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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 Accuweather.com, 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, Audubon.org


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 www.cyccm.com.

 


KT Sullivan Knocks Them Dead

Broadway chanteuse KT Sullivan knocked them dead both Friday and Saturday nights when she performed her show Rhyme, Women & Song at the East Lynne Theater Company, located at 500 Hughes Street at the First Presbyterian Church. She is shown here with her accompanist Jon Weber.

 


Where is Cape Island?

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Cape May Magazine. Vintage map and postcard courtesy of Robert W. Elwell, Sr.

Cape Island Creek flowing by the Lobster House.

Cape Island received its name because it was separated from the mainland by a small creek.

In 1691 a map by Thomas Budd showed that Cape Island was a little spot on that map of Cape May County.  The spot was at the south end of the map, which showed a peninsula.  On a later map, dated 1850, by Nunan which was more distinct and better drawn, one can see clearly the area called Cape Island.

An island is, by definition, a tract of land completely surrounded by water, but not large enough to be called a continent.  The area that showed Cape Island on the Nunan map was surrounded by a small creek, hence Cape Island. Later, the small creek was named Cape Island Creek. The area named Cape Island would become the City of Cape May in 1851.

Most people believe that Cape May City was named after Cornelius Jacobsen Mey and, in a way, it was. Captain Mey (the Mey was later anglicized to be spelled with an “a” – May) was a Dutch sea captain who explored the Delaware Bay and River in his ship Glad Tidings. He was appointed the first director of New Netherland (most of New Jersey) in 1623. Captain Mey named the peninsula after himself with the “Cape” being the peninsula and the “Mey” being his last name.  So in essence he really named the area of Cape May County.

The end of the creek at Mt. Vernon Street entrance to the beach.

Nunan’s Cape Island was an area of land surrounded by a creek or ditch. It was said to be about three miles long with its broadest part about one-half mile wide. The boundaries of Cape Island started at the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape May Inlet – which was formerly known as the Cold Spring Inlet. Going south, the boundary continued about 3,500 feet past what is now the Third Avenue jetty at the south end of Beach Avenue. Around this point there was another small inlet which dumped into the Atlantic Ocean, which is now filled in. This was part of Cape Island Creek, which ran to what was called Mt. Vernon Bridge on Broadway, near Grant Street.

The boundary ran from Mt. Vernon Bridge up Broadway to West Perry Street, making a turn east to where Cape May Miniature Golf Course is located today at West Perry and Jackson streets. There, Cape Island Creek picked up again and ran northerly somewhat parallel to Lafayette Street until it reached Schellenger’s Landing.  The first little bridge one goes over going out of town is called Cape Island Creek Bridge. The Cape Island boundary follows the creek past the Lobster House and the channel back to the starting point of Cape May Inlet and the Atlantic Ocean. Thus, it is Cape Island Creek that made Cape Island and, by law, the name was changed to the City of Cape May in 1875.

Cape Island Creek at the bridge on Elmira Street.

The next reference to Cape Island after the Budd map of 1691 was when George Eaglesfield, in 1699, built a causeway connecting the island with the mainland.  The first legal reference to Cape Island was in 1796 when a law was passed to make a road on which boats could be stowed. The History of Cape May County, New Jersey, published in 1897 by Lewis T. Stevens, does not name the road and I can only guess that it may have been Lafayette Street which was a cow path in the early days. Later it was a convenience for wagons and finally adopted as a street.

Where is Cape Island? In simple terms it is where the City of Cape May stands today. In 1848 the village of Cape Island adopted a borough organization form of government. In 1851 it became incorporated as the City of Cape Island with Isaac M. Church as the Mayor. Two other charters were subsequently procured as necessity arose, one in 1867 and another in 1875, when the name of Cape Island was changed to the City of Cape May.

To the average person, boundaries mean very little. But amateur historians around Cape May cringe when they see references in the newspaper or other print to Cape Island when it is not in the confines of the old Cape Island boundaries.  For instance, West Cape May’s slogan says it is in the “heart of Cape Island” when, in the true sense, they are not in the historic Cape Island boundaries. One of the reasons for much of this confusion is that in the early days of World War II the military cut the Cape May Canal through from the Cape May Harbor to the Delaware Bay in order in enhance military operations for the Navy. As a result, many people hearing the phrase Cape Island and crossing over the waterway coming into the Cape Mays think of everything south of the Cape May canal as Cape Island. When, in reality, it was Cape Island Creek that separated Cape Island from the mainland and made Cape Island an island. Hence its name.

