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Month: March 2011

Chili Cook Off

The Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May held a Chili and Chowder Cook-Off, Saturday, March 12th at Congress Hall. Chefs, both amateur and professional, participated in this second annual event. All proceeds benefit Cape May food banks. And the Winners of the Annual Chili & Chowder Cookoff are: Drum roll, please!!!
Best Home Chef Chowder: Jim Cutshall
Best Home Chef Chili : Rick Hubbs
Best Pro Chef Cowder: The Depot Market/Chris Shriver
Best Pro Chef Chili: Zoe’s Restaurant/Don and Jane Woods

Hidden Valley Ranch Celebrates

Hidden Valley Ranch celebrated “We Are Over the Winter Hump” with a beef and beer benefit on Saturday, Feb. 26 at the Cape May VFW. The evening also included a 50/50, music, and an All You Can Eat buffet. All proceeds benefited the non-profit riding association. Hidden Valley will also be holding a Spring Festival on Saturday, Apr. 30 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the ranch, 4072 Bayshore Road in Cold Spring. Proceeds will help in efforts to make barn repairs and give the horses a safe and more comfortable home.

Photos by Jennifer Kopp

Room with a BOO

The kindly grandmother, children and grandchildren in tow, moved from room to room admiring and reminiscing about the old days at her historic house in West Cape May. She had owned the property years earlier, about three owners back, and had stopped by on a chance visit to meet the new owner. They were in luck as the new owner was busy painting and renovating the house. The grandmother and her family were invited in for a tour. Many things had been updated and modernized, a few things were still familiar, and one thing hadn’t changed at all—the spooked room.

The grandchildren inquired why their grandmother refused to enter the cozy looking bedroom on the second floor of the old house. Having heard the stories, they continued to press her for an answer. “Is this the haunted room?” asked the grandchildren.

“You call it whatever you like, I call it spooked,” the old woman replied adamantly, as she refused to move past the door frame. The room, had a long reputation of being haunted and the woman did not want to rekindle any of those old energies during her return visit. Luckily for us, those energies don’t need rekindling. There is always a paranormal flicker somewhere. Welcome to Highland House, one of Cape May’s best kept paranormal secrets.

Today, Highland House offers the best of both worlds. It is a wonderful guest house that also caters to the animal loving crowd—it’s pet friendly. As a dog owner, I am always thinking about places to stay with my dogs. If you love Cape May, and do not want to leave your furry friends at home, owner Dave Ripoli and his mother Terry will make your stay more than comfortable—whether you have paws or not. Dave and his mom are two of Cape May’s most charming, and, luckily for us, open minded innkeepers. Many of my pet-loving friends stay at Highland House and one friend was mentioning her experiences recently, which got me to thinking what an interesting haunt this is.

Like many other homeowners, it took Dave Ripoli a while to catch onto the paranormal history of the house. When he first started in the B&B business, the idea of owning a haunted house was probably the furthest thing from his mind. At the closing of the sale, the widow who was selling him the house had to tell Dave something very important—the house was haunted. The woman and her late husband called the ghost the “fisherman’s Captain” and felt he was friendly. Apparently, the Captain had mellowed since the previously mentioned grandmother had lived there. When Dave went to the bank to open an account, the teller gave him a funny look when she saw the address. After a few “Oh, you bought that house” responses, Dave was beginning to wonder what was up. He would soon find out.

Right after he moved in, the ghosts put on a welcome show, as they will for new owners of  haunted houses. The paranormal exhibit featured phantom sounds and footsteps on the second floor. Then, as is typical of hauntings, all went quiet for years. The ghosts had made themselves known and returned to their regular business.

Highland House sits on a strip of Broadway that is rich in history. The homes in West Cape May were not affected by the great fire of Cape May City in 1878. Many of the homes here date back to the early 1800s, with a few dating back to the 1700s. The oldest part of Highland House was built around 1820, and was one of the many residences of the Eldredge family. West Cape May was originally called Eldredge honoring the large founding family. Highland House was once known as the “William Eldredge place.” This part of Cape May was chock full of Eldredges, some are still there—in spirit.

