- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Month: February 2011

Rum Runners Ball – the Bees Knees

The Rum Runners Ball sponsored by the Cape May County Historical Society
was held in the Ballroom of Congress Hall Saturday, Feb. 12. The event
was peppered with Roaring 20s-style gentlemen in gangster attire as well
as those the more formal tuxedo. Ladies were decked out in flapper
dresses, complete with beads and hair plumes. Dancing the Charleston in
its many forms was expected.

Proceeds benefit the Cape May County Historical and Genealogical Society.

Share your Beach Theatre memories with The Press

Do you have any fond memories or experiences of the Beach Theatre?

The Press of Atlantic City is looking for people who have Beach Theatre memories and want to share them. The theater, Cape May’s last movie house, is targeted for demolition as soon as this fall to make way for condominiums.

As developers and preservationists battle over the theater’s fate, The Press wants to take to a look back. Call Press reporter Richard Degener at 609-463-6711 or e-mail him at to share your memories.

Denise: A family affair

Our wedding took place in Cape May June 20, 2009 at the Chalfonte Hotel.  Rich and I just love Cape May, the beautiful scenery, the architecture and history of Cape May, we just had to have our wedding and reception at the Chalfonte Hotel.

The Wedding Coordinator at The Chalfonte was Terry S. Carr. Cape Winds Florist did all the flowers.  I had pink peonies and white roses. Music was provided by harpist Lucia Marone. My daughter Kelly was the vocalist.

The photography was done by Aleksey Photography (photos featured here were taken by my friends and family). Alek also had Rich and I come back and do beach photos, because it rained on our wedding day.  He is an amazing person.  My son is a chef at Harrah’s and he made the wedding cake.

The day was about family and dear friends. We even had my 93 year old uncle travel 2 ½ hours to be at the wedding.

I have been visiting Cape May for over 15 years on family vacations and Christmas house tours.  When Rich popped the question, we both knew our wedding had to be in Cape May.


Below are photographs from Aleksey Photography:

New Parking Meters for Washington Street Mall

Your complaints were heard! Cape May gets new USER-FRIENDLY parking meters to replace the “old” Rhino USER-UNFRIENDLY parking meters

Visitors and locals alike will be pleased as punch to see NEW user-friendly parking meters which are slated to be installed around the Washington Street Mall and the Jackson Street parking lot by May 1, when the meters go back on in the city.

The “old” and VERY unpopular Rhino meters, purchased about five years ago, will be removed and stored until the city can find a municipality which uses them and may want to buy them. The new meters will:

  • NOT be space-designated. In other words, users will buy time and get a receipt which they will put on their dashboard for police to see. Drivers can park anywhere along the Mall that accepts the Metric meters. Those parking in the Jackson Street lot, which is a 12-hour lot, can park anywhere in that lot, but CANNOT move their vehicle over to the Mall, which has a three hour parking limit.
  • Be larger and hopefully more visible
  • Will have a panel which can be seen in sunlight and at night
  • You can pay with quarters or a credit card. The city, if council approves at its regular meeting Tuesday, Feb.15, is also expected to add acceptance of dollar bills to the payment options.

As to the handicapped parking rule, the state of News Jersey maintains that handicapped drivers can park in spaces designated as such, but must still pay the meter. However, the City of Cape May has had a policy of not ticketing handicapped drivers after the meter expires. More recently, City Council passed an amendment to the parking ordinance which states that anyone parking in a blue designated handicapped parking space does not have to pay. HOWEVER, those with handicapped signs that they put on the dashboard who park in any available parking spot DO have to pay the meter. So if you figured that one out – you should probably try your hand at the bar exam.

Cape May Diamonds

This article originally appeared in the August 2009 issue of Cape May Magazine.

A necklace and unpolished quartz from Sunset Beach Gift Shop

My only engagement ring is a Cape May diamond. I treasure it and wear it as if it were the real deal.

Some years ago, my beau and I walked the Cape May Lighthouse beach. It was an afternoon in late May. Spring perfumed the air; the salty sea tang mingling with the smell of the first mow. We sat on a dune, lay back watching billowy clouds and fell into a deep sleep.

On waking, he said, “Let’s walk around the tip of the Cape, I want to show you some place special.” Our day ended at sunset, on Sunset Beach, overlooking Delaware Bay. There, a dozen or so beachcombers were in double-bends, peering into the sand, as though their noses were radar. Their search was for Cape May diamonds. The pebbles are quartz; the precious ones, clear as crystal, and a rare find. The more common ones appear frosted. The most desirable are tear-shaped, a beachcomber explained, are called “angel tears.” Stories were told, he said, that angels dropped tears from heaven in grief over orphan children.

Sunset Beach Gift Shop

We stopped in the Sunset Beach Gift Shop. It’s a store meant for beach lovers, with displays of sea shells, miniature lighthouses, books on shipwrecks. My beau and I went straight back to the glass cases showing a dazzling array of Cape May diamonds. “Pick whichever ring you wish,” he said. “I can’t afford a real one, but this one will be just as special until….” I was giddy as a school girl. In the trays before me, mounted on black velvet, were dozens of Cape May diamond rings. I chose a teardrop set in gold. Two carats of brilliance (even though I have to shine it up with Windex or Mr. Clean).