Cape Island Creek shown running across the top of an aerial shot of the City of Cape May, circa 1930. Click for full size.

Even if you “Google” Cape Island on the computer, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, has Cape Island all wrong. It says it is “a man-made island at the southern tip of Cape May County” which is totally incorrect. It also says “it consists of Cape May, Cape May Point, West Cape May, and portions of Lower Township.” In reality, Cape Island is made up of only Cape May City. Wikipedia also says that “Cape Island Creek, for a while, was the divider between the mainland and the (smaller) island, but it was mostly filled in and only a small part remains.” This is totally wrong – all of Cape Island Creek is intact except a small portion where Cape May City borders the Township of Lower (at South Cape May beach). Again, this misconception stems from looking at the Cape May Canal which additionally separates the lower end of Cape May County from the mainland. Cape Island is really an island within an island and has been since World War II.

Today, knowing that Cape May thrives on its history, several businesses use the words Cape Island to give their name an old-time feeling. For instance: Cape Island Appraisals, Cape Island Bicycles, Cape Island Campground and Cape Island Gardens.  The only institution that can use Cape Island authentically is the Cape Island Baptist Church since it dates back to when the City of Cape May was Cape Island. Some of Cape May’s best history comes from when Cape May City was Cape Island. Whether we call ourselves Cape Island or Cape May, the fact remains that we are the “Nation’s Oldest Seashore Resort.”

 


The Ghosts of John McConnell House

Walking down Jackson Street off season, in the evening, is sometimes like walking through a graveyard at night. Many of the buildings sit silent and dark, being closed for the season. Should you happen to glance up at some of the darkened windows in the upper floors of these old seaside sentinels, you may just catch a quick glimpse of something looking back at you. Then, in an instant, it will be gone. Was it a ghost, or just your imagination? On this venerable Cape May thoroughfare, it is more likely to be the former, as many “former” residents still reside here, decades after they have died.

Jackson Street was originally a Native American Indian path to the ocean. The Kechemeche tribe came to the peninsula to fish and swim in the summer, much as we do today. Once the Europeans arrived, the Native tribes started to pack up and leave. At some point, the new arrivals to America started to realize Cape May’s cool breezes and great beaches had great potential as a resort. In the late 1700s, Jackson Street was surveyed and straightened as taverns and small boarding houses began to spring up. Eventually Jackson Street became a major street on “Cape Island” and many cottages and hotels were erected. In 1878, a great fire leveled the area and reduced the buildings and neighborhood to ashes. Over the next decade, homes and hotels rose like a flock of Phoenixes and Jackson Street was reborn again. Layers of history usually have a few ghosts tucked into those layers. The ghosts seem to have taken to the neighborhood. Jackson Street remains one of the most haunted spots in the country.

In my The Ghosts of Cape May books, I have written about many haunts on Jackson Street. Windward and Saltwood Houses, 22 Jackson, Poor Richards, the Merry Widow, the Carroll Villa and the Virginia Hotel have all had some paranormal activity in the past. It was quite by chance that I stumbled onto yet another one of Jackson Street’s haunts, the John McConnell House.

I had stopped by late one summer evening to see my friends Bob and Lisa Ransom, the owners, at that time, of The Ugly Mug. Bob and Lisa had just purchased the John McConnell House, one of the historic homes on Jackson Street—a home people knew very little about. Nestled between Poor Richards Inn and the Tides Condominiums, the McConnell House has sat quietly by the beach for 128 years.

There is something magical about Jackson Street. Friends of mine who have visited Sedona, Arizona have often commented on the special energies there. These energy spots are thought to be vortices by new age thinkers. I feel there is some kind of energy around Jackson Street. All of Cape May has a very special, positively charged energy, but Jackson Street seems to have energy all to itself.

