.

“Do you have any questions?” asks Jim, “Because once airplanestart1we’re up in the air there’s no verbal contact.”

No questions.

“Prop me,” says Jim to Mike. He flips the propellers but the engine doesn’t click. Jim fusses with the throttle.

“Contact,” says Jim. Still no go. I’m not really nervous or anything about the engine not starting right away. I’m OK. After two more tries, the engine starts and we’re off.

We have no banner because we’re not an official flight. If we were, we’d have a long banner tied with 200 feet of rope to two 6-foot poles promoting beer, a jam session, and personal messages like “Vote for me,” “Will you marry me,” “Congrats on your graduation.”

We’re now lifting off and my ears are lifting off as well. WOW! What a racket! My boss is waving good-bye with such a big smile on his face. He’s really happy to see me take off.

The airstrip is bumpy, grassy, and doesn’t really look like a landing field.

A few minutes into the air, I feel some kind of pain going through my arm when I realize that I have a death grip on the brackets. Oh my gawd. My fingers are numb. Speaking of fingers…

Jim is showing me four fingers. I realize much later, like when we’re on the ground, airplaneoverbaythat he must mean we’re 400 feet in the air. A few minutes later, he’s pointing down into the bay. I’m guessing he sees something photo-worthy like maybe dolphins. I get the courage to point my camera in the direction he’s pointing. I see the white splashes but I do not see the dolphins. I’m lucky I see the water. Later, when I look at the pictures, I realize I’ve photographed my knees because I didn’t lean out far enough.

Get a bloody grip on yourself, I say to myself.

When I start recognizing the coastline and realize I’m over North Cape May and the channel, I finally look over to my right – my left was scary but easier because there’s something separating me from the water. On the right is – well, water.

airplaneoverpoint1When I see St. Mary’s By The Sea retreat home at Cape May Point, I am at last filled with picture taking excitement.

Oh. Wait a minute, the setting on the camera isn’t right. Let me see. No that’s not right. I can’t see, you see. Can we stop a sec? Never mind. Now I have it.

Wait, what’s that?

Where did all those hotels come from? I didn’t know we had a Ferris wheel in Cape May. Hold on here. I think we’re flying over the Wildwoods.

Well, hell’s bells is all I can think to say. Let me just sit back and enjoy the rest ofairplaneoverwildwood the ride.

It’s actually very peaceful up here. I’ve been so busy looking down, it never occurred to me to look up. The sky was very hazy earlier but now it’s picture perfect. Ahhh. At last I can relax.

Whoa Nellie!! What’s going on here? We’re rocking, seriously rocking. Don’t panic. I’m not scared. I believe in karma. I believe in fate. I believe the bloody engine is stalling.

“I am heartily sorry for all my sins.”

Oh. Never mind. Jim’s just making a turn so we can land. I knew that. I told you I wasn’t scared.

Whew! Back on the ground again. My boss looks surprised to see me.

Well. All I can say is Paramount Air is a very cool place run by very cool people – like Joe and Tom and Matt and Mike and of course, Andre and Lois and Barbara and especially Jim – who was so very nice to me.

And know this – when you see a banner flying over the friendly skies of Cape May – it’s Paramount Air at the controls.

Launching the sign

It looks so simple.

Looks are deceiving. There are no voice communications. No walkie-talkie, no air traffic controller, no radio. Just a wing-tip wave for “yes” and a yaw (left and right swing) for “no” – and a checkered flag for the ground crew to wave before a sign is launched. And the process is purely mechanical, rooted in 50-year-old technology

But everybody gets it. They understand what they’re doing. Today the ground crew is Mike Sweeney, Tom McDonald, Dave Bates and Matt Sobel. They know what their tasks are and they have their signals straight.

The plane, a well maintained Piper Cub from the 40s or 50s has few controls. On the right side of the pilot’s seat is a lever that the pilot uses to release a bar that hinges downward from underneath the plane. The bar has a simple mechanical hook that can be opened or closed by the pilot. It’s that hook (maybe an inch in diameter) that snags the lead rope that will peel a sign off the ground in what seems like a slow motion instant.

On this particular humid June morning, the ground crew has laid out a couple signs, one lettered and one banner. On an active day they may launch as many as 40 signs and banners, each for a separate flight. But no matter how many, the routine is always the same.

Near the end of a grassy, slightly upgraded, slope the crew lays flat a series of nylon ropes which could be as long as 200 feet. Within the sign section of the rope, nylon letters are interwoven to make up the message.

Once properly laid down, a crew member sets up the snag line between two poles about 7 feet off the ground. The snag line is part of the lead for the sign itself.

Then a member of the crew signals the pilot with a flag wave that it’s ready to be picked up. The pilot, who is already airborne, circles, drops altitude, releases the lever with the hook and swoops over the poles just low enough to snag the lead rope. He closes the hook remotely (mechanically – nothing electronic here at all, including the plane’s starter) and forces the plane to pitch skyward on a steep angle. The sign literally peels off the ground and is ready to be noticed by the world.

At the end of the trip the pilot makes an approach over the airstrip, opens the hooks and releases the sign where it falls lightly back to the ground.

It’s really cool. Sweet in it’s simplicity.

And effective in its results. Lying on a beach in Cape May, with the buzz of a Piper Cub overhead, who can easily resist a look at the plane… and at the message?

– “the boss”