Still today, the gift shop remains the best place to find Cape May diamond rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, pins and tie tacks. The artist-in-residence, as she has been for 18 years, is Jeanette Fox Bartolomeo. The former librarian cherishes her unique fit in life. She collects the raw quartz pebbles on the beach and sifts out the sand. The best stones are selected to be sent off for three weeks of tumbling, using an abrasive to clean off residue, leaving a sparkling gem ready to be cut. At first glance, the crystals, once cut, look like real diamonds, but at a mere fraction of the cost. A genuine diamond sells for about $6,000 a carat. A Cape May diamond is $7.99 a carat!

Artist-in-residence Jeanette Fox Bartolomeo

Jeanette chooses and attaches each faceted diamond in a gold, sterling silver or platinum setting. This intricate work is accomplished in her home studio under powerful lights.

She minds the gift shop counter too, entertaining customers with the stories of Cape May diamonds while assisting the romantic and the curious in finding the gem best suited for a wedding, engagement, souvenir or gift.

“These beautiful gems we call Cape May diamonds are pure quartz crystals,” she says. “They are, in fact, semi-precious stones with a hardness of seven compared to a genuine diamond’s hardness of 10.” Like real diamonds, they are hard enough to cut glass.

Cape May diamonds are our today-connection with the Ice Age. Thousands of years ago, giant sheets of ice covered much of the East Coast. As the glaciers melted, moving northward, they deposited quartz pieces, chipped and torn from the upper reaches of the Appalachian Mountains in northeastern Pennsylvania. The Delaware was a young river then, over the millennia growing into the powerful body of water it is now, traveling 200 miles from its head waters to Delaware Bay to its rendezvous with the Atlantic Ocean. The waters sweep along the quartz pieces, breaking, buffeting, polishing the stones as they roll toward the Atlantic. Some scientists say it takes a stone 3,000 years to make the journey. The river continuously dumps quantities of the pebbles at the mouth of the bay where strong winds whip waves, tossing the stones onto the beaches. The decaying World War I Concrete Ship, the Atlantus, at Sunset Beach acts as a washing machine, the water swirling around it, and throwing up pebbles from the depths of the bay.

The swirling water around the sunken ship Atlantus helps throw pebbles up from the bay.

With luck, beachcombers find a gem dazzling in the sunlight – one that has been tumbled to the brilliance of a jewel from Tiffany’s. That is a rare find, indeed. Most appear frosted in milky white or cloudy beige. If held up to the sunlight, they are translucent. The stones range in size from a pea to an egg, though there are rare treasures that are the size of a baseball. Colors vary, but at the Sunset Beach shop, only the clear stones are available.

If the weather is right, Jeanette beachcombs a couple times a week, always for at least an hour. She runs her hand through her just-collected bucket of diamonds in the rough, and says it’s amazing how these simple stones link our ancient past and present.

The human story begins with the Kechemeche, a tribe of the Lenape of the Algonquin Nation. As the Kechemeche fished and hunted along the bay, they were the first to find the sparkling crystals on the sandy beaches from Cape May Point north to New England Creek, including areas that would later be named Higbee and Diamond beaches. The Native Americans came to believe the translucent gems possessed supernatural powers, bringing good luck and friendship. Bonds of friendship were often sealed with the best stones as gifts.

Victorian-era necklace created by Joseph Swift Hand, owned by Mrs. Clifford Newbold Large.

In the late 1600s, as the whalers from New England and Long Island came ashore, they faced little resistance from the Kechemeche, who were a curious people, not a warring tribe. They traded with the new settlers, and sometimes closed their deals with their prized beach gems as signs of peace and good will.

The greatest story told portrays King Nummy, the last chief of the local Lenape, bestowing his precious Cape May diamond on whaler Christopher Leaming as a signature of friendship. This tale has been passed down through the ages as a legend of the mystical powers of the humble pebbles found on the bay beaches.

It was an exciting day when researchers seeking the origins of the local diamonds at the Cape May County Historical and Genealogical Society library in Cape May Court House discovered documents deep in the archives proving the legend to be a true story.

A 1939 issue of the Philadelphia Bulletin reports that the diamond was, at that time, in the possession of Mrs. Genevieve Leaming Sheppard Stevens at 1019 New Jersey Avenue, in Cape May:

“While the fame of Cape May diamonds has spread around the world, the original cut Cape May diamond has reposed in the safekeeping of members of the Leaming family, who have passed it down from generation to generation. Since coming into Mrs. Stevens’ possession, the original Cape May Diamond has been safeguarded most of the time in a safe deposit box in a local bank.

This 1,800 carat Cape May diamond, one of the world’s largest, is on display at the Cape May County Historical and Genealogical Society

“This unique and exquisite, flawless jewel, a gem of its kind, like the family in whose possession it has remained from the earliest Colonial period, is inseparably interwoven with the history of New Jersey from the very beginning.”

King Nummy is described as presenting the diamond to Christopher Leaming on the occasion of his marriage [in the 1750s]. “The union… to Sarah, the daughter of Jacob Spicer, 2nd, was a festive occasion. According to the family tradition a great throng from far and near gathered to do honor to the contracting parties and to express by their presence and substantial and valuable gifts the affection in which they regarded the young people.” King Nummy, it is said, believed the Great Spirit was actually “tabernacled” in the stone.