Number fifteen Jackson Street is thought to have been built around 1883 on the site of some of the hotels that had been consumed by the great blaze of 1878. Before the fire, John McConnell and his brother Alexander owned many of the lots on the east side of Jackson Street. Alexander McConnell was the original owner of Ebbitt House, what is now the Virginia Hotel. A few years after his brother built the hotel, John McConnell built his house at number fifteen Jackson Street as a grand summer residence for his family and friends.

There is very little information on the McConnells in historical circles in Cape May. John is listed in the 1907 city directory as the proprietor and manager of the Ebbitt House. In 1910, however, a postcard in my collection shows the name of the establishment was changed to The Virginia and A.M. Ludlam is shown as the owner. I would guess Ludlam changed the name when he bought the place and expanded it. The McConnells seem to disappear from Cape May after that time. Some of their staff and friends however, decided to remain behind on a permanent basis.

McConnell House is a beautiful and vast Victorian with one of the best wrap-around porches in town! A few years back, the Ransoms sold the house to Bob and Jennie Mullen. The Mullen’s Belvidere Cottage on Gurney Street is also featured in my Book 1, so it was only fitting that they now own not one, but two haunted houses in town! I should note here that this residence is a private home, and while the owners have graciously allowed me to write about the ghosts here, the house and property are not open to the public.

When I first entered McConnell House, I could sense multiple spirits. I was able to do a thorough walk-through one night with the Ransoms. The first ghost I encountered was that of an older woman with white hair in the rear bedroom on the third floor. She was wearing white pants and a shirt and I was not sure at first if it was a man or a woman. I later felt it was the spirit of an older woman. Someone had thought she was a former servant of the house and that she lived on the third floor, but third floor hauntings do not usually indicate ghosts of former servants. Ghosts try to get away from the living. This is why many ghosts are encountered on the third floor of a home. There is a common misconception that if a ghost is haunting the third floor of a home, it must be a former servant who lived on that floor—as many servants did in the old days.

Because so little is known about the McConnells, neither Bob nor Lisa Ransom knew if they had a large family, or if they had servants at all. In my mind, the ghostly woman in the white suit did not feel like a servant. She felt like she lived there and owned the house. Was she a McConnell? It was not until months later, when I was staying across the Street at the Windward House, that I broached the subject with Sandy Miller, owner of the Windward House across the street and a longtime resident of Cape May.

“That was Miss Park!” Sandy exclaimed. Miss Helen Park, as it turned out, was a retired schoolteacher who had taken up permanent residence in Cape May. The phrase “permanent residence” has a different meaning in haunted Cape May! Both Sandy and Harriett Sosson from Poor Richard’s Inn remembered Miss Park and related how she used to wear white linen suits and cut her front lawn with an old-fashioned push lawnmower. Sandy also mentioned that Helen, in later years, needed another income so she rented out most of the house to boarders only reserving the least desirable room in the back of the third floor as her own bedroom.

The pieces now fit the puzzle. It would seem that Miss Park (she never married) is still renting out her home to others, except she may not realize one small fact—she no longer owns it. Don’t tell that to a ghost. Ghosts seem to feel they have eminent domain over former properties they once owned. I think they feel most people cannot see or sense them, so they are not really bothering the living. Miss Park’s ghost doesn’t seem to bother anyone in the house. Since Helen Park died in 1981 at the age of 81, she wants nothing more than to enjoy a few more years by the sea in her beloved home. Luckily for her she has company—the dead kind.

As I traveled through the second floor bedrooms on that first visit with Bob and Lisa, I stopped to encounter another “lost” soul, a woman who only referred to herself as “Dorothy from the Baltimore”. At first, I thought she had said “from Baltimore” and thought she might have been one of the guests over the years that passed while staying in the house. It was only later that I stumbled upon an old Cape May postcard from the turn of the last century when I realized she was not talking about the city of Baltimore, she meant the Baltimore Hotel. The Baltimore (pictured below in the 1911 postcard of Jackson Street looking north from Beach Avenue) stood next door to McConnell House until 1962 (when it was razed during urban renewal) on the site of the current Tides Condominiums.

Ghosts can and do move around. They are transient beings. I could not get much out of Dorothy that night. On subsequent returns to the McConnell House, I could not sense her at all. I am sure the mammoth old Baltimore had its share of ghosts and maybe Dorothy decided to leave before the wrecking ball hit. It seems that she may have moved on from McConnell House now—or she might have simply been out visiting a few ghostly friends.

