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Month: May 2011

Aimee: A dream wedding in Cape May…on a budget

Wedding photography by J Elberson Photography

Mark and I have known one another since elementary school, and dated over nine years before getting engaged, having gotten together at 20 and 21 years old. We truly grew up together, and through our twenties, traveled as much as possible. After Mark made an off-hand remark that he might want to try a bed and breakfast some day, I, true to form, immediately made a reservation, and surprised him with a weekend at the Angel of the Sea for his birthday. It was our first time to “The Cape” since we were kids and had very little memory of it, but she made her mark quickly: we were barely on the island 15 minutes before we said, “we could live here,” and started spending as much time as possible at our new favorite place.

Having dated so long, and traveled so much, we’d had lots of conversations about what kind of wedding we’d like, and we knew we wanted to be near the water. We’d talk about it during our long weekends at the Southern Mansion or Sea Crest, and while spending the week at our rental on Cape May Avenue. One summer, we happened to be window shopping and ended up in Artisan’s Alcove, on Lafayette Street. Mark asked me if I’d be interested in an antique engagement or wedding ring. I’d never given it much thought in any direction, but I loved the art deco pieces and thought he might be on to something. Unbeknownst to me, in December 2009, Mark got up at 6:00 a.m., as usual, dressed for work, and left…though he didn’t go to work, and instead drove to Cape May to check out rings. He wasn’t even sure if Artisan’s Alcove would be open, being it was after the holidays, but sure enough, it was opening mid-morning. In the mean time, he grabbed breakfast at Uncle Bills, picked up a disposable camera at Acme, and took some shots of the town still decorated for the holidays, complete with snow and ice, to commemorate the occasion. The staff at Artisan’s Alcove were extraordinarily helpful, assisting him in choosing my 1920 engagement ring. He proposed that week, on the Spirit of Philadelphia at midnight on New Years Eve, under a blue moon, complete with fireworks, and with a gun salute from the Battleship New Jersey moored right next to us.

When it came down to making decisions as to when and where to get married, we almost went another way, as marrying on or near the Delaware River was a serious consideration for us, being that we live a block from the river in Gloucester County and were engaged there. However, we couldn’t get Cape May out of our heads and thought we’d see what the town had to offer.

We had a few places in mind, but Congress Hall had always been our dream location. We’d often fantasize about what a wedding would look like in such a historic setting, and being that our taste is rather vintage, it seemed to fit our personalities perfectly. However, I knew we had a strict budget, and after some preliminary investigation regarding receptions in the Delaware Valley, I was almost convinced we could afford little more than a wedding in our yard! Mark wisely advised that we’d never know until as asked, so we set up an appointment with Krista at Congress Hall.

What a fantasy that day turned out to be. I hesitantly mentioned our price range, expecting to be disappointed, but Krista shuffled a few papers, and asked, “What do you think of January? We could do this in January.” Interestingly, we’d never really thought about a specific month, and were giddy with excitement that our dream wedding could be a reality any time of year, so January it was! My mother-in-law even noted that it was only appropriate that the “winter babies,” with December and February birthdays, have a winter wedding!

We got more than our share of raised eye-brows when we mentioned the Jersey Shore in the dead of winter, and I won’t pretend that I didn’t get very well acquainted with the Farmer’s Almanac and, but the rewards were almost indescribable. Our wedding became a weekend celebration, with family coming from New England and the Pacific and Gulf coasts, and it was almost like we had the town to ourselves. Aside from the tremendous off-season discounts we obtained, summertime issues like parking, traffic, and long lines were eliminated completely. Congress Hall did an spectacular job in helping us coordinate our rehearsal, Rehearsal Dinner, ceremony, reception, After Party, and Brunch all on site, so our guests didn’t even have to leave the premises if they didn’t want to. However, Cape May in January had a wonderful crispness to it that had many of our guests, particularly those out-of-state, exploring on their own. Also, given that over 100 of the 133 people on our guest list were staying overnight, it became very helpful that they were able to enjoy off-season rates for their accommodations.