Christopher Leaming, understanding the possibilities of the stone, sent it to Antwerp, Holland, where, “It came under the fashioning artistry of a famous lapidary, who set free its scintillating beauties and who returned this gem to its American owner in its present magnificent setting.”

A Cape May Diamond in the rough. Ring designed by Adrienne Elizabeth Scharnikow

In 1961, Karl Dickinson, the curator of the Cape May County Historical and Genealogical Society, was in search of the whereabouts of the famous diamond. He wrote Robert Alexander Montgomery, founder of the Montgomery, Scott & Co. financial house in Philadelphia, and received a response: “My paternal grandmother was a Leaming, and therefore, I am descended from the original Leaming settler in Cape May (Christopher). …Several years ago, I acquired from my cousins, Rev. and Mrs. Stevens, the so-called King Nummy Cape May Diamond that was given by said King to the Leamings about 1750. It is a piece of Quartz, Emerald cut, and resembles what would be about a 20 Carat Diamond. As a matter of fact, I have copies of a very extensive description of this stone setting that was written up in one of your local papers several years ago…”

Fourteen years passed, and on March 6, 1975, Mr. Montgomery answered a correspondence from Karl Dickinson saying, “You will be pleased to know that my wife wears the Leaming Cape May Diamond with great pride, and in due course it will be the property of my oldest granddaughter, who is now already sixteen!”

Oh, wonderful, we thought, for our renewed search for the Cape May Diamond in 2009! Mr. Montgomery was a famous Philadelphian, and chances are we can locate the diamond today, and take photos of it, and update the King Nummy legend.

The Ardrossan estate, the last-known whereabouts of the Leaming Cape May Diamond. Photograph courtesy Ryan Richards/Main Line Media News

Robert Alexander Montgomery had lived at Ardrossan, the 360-acre Radnor, Pennsylvania estate that inspired the movie The Philadelphia Story in which Katharine Hepburn played Tracy Lord, modeled after Montgomery’s sister, Hope Montgomery Scott. She was known as Philadelphia aristocracy’s most flamboyant best-dressed hostess, equestrian and shepherd of her beloved purebred Ayrshire cows that grazed the landscape.

The Montgomery family is legendary in its own right. Patriarch Robert Leaming Montgomery, “The Colonel,” was foxhunting one day in the undulating Radnor countryside. At the top of the rise his horse bucked, throwing Montgomery to the ground. The hunt and his horse rode on, leaving Montgomery sitting on his butt in the thick grass. He surveyed the landscape from the hilltop and vowed it would be this spot one day where he would live. He did just that. With the money made in his financial company, the Montgomery mansion – with its 50 rooms, walnut-paneling, exquisite antiques, Persian rugs and fine paintings – rose from the hilltop in 1911. Cole Porter himself played piano at parties. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were guests. MGM producers found the mansion too grand as a set for The Philadelphia Story, and shot the movie elsewhere.

Hope Montgomery Scott. Photograph courtesy Ryan Richards/Main Line Media News

It is in this setting that R. Alexander Montgomery’s wife wore the famous 20-carat Cape May Diamond. Ah, but who is wearing it now? Mr. Montgomery died in 1997 at age 85. Among his survivors is a daughter, Alexandra Montgomery Estey. Certainly she will know of the diamond’s whereabouts. I located Mrs. Estey, and though charmed by the legend of the diamond and its special place in her family’s history, she had no memory of it, and no idea of where it might be. She checked with other family members. To her chagrin, the diamond was not to be found.

Both she and her brother indicated their father had fallen on some bad financial times, and at one point, was forced to liquidate personal treasures – sometimes with pawn brokers – to pay off debts. For his children, there was no trust fund legacy.

Alexandra Estey is pleased to know the story of the diamond, but sorry that its centuries-old link to Leaming descendants has been broken, for the time being. She does have hope that one day the famous family diamond will be found. Her faith springs from another family story.

Her son’s grandfather and namesake, Navy Lt. N. Minter Dial, was a World War II hero who was taken prisoner by the Japanese at Corregidor in the Philippines. He survived the Bataan Death March and three years in POW camps, but was wounded by U.S. fire on a Japanese prisoner ship. As he lay dying, he passed his 1932 Annapolis class ring to a fellow officer for delivery to his wife. Even Ripley’s Believe it or Not would not believe that the ring was saved as it was being melted at a Korean pawn shop 18 years later by a classmate of Dial’s, and returned to the family.

“Miracles do happen,” says Alexandra Montgomery Dial Estey. She cherishes the story of the Cape May Diamond and wishes to see it one day.

Sometimes real life is the greatest playwright.

Furry Phantoms of Cape May

Photo Credit: MAC

February is here and so is another ghost column. What to do, what to do. Of course, I could have done “ghost lovers,” but that’s been done to death, excuse the pun. So sitting down to write this month’s column on Groundhog Day, I was thinking about good old Punxsutawney Phil. He did not see his shadow, so we may actually live to see spring. Old Punx got me thinking about ghosts of animals. I wondered if he is actually seeing another ghostly groundhog each year, sending him scurrying back into his hole. I guess anything is possible. I have had more than one run in with a furry ghost, and quite a few of those encounters were right here in Cape May. I remember one episode in particular that would have sent old Phil burrowing deep in the ground.

