- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Month: November 2009

Whalers: The Link to our Past

This article originally ran in the Fall 2008 issue of Cape May Magazine. Photos by Macy Zhelyazkova

Courtesy of Nantucket Whaling Museum

Courtesy of Nantucket Whaling Museum

The descendants of these daring, skillful men are our friends, neighbors and business associates all around Cape May. These first families came from Long Island, Connecticut and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Many of them have connections to America’s first families aboard the Mayflower. They include the Hands, Ludlams, Spicers, Hildreths, Leamings, Shaws, Matthews, Swains, Stites, Corsons, Godfreys, Townsends, Taylors, Hughes, Carmans, Whilldins, Eldredges, Fosters, Cresses, Schellengers, Stillwells, Robinsons, Reeves, among others.

Their Colonial history and cultural influences have been shrouded by the glitzy glamour of Cape May’s Victorian era and its preservation. The whalers are, in fact, the backbone and a major gene pool of the area. They brought with them to this new wild landscape their vision of home from New England. They did not build log cabins, but plain heavy timber frame buildings reminiscent of England from whence most came. Recent architectural studies reveal there are more First Period (1690 – 1730) homes in Cape May County than any one ever realized. Most of the surviving houses are located in the Cape May countryside and in the past, no one really bothered to look at them as historically significant.

Courtesy of Nantucket Whaling Museum

Courtesy of Nantucket Whaling Museum

The life of a whaler was no romantic adventure. It was brutal. Few men could handle the physical demands and dangers, risking life and limb. Only six men in a small wooden boat give chase to this most mammoth of mammals. Whales weighing over 100 tons and 100 feet in length face off with this small crew in a tiny open skiff with sail. Visualize a longer version of a Cape May lifeguard boat. With the greatest of bravery, muscle and balance, the whalers captured these giants of the sea, mortally wounding and dragging them ashore for butchering and rendering their blubber into valuable oil.

Of course there are no photographs from the era, so imagine their hunts. Four oarsmen row the boat, a harpooner steers at the stern, and a sixth man takes position on the bow as the look-out and captain. Once close to the whale, the harpooner changes positions with the captain. When the harpooner strikes for his kill – like a javelin thrower– he propels his eight-foot steel harpoon into the whale’s flesh.

Courtesy of Nantucket Whaling Museum

Courtesy of Nantucket Whaling Museum

The drama intensifies. The whale panics and fights for its life by diving deeper into the water. The whalers, in a split second, decide if the whale is diving and taking them down to death. If so, the ropes are cut and “let ‘er go.” Or, the whale takes off in a powerful swim, the hunters dragging along behind for miles in what was later called a “Nantucket sleigh ride.”

The trickiest part comes once the whale is worn out. Sensing the sailors coming up from behind for the kill, the whale has an instinct of danger. The boat is closing in to the right of the powerful tail, but the whale has no rear view mirror. Success comes when the crew sneaks up and lances the whale in its vital organs, bleeding it to death, the bay waters running red as the giant flounders and is pulled ashore.

Nearly all parts of the whale were used. The blubber was rendered into oil over open fires. Oil and bone were shipped to New England and Europe. Sperm whale oil in particular was precious. It produced a clean, bright light in lanterns and was an ingredient in soaps, cosmetics and lubricants. Bone was used in the manufacture of canes, whips, helmet frames, corsets, umbrellas and parasols.

Jamie Hand's restored home at his farm in Goshen, New Jersey.

Jamie Hand's restored home at his farm in Goshen, New Jersey.

The peak of whaling season came in February and March, months when the most wicked weather whips across the bay. The whalers built small cottages to provide shelter from their bone-chilling work. At the end of the season they migrated back to their home base aboard sloops and shallops. But each year their bayside cottages were improved upon. Soon the men brought along their families and made their homes and a living off the whaling industry on the high ground now called Town Bank.

When it was settled it was called variously New England Town, Cape May Town, Portsmouth and Falmouth to the north of New England Creek (now the Cape May Canal). All remnants of those settlements have been claimed by the eroding sea. The graveyard of that early life is now at the bottom of the bay.

Jamie Hand is the great-great-great-great-great-great grandson of Thomas Hand, a whaler. In the 1690s, more than 300 years ago, the Hands were among the original Long Island families who first set forth on the bay dunes.

Jamie Hand is the great-great-great-great-great-great grandson of Thomas Hand, a whaler. In the 1690s, more than 300 years ago, the Hands were among the original Long Island families who first set forth on the bay dunes.

J. P. (Jamie) Hand is a 10th generation descendant of the whaling families who settled on the bay dunes in the mid-1690s. It was my lucky experience to meet him in the deep of winter when I was beginning a search for the genesis of whaler’s life here on the tip of New Jersey. He and his genealogy-digging pal Mike Shaw were swapping stories about their ancestors in the cozy library at the Cape May Historical and Genealogical Society at Cape May Courthouse.

“Families here are inter-related in many ways,” says Hand. “Consider Mike and me. Our Long Island-to-Cape May whaler families have been connected for more 350 years. This incident happened before our families moved to Cape May.”

The year is 1657. The place East Hampton, Long Island. A complaint was made to the town leaders that Mike Shaw’s ancestor Goodwife Elizabeth Garlicke, wife of Joshua, had practiced witchcraft. A baby girl had been born and the young mother, the daughter of the wealthiest, most prominent citizen, reported she saw darkness in the room – an evil spirit. As the mother lay dying with her sick baby, she identified the evil spirit as her former maid Goodie Garlicke. One story led to another, and Goodie Garlicke was officially accused of being a witch for causing sickness in children and the death of cattle.