There were other benefits to the January 22 date that were well worth the cold air: most appropriately, picture opportunities were amazing! Congress Hall has so many incredible locations for photographs, and we were able to enjoy shots in The Blue Pig, the Lobby, the Brown Room, and the Boiler Room, free from the summer crowds that would have made such shots impossible. Our service started in the ballroom at 4:15 p.m., but we utilized most of the interior of the hotel for pictures with our families and bridal party for hours preceding, with the freedom to move around unencumbered by throngs of sandy, sweaty strangers! We even managed some outdoor shots! My Maggie Sottero dress, while beautiful, could have never stood the humidity of the shore in the summertime, but in winter, it was perfectly comfortable. Similarly, our artfully applied make-up ran no risk of running due to the heat!

While many summertime brides have a difficult time securing vendors that might have been their top choice due to them having been booked prior, we practically had the pick of the litter, and secured tremendous bargains on the packages, too! Iovino Videography, out of Williamstown, and DiNardo Brothers Entertainment, based in Washington Township, were both able to provide very personal service during the planning process, and An Enchanting Florist, in Tuckahoe, designed a while, silver, and lavender gray palate that matched both the season and our antique inspiration. Our photographer, J Elberson Photo, from Collingswood, included our engagement sitting and my bridal portrait free of charge. Our stationary suite was able to be completely custom-made by Abbey Malcolm Letterpress and Design in West Deptford, and included totally original Save-the-Dates, invitations, menu cards, programs, place cards, table numbers made from wine bottles, and our seating chart, all at costs well below average. We were even able to name our price with some of the miscellaneous accessories we’d wanted for the reception, like streamers and matchbooks. One other vendor even mistakenly quoted us a wholesale, rather than retail, cost, and honored it due to the time of year! (We were told we’d have never gotten so lucky in June or September.) Shrewsbury String Quartet, out of Riverton, even allowed us to hire them as a trio in order to stay within our budget.

The Cape May Winery was also extremely accommodating, working with us to pick our favors, Victorian Blush splits with custom labels. We loved showing off New Jersey wine to our out of state guests…better than Napa!

Marrying at the hotel also offered us tremendous freedom in our non-to-multi-denominational ceremony. It was important to us that the focus wasn’t all on the reception, and that our wedding have meaning: Cape May City Mayor Emeritus Jerome Inderwies worked closely with us to tailor a service that was at once beautiful, touching, and completely personal, incorporating many different beliefs and traditions into a meaningful service that was entirely our own. Many of our guests commented that our service was one of the most unforgettable they’d ever witnessed.

We, along with our guests, received such personal attention while at Congress Hall. Their service, from the housekeepers to the bartenders to servers to coordinators, was all exemplary. Wedding planner Daniella even chased me as I was getting into the car to make sure we got the top of our wedding cake before heading home, which I’d almost forgotten!

We’re certain that we would have never been able to have such an amazing wedding any other time of year at any other location. Cape May provided us with memories that will last a lifetime, and we’re exceedingly grateful to have been able to share it with our loved ones on our most important day!

Are we allowed to do it again next year??

– Aimee, married January 22, 2011 at Congress Hall

Flowers make for great photographs

This article originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Cape May Magazine.

With spring and summer come the brighter colors of fruiting trees and pretty flowers that photographers crave for to make photographs. Now that is all well and dandy but if you think about it, you will start to understand that most flowers probably taste as good to birds as they do to humans. Yes, not very good! Many of the trees we plant are non native and are planted for their beauty and color, not nutritional value to wildlife. This makes it difficult to get good photos because most birds tend to stay away from them. But that is also part of the challenge!

If you live in the Cape May area, and you have some pretty coloured (I am English and this is the correct spelling) vegetation in your garden there is a good chance that sooner or later some bloke will be pointing his big camera towards you. It will usually be early in the morning or late in the day when the light is at its most romantic. Don’t worry, chances are it will be probably me and no; I am not a peeping tom.