A haunted house is like a paranormal play in motion. Each time I visit an active haunt the cast may change. Sometimes I sense nothing at all and the haunt goes dormant for a period. On one of the later trips, after Bob and Jenny Mullen had moved in, I encountered another female ghost in the house. This ghost did give me the sense that she was a former servant. Where was she on my last visits, I thought? Maybe she had the night off. Psychically I sensed the name Margaret. Unlike the more demure Miss Park, Margaret was an iron handed, no-nonsense ghost .Some ghosts will move away from a medium and choose not to make contact, this one was in my face.

I first encountered Margaret in the rear of the home. The original house had a summer kitchen and possibly a guest house in back on the first floor. A long, outdoor hallway went between the two back sections. When an extension was added to the second and third floor sometime in the early 20th century, the back hallway was enclosed, leaving the outdoor clapboards as inside walls, and sealed doors that lead to nowhere. It was in this back hallway that I first sensed the old servant. I will sense names, images, and ideas on a psychic level. I can remember Margaret complaining about people tracking dirt into the hall, and talking about cooking in the back of the house. She complained a lot.

When I revisited McConnell House yet another time, I encountered Margaret in all her glory. She spent about an hour and a half telling me everything that needed to be done to the house, complaining about Bob Mullen’s “funny carpentry” on his outdoor shower (which I thought looked pretty nice) and talking about Bob tracking dirt into the house over and over again.

Bob must have had a recent run in with Margaret when he was working on the shower out back, and kept coming in and out. He admitted he might have been tracking mud and sawdust into the back of the house, which, according to the agitated ghost, was apparently the reason that the door shut and locked itself, locking Bob out of the house. Margaret had apparently had enough and dead bolted the door from the inside so that Bob would not be able to get back in with his muddy feet. The term “dead bolt” could not be more appropriate here.

One would think that three dead women were enough to haunt one house, but the strongest presence at McConnell House is not one of the aforementioned, it is the ghost of a young child. This ghostly boy told me his tragic story on two different occasions. When ghosts communicate with me, I do not hear them with my ears. I hear them with my mind. It is through imagery and words that they send their messages. I first encountered the ghost of the young boy named “Sherman” while sitting in the living room with Bob and Lisa Ransom. I sensed that there was a ghost under the house, where there is now a crawlspace. I tried to focus my energy on the young boy and get him to come forward. So many ghosts on Jackson Street, so little time!

To a ghost, a medium is like a flame to a moth. A ghost will realize that I can sense their presence, and offer a bridge to the living. Some ghosts will jump at this opportunity, others will move away. The boy wanted to talk. Having a conversation with a ghost is not like having a conversation with a living person. Ghosts fire off rapid bits and pieces of information that my psychic mind must catch and interpret. Sometimes the information does not make sense while other times pieces of the story seem to be missing. This is because the link between my mind and the ghost’s mind is not perfect. It can be compared to a bad cell phone connection. I hear some of the information, but miss part of the message in the process. I then need to fill in the blanks by trying to understand what the ghost is trying to say.

Sherman showed me that he came into Cape May by train—on a boxcar. He came with others who had come from an orphanage, or had somehow become homeless. He came to Cape May because it was the last stop on the train and he hoped to go out on a boat and sail the high seas. Many young kids might fantasize about this type of adventure—especially orphans. Reality set in when Sherman and his friends started to be caught by the authorities and sent back to wherever they came from. His story was choppy and seemed incomplete. I could not tell if he was leading me on or telling me his true story. Ghosts can BS as well as the living, and I am sure a few of them delight in giving psychics false information.

I think the basis of this story was true. Maybe Sherman had grown to an age where he was released from an orphanage and went to Cape May looking for work. He told me he lived under the house, in the crawlspace beneath the front porch. Could he have been squatting under the house for shelter? Maybe there was nowhere else to stay when he arrived or he had no money for lodging.  He seemed to indicate he moved around a lot.