When Dave Ripoli was first renovating the house, he would hear the sounds of people moving about on the second floor. Each time he would check he would find the upstairs rooms, and the house—empty. He even spent one night sleeping downstairs on a wicker couch after not being able to determine the origin of the ghostly noises of things moving about and phantom footsteps, pacing back and forth.

Phantom footsteps are a “garden variety” characteristic of hauntings. Most places that have a ghost will experience phantom footsteps. The sound of dragging furniture is a little more unusual. My friends who frequently stay at Highland House mentioned very recently of hearing the sound of something heavy being dragged in the room above, but they were the only ones in the house at the time. I don’t know of any paranormal investigator that has figured this one out yet. For the observer, the phenomenon creates sounds of someone moving heavy furniture above. Upon checking the space, nothing is found to be disturbed. If nothing has been moved, what is creating the sound?

One theory I have is that the sound is some form of energy expanding or compressing, like a paranormal thunderstorm. Perhaps a vortex of some sort is opening and closing creating sound waves. It’s only a theory, but something causes this phenomenon and Highland House is not the only place it occurs. There is probably a logical, natural explanation for the phenomenon, but like many paranormal things, we just don’t understand it yet.

I first visited Dave and Terry in 2007. I was invited in to run a psychic sweep for ghosts. During the investigation, I was able to move through the house freely and run a few tape recorders. I run recorders everywhere that I investigate. Capturing ghost voices or EVPs (electronic voice phenomena) on tape seems to be the only solid physical evidence one can gather at a haunt. When I first started doing ghost investigations, I was not trying to capture EVPs.  I was recording my psychic observations on tape so that I would remember all the details of the story. When I would play back the tapes later, I found some of the tapes contained mysterious sounds or phantom voices. Sometimes these voices would even be speaking to me, but you can only hear EVPs during playback, not during the recording session, so I would not be able to hear a psychical response during the investigation.

No one is sure how EVPs get onto tape. We think that ghosts are fields of energy with a consciousness—surviving personalities without physical bodies. This energy may be able to manipulate sound waves to create EVP recordings on tape. One theory is that these sounds are ghostly voices, but no one is 100% sure. After a few recording sessions at Highland House, most people would agree EVPs certainly sound like the real deal!

When one tries to record EVPs, the investigator will need to be careful of ambient background noise. These naturally explainable noises might be misconstrued for EVPs. The problem with trying to capture EVPs at Highland House could be summed up in one word: dogs. On my first investigation here, my tapes were not riddled with EVPs, they were riddled with woofs! One of Dave’s dogs just had a litter of cute, but noisy, little EVP wreckers. The recording sounded more like I was investigating an abandoned animal hospital, instead of a haunted B&B. However, even with the barking in the background, I found something unique about Highland House—my tape had quantities of paranormal sound bites. Some were clearly people talking while others were inaudible words or jumbled sentences. The quantities of EVPs sent me right back for another try.

On my next visit, I was able to pick a day when the pooches were out and luckily, the ghosts were in. I focused on the upstairs rooms where most of the paranormal episodes had taken place. The house energy felt much lighter this time, like the ghosts were having a good time. I went from room to room asking questions along the way, hoping the ghosts would answer. They did.

I sensed a woman this time, and then a man named Albert. There was also a William in the mix. It was crowded. The problem in an old neighborhood like this one is that ghosts will come and go. They visit each other in the same fashion they did when they were alive. In West Cape May, there are one too many Eldredges haunting. Trying to investigate with a pack of gregarious ghosts roaming from place to place can be difficult. Multiple voice EVPs can get quite confusing, but this is a paranormal investigator’s life.