The pink spring blossoms are stunning but getting birds to pose for photos is near impossible. Birds rarely use these trees and when they do, they tend to be perched on the inside away from the flowers, just like this male Northern Cardinal – on the inside looking out!

Getting photographs of birds on the ground is not so difficult. The problem is nearly all the birds that spend time on the ground tend to be dull – Cowbirds, Blackbirds, Grackles and beauties such as this European Starling (no, I didn’t bring it with me). Actually, I like Starlings. When you look at them closely they are iridescent purple and green, and they change their spots! Dull or beautiful? Like many things in life, it depends on how you look at them.

Orchard Orioles have been an in increasing visitor to flowers in my garden in the last two years. As there name suggests they are at home in fruiting trees. They like warm weather, and given the state of climatic changes, they are probably going to be getting commoner.

There are a few birds that love flowers. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is fairly common in Cape May in summer. If you plant the right flowers you are guaranteed to get them in your garden. They are truly stunning and constant source of entertainment. I will always remember seeing my first Hummingbird. It flew about 100 yards past me before I realized it was a bird and not an insect. There are no Hummingbirds in Europe, but as good as we have it here, it pales compared to South America where there are hundreds of types that come in an incredible array of shapes, sizes and colors.


Check out Richard Crossley’s new book Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds.

“It’s exciting. It’s visually stunning. It’s like nothing you have ever seen before and it’s hot of the presses. It’s Richard Crossley’s, The Crossley ID Guide – Eastern Birds. It’s the first real-life approach to bird identification. Whether you are a beginner, expert, or anywhere in between, The Crossley ID Guide(published by Princeton University Press) will vastly improve your ability to identify birds.

“What’s so different about the Crossley ID Guide? Everything. Crossley has designed his guide to reflect the way we see and identify birds. We identify birds by their size, shape, structure, behavior, habitat, and field marks. We [see] birds at close range, at middle and long distances, on the ground, in flight, in trees, and on the water….If you want to be a better birder you will find the new Crossley ID Guide to be [a] major innovation and a valuable tool.”

— Wayne Mones,

139 Years and Still Sailing

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Cape May Magazine. The dates have been updated to reflect the current publication. Photographs courtesy of Judy Lord, and postcards courtesy Don Pocher, both members of the Corinthian Yacht Club of Cape May.

There was no Harbor. There was no Canal. The paint color on your cottage, store or bordello was entirely your own business. At least no one could argue that it wasn’t “authentic.” Few quibbled over morals, either. Steamships brought gamblers, families, the wealthy and the devout bound for the religious retreats at Cape May Point. All were dumped pell-mell right on the sands at Sunset Beach. South Cape May was dry and populated. East Cape May was under water. The country was in a recession that began with a sharp drop in 1873 and then lazily spread out all over the rest of the decade, creating havoc elsewhere in the land. But far from all that madness, the boathouses of would-be yachtsman from Philadelphia lined cool, breezy Madison Avenue overlooking the Cape May Sound, at least according to the club’s website.

The Cape May Yacht Club, circa 1907.

The Corinthian Yacht Club of Cape May started in 1872, the same year as its predecessor in London, the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club. The Cape May launch came about a year after the city’s large hotels put up the money to begin the Cape May Cup and a year before the recession hit. The club’s roots were in Philadelphia. Once a powerful maritime presence, Philly has had its share of ups and downs. It’s also had its share of Corinthians: wealthy sportsmen like Wanamaker and Drexel who embraced the Olympic spirit of amateur competition, then refocused it as an excuse to keep boisterous and low-brow professional sailors out of their clubs.

The Corinthian Movement swept through Britain and the States like a very affluent fever. According to the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club’s own archives, “The members of the new club in 1872 were pleased to be known as ‘Corinthians,’ emphasizing their intention to helm their own boats, although paid hands were still allowed. The term was greatly used in the sporting world of those days and perhaps those who had received a classical education connected it with the Isthmian Games held at Corinth in honour of Poseidon and found it singularly appropriate for yachtsmen.”