“At the time Long Island was under Connecticut rule, and the trial was ordered in Hartford,” says Hand. “It was decided that Townsman John Hand [Jamie’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather] would transport Goodie Garlicke by boat across Long Island Sound to Connecticut to face trial for witchcraft.” Witch trials were held in Hartford before the more famous ones in Salem, Massachusetts.

As it turned out, Lion Gardiner, whose daughter made the accusations and caused the trial, came to Goodie Garlicke’s defense. She ultimately was found innocent of witchcraft. Jamie Hand shows a letter to East Hampton from the Connecticut court:


Whereupon though there did not appear sufficient evidence to prove her guilty yet we cannot but well approve and commend the Christian care & prudence of those in authority with you in searching into ye case according to such just suspicion as appeared.

Jamie Hand laughs. “Well, Mike here doesn’t hold anything against me for my ancestor John Hand sailing his ancestor to possible hanging for witchcraft,” says Hand. “Our families have been friends and relatives for a long time here on the Cape.” Mike Shaw, a life-long resident of Goshen, says that Goodwife Elizabeth Garlicke’s grandsons, Captain William Shaw and Joshua Garlicke, became Cape May whalers.

Three of John Hand’s sons followed the whales to the tip of South Jersey in the mid- 1690s. Thomas, whaler, and Jamie Hand’s great-grandfather nine generations ago, is shown in records as having purchased 400 acres from the West Jersey Society on the bayside in Lower Township. Benjamin, a yeoman (farmer), bought 365 acres in Dennis Township. Shamgar, a gentleman, already wealthy from whaling on Long Island, obtained 700 acres in Middle Township in 1695. Shamgar named his plantation Romney Marsh for an area in Kent County, England from where the Hands migrated to Long Island.

Coxe Hall Cottage, circa 1691, restored by Jamie Hand, currently relocated to Historic Cold Spring Village.

Coxe Hall Cottage, circa 1691, restored by Jamie Hand, currently relocated to Historic Cold Spring Village.

Most of these lands previously had been sold to the West Jersey Society (a group of 48 London businessmen) in 1692 by Daniel Coxe (1640-1730), a London court physician. Coxe never set foot on New Jersey soil. He was a speculator and had purchased 95,000 acres – virtually the entire peninsula – through a land grant from the King of England. He supported a whale fishery on New England Creek. Records in 1688 quote him: “I have at the Expense of about three thousand pounds settled a Town and Established a fishing for Whales which are very numerous about Cape May both within the Bay and without all along the sea coast.”

Coxe was a visionary from across the sea. He supervised building Coxe Hall, a large manor house on a stream that was named for him, Coxe Hall Creek. (Coxe Hall Creek is now partially piped, and enters the bay at the dead-end Pinewood Drive, off Beach Drive in Town Bank.) The building was designed as a center for a proprietary or manorial system of government specializing in agriculture and whaling. During his five-year reign, 47 settlers are recorded as becoming tenants. Part of the arrangement toward ownership was to pay with a “fat capon” or hen at Christmas at Coxe Hall.

The manor house, with a tower to view the bay, no longer exists. But miraculously, Coxe Hall Cottage (once part of the original manor house) just a few years ago was discovered deteriorating on Jonathan Hoffman Road along the canal. It had been moved there in the late 1800s from Coxe Hall Manor’s original site.

Again, enter Jamie Hand, who specializes in the restoration of early Colonial buildings. Hand and architectural historian Joan Berkey discerned that Coxe Hall Cottage dates back to 1691 when Coxe Hall Manor was built. It is constructed of hand-hewn timbers that are pegged together with hand-carved oak pins. This type of construction is known as a heavy timber frame or post-and-beam. The carved (fancy gunstock) corner posts on the second floor reveal its early age.

“For generations local lore connected this small cottage to old Coxe Hall,” says Hand. “Neither Joan or I thought the legend would prove true. But within minutes inspecting the cottage, we realized this was, indeed, a First Period (1690-1730) structure. This one-and- one-half-story cottage turned out to have the most elaborate carved corner posts of any Cape May County house in the First Period.” They believe the cottage is the earliest structure in the county at 317 years old!

Cottage owner Christopher Bannon donated this piece of history to Historic Cold Spring Village, a museum of early American life and buildings on Route 9, in Cold Spring. Jamie Hand and restoration carpenter Lew Thomas carefully returned the little cottage to its original appearance. It was opened to the public last summer.

Touring the cottage with Jamie Hand is an interesting experience. He is a high-octane 21st century sort of guy, always functioning, it seems, on eight cylinders. He is quick in wit and speech. His words spill out faster than one can absorb them, spanning centuries, continents and 11 generations of Hands. Yet, his life’s passions reach back to the time his family was whaling.

The interior of Coxe Hall Cottage

The interior of Coxe Hall Cottage

“Coxe Hall Cottage is similar to the tiny homes in which many whaling families lived,” says Hand. “As we see here, typical was a single room on the first floor with a fireplace for cooking, a table for the family meals and usually the parents’ bed in the corner. Visitors were received in this room. The work of the whalers’ wives and children was accomplished here: spinning wool, making candles, grinding grain, preserving produce, meats and fish for winter.”

Upstairs is a half-story chamber. Children slept on the second level dormitory-style accessed by ladder or winder stairs. They shared space with stored grain, ropes, leathers and wool.

Jamie Hand and Joan Berkey have worked together for the past four years on another significant historical project embracing the whalers’ era. They crawled musty basements, spider-webbed attics and up ladders and steep stairs to locate First Period homes in Cape May County. The result is a new book by Berkey, Early Architecture of Cape May County, New Jersey – The Heavy Timber Frame Legacy. It is scholarly, but easy-to-read, ground-breaking research with photographs about the colonial period 1690-1832. To date, she has identified 38 county homes she believes were built before 1730.