Sherman mentioned a woman across the street giving him food and shelter, but talk of sending him back to an orphanage sent him running again. He existed on handouts from the hotel kitchens like a stray animal. On another recent visit, he showed me a picture of a small white mouse, one that he kept as a pet. The mouse apparently made the journey south with him and was his only true sense of family while living on the streets and under McConnell House. He showed me that the mouse died eventually, and he buried her in a small grave under the porch near where he slept. His little friend, who had kept him company day and night was now gone. He was now truly alone. His fate would soon be the same as his beloved white mouse.

I think he perished that winter from being in the extremities. That information came as more of a psychic feeling, rather than a ghostly dialogue. Ghosts generally prefer not to talk about how they met there end, and this boy’s journey was far from over.

For some reason, some people just will not take the cue from Heaven to come home. They have some kind of attachment that keeps them earthbound. Children are even more susceptible to this because their parents are still living, or they are afraid of the people coming forward to help them cross over to Heaven. Sherman felt safe where he was, even if the elements finally did him in. He does not feel the cold any longer, but he seems very lonely.

Of all the experiences the people have had at McConnell House, one of the strongest and most recurring is seeing a young boy sitting on the bed in a third floor bedroom, looking down at the floor. One day, Jenny had just finished making up the beds returning to the third floor only to find an indentation on the beds like someone had been sitting on them. A friend of the Mullens also stayed a few nights and witnessed the hall light coming on and then off at about three in the morning. A ghostly visit to the outhouse?

McConnell House is a place I shall keep my paranormal eye on in years to come. I hope the older ghosts can get Sherman to cross over, even if they don’t want to. He really deserves the chance to move on and even come back again and enjoy life as a living breathing young man.

Next time you pass by 15 Jackson Street, don’t forget to keep an eye out for a little white mouse running up the front walk…you may just spot a few ghosts running after it. Let’s just hope Sherman gets it before Margaret and her broom do!

Until next time, keep the light lit—mice are nocturnal creatures—as are ghosts.

To read more about what I do, grab a copy of one of my four Ghosts of Cape May books, available autographed through my website.

Thanks for reading my column! – Craig McManus


Lily of the Kitchen

Goat Cheese, Leek & Tomato Tart

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FW53FmZ0he0

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“Shallots are for babies; onions are for men; garlic is for heroes”
Anonymous

The same botanical family that gives us the Lily-of-the-field also provides us with onions, leeks, chives, garlic, shallots, ramps and scallions. Onions are one of the most ancient of cultivated vegetables. Prized for their durability after harvesting, the onion became a staple in most every culture. In Pharaoh’s Egypt many vegetables were venerated with artwork, only the onion was cast in gold. The Bible tells of the Israelites longing for the onions, leeks and garlic of Egypt while wandering the Sinai desert. I would lament too, if these pungent lilies were forced in exodus from my kitchen. The Romans disliked the pungency of garlic, but fed it to their legions because they believed its power would make the soldiers courageous or maybe the odor would cause the enemy to flee. The medicinal properties of the onion family were also prized in ancient times. Modern medicine has validated that notion touting onions for their valuable antioxidants. Chefs of yesterday and today esteem the fragrant bulbs for the diversity and complexity they add to dishes.

The onion rarely stands alone on the plate. Rather, its flavor and texture enhances the food it accompanies. The different types of onions have their own unique flavor profiles, from pungent Spanish onions to sweet Vidalias. The onion brings joy to my palate. However, it often brings my students to tears. The culprit is a gas released when the onion membrane is ruptured. This gas wafts up to the eyes and combines with the water in our tear ducts to form sulfuric acid causing burning and tearing. Over the years, I have heard numerous remedies to minimize the caustic effect of onions. From chewing bread, refrigerating the onions before slicing, or running water over the onions while slicing, none of these methods work effectively. The best weapons against a noxious onion are a sharp knife and fast slicing. This reduces tearing of the membrane, limiting the amount of gas released and the amount of time your tear ducts are exposed to the fumes. Cooking dissipates the fumes, so put them on the stove as quickly as possible.