Club House of the Corinthian Yacht Club, circa 1918

Can’t you just hear those early Corinthians now? “Isthmian? Steer it myself? Right you are. Now how do you steer this thing?”

Before then, wealthy yacht owners enlisted the help of professional captains to help them win races or nip up to the Great Egg. Few of them could actually steer their own crafts before the movement began. Fascinatingly, fewer still checked their history. The Isthmian games were never about Poseidon (it was a funeral rite for Melicertes). The games occurred about as far inland as you can get on a land bridge behind the city of Corinth with plenty of room for nautical games like chariot racing and poetry competitions. Ahh, Corinth. How little we knew ye.

But history is a wonderful and funny thing. Rich boys go to school, get a vague idea about true Olympic spirit and truces between nations and garlands of celery in their hair (yep celery) and grow up to buy beautifully “yar” little sea crafts they didn’t want to share with stinky sailors. End result, you had to have learned sailing as an amateur to make it into their cup races and clubs – preferably a rich, well-connected and well-behaved amateur. Although later they made special exemptions for wealthy men who’d learned in the Navy. It wasn’t long before these men brought the notion of elegant sportsmanship with them to Cape May, where it flourished.

Laser race in the harbor

To this day, the Corinthian Yacht Club of Philadelphia boasts that it is one of the oldest in the country dating from the mixture of older “Corinthians” that came together in 1892. Older still, the Corinthian Yacht Club of Cape May has held its charter since 1872, in one way or another. Before then, one could enjoy the excitement of a boat race in other ways: charter a small sailboat called the Harriet Thomas for daytrippers. Or if you could afford a yacht of your own and find a local Cape May pilot to steer it, the thrills of the shoals and canyons could be yours by the week. Then there was the early Cape May Cup: starting from the Iron Pier at the end of Decatur Street and looping around Five Fathom Light which, at that time, was still a ship. Now, sadly, it’s just a large buoy about 14.7 miles off the coast of Cape May.

After the amateurs took over the racing scene, one of the Philadelphia Corinthian Clubs won several Cape May Cups. So did their rival the New York Yacht Club. The highlight of the Cup came in 1903, when the Prince of Wales himself won the race on his yacht, the Britannia. The future of the elegant yacht club seemed secure, and when Cape May Harbor was created beginning in 1903, it only made sense that the new headquarters for all things boaty be there.

What of the local sailors and their sailing yachts? Actually, there were a few. They started the Cape May Yacht Club in 1872 and moored at Schellenger’s Landing. Then they built a new clubhouse on what was then Cape Island Creek. We now know it as the “Boathouse Row” between Washington and Lafayette streets just off the harbor. Although these local sailors may not have been ready to rub elbows with His Majesty, their cozy little clubhouse became one of the hottest tickets in town. There they were in 1907, looking over what was going to be the most exciting public works project in history! A harbor for Cape May! A channel to the Atlantic Ocean! New dry land (provided by the dredge spoils of the channel) from Schellenger’s Landing to Madison Avenue! Not only was Cape May getting a fancy, deep new harbor – the island was growing bigger in the process! What could go wrong?

We may never know exactly what prompted the fight, but by 1913 the Cape May Yacht Club was split in half, with the wealthier half becoming the new members of the old Corinthian Yacht Club. They instantly set about building a much fancier clubhouse on Yale Avenue. They dedicated their new palace (complete with guest rooms, verandas looking out over the water, and a huge turret) on the same day in 1913 that the entire harbor was dedicated. The boating world turned out for the dedication. By sheer proximity the new Corinthian clubhouse was oohed and ahhed over by visiting dignitaries, crowds of the curious and jealous yachtsmen. The passing destroyers Jenkings, Fanning and Vixen admired the Corinthian’s fancy clubhouse so much the Navy requisitioned it when World War I began the very next year. Instead of lobster salad and the swankiest of sets, the beautiful structure became a part of the war effort.