One of my favorite parts of ghost investigation is unearthing lost history. There is plenty of buried treasure in West Cape May—the historical kind. Sifting through layers of history, I was able to reconstruct the Eldredge family’s timeline for Highland House. The house sits on what was once a huge tract belonging to William and Judith Eldredge. Judith’s father, Abner Corson, bought the property from the original owner, James Whilldin, of the Mayflower Whilldins. Whilldin had traded with the Native American Indians for the land. William and Judith had a son William and he inherited the property where Highland House now sits in 1822. Still with me? It may be this William Eldredge who is haunting the house.

You can see on the excerpt of the 1850 Numan map to the right, that the Eldredge clan owned quite a bit of property in the area. They also lived within walking distance of each other—or should I say haunting distance.

On my second trip to Highland House, the ghosts were not only answering my questions, they were having entire conversations on tape. While I usually get a few EVPs during an investigation, Highland House was an audio show. In some cases, my questions were answered directly, in other instances the ghosts were caught talking to each other. It was quite surreal. My guess would be there is one ghost in the house and he was being visited by others. I just happened to hit an open house that day!

Some voices on my recordings were gibberish, bits and pieces of sentences without any rhyme or reason. Some were answering my questions, while others were ignoring me and talking among themselves. Not all of the EVPs were audible. Only a few were what is called “A Class.” These EVPs one can hear without the use of headphones. The rest needed to be screened carefully using both headphones and sound editing equipment. What was important that day was that the ghosts were yapping, and I had the tape running.

During this recording process, there was an interesting dichotomy occurring, which I only discovered after the session. Reviewing the tapes, I listened to myself revealing my psychic feelings in each room and asking questions to the ghosts. Some of my psychic observations had nothing to do with what the ghosts were saying, while some of the ghosts’ answers were spot on with my questions, most were unrelated.  A ghost would say one thing, while I would sense another. I would hear “Robert” while the ghost would say “William” on the tape. I was perplexed. Was it time to retire?

I am a very good Medium, yet communicating with ghosts is always tricky. Were the ghosts at Highland House hearing me? Were they answering my questions truthfully? What I was hearing with my mind and what the ghosts were saying on tape just did not match. Occasionally there was a hit, but most of the time it was as if I was at the wrong party. If I was reading the ghosts’ minds and picking up truthful thoughts, why was the information different? The EVP responses and information should theoretically match my psychic thoughts. Were the ghosts deliberately feeding me false information on the tape to confuse me? Maybe the ghosts were sick of mediums coming to spy on them. I am sure I was not the first one to jump into the paranormal pool at Highland House. There were lots of EVPs—making absolutely no sense.

Noting my psychic impression on tape as I moved around the house, I made my way into the heart of Highland House’s haunting—the spooked room. My first feeling here was that I had just walked in on someone—invading his or her privacy. I was compelled to leave. I did not sense this in any other rooms. I think it was the ghost, realizing why I was there, asking me to leave. Ghosts seem to have the ability to press their emotions on us. In this case, the ghost was making me feel like I should leave, but I was not giving up that easily. A ghost’s boo is typically bigger than its bite. The majority of hauntings are benevolent, and there was nothing bad about this old spirit. Once the ghost realized I was not leaving, the feeling lifted and I started asking questions.

During most ghost investigations, if a ghost wants to communicate—or if it can communicate— it will. Whether it answers truthfully, or answers at all, depends on the personality of the ghost. Listening to the tapes later, I found some of the ghosts present at Highland House that day were cooperating, while others were rambling away about non-related things. It really must have been some type of social gathering. I was just happy to capture all the EVPs—which brings us to the show and tell part of this column.

One thing I can’t do in my books is include sound bites in the story. In The Ghosts of Cape May Book 3,  I go into detail about Highland House and the ghosts. While I don’t have space in this column to tell you the entire story—you will have to buy Book 3 for that—I can let you hear the ghosts. I suggest opening the book to the Highland House chapter and listening to some of these EVPs while you read the story. Think of it as a paranormal “scratch and sniff.”