I had gone to bed late that night and struggled to fall asleep. It always takes me a little extra time to fall into a good night’s sleep when I am staying somewhere new. I think it’s more the change of energy than the change of mattress, but whatever reason it was that night, I was dead tired when I finally fell asleep and I was out. I don’t even remember what I was dreaming about, I was that sound asleep. My good night’s sleep did not last more than a few hours, however, before something tried to get my attention. At first, I dismissed it as the edge of the blanket touching my face. Then I realized the feeling was more familiar. It was my cat on the bed. It was still dark out and it was nothing new to have my cat jump up on the bed to sleep. This time the nocturnal rumblings had been relentless enough to pull me out of a deep sleep—and I was annoyed.

It was exactly three in the morning. I know because that’s when I screamed for help. I thought I was home in bed, and my cat had jumped up next to me and was trying to snuggle up close. Then I looked around for my clock on my night table and neither was there. That’s when I realized I was actually at a guesthouse in Cape May, and there weren’t any cats in the house, at least not any with a pulse. Once I woke enough to comprehend that the purring, pacing feline on my bed, in that dark room on the second floor of the old Victorian house was actually a ghost, I yelled out in a panic for help. In fact, I pathetically yelled, “Ghost kitty!” A medium is not at his or her best at three in the morning.

The call for help was embarrassing, but I was truly startled and had been awakened in the middle of the night from a deep sleep by a feline phantom. By the time I composed myself and got out from under the covers, the ghost cat had disappeared and I was left to explain myself to my friends, who ran into the room to see the brave psychic medium rattled by a furry little ball of ethers.  I think “embarrassing” would have been the right word. The next morning I was much more up about the experience. A cup of coffee helped. It was not my first experience with ghosts of animals, but it was certainly one of my most memorable.

I was staying at Columbia House that night, one of the best guest houses in Cape May. It was supposed to be haunted by a benevolent old man named William Essen, the former baker and confectioner in town. He was wheelchair bound at the end of his life from complications from diabetes. Of course he was nowhere to be found that evening. I was not even aware of Essen having a cat, but anything was possible.

Quizzing the enchanting Laura Zeitler, who along with her husband Jim run Columbia House, I mentioned my run in with the paranormal…cat. Laura told me there was a cat that lived in the house before they bought the property. The cat’s name was Alex and he lasted through two previous owners. I guess he finally finished life number nine.

Reports of animal ghosts are nothing new. Cat ghosts are, in fact, quite common. Cats are place-centered in life, and in death. Ghosts of dogs are far less common. While dogs are usually attached to people, and will follow them to Heaven, cats could care less if we were alive or a ghost. As long as there is a warm place to sleep, and lots of food to eat, the cat is happy. For a ghost cat, food is no longer an issue, but territory becomes tantamount to survival. Cats may cling to their former homes after their bodies have died. Some seem to have unfinished business, while others just seem too lazy to move onto Heaven. Whatever the reason, cats do haunt.

Theoretically, anything could become a ghost, I suppose. Human beings should not have exclusivity on lingering around after they die. Ghosts certainly are winning the popularity contest on network television today, but you rarely hear about ghosts of anything but people. I suppose the thought of ghosts of things like, mosquitoes, would not appeal to too many. The notion that our beloved pets start to come back as ghosts does, however,  seem to attract more than a little attention. One of the things I am often asked as a psychic-medium is “do I ever channel pets from Heaven?” The answer is, I do. Not as often as I channel people, but some former pets do come through  in a channeling session. These spirits of furry and feathered friends tend to arrive with groups of human loved ones from the Other Side during a channeling session. It is fairly common with my channelings to see the spirit of a dog or cat show up. These would be pets that have gone to Heaven and are returning to say hello as spirits. Not as common is encountering one of these furry friends as a ghost.

My experience with Alex the cat was not a bad one. It just startled me. I am sure Alex was just looking for a warm bed (or body) to curl up with for the night. I had experienced a ghost cat a few years earlier at my friend Kathy’s house. She had told me about her “ghost kitty” many times over the years. One day while I was cat sitting her (living) cats, I was spending some time with her cat Eric in the master bedroom. Eric was sequestered in the bedroom, and I felt he needed some company so he would not get lonely. Eric was sitting in the window looking out at the street as I laid back on the bed and closed my eyes. In a few minutes, I felt him jump up on the bed and heard him purring. I reached over to pet him, but reached into empty space. I opened my eyes to see where he was, but he was still sitting in the window, unfazed. Whatever was purring next to me was not Eric, and not alive for that matter. I actually thought at the time how cool it was that I had experienced my first phantom feline. After telling Kathy all about it, we agreed it must be a cat from one of the earlier owners of the house. The house was built in 1908, so there had been several owners.

As with human ghosts, and hauntings in general, cat ghosts seem to come and go. I have never experienced the cat ghost at Columbia House again, and Kathy’s ghost kitty comes and goes as well. Recently my partner and I have been seeing a ghost cat in our home in North Jersey. We see it just out of the corner of our eyes.  First, I thought it was our living cat Harry, but this cat is dark charcoal in color, not light bluish gray like Harry.  Also, when we have seen our ghost cat, Harry has been asleep in another part of the house. I am not sure where this new ghost has come from, but it has never been in the house before, and we have lived here since 1995. I guess I attract all kinds.

Another favorite phantom feline is at the John F. Craig House on Columbia Avenue. I have done many great events at the Craig House in Cape May, and one of the energies in the house is the ghost of a cat. I have seen him a few times, darting into the hallway or around the corner. Owner Barbara Masemore feels it might be a cat that once belonged to former owners of the house, as she is not a cat person, and has never owned one. Again, the cat just seems to be hanging on for some reason.

One of the interesting paranormal occurrences at the Craig House happens upstairs in one of the third floor rooms. Some people have claimed to feel a slight brush against their face in the middle of the night. I had long attributed this sensation to a ghostly child. One that has turned up at a few of our Craig House séances. However, I now think this ghostly phenomenon is more likely the work of a spectral cat, that is just being friendly to those it knows are animal lovers. For people who love animals, being nudged in the middle of the night by a cat is not a frightening sensation, and at that hour, when one is half asleep, there is not much difference between a living cat and a ghost cat!

There are many more B&Bs, inns and hotels where I have experienced ghost cats in Cape May. Aside from the nocturnal knockings, not one of these felines would make a scary ghost story. They are just going about their catty business, not trying to frighten anyone at all. They are just trying to say, “I am here, I’m comfortable, and I am not about to leave”.

Dogs seem to make very faithful ghosts. While their tenure as an earthbound spirits is usually only temporary, they have a warmer and more solid feeling on a psychic level than ghosts of cats. After we lost our dog Higgins, a faithful English springer spaniel who died at almost 16 years old, we sensed his presence for several months. Phantom scratches at the back door echoed his old lifetime routine of telling us he wanted in or out of the house. A doggy toy squeaking in the hallway, when no one was near it,  proved his spirit was still full of the Old Nick. Even distant sounds of his barking echoed down the hallway on a few occasions. I was happy to know he was still faithfully staying by my side, but saddened to think he would not be able to cross over to Heaven should he stay attached to his old master. One day, without any prodding, the haunting stopped. “Higgy” had gone to Heaven. It was certainly his time, but we were sad all over again for losing our old boy.

Ghostly dogs make much better ghost stories than ghost cats. If you have ever walked the long expanse of Higbee Beach in Cape May you may have not even noticed the most famous ghost of the strand, a large black dog. No one is quite sure where the pup originated, but many people over the last 50, possibly more, years have reported seeing a big black dog running along the beach and then vanishing from site. Now, of course, big black dogs DO run along Higbee Beach as it is a dog friendly zone in Cape May, but those dogs are alive. It may seem like some of them are ghosts as certain owners fail to keep a watchful eye on their furry friends but, these dogs are alive and kicking and their owners are usually within a quarter mile or so.

Dogs also haunt various dwellings in town. Probably the most famous paranormal puppies are those of the Emlen Physick Estate. Dr. Emlen Physick, along with his maiden Aunt Emilie, loved animals. They kept a large dog run behind the carriage house, where the outdoor dining tent is today. Aunt Emilie would cook the meals for the pups every day. They were all well loved and cared for by the Physicks.

On one of my first visits to the old mansion on Washington Street, I sensed the presence of several ghostly dogs, both large and small. In those days, the guides at MAC did not speak of such thing as ghosts at the Physick Estate. I did find a few guides with whom I could confide and we happily exchanged our stories of ghostly encounters at the estate. I was told by one guide that Dr. Physick’s mother, Frances Ralston, was NOT a dog lover, and the canines were forbidden to come into the mansion. So why was I sensing ghosts of dogs in the house? Ghosts will follow old patterns and it would be unlikely the ghostly dogs would cross former barriers after being banned from the house in their lifetimes. This presented one of those wonderful mysteries that comes with ghost investigations. Ghosts are full of history and mystery, which is why I love them so much. Behind every haunting is a ghost, and behind every ghost is a story. Even ghosts of animals have a story to tell, should they stop long enough to tell it. I needed to figure out this mystery.

After returning to the house many more times I was finally able to piece together the haunting of the Physick Estate. Mrs. Ralston was dead and gone. Dr. Physick was only an infrequent ghostly visitor, or clever enough to avoid my psychic radar. In time, I discovered another dead maiden aunt, Isabella (Belle) haunting the upstairs. Aunt Belle had epilepsy and died around 1883 in her 30s. She was confined to the upper floors of the mansion and was kept out of site of visitors because having an illness like epilepsy back then was frowned upon by society. Isabella was basically kept shut up when company came to call.  Luckily, she did not have to endure that isolation for too many years. The Physicks built the house in 1879 and Aunt Belle only lived there a few years before she died. Her health issues eventually got the best of her and she became the first of many ghosts at the Physick Estate.

Photo Credit: MAC

Dr. Emlen Physick (pictured left) loved his dogs. When he died in 1915, Aunt Emilie took over as dog caregiver. Emilie was the last to go, living until the 1930s. The dogs were long gone at that point, but I think their faithful spirits stayed with, and guarded, the Physick family’s lone sentinel until she died. When Aunt Emilie crossed, my theory is she found Belle was still residing in the house as a ghost. I would wager Emilie knew this while she was alive. She seemed like a sharp lady with lots of positive energy. Ghosts and séances were the rage in the 1920s and I imagine Emilie would have been into such things. I can picture the Physicks gathered around the parlor table doing a séance back then, trying to conjure up Aunt Belle!