“When I told people I was writing a book about the early architecture of Cape May County,” writes Berkey, “their reply was invariably, ‘Oh, you mean the old Victorian houses?’ While this response shows the great recognition bestowed upon the much-loved, gingerbread-trimmed dwellings in Cape May City,” she says, “it also reflects the relative obscurity endured by the county’s significant collection of heavy timber frame (also known as post-and-beam) buildings.”

The early settlers who built and lived in these homes were not all whalers. There were coopers, planters, cordwainers (shoemakers), gentlemen, farmers, carpenters, weavers, blacksmiths, coopers, boat builders, rope makers and merchants. The farmers grew Indian corn, wheat, rye, flax and tobacco. They owned horses and cattle that grazed freely to the water and wilderness edges. They raised sheep and pigs, but warned against feeding the swine whale’s blubber because it “spoylt” the pork for eating. It is written that Daniel Coxe imported the first slaves in New Jersey. Some of the more successful whaling families owned slaves, as were reflected in their inventories.

The earliest inventory, according to Joan Berkey, was chronicled in Cape May County in 1687. The list of possessions on the death of John Storres shows just how simply the colonists lived.

A chest and small things
On [one] gun
2 brass cities [kettles] and on [one] frying pan
2 axes and on [one]
shobel [shovel]
On [one] sadel [saddle]
2 parlor chers [chairs]
On [one] blanket
One house and improvements
On [one] stier [steer], 4 year ould [old]
2 stiers [steers] going on 2 year ould [old]
2 cows and calves
On [one] bull
On [one] heifer whit [with] calfe [calf]

One wonders where he slept? On a straw mat or sheep’s pelt?

Inventories often included whalers tools: toggle irons, gorge spades for cutting, blubber pikes to hook blubber, a temple toggle to inflict a fatal blow in an artery. Too, there were listed boats, oars, fish knives and carpenter’s tools. Some early settlers were skilled wood workers.

There are generations of carpenters in the Hand family. When Jamie Hand is not restoring 17th and 18th century buildings, you will find him sitting on his traditional South Jersey decoy maker’s bench outside the barn-studio on his 47-acre farm in Goshen. “I carve outside because I like the natural light,” he says. There, in the noonday sun, with the old-fashioned daylilies breaking bloom, he carves and paints decoys. His face appears finely chiseled as he works– appropriate for a man who spends hours shaping duck and dove decoys for hunting. Hand is a master decoy carver. His work is considered folk art and frequently exhibited at museum shows. Like his ancestors, he hunts water fowl. For over 25 years he’s guided water fowl hunters and birders over meadows and salt marshes.

Whaler descendents Mike Shaw and Jamie Hand

Whaler descendants Mike Shaw and Jamie Hand

Across the field his partner Gwen and her friend are at the 18th century-replica horse barn designed by Jamie. She is mucking the stalls, and saddling up one of the horses. She is an equestrian and a gourmet cook who sometimes caters events. For lunch that day she shared a bowl of the most remarkably delicious strawberry shortcake. Was it the local berries or the homemade cake, or the real whipped cream?

J.P. “Jamie” Hand and other descendants of these early whaling families take comfort in still living in the area where their kin settled so long ago. Thomas Hand, the first generation bay whaler, found good fortune here on the Jersey Cape. In 1699, he bought 340 acres of ocean front. That land is where the City of Cape May now sprawls. The epicenter of his acreage is where Congress Hall now stands. He gifted the land to his two eldest sons John and George. Amazingly, George’s house still exists on North Street as a private residence. In the Victorian era it was called the Blue Pig, a gambling house and reputed house of ill-repute.

Thomas Hand, the patriarch, preferred living on his bay front plantation. His 400 acres stretched from Fishing Creek to Green Creek. Jamie Hand enjoys driving the road that snakes through Del Haven in the area his family owned and called “The Home Plantation.”

As he drives down Beach Drive along the bay in Town Bank, the only evidence of any whaling memory is the big sign outside a restaurant called Harpoon Henry’s. There’s still a view of the bay all the way to the ocean, but no more whales spouting off. They were hunted so fiercely that the Cape May coastal waters were picked clean before the start of the American Revolution. After hunting the waters for two months, Lewis Cresse reported in a diary in the 1750s: “We never saw a whale nor a spout of a whale that we knew of, in all of that time.”

125 Years of West Cape May

William J. Moore

William J. Moore

“People back in those days, they looked out for each other, and it seemed like everybody had a dog and chickens too! Our teachers were dedicated. They were with kids after school. We were taught to play music, sing, dance. We did it all! The Grant Street area was where you had segregated beaches, but I’m to understand that it was the best down on the beachfront.”

Clara Harris
West Cape May, NJ

“I’ve lived in West Cape May for 70 out of my 76 years. One of the most special teachers growing up, and you’ve probably heard this from many of the West Cape May African Americans, was William J. Moore. He taught black history; today they take pride in teaching black history in one month–then he used to teach it all the time. One of my closest  friends growing up was Ralph Bakeley. He and I would walk to school hand in hand, bicycle to bicycle, then we got to the schools and separated. We didn’t pay any attention to it because that’s the way it was.”

Jim Washington
West Cape May, NJ

The Eldredge House

The Eldredge House

Sunday, November 15 (6-9 p.m.) longtime residents and friends will gather at the West Cape May Fire Hall to celebrate the borough’s 125 year anniversary. The History Committee, comprised of two ladies, Marie Iaconangelo and Doris Jacobsen, have been cataloging pictures which are currently on display at Borough Hall. The exhibition, “Picturing the Past” was the committee’s first major project. Another major project the ladies have undertaken, along with the help of filmographer and executive director of the Cape May Film Society, Tom Sims and his team of young filmmakers, is to interview and record the reminiscences of members West Cape May’s most distinguished families. A DVD of the video interviews will be available and an abbreviated version will be shown at the celebration.