In the “spooked room” as the former owner called it, I kept getting the name “William”. I also sensed a woman in the room. I sat on a chair and put out a psychic line. I could feel presences around me. Gerry Eisenhauer, who was operating the cameras at the time, felt a cold spot drift past him. Cold spots, when they cannot be found to have normal origins, are usually a calling card for a ghost. Now I started to get cold and the ghosts started to get chatty at their ghostly party. Luckily, I was able to be a party crasher.

Trying to establish the identity of the ghosts can be a difficult task. Having them freely give a name or other personal information psychically, or on tape, is the exception rather than the rule. Were these ghosts related to each other, or were they haunting independently. My guess was they were all Eldredges, dropping in from other haunted houses in the neighborhood—and Highland House has plenty of company in West Cape May.

A note about these EVPs. I recorded these on a hand-held cassette recorder, not a digital recorder. Therefore each recording has background noise from the machine itself. I subscribe to the theory that there needs to be a source of white noise in the room to allow the ghosts to piggy-back their energies on existing sound waves or manipulate the white noise sound waves into an EVP. I have gotten far more positive EVPs using tape than I have with a digital recorder. At least, it works for me. You will need to listen carefully for the voice embedded in the background noise of the tape.

Several ghostly voices were heard mixing and then moving away. In one EVP, a man says “Someone should follow your father.” I interpreted this as one of the male ghosts was leaving the room and another male ghost felt someone should accompany him. Listen for yourself and see what you think. I have looped the sound bite as well. If you use headphones, EVPs sound even clearer. It will take a little while to get accustomed to listening to EVPs. Here it is.

EVP #1 Highland House – “Someone should follow your father”

EVP #1 (looped) Highland House – “Someone should follow your father LOOPED”

As I was telling the ghosts I could record their voices, they seemed to think I was using some type of radio to listen to them. They may not have been able to comprehend a cassette tape recorder, but could understand the concept of radio broadcasts. After I said, I would be able to record their voices, a kindly older man replies, “That’s somethin!” Listen for yourself. I have also looped the sound bite.

EVP #2 Highland House – “That’s something”

EVP #2 (looped) Highland House – “That’s something” LOOPED

In another instance, I was asking the ghosts if they knew each other. Sadly, a male ghost replies, “We’re alone.” Here is that response. Listen to the single tract first and then listen to it looped.

EVP #3 Highland House “We’re alone”

EVP #3 (looped) Highland House “We’re alone” LOOPED

At some point, Gerry and I decided to move to another room, the Garden Room. In this recording you here me saying, “Let’s go to the Garden Room” A ghost says “Make them go away” or “Make them go west.” I then say to the ghosts “Garden Room please,” hoping they will follow. For the record, we did not go away. Listen for yourself and see what you think it says.

EVP #4 Highland House – “Make them go away” full

EVP #4 (looped) Highland House – “Make them go away” LOOPED

Now here’s an interesting thing about this haunt. There are phantom footsteps and sounds of someone upstairs when no one is there, and EVPs galore, but that’s about it. Everything else is just feelings, and those feelings seem localized in one part of the house. So why does one room resonate so much paranormal energy that people talk about it for years? My guess is the ghost just likes it there. It was probably his bedroom when he owned or lived in the house. He is just comfortable there and does not want to leave his old house. He even invites a few guest ghosts over from time to time. The ironic thing was, when I asked the ghosts if I was in the spooked room, there was nothing but silence on the tape. Dead silence. They were not saying a word. Who knows? Maybe I spooked them and they left.

There is another theory about ghosts and hauntings that says they are a bleed-through of time. Like hearing your neighbors arguing next door, except they are arguing one hundred years earlier and their voices have carried forward in time. Could hauntings be no more than energies leaking through a crack in time? Could I be psychically picking up old residual energies in the house, and recording sound bites from a distant past? It may explain why the EVPs were not matching what I was feeling. Someday we may know for sure. Ghosts are a very popular topic now and I would hate to see the entire paranormal field go up in a puff of timeless smoke. For the present, it’s rather fun to think that we are not alone. The ghost in Highland House is certainly a social butterfly. Dave should probably charge him room and board.