Caramelizing onions brings out their best flavor. To julienne the onion, slice it with a sharp knife, lengthwise from root to stem. This step is important to make melt-in-your-mouth caramelized onions. Place onions in a thick-bottomed sauté pan with a little bit of olive oil. Turn the heat on very low and cook very slowly. Do not stir. Do not salt until the end. Both of these actions inhibit the browning process. Once the browning process begins, stir gently with a wooden spoon so the onions caramelize evenly. This laborious process is worth the time and effort. The sugar-rich onion is transformed from its pungent raw state to a sweet, golden brown richness that enhances everything from liver, steaks, soups and tarts. Onion soup achieves its full-flavored glory from slowly caramelized onions.

Leeks are another member of the Lily family that has been valued by epicureans for centuries. The leek even emblazoned the crest of the Bourbon family, rulers of food-centric France. When working with leeks, usually only the light-colored bulb portion is used. This bulb grows below ground so wash carefully to remove all the dirt. Leeks, unlike onions, are always cooked, sweated to be exact. Slowly cooked in butter, leeks are never browned, until they melt apart. Leeks add a complexity to soups, stews and braises. Potato and onion soup does not match the intensity of potato-leek soup. Leeks, tomatoes and goat cheese form a triumvirate of flavors that, when served in a savory tart, can stand as a light entrée or tantalizing first course.

Two other members of the Lily family that are esteemed among chefs, but fairly unknown to non-foodies, are shallots and ramps. While shallots have a definite French accent, ramps are definitively American. Ramps are a wild onion that looks like a cross-between a scallion and a leek. The Native American tribe the Illini, called the variety that grew wild along the shores of Lake Michigan Chicagou, giving the settlement there its name. Ramps grow wild from the Appalachians to Canada from late winter to early spring. Served whole and lightly braised, the humble mountain-folk food is prized among chefs and gourmands. Shallots have gained popularity in recent years in American cooking. Having a distinct flavor that is more subtle and less pungent than garlic makes shallots versatile. They can be used raw in vinaigrettes, cooked in butter sauces or with subtly flavored proteins like chicken, fish or veal. Use shallots where the flavor of garlic will overpower the food or your dining companions.

I will leave the heroic garlic for another column. This month, bring the lilies from the field and into your kitchen with these recipes. Apple-Onion Soup with Fontina Crostini, Tomato Leek and Goat Cheese Tart and Spinach Salad with Sherry Shallot Vinaigrette. These Three dishes can combine to make one delightful dinner. Until next month, Bon Appétit.

Apple-Onion Soup

  • 5 large white onions, julienned
  • 3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and medium diced
  • 3 Gala apples, peeled, cored and medium diced
  • 4 ounces butter
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • 1 cup Madeira
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 quarts beef broth
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • 1 baguette, sliced and toasted
  • 8 ounces fontina cheese, shredded

In Dutch oven, melt butter and caramelize onions. When medium brown, add apples and half of thyme. Cook for 10 minutes until apples are soft. Deglaze with Madeira. Add stock, seasoning and simmer for 45 minutes. To finish, add remaining thyme. Pour soup into crocks. Top with toasted baguette and liberally top with cheese. Brown cheese under broiler. Serve immediately.

Shallot-Sherry Vinaigrette

  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 4 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh tarragon
  • 2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

In stainless steel bowl, add shallots ,vinegar, honey, mustard and tarragon. Whisk well. Add oil slowly. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with spinach salad.

Goat Cheese Leek and Tomato Tarts

Dough

  • 1 ounce drunken goat cheese shredded
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons lard
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Pinch salt
  • Ice cubes

Place flour in food processor. Pulse in cheese. Add cold lard and butter. Pulse quickly on and off. Add salt. Add ice, a few cubes at a time until dough comes together. Wrap in plastic.Chill 30 minutes.

Filling

  • 2 pounds leeks. Use the white part only. Slice in half lengthwise. Clean well, then cut into half moons
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 6 ounces Chevre goat cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 tomatoes, sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme

In sauté pan melt butter. Add leaks. Sweat on low heat until soft. Do not brown. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat cool. In mixing bowl, add eggs, goat cheese and cream. Whip until smooth. Season. Add herbs.

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.

Roll out dough until ¼-inch thick and line in fluted tart pan. Prick shell lightly with fork. Bake for 25 minutes in 350° oven. Cool slightly then spread leeks evenly over crust. Top artfully with tomato slices and pour cheese mixture over top. Bake at 350°. Bake for 30 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before slicing.