Back in the 1800s when the Borough was first formed, West Cape May was home to all the folk who serviced the seashore resort of Cape May – the milkman, the vegetable huckster, maids, butlers and there was a corner store on every corner. The Borough was also home to a canning factory, a gold beater industry and sulky racetrack. But by and large West Cape May was a farming community which reincorporated three times – 1884, 1890, and 1894, when the Borough of South Cape May was added on. No one seems to quite know why, except to suspect that money was to be gained from each reorganization. The first postmaster was Horace Swain.

West Cape May had an elementary school for Afro-American children and right next door a school for white children. Lifelong residents remember walking to school together, separating to go to their respective schools, and walking home after school without ever thinking a think about it.

Take a walk through the picture gallery gathered by West Cape May’s History Committee and look for more stories about West Cape May on and in Cape May Magazine. And if you have any stories or photos you would like to share send them to

Black and white photos and captions courtesy the History Committee of West Cape May. Current photographs by Macy Zheylazkova and Bernie Haas.

See pictures from West Cape May’s anniversary party

Ashley: Romance at the Physick Estate

Our family and friends have spent numerous summers visiting Cape May so there was never any doubt in our minds, Cape May was the perfect place to hold our wedding. We both love the city so much and it’s become like our second home. We also wanted to have the wedding in a place where our guests could relax and enjoy themselves for the weekend. Jerry even proposed to me at the B&B, Beauclaires, on the balcony overlooking the ocean, as we watched the sunset. It was so romantic, I will never forget it!

Frequently visiting Cape May, bike riding is one of our favorite activities to do. We were able to see all of the amazing sites and history that Cape May had to offer, at our own pace. We came across the Emlen Physick Estate and knew, after months of researching the various places to have a wedding, that this was the perfect place for our wedding. We planned a small, intimate wedding with our close friends and family. The Physick Estate staff was wonderful. Heather, Bill and Christine are simply amazing. They were so helpful and enjoyable to work with. They made sure every detail was worked out and made my wedding day worry free.

We had our wedding outdoors by the gazebo surrounded by brightly colored hydrangea flowers in full bloom. The entire destination was an absolutely breathtaking backdrop. The photographs turned out stunning!

We hired the Cape May Carriage Company to pick my bridesmaids and I up at the B&B, Beauclaires. It is a fantastic, comfortable and beautiful place to stay. It was magical to look out the window and see the carriage pulling up to pick us up. It was like a fairy tale! The carriage we selected was an antique white carriage with velvet red interior and subtle, red details on the outside as well. It complimented my bridal parties claret, red dresses perfectly. It was pulled by a white horse named Magic. The owner, Beverly, her husband and staff were also wonderful and very helpful. The ride was so exciting and made the whole experience that much better.

The groomsmen awaited the carriages arrival to accompany the bridesmaids down the aisle. Lastly, my father escorted me down the aisle to Jerry as my DJ, Mike Leonard played the keyboard. The ceremony then was led and officiated by Rev. John Gallagher. He too did a remarkable job.

All of our flowers were done by Kate’s Flower Shop located in West Cape May. She was absolutely wonderful! I had looked at pictures of bouquets for months and really didn’t know what I wanted but once I arrived to meet with her, she was so helpful and took into account every last detail of what we wanted for our special day. Her arrangements were even more than I ever expected. We incorporated a lot of hydrangeas into our floral arrangements and she added berries to the bridesmaids bouquets again that complimented to their dresses. The groom, groomsman, fathers and ring bearer also all had boutonnieres that complimented their tuxedos. They were all remarkable! She did an outstanding job.

An evening cocktail hour and reception was held after the ceremony at the Emlen Physick Estate Carriage House Tearoom. Thehors d’oeurves were passed out and were absolutely delicious. We then were seated for our sit down dinner that too was wonderful. We also heard a lot of praise for the service staff. After dinner, they served dessert and our wedding cake that was made by Michel Gras at La Patisserie. It was a three-tier white cake, with vanilla and strawberries between the layers. It was covered with flowers and mixed berries. The cake was absolutely delicious and everyone raved about how beautiful it was.

I can’t compliment our vendors enough! All of them were truly exceptional. I can’t thank them all enough for helping to create such a memorable day for us and our family and friends. I can truly say that we had the perfect wedding!

Artificial Reefs: Insurance for Future Fishing

towing 3

An old boat is towed to the Cape May Reef for sinking

This article originally appeared in Cape May Magazine, Winter 2008.

On any given day the most popular fishing ground off Cape May is none other than the Cape May Reef, aka the Sanctuary. Located 9.1 nautical miles from Cape May inlet on a course heading of 128 °, it is home to more marine species than any other marine structure inshore. The Cape May Reef is man-made and is the largest artificial reef, at 4.5 square miles, and the oldest artificial reef site in New Jersey. The Cape May Reef was originally started in 1982 by the Cape May County Party and Charter Boat Association. In 1984 the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Division of Fish and Wildlife took over all reef building responsibilities in the state from several private reef associations. It’s been a true success story between man and nature.

The objectives of the reef program are to provide:

  • Hard-substrate “reef” habitat in the ocean for certain species of fish and shellfish.
  • New fishing grounds for anglers.
  • Underwater structure for scuba divers.
  • Economic returns for tourism and sportfishing industries.

prep sinkingBy constructing and managing reefs, the goal is to spread the benefits of the reef’s resources to as many people as possible.