The enthusiasm for the Yacht Palace must have paled in the face of the Great War. After the fighting ended, the building became a boys’ camp. (Ironically, the Navy took it back again at the beginning World War II, this time making it a permanent part of the Coast Guard Base. What’s left of it is now used to house flammable materials, according to the Corinthian website. Imagine for just a moment what it was built to be, and realize it’s now an expendable shack.)

Offshore fleet

World War II ended and the last time anyone had heard of the Corinthian Yacht Club – even in passing – had been in the early ‘40s. “They disappeared,” says Jack Sayre, one of the longest running members of the current Corinthian Yacht Club. Kirby Thompkins tried to bring the old club back with the Peter Shields as headquarters, but after three years even that ended. Had too much time passed? Had the world moved on too much?

Maybe only in part. “In 1948, a group of 15 college students got together and called ourselves the Harbor Sailing Club,” says Jack Sayre.

“We started out across the harbor [off Ocean Drive]. Then the city gave us some land at the end of the street [at Buffalo and Delaware avenues]. Our first ramp was two telephone poles. We sailed a mixed bag of sailboats – whatever we could get.” The determined crew got together to clear out the underbrush and trash on the waterfront – each bringing his own equipment, spending his own money, and working like dogs. They attracted some attention leveraging it into fund-raisers, balls, fashion shows, and a lot of respect. Over the next few years, they bought new boats, and constructed a bulkhead of $50 concrete blocks (with members’ names on them) big enough to be a dance floor in a pinch.

Circa 1970

The sailing world took note. “Well, some people from the newspapers came and took our pictures,” says Jack. “Some of the original members of the old Corinthian Yacht Club saw those pictures and came to us. They said, ‘We have a name, we have some money in the bank, and we have a liquor license.’ The only thing they asked was that we use their name. The old Corinthian clubs have a kind of affiliation with each other – a kind of informal understanding. They extend privileges to each other.” The kids just wanted to sail, and now they not only had the prestige of one of the oldest names in sailing, they had the ability to build a clubhouse of their own, make some money and do it up right. So in 1959, the plucky little Harbor Sailing Club became the newest member of the Corinthian athletic family.

The Corinthian Yacht Club name finally found the sailors it needed to flourish. In the last 50 years, the Corinthian has grown bigger and the clubhouse lovelier, true enough. But more importantly, the Corinthian sailors are finally doing what those elegantly muddled sportsmen originally intended: bringing the pure spirit of competition and good sportsmanship to the beautiful science of sailing.

“We’re 760 members strong and financially sound,” says Jack Sayre with notable pride. “We have an active J24 fleet, an active 420 fleet, and active Laser and Sunfish fleets. And we have an Optimist fleet – that’s a small boat for the little guys. We offer sailing lessons to the little ones every summer. Parents don’t have to be a member. That doesn’t matter if the children are interested.” They have adult sailing classes, too, so it’s officially never too late to learn. They host regattas, kids’ races and fundraisers for other local charities in their clubhouse overlooking the harbor.

The Corinthian Yacht Club today.

Now, 139 years later there is a Harbor, there is a Canal. The paint color on your cottage, store or bordello is everybody’s business and subject to Historic Preservation Commission approvals. Members of the Cape May Corinthian Yacht Club can sit on the club’s veranda or look out the large picture window of the new second story and see members’ sailboats bobbing in the harbor among the sleek, rich yachts that tie up elsewhere, the Coast Guard cutters, the whale and dolphin watchers, kayakers, commercial fishing trawlers. They all ply the same waters. They all vie for the same sea space – forced democracy in the day of a still members-only sailing club.

As for the clubhouse itself, well, I’m sorry to say there’s no turret. Hey, what do you expect? It was built entirely by amateurs.

Visit the Corinthian Yacht Club of Cape May online at