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The Passing of the Christian Admiral

Building the Hotel Cape May. Click to enlarge.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Cape May Magazine‘s June 2007 issue, under the title “The Admiral Hotel: A Star-crossed Venture.”

From the beginning, the Hotel Cape May was doomed. From the fantasy of a “new Newport” by a group of early 20th-century capitalists to the day it finally crashed into dust and rubble on its beachfront lot, the majestic building symbolized many things that Cape May is not.

The Hotel Cape May opened in 1908, several years behind schedule and 100 percent over budget – its final cost of $1 million was nearly unimaginable in those days. The flagship of a development envisioned by a consortium calling itself the Cape May Real Estate Company, the structure was supposed to be a luxury accommodation for the wealthy visitors, even yachtsmen, who would come to this pretty little town, bringing money never seen here before and spending it on mansions, lengthy hotel stays, and the sort of lively social life typical of coastal resorts like Newport, Rhode Island, and the Hamptons on eastern Long Island.

Hotel Cape May in 1913. Click to enlarge.

Instead, it was the albatross largely responsible for dragging the venture to its end. Labor disputes, construction problems and pilfering delayed the work. The city refused to pay for a major portion of required infrastructure improvements. The architect was forced to sue for his fee (he won). A harbor dredge sank. Six months after opening, the building was briefly closed for repairs.

The consortium spent $700,000 on marshland at the eastern edge of Cape May, millions more (including Federal funds) dredging the shallow mud from a creek that became Cape May Harbor, dumping the dredge on the marshland, building a grid of streets named for big cities and states, and presumably advertising all this to prospective buyers. But fewer than 100 of the planned 700-plus houses were ever built. Eventually the company went bankrupt, and the land was sold off for $200,000. Peter Shields, the first president of the company, could not save the project, nor could his successor, Nelson Z. Graves. Both men managed to build the sort of houses they expected to see here, though, and both remain: the Peter Shields Inn, and the Mission Inn, whose Spanish style was Mrs. Graves’ favorite architecture.

1910 Postcard of the Hotel Cape May. Click to enlarge.

The Hotel Cape May remained mostly unused until World War I, when the nearby U.S. Navy base used it for a hospital. It served as the U.S. Navy officers’ administrative headquarters during World War II.

The Admiral Hotel Company bought the building during that period, renamed it and tried to run a hotel. That failed, and the City of Cape May took it over in 1940 for back taxes – $900. Then it was sold to a Philadelphia real estate company who pondered opening a senior citizens home, but didn’t. After the war, the Pennsylvania Company bought it as a hotel, and again, the venture failed. In 1957, the Masefield Corporation bought the building and instantly declared bankruptcy. Then it became the property of First Pennsylvania Bank and Trust Company in another back-taxes venture – this time the price was $66,000.

Swimming pool at the Hotel Cape May in 1932. Photo by Fred Hess and son. Image courtesy Don Pocher. Click to enlarge.

Finally, in 1963, the Rev. Carl McIntire bought the building as part of his work to create a Christian college housed in several buildings he’d bought and moved to the eastern end of the beach. He paid $300,000 for it.

During all those years, up and down, good times and bad, the building became an institution, spawning the kinds of experiences