For some reason, maybe the fact that the house has never really been lived in except by the Physicks, Emilie and Belle still roam the halls of the old mansion. Aunt Emilie must have really loved the dogs because they also haunt the house and grounds. My theory has always been that after Mrs. Ralston died and crossed over, Emilie let the house literally go to the dogs. She let them inside the house.  They continue to enjoy that privilege as ghosts.

Oddly, I have sensed the dogs only a few times over the years I have been visiting the Physick Estate. Even at our annual October  “Midnight at the Physick Estate” sèance and ghost hunt, I have rarely sensed any dogs in the house. Others have sensed the ghostly canines on various tours MAC gives of the house, but my experiences with the pups has been very limited. These are benign animals, simply waiting to head off with their mistresses to Heaven. Knowing Aunt Emilie and her penchant for entertaining and love of life, that trip may be some time off! This mix of ghostly dames and dogs seems to like haunting their old home very much. Luckily for all of us ghost enthusiasts it is open year-round as a public museum.

In Cape May, you will encounter many wondrous things. I would imagine Punxsutawney Phil would see quite a few shadows in town. When it comes to the paranormal, you never know what might turn up here. You may see a ghostly man or woman roaming the streets, or even find one sitting on your bed (if you are lucky). You may even encounter the ghost of someone’s former beloved pet. You can rest assured all the furry phantoms I have encountered have been friendly, especially the dogs. If you are the intuitive type, you may even be able to communicate with one of these spirited pups. If you are truly psychic, and they like you, they may even roll over―and play dead.

Until next time, keep the computer monitor lit, you never know what might be purring in the chair behind you.

To read more about what I do check out my website at

Pressed Posies: Give your Valentine a Victorian remembrance

Pressed Herbs

This is the time of the year when thoughts may turn to that which is sentimental or romantic. The Victorians were known for their attachment to that which is pretty and reflective of special times. They clipped locks of hair to frame with fragments of ribbon or lace and pressed blooms. These were often framed with poems or letters. They pressed flowers to put in lockets or broaches and also dried nosegays or tussie mussies and displayed them in crystal vases or in a china cabinet.

The Victorians were collectors. They loved to dry flowers to decorate their rooms and belongings. It was not unusual for them to press blooms and embellish poems, drawings and other messages with them. They also dried garden flowers as well as bouquets sent to them by friends and lovers.

Today, you do not have to be a Victorian to dry, press or preserve blooms. Many folks are sentimental and like to “save” a few of their Valentine flowers. This can be done either by hanging them or placing some in a powder called silica gel to dry. I also like to press a few either in a large telephone book or with a microwave press. Since ancient times people have pressed or dried blooms. Victorians had no such gadgets so they usually pressed blooms in heavy books or between woods in a flower press. I have done this, but have to confess that I now use a microwave press and have posies pressed and ready to frame in less than a minute. I just did some anemones, but usually wait for spring pansies, violets and buttercups, which are among my favorites to press. Remember that the blooms must be flattened and then dried so there is no moisture left in them.

Roses drying in silica gel

I remember that my 4-H leader, who was also my 6th grade teacher, taught us to make a “winter bouquet,” as she called it. We dried goldenrod and pearly everlasting in a shoebox with borax, pressed colorful leaves in telephone books and picked grasses and pods to add to the bouquets. She also brought us some strawflowers and coxcomb to place in the center for more color. I still dry many flowers, but with the aid of silica gel can add lifelike garden flowers to my dried arrangements.

Roses, hydrangea and carnations really respond well to being dried in silica gel. Sometimes called Flower Dri, this is actually a desiccate powder that helps to hold the shape of the flower without allowing the petals to wrinkle as it pulls out the moisture. The blooms are cut short so they can be placed in an airtight cookie can in silica powder. They can be pushed into a layer of silica, and then additional powder is gently poured all around and inside of the bloom. It is important to keep the flower upright, held by the powder on the outside so it does not flatten or become squashed. You do not want to flatten the bloom. Roses work really well if they are not too open. They dry several shades darker than they are as fresh blooms. Sometimes people are disappointed that red roses come out very, very dark. Pink usually dries darker, but is bright and pretty and yellow is really nice. White comes out cream, but oranges and peach come out very fresh looking. Once they are dried, it is a good idea to spray the blooms lightly with a poly spray to keep them from reabsorbing moisture. They should be kept in a dry room.

Try drying roses, carnations, and hydrangea (pictured).

I often dry wedding bouquets for brides so they have a lasting remembrance. The baby’s breath and static dries when hung upside down. There is no need to place it in silica. Gather the stems together with a rubber band so that they will tighten as the stems dry. Hang anywhere in a dry room. They actually look nice when drying. Some folks hang from a mantle, beams, or a line suspended.

Once the plant materials are dried, it is a good idea to make a wreath by hot gluing them to a sturdy base to keep their fragile petals from falling. They can be used in vases or arrangements for a few seasons, but are more vulnerable. Some will fade if kept in sunlight or too close to a heat source, but most last long and well. Unlike a fresh arrangement that can have but a few pristine blooms, dried flowers look better when used in mass.