Should you need a great place to stay in Cape May, and want to share your vacation with your beloved doggies, check out Highland House. It is one of Cape May’s most popular places to stay, for people and pets young and old, and by old, I mean over 150 years, give or take a few decades. If you ask for the spooked room, as I am sure many of you paranormal enthusiasts will, be sure to bring your tape recorder along. Your bed may not levitate, and you may not see or feel any ghosts, but you are sure to tune in to some classic broadcasts—ones that have not been heard in a long, long time.

Until next time, don’t forget to leave the light lit and the recorder going. You never know who is reading—or talking—right over your shoulder.

To read more about what I do check out my website

Mermaid’s Tears

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of Cape May Magazine

Mermaid's Tears

Anita Roth arranges her sea glass collection in many different ways to capture its beauty. Photo courtesy Anita Roth.

Some of the best shorelines to find mermaid tears – sea glass – are right here in Cape May. The veteran hunters will tell you that the Delaware Bayside beaches, Sunset, Higbee, Townbank and remote seascapes off Route 47 North, produce more treasures than the oceanfront. Sea glass collectors are passionate, obsessive about searching the sand for these frosted, shimmery bits, ranging from orange and red, the most rare, to clear, the most common.  Too, they scour the edges of the sea for pottery and porcelain shards, be they relics of Staffordshire and Limoges from fancy European estates or 18th century stoneware from American Colonists’ plain kitchens.

The ideal time to find sea glass is in spring at full moon after wicked winds stir up waves that leave behind new deposits. Or, there are eroding surfs that dig deeper in the beach, removing layers of sand that have hidden mermaid tears, pottery bits and bottles for decades, perhaps even centuries.

Photo courtesy Anita Roth

Cape May Point artist Carol King Hood and her husband, Ned, can’t wait for a bad storm. As soon as it calms, they’re off to their favorite hunting grounds, losing themselves to the search, in boots, with buckets. After last year’s nasty November nor’easter they made a memorable find along a newly eroded stretch of Delaware Bay. Dressed in layers, facing stinging rain, they discovered old pottery shards, chunks of light-catching greens and ambers – and, an old brown poison bottle, considered very rare. The bay, long a shipping channel, is one of the abundant places to find sea treasures. “Each has a story to tell,” says Carol. “Each has a history.”

The search is a togetherness hobby for Carol and Ned. But once on the beach, it’s serious competition to find the best piece. Their trained eyes scan the deserted shoreline for a sparkle, perhaps pink, aqua, amethyst, jade, citron, amber, sapphire. Sometimes the jewels are in clear view glittering in the sun. Other days, they’re hidden among the pebbles, sea grass and driftwood.

Photo courtesy Anita Roth

“We have faced intense wind, rain, bitter cold, frosted fingers, wet socks and clammy feet,” says Carol. “We have hunted in steam heat and humidity, fog and snow, but no matter the elements, we scream with joy at each great find. A collector is pressed on thinking the next piece will be the greatest find. We have surprised each other at Christmas and birthdays with a special piece we pocketed and kept secret. We have found perfect shaped hearts and given them to each other for Valentine’s Day. The sea glass hobby is a really nice part of our marriage.”

Their collection is under glass atop a large indented coffee table in their quaint Amber Rose Cottage at the Point. Always the artist, Carol has arranged the results of their 15 years of searching in categories by color, type of glass or pottery, quality, history. The  display is a mosaic of sea treasures. Carol delights in telling a story of each piece, different as snowflakes, sharing what she has learned about the many types of pottery and glass: depression, opalescent, patterned, pressed, amberina, carnival, custard, hobnail.  There are to be found old doorknobs; remnants of china dolls, whiskey, bitters, ink, wine, medicine and poison bottles. Carol says collectors fantasize about the origins. Could they be from a pirate’s boat, a whaler’s cottage, a cruise liner, a battle ship?  Was the origin Asia, Europe, Africa, old Cape May?