At less than 10 nautical miles from the inlet most boats have the range to fish the Cape May Reef. There are currently two other reef sites off the coast of Cape May County within 10 miles of major inlets: the Wildwood Reef and the T.I. Reef. There are a total of 15 reef sites encompassing a total of 25 square miles of sea floor in New Jersey. Part of the reef’s goal is not to change New Jersey’s marine environment, but to enhance a small controlled portion. Reefs such as the Cape May Reef are home to over 150 marine species. Some of the most common species preferred by anglers and divers are black sea bass, summer flounder, tautog, blue fish, Atlantic bonito, porgy and, of course, lobster.

sinking 2The Cape May Reef works like this: a hard substrate in the ocean provides an attachment surface for a variety of encrusting or fouling organisms called epibenthos such as mussels, sponges and barnacles. This creates a protective mat for species at the bottom of the reef’s food chain, which includes Crabs, Snails and Shrimp. In the middle of the reef’s food chain are bottom fish, like Sea Bass that feed on Crabs and Tautog that feed on Mussels. Schooling bait fish migrating through tend to like high structures such as sunken ships. Pelagic predators (free swimming) including Sharks, Blue Fish and Mahi Mahi are at the top of the reef’s food chain feeding on these bait fish and each other. Hard substrates also protect fish from not only predators but surges and current. Reefs create a cycle of life that is critical in supporting life in the ocean.

Removing the wheel house before sinking

The wheel house is removed prior to sinking

Since New Jersey has a very gently sloping, shallow coastal floor with very little hard structure such as outcroppings, and, although there are an estimated 500 to 3,000 shipwrecks off  New Jersey’s coast, many of these wrecks are slowly destroyed over time by the forces of the sea. The intentional sinking of vessels helps to replace deteriorating wrecks. As of 2007, the Cape May Reef is home to 21 sunken ships such as clam boats, Coast Guard cutters, cargo ships and tug boats. Other structures sunk at the reef are subway cars, barges, concrete ballasted tires, concrete castings and army tanks. All of these ships and structures have to be cleaned of all pollutants and pass a U.S. Coast Guard pollution inspection. All loose and floating debris must be removed as well. The next step is to vent all internal water, tighten bulkheads and, in some cases, cut holes just above the water line to assist in the sinking of the vessel. These holes are covered with a “soft patch” such as plywood to prevent leaking during the tow to the reef.

Reef balls

Concrete reef balls

Another very important structure are reef balls made entirely of concrete four feet in diameter and weighing 1,800 pounds each. These reef balls resemble small igloos with many holes. In the fall of 2007 over 500 of these reef balls will be towed by barge by Sea Tow Cape May and sunk on the reefs’ sites off Cape May County. It’s important to note that most of the sinkings of these structures are funded by the private sector such as the sportfishing fund and non-profit organizations that have raised donations from fishing and diving clubs. Without these clubs and organizations much of the success from the reef program would not be possible.


Most of the fishing on the Cape May Reef is done by drifting and fishing off the bottom and, since it’s such a large reef with so much structure, fishermen can make long drifts and the reef can handle hundreds of boats fishing the reef at the same time. Most of the drift fishing is done in the middle of the reef in approximately 65 feet of water. The northern end of the reef is the shallowest area – about 55 feet. Wrecks and reef balls are spaced far enough apart that boats can easily anchor. The lower end of the reef is the deepest at about 70 feet. Here there are larger wrecks and subway cars. This area is preferred by scuba divers. Many party and charter boats fish the Cape May reef daily from late spring through the fall. Most of these trips last between six and eight hours.


Artificial reefs such as the Cape May Reef ensure fishing for future generations. So, next time you fish the reef and your fishing rig gets snagged, think of what’s below you and all the work it took to enable you to catch that fish!

steve-spagnuolaStephen Spagnuola, a graduate of Visual Arts, New York City, worked as art director for many ad agencies in New York before leaving advertising to pursue fashion photography, and worked on such magazines as Stuff, Flatiron, and Zink. Stephen is a freelance photographer and marketing director for Sea Tow Cape May. Visit Steve online

Flipping the Bird

turkey2The provocative title refers to cooking the Thanksgiving turkey not the traditional North Jersey greeting. Turkey cooking is one of several controversial Thanksgiving topics. In my effort to go after a Nobel Peace Prize, I will attempt to resolve some of the more contentious components of the autumnal feast. Stuffing in the bird or cooked separately. Anyone still clinging to the old fashioned stuffed bird method prepare for change. I will concede the point that the stuffing does taste better when cooked inside the bird. However, it also increases the risk of food borne illness and of a dry overcooked turkey. Antibiotics can cure the former there is no known cure for the latter. To ensure a safely-cooked turkey an internal temperature of 165° needs to be reached. Since the stuffing comes into contact with the raw turkey cavity the internal temperature of the stuffing also needs to be 165°. To achieve this, the lean breast meat will be about 185° reaching close to 200° after resting. As a result an unstuffed bird will be a juicier bird.

Every year at this time experts proclaim the newest way to make a foolproof moist turkey. Brining, deep frying and bag cooking all have their devoted disciples and there are some cooks who just flip (their turkeys) at Thanksgiving time. The theory behind flipping the bird is that the dark meat which is higher in fat is on the underside of the bird. Cooking the bird upside down allows the fat within the bird to melt and drip down into the leaner and drier white meat. There are two major drawbacks to this method. First off, cooking the bird for half the cooking time cranberryupside down yields a less brown and softer skin. This can be remedied by cooking the bird breast side up for the last 40 minutes of cooking and increasing the heat to re-crisp the skin. The second drawback is trying to flip a half-cooked, hot, juicy turkey. For a moist turkey I stick with packing butter between the skin and the breast and frequent basting with pan drippings. The result moist turkey and crispy skin.

The next menu debate is cranberry sauce versus cranberry relish. Canned cranberry sauce is perfectly acceptable, but lacks the flavor of simple homemade cranberry relish. Cranberries are touted for their antioxidants so it seems silly to cook, puree, strain and jelly, thus removing lots of the nutritional value. The sugared and uncooked variety just seems lighter. It can be enhanced with oranges or apples for natural sweeteners. This method lets the fresh natural taste of the cranberry shine through. It also tastes great the next day on a turkey sandwich on a crusty Kaiser roll.

The next item can be very contentious. The potato. Mashed or sweet or both? I like sweet potatoes, but prefer them mashed or baked. The gloppy overly sweet marshmallow covered casserole should stay below the Mason-Dixon Line. As for mashed potatoes these questions must be addressed – Skin on or skin off? Smooth or lumpy? If you like smooth mashed potatoes try Yukon Gold potatoes they yield a nice golden color a buttery flavor and silky texture. For skin-on potatoes try older red-skinned potatoes. The small red bliss are too young and waxy and yield a gluey texture if overcooked.

pumpkin pie

The dessert debate usually comes down to pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie or pecan. Mincemeat pie has fallen along the culinary scrap heap once people found out what it was really made of. My solution is simple – make one of each. Sweet-potato-pecan pie is a Solomon-like solution if you truly want to minimize the amount of pie baking that you do. But the pies need to be homemade. Store bought pies just don’t cut it for this holiday. Stick to the basics. Save the cranberry-pumpkin cheesecake or pumpkin crème brûlée for the restaurants at home. It should be home-baked pies.

This month have a Persnickety Thanksgiving with my recipes for Cranberry-Orange Relish with a splash of Grand Marnier, silky smooth Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes and Mom-Mom’s Holiday Pumpkin Pie with old-fashioned lard pie crust (optional but worth the effort to find the lard). Click here for a refresher on my recipe for a Traditional Roast Turkey. Until next month, Bon Appétit.

Fresh Cranberry-Orange Relish

(Yield 1 pint, plus)

  • 4 cups fresh cranberries
  • 3 oranges, segmented and zested
  • 1½ tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ cup Grand Marnier
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • Pinch salt

Place cranberries zest, sugar, salt and Grand Marnier in food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Hand chop oranges. Fold into relish. Refrigerate 24 hours. Adjust sugar, if necessary.

Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes

  • 12 peeled quartered Yukon gold potatoes
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 cup cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cover in cold water. Simmer until fork tender. Heat 2 sticks unsalted butter in 1 cup cream until butter melts. Run potatoes through food mill. Fold in cream and butter mix until desired consistency is reached. For looser potatoes, add more liquid.  Finish with salt and white pepper to taste. For a twist, add diced scallions and horseradish.

Mom-Mom Halliday’s Pumpkin Pie

Lard Pie Crust

(Makes 4 pie shells)

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 cups lard
  • 1 cup ice water
  • 1 teaspoon salt

In food processor, add flour. Pulse in lard until it forms pea-sized balls. Pulse in ice water until dough just holds together. Form into ball. Refrigerate 30 minutes. Roll out and line nine inch pie shell

Pumpkin Pie Filling

(Makes 1 pie)

  • 1 15-ounce can Libby’s Pure Pumpkin (NOT pie filling)
  • 2 eggs, plus 2 yolks
  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch salt
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • Pinch nutmeg

In bowl, combine sugar, salt and spice. Beat in eggs and yolks. Add pumpkin. Beat until smooth. Beat in evaporated milk. Gradually pour into shell. Place in 425° oven. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°. Bake 45 more minutes. Remove. Cool 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate.

persnicketychefJon Davies is a graduate of Johnson and Wales University of Culinary Arts. His work as a chef has taken him to Aspen, Colorado; Cape May, NJ; and the odd private jet for culinary gigs for the rich and famous.

The Game’s Afoot! Sherlock Holmes Weekends in Cape May

Sherlock Holmes056

This article originally appeared in Cape May Magazine, Fall 2009.

“Hurry, Watson, the game’s afoot!”

If, like me, you’re a Sherlock Holmes buff, you’ve heard the phrase spoken countless times.

When Patrick Mulvaney, who played the role of Sherlock Holmes in the Cape May production of Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Mistaken Identity, shouted the famous line near the end of the play, it marked the game that John Alvarez decided for his first written script for the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts’ (MAC) fabled Sherlock Holmes Weekend.

Alvarez, who played the role of Holmes’ faithful sidekick, turned toward the audience and responded, “Funny…I still don’t know what he is talking about.”

Alvarez’s assumptions about the response from the crowd proved to be correct. The audience, gathered at The Inn of Cape May for the final act of a three-act play, responded with both laughter and applause.

Watson&someone“What most people don’t realize is that is a line from Shakespeare [King Henry IV] and not from a Sherlock Holmes story,” said Alvarez, who has played numerous roles in the series since the mid-1990s and has written several other plays. Alvarez debated about whether or not to leave the line in the play. “I just didn’t want to be offensive to some of the scholarly Sherlock Holmes followers,” he said.

However, Alvarez’s doubts were quickly put to rest, and the questionable and recognized line proved to be a fitting ending to a play creatively mixed with both intrigue and humor. It is the unlikely blend of those two elements that have captivated and allured Alvarez and countless others on and off stage to contribute in their own ways to the Sherlock Holmes Weekends.

“There is a real connection here between so many people,” emphasized Alvarez. “In some ways, the weekend has taken on a life of its own. People who see me in other places always express a real interest in my life as well as the other actors. It has become a prominent event and a weekend escape for many people through the years.”

Whatever their motivation for coming, the game is truly “afoot” during the renowned Sherlock Holmes Weekends, held during Cape May’s “shoulder seasons” in March and again in November. It is a weekend where a keen eye, a pondering mind and a hearty laugh can be your calling card for an affordable weekend getaway that can easily let you escape back into a late-1800s weekend when a life of chivalry, dignity and formality played significant roles. It appeals to the true Holmes and Maid&Womanmystery aficionados who often strive to assume their Victorian roles with as much authenticity as possible. It also appeals to those simply seeking a weekend full of creative challenges. According to Mary Stewart, a veteran actor in the Sherlock Holmes series and Director of Outreach for the MAC, roughly one-third of the participants are repeat customers. Some have been attending for 10 to 15 years or longer.

Karen Allen of nearby North Wildwood has attended seven of the weekends, and would not consider coming without wearing suitable garments for the event. Among the honors bestowed on participants, “Overall Weekend Winner,” “Weekend Package Winner,” and “Clueless Wonder Winner,” Karen has frequently been singled out as one of the “Best Dressed.” She and her husband, Bruce, scour antique shops across the county in order to arrive in their best Holmesian attire.

“This costume is 120 years old, and it is an actual antique,” said Karen about her wardrobe at the March weekend. “I have also made some of the costumes for the event.  We began this as a Christmas present for my husband, and we have been enjoying it ever since. From the opening evening, you can become very comfortable with everyone because it is a relaxed environment where you are focused on the task of solving a problem, relaxing and having fun and meeting new friends.”

Warren Brodt and his wife, Cathy, along with their friends, Al and Elizabeth Cooper from Devon, Pennsylvania, formed “The Columbia Street Irregulars,” a group of 10 to 20 returnees who for the past 14 years have arrived in full regalia.

Watson“I was attracted to the weekend because I’m a big Sherlock Holmes fan,” said Warren, who has read and watched numerous Sherlock Holmes novels and videos. “We have had a number of people in our group solve the crime. When my wife won, her jaw just dropped. It’s been fun to watch the changes in the different venues and the different actors. But the real attraction seems to be the friendships and overall friendly atmosphere of the weekend. It’s like a family reunion.”

For the typical crowd of 100 to 200 participants, the combination of intrigue, laughter and camaraderie blend together with Cape May’s splendid Victorian background to provide visitors with a weekend opportunity to finally assume the role of one of their most beloved characters. Most have spent countless hours reading and rereading their favorite Sherlock Holmes tale.

Since 1990 the weekends have attracted aspiring detectives ranging in all ages from the grizzled mystery bookworm, to the television detective fanatic, and even the studious, but curious, college student fascinated with the chance to use their problem-solving skills while experiencing the charm of Cape May.

In the course of a little over 40 hours, participants experience an opening act on Friday evening when the city’s quaintness and gas-light appearance bestow an appropriate backdrop to a classical mystery setting. If you are lucky, a fog will roll in to add a finishing touch as you are introduced to the main characters at an inn or restaurant.  To put the crowd at ease, the actors weave their way among the tables, typically in a close setting as you listen and dine on an assortment of desserts.

Sherlock Holmes006If you are a first-time visitor, it can initially feel a little awkward sitting down with a group of strangers during the first act. However, the enthusiastic and charismatic veterans tend to work the room masterfully as they often ask the crowd to respond to a question as they roam around the tables and chairs. There are also the returnees who offer their rendition of a Holmes, Watson or any other typical Londoner in their attire from the 1800s

At the conclusion of the opening evening, you will leave with an item in your hand, one of the major clues in solving the mystery. In the past, participants have left with a variety of creative items ranging from a replica copy of the Cape May Star and Wave newspaper to a cryptogram. You will also leave with a list of bed and breakfast establishments in a five to six-block radius of the city to begin the search for clues.

As day two begins, it’s time to don your Holmes hat and pipe. The hunt is on as you and your fellow detectives search for clues. A word of caution – be shrewd with your time and confer methodically and judiciously with your most trusted colleagues as time is of the essence in your two-hour window before you return to view the second act of the play, normally in a rendition of Holmes’ study at the opening night site. Upon leaving, you be provided with a form to help solve the mystery and pinpoint who you believe perpetrated the crime.

Sherlock Holmes033The East Lynne Theater Company also performs a reenactment of a radio broadcast Saturday evening of such Sherlock Holmes classics as The Adventure of the Speckled Band and The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.

Finally, it’s time for the final act to be presented and the culprit to be revealed during a midday brunch. Soon afterwards, the “Overall Winner” and the “Clueless Wonder” are announced concluding the festivities. Both “winners” receive a package for the following year. This past March, Bonnie Kellet of Manassas, Virginia, was a first-time contestant and a first-time winner. She and her husband, Tom, decided to join their daughter, Jennifer and her husband, Jerry, on a weekend getaway.

“The real fun was searching for clues and seeing all of the different places and antiques,” said Bonnie. “It’s such a great interactive weekend, and it’s definitely worth the trip for anyone.”

So, next time you are strolling the streets of Cape May on either a March or November weekend and believe you may see someone dressed a bit oddly, don’t be alarmed because… “The Game’s Afoot!”

Mystery and mayhem take over Cape May during Sherlock Homes Weekend, sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (MAC), Friday to Sunday, Nov. 6-8.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, and his partner Dr. Watson return to Cape May for another weekend of murder and suspense.  The master detective is faced with one of his most baffling cases yet, The Case of Mistaken Identity by John K. Alvarez, a new mystery for 2009. Please call 609-884-5404 or 800-275-4278, ext. 185 for more information or to reserve your overnight package.

Bayberry – A native plant that yields fragrant holiday candles!


One of my favorite plants of the Cape May area is Bayberry. They are a native and one that the birds help to spread. Bayberry says seashore. Traditionally the berries of these evergreen plants have been used to make candles.

We have always burned Bayberry candles on Christmas Eve. Often times we have to put them in the sink to finish burning when we go to midnight mass since tradition says they must burn to the end. My mother-in-law used to give us the candles when we were first married, maintaining that they bring good luck when someone gives them to you. To this day I like to give Bayberry candles as gifts. There is quite a history connected to this native plant that grows so readily in our sandy South Jersey soil.

Part of the fun is to go collect the berries. Most grow in the coastal areas near the shore and are probably protected, but you can grow them in your yard. They grow throughout one of our fields where the birds spread the seed from the original plant.

I love the December fields and woods because they are like a banquet table laden with colorful dishes. Leaves have fallen so berries can be seen everywhere! When we collect at the farm, I always look for Bayberries and try to pick a big bundle to use for wreaths and decorations. The birds have spread them across the overgrown area of towering trees with some now in too much shade to produce good berries. The ones in the sun have many berries.

We often gather these fragrant, gray/white waxy berries to use them in arrangements with Bayberry candles. They keep well dried, lasting for years. They also look really great glued to swags or wreaths.

bayberry2The wax from the berries is used to make candles, cosmetics and soap. It is removed from the berries by boiling them in water so it will float to the top. It melts at 116 to 120 degrees and is harder and more brittle than beeswax. Candles made from it are aromatic and smokeless after snuffing.

Last year I wanted to make Bayberry candles with a native plant study group that meets at my home. I picked some branches with berries and leaves and proceeded to look for instructions. I found out that four pounds of berries yield about one pound of wax! When I realized that I had only a few cups of berries I had to change my plans. So, I melted a large block of bee’s wax in a big coffee can over a pot of hot water. To this, I added all the berries, leaves and even small pieces of the stem including the bark. It simmered for about four hours and became dark Army green, almost brown, but it smelled very good. We hung pieces of wick in small Dixie cups and poured in the hot wax. When it cooled we each had a nice Bayberry votive.

We did not dip our candles as the Colonial people did, but rather poured them. If you have ever dipped candles, you know what a tedious task it is. Beginning with the wick and dipping it up and down, over and over again in the hot wax until the candle is formed. It is a fun thing to do only if you have the time, but a necessity back in Colonial times if there was to be light after sunset. It was considered to be “woman’s work” and they were constantly experimenting with additives to seek ways in which the candles would burn longer.

According to old stories and legends in the 1700s, just before Christmas, a small group of women in a little New England colony added the oil of the Bayberry to their candles. Not only did the candles burn longer, but they also gave off a most delightful scent. So pleased were they that they decided to make a Christmas Eve gift of these candles to each home in the village. Thus the poem:

A bayberry candle
Burned to the socket
Brings joy to the home
And wealth to the pocket

Today folks still love to give and receive Bayberry candles. However, in order for these good luck wishes to come true for you, the candles should be given to you as a gift. But I am sure many folks break this rule and buy their own.

Lorraine with bayberry plant.

Lorraine with bayberry plant.

And remember, once lit, traditionally on Christmas Eve, they must be allowed to burn out. You must not blow them out or all the good luck wishes will go up in the smoke and be lost. Should you have to leave your home or retire before the candles have burned out, simply place them in the sink where they can burn without danger. It is a charming old tradition and one you might like to begin with your own friends and loved ones. Bayberry has also been used for making sealing-wax.

The official Latin Name is Myrica but in many locales people call it Wax Myrtle, Candleberry, Candleberry Myrtle, Waxberry, and Tallow Shrub. In the past the native people as well as Colonial people used parts of this plant medicinally.

Our northern bayberry Myrica pensylvanica grows in thickets near swamps and marshes but in sand along the Atlantic coast and east in similar places to the shores of Lake Erie. The early American Colonists found the Bayberry tree growing throughout the East in sandy coastal areas from New England to Florida.

Initially, Bayberry was used medicinally only in the South, where the Choctaw Indians boiled the leaves and drank the decoction as a treatment for fever. During the early 19th century, Bayberry root was used for colds, flu and other infectious diseases in addition to diarrhea and fever. The dried berries were even put in broth and used as spices. The leaves were infused like tea. Folk medicine says that Bayberry stimulates lymphatic drainage and encourages the healing of mucus membranes. Contemporary herbalists recommend using the herb externally for varicose veins and internally for diarrhea, dysentery, colds, flu, bleeding gums, and sore throat. They say it is excellent to use in the early stages of infection, as it contains myricitrin, which exhibits antibiotic activity against a wide range of bacteria.

If you have a sandy, sunny place in your yard, plant a few Bayberry. Its height is from three to eight feet, with small leaves that are shiny and resinous. The stems are dotted on both sides with flowers that are unisexual producing fruit in small groups of round berries with black grains crusted with greenish-white wax. These remain on the shrub for two or three years until they fall or the birds eat them. The leaves are very fragrant when rubbed. Bayberry needs very little care once established. It does not like to be over watered or fertilized too much. Remember where it grows natively, in sandy wasteland!

I still love to give Bayberry candles and have found a few good sources for the real ones made by real people here in the U S. They are simple and fragrant and make a real nice hostess gifts during the holiday season. Come see our wreaths and arrangements when Triple Oaks has a Christmas Open House from November 21 through November 29.

lorraine-kieferLorraine Kiefer has gardened all of her life. She is a garden writer, floral designer and professional horticulturist. Lorraine teaches many classes at Triple Oaks nursery and Herb Garden in Franklinville, NJ. Email for garden help or leave your questions below!

Ode to Autumn

Consider the poem Autumn Movement by Carl Sandburg:
I CRIED over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.
The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.
The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the old things go, not one lasts.

No need for tears, because Autumn’s Movement will bring new spring life before you know it, but delight in these photographs and all the beauty that fall brings to our Island.

Photographs by Macy Zhelyazkova.