Dried roses

The Victorians loved flowers and were the first Americans to really decorate with blooms in a very lavish manner. The filled vases, urns, and baskets all over the house with fresh flowers in season and any they might force in winter. They also loved large lavish dried bouquets that often had feathers, lace, and ribbons in them. The more ornate, the better was the thought of the Victorian. They used hydrangea and other easy to dry blooms for winter decoration.

Today, many people love the warm, sunny look of a dried bouquet all during winter, but it is extra special when a few holiday roses or carnations, especially Valentine blooms are added to a dried arrangement. Experiment with textures, pods, leaves and grasses to see what” look” you most enjoy for a winter bouquet and save your special blooms by all means.

Email questions about drying roses and other blooms to or leave a comment below!

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!

Memorable Meals

The Persnickety Chef

One of the biggest obstacles in preparing comfort foods is the persistence of memories. No, not the 1931 Salvador Dali masterpiece, but the reminiscences of dishes from our youth that have permeated our memories and saturated our nostalgic taste buds. Attempting to recreate that cherished childhood cuisine, although difficult, yields results that bring back places and people from the past. Flavors and aromas long nascent in the recesses of our mind can be triggered when we re-encounter them. Two categories of cooking, stewing and braising, harbor many of those responses. Perhaps, because we exist in a fast-paced world filled with stimuli that promote instant gratification, we yearn for food that cooks slowly. Food whose essence fills a room with tantalizing smells enveloping our olfactory senses and transporting us back to Grandma’s kitchen.

There are many advantages to stewing and braising. Quickness, however, does not make the list. Stewing and braising take time because they utilize full-flavored, but less tender cuts of meat. These types of dishes are often better the day after they are created. Setting aside a day for stewing and braising will allow you to fill your freezer and refrigerator with meals that can be reheated quickly. A slow cooked meal after a fast paced day nourishes body and soul. One such restorative dish for me is Pork Chile Verde.

Braised and stewed dishes are often better the day after they are created.

This is not a dish from my Scots-German east coast roots, rather one that I encountered as a young chef away from home for the first time. Eastern chili is an amalgamation of ground beef, canned tomatoes, chemically enhanced spices and kidney beans often overcooked to a point where the individual ingredients are beyond recognition. Chile Verde is a soup/stew/sauce that is silky green in appearance with pieces of pork shoulder glistening with fat soaking in garlic, onions and roasted Anaheim Chile peppers with bursts of heat provided by fresh jalapeños. I was hooked after the first spoonful. I am now far from a place where I can run to the corner bar for a bowl of green. Finding the chilies can be tough, but worth the effort. Even when you have to open eight itty bitty cans to yield enough for a small batch. The key to success in Chile Verde is the meat. Pork shoulder gives the stew its earthy rich nature. Don’t trim away all of the fat, the interplay of searing chilies and cool creamy fat is what balances the flavor of the dish.

I often find myself craving two other dishes in the wintertime, Pot Roast and Chicken and Dumplings. The latter defines the peril of preparing comfort food. Depending on which side of the Mason-Dixon Line you were born, the term Chicken and Dumplings conjures up two very different images. If you say “Y’awl” the dish you are anticipating is a chicken stew laden with broad doughy noodles that sink to the bottom of the pot and stick to your ribs. If you say “Youse Guys” what you are hoping to set before you is a rich chicken soup topped with softball sized herbed clouds of bready goodness.

After the meat is cooked, the liquid is transformed into a sauce or gravy that is served alongside the meat.

Order Chicken and Dumplings far from home and your taste memories are often disappointed. Making this dish is simple – sort of. The biggest obstacle I have encountered in recreating my Grandmother’s version is finding the right chicken. This dish is best made from a stewing hen. Sadly, most stores don’t carry stewing hens anymore. These tough old birds take hours to cook but the end result is meat that falls apart at the touch of a fork and golden nectar that fortifies you for days.

What are the differences in stewing and braising? Although similar in result the major differences are the cut of meat and the amount of liquid. Stew is going to use smaller boneless cuts and is simmered usually on top of the stove. Braising utilizes larger bone-in cuts that are browned first then cooked with vegetables and stock. After the meat is cooked the liquid is transformed into a sauce or gravy that is served alongside the meat. A stew is served as is with sauce, meat and vegetables in one harmonious bowl.

This month set aside a day to cook several meals that can be frozen for future enjoyment. Try the recipes for Chile Verde and Chicken and Dumplings. Check out our new video links for some of the recipes. This month’s video-highlighted recipe is Pork Chile Verde. Until next month, Bon Appétit.

Pork Chile Verde served with cilantro and sour cream

Pork Chile Verde

  • 1½ pounds pork shoulder, diced
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 4 cups diced canned green chilies
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 tablespoons poncho chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon coriander
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • Cilantro for garnish
  • Sour cream for garnish

In large heavy-bottomed soup pot, heat oil. Season pork with salt and pepper, then brown lightly. Add onions, jalapeños, spices and garlic. Cook for five minutes. Add chilies. Dust with flour. Stir well. Slowly add stock. Bring to boil. Reduce and simmer 1½ hours. Adjust seasoning. Ladle in bowl. Garnish with cilantro leaves and sour cream and warm flour tortillas.

Beverage recommendation: DosEquis or Negro Modelo beer

Chicken and Dumplings

  • 8 stalks celery, medium rough cut
  • 6 carrots, medium bias cut
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 1 stewing hen
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 leek, rough cut
  • 1 tablespoon thyme
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In pot, throw in hen, leeks and half the vegetables. Cover with cold water. Simmer 1½ hours until hen is tender. Remove hen, strain and reserve liquid.

In soup pot, melt 3 tablespoons butter. Sweat celery carrots and onions. Add meat from hen. Lightly dust with flour. Add liquid. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer until vegetables are tender. Make dumpling batter. Drop dumpling mix by spoonful onto simmering stew. Reduce heat. Cook 10 minutes uncovered. Cook 10 minutes more covered.

Dumpling Batter

  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped thyme
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

In bowl, whisk eggs and milk. Stir in flour and baking powder. Fold in herbs, salt and melted butter. Mix lightly. Let rest 15 minutes. Drop onto stew and cook as above.

Serve with pinot noir or gewürztraminer.

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.

Achoo! Pet Allergies and what to do about them

My friend was visiting the other day and she suddenly started violently sneezing and itching. I knew she was allergic to some pets, but she had never had this type of reaction in my home before. Of course, in my house, the pet visitors are constantly changing so I knew it had to be one of the many that were surrounding her. I have never been allergic to any kind of animal (thank goodness), so I thought it would be interesting to look into.

I did some research and found that pet allergies are not necessarily a bad reaction to the actual animal, but an allergic reaction to proteins found in an animal’s skin cells, saliva or urine. Signs of pet allergy include those common to hay fever, such as sneezing and runny nose. Some people may also experience signs of asthma, such as wheezing and difficulty breathing.

Most often, pet allergies are triggered by exposure to the dead flakes of skin (which is called dander) a pet sheds. Any animal with fur can be a source of pet allergy, but pet allergies are most commonly associated with cats, dogs, rodents and horses.

If you have a pet allergy, the best strategy is to avoid or reduce exposure to the animal as much as possible. Medications or other treatments may be necessary to relieve symptoms and manage asthma.

Pet allergies are somewhat common. However, I found it very interesting to learn that you’re more likely to develop a pet allergy if allergies or asthma runs in your family. I didn’t realize that.

Also, studies say that if you have been exposed to pets at an early age, this may have an impact on your risk of pet allergies. Some studies have found that children who live with a dog or cat in the first year of life may have a lower risk of pet allergies than kids who don’t have a pet at that age.

If you do find that you are allergic to pets, obviously avoiding the allergy-causing animal as much as possible would be the first thing that you would want to try. When you minimize your exposure to pet allergens, you should expect to have allergic reactions that are less often or less severe. However, it’s often difficult or impossible to eliminate completely your exposure to animal allergens. Even if you don’t have a pet, you may unexpectedly encounter pet allergens transported on other people’s clothes.

In addition to avoiding pet allergens, you may need medications to control symptoms. Doctors may prescribe antihistamines or decongestants to help relieve your symptoms.

Joanne McCullough is the owner of McCullough Pet Sitting, a pet-sitting service for the Cape May area.

Tips for dealing with pet allergies

What can I do when visiting people with pets if I am allergic?
This tip comes from the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

The approach to visiting households with pets for someone with a pet allergy is to take appropriate precautions including administration of medications prior to visitation. Your allergist-immunologist can provide information on medications for your animal allergy, such as antihistamines, nasal sprays, decongestants or appropriate asthma medications.

What If I Want to Keep My Pet?
These tips come from the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America

To test the effect of household pets on your quality of life, remove them from your home for at least two months and clean thoroughly every week. After two months, if you still want pets, bring a pet into the house. Measure the change in your symptoms, then decide if the change in your symptoms is worth keeping the pet.

If you decide to keep a pet, bar it from the bedroom. You spend from one-third to one-half of your time there. Keep the bedroom door closed and clean the bedroom aggressively:

  • Because animal allergens are sticky, you must remove the animal’s favorite furniture, remove wall-to-wall carpet and scrub the walls and woodwork. Keep surfaces throughout the home clean and uncluttered. Bare floors and walls are best.
  • If you must have carpet, select ones with a low pile and steam clean them frequently. Better yet, use throw rugs that can be washed in hot water.
  • Wear a dust mask to vacuum. Vacuum cleaners stir up allergens that have settled on carpet and make allergies worse. Use a vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter if possible.
  • Forced-air heating and air-conditioning can spread allergens through the house. Cover bedroom vents with dense filtering material like cheesecloth.
  • Adding an air cleaner with a HEPA filter to central heating and air conditioning can help remove pet allergens from the air. The air cleaner should be used at least four hours per day. Another type of air cleaner that has an electrostatic filter will remove particles the size of animal allergens from the air. No air cleaner or filter will remove allergens stuck to surfaces, though.
  • Washing the pet every week may reduce airborne allergens, but is of questionable value in reducing a person’s symptoms.
  • Have someone without a pet allergy brush the pet outside to remove dander as well as clean the litter box or cage.