Photo courtesy Anita Roth

Most ocean-created mermaid tears are just common bottles for beer, milk, Noxema, Vicks, Coca Cola, 7-Up.  You name it.  Add to that centuries-old art glass, tableware, pottery. Glass is substantially sand to begin with, so over the years, the salt water, the tides, washing over rocks and sand, the pounding forces of the ocean have broken and worn down the shards to unique, one-of-a-kind shapes and sizes.

“The tears are perfect for jewelry,” says Betty Hamilton, who travels from North Jersey to Cape May to search for sea jewels.  Her Mermaids’ Tears jewelry business has become so successful, “even in the recession,” she has given up her retail job to design full time. She wraps her selected tears in sterling for her line of earrings, necklaces, bracelets and wine glass markers. When searching for sea gems, she carries with her a large piece of driftwood and “rakes” the sand to find the choice pieces and stashes them by category in zip lock bags.

Adrienne Sharnikow’s sea glass jewelry

Ever since she was a little girl, Adrienne Scharnikow has been beachcombing for treasures. “I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and find what the ocean left overnight,” she says.  Now a pharmaceutical company researcher, she has a growing jewelry business called simply Sea. Her three young sons join her at Sunset Beach looking for colorful shards with a well-frosted patina. It can take 50 to 100 years to weather the glass, round the edges and tumble pieces that are jewelry worthy. Adrienne draws designs for each beach jewel and employs silversmiths who hand-shape sterling to create her casual-chic look. Each is as unique as the person who wears it, she says. Her pieces are sold at The Whale’s Tale on the Washington Street Mall.

For photographer Anita Roth, focusing on sea glass was a happy accident. “I have four children, ages eight to 14, and we spend a lot of time together on the beach collecting shells, rocks and then – sea glass. We always compare our finds at the end of our walks and see who has the find of the day. We became enchanted with sea glass and began searching for it specifically, learning which colors were common or rare.”

Jenny Cupp's handmade sea glass jewelry.Sea glass, addictive as it seems to be, became a favorite focus for Anita as she continued studying and experimenting with photography. First she shot close-ups of flowers, then sea shells, but now she is hooked on sea glass treasures.  She shoots their brilliance on the beach rocks and sand, in cocktail glasses, loosely arranged, and in tight arty compositions.

The sea glass photographs have become Anita’s art form. She offers framed photographs for sale at the West End Garage local Artists’ Cooperative Gallery on West Perry Street in West Cape May.

Also showing her sea glass art at the West End Garage is jewelry designer Jenny Cupp.

She sets sea glass jewels in layered necklaces and wire-wrapped earrings and bracelets. A specialty are her small boxes with mosaics of sea glass and shells. She calls her art Seawings, named for her fascination with the water, the treasures it leaves and the birds that maneuver the shoreline. Jenny always has been a Cape May girl of summer, except for a brief California experience. “I couldn’t stay away from Cape May,” she says. “The sea said come home.”

Carol King Hood uses watercolors to share her love of her sea finds.

Shopkeepers will tell you that every season, the popularity of sea glass art and jewelry is a rising tide. “Perhaps it’s because there’s not as much of it as there used to be,” says Pure Sea Glass author Richard LaMotte who searches across the bay, in Lewes, Delaware. “Now we are strict about recycling glass and so many of our containers and household wares are made of plastic. We are searching for a diminishing part of our past.”

Fellow writer C.S. Lambert describes the kaleidoscope of sea glass “whispers from the past. “And what of these broken relics we treasure?” he asks. “These salt-bleached artifacts pass by the world’s coastlines like nomads on a voyage.  Caught in a perpetual cycle, jitterbugging with the tide, heaved ashore only to creep back ocean-ward, sea glass promises a historical odyssey to those who choose to listen.”

I don’t know about you, but I am ready to “listen” and search for sea glass treasures right now as I pull on my boots and head out the door with a bucket and driftwood rake for a secluded beach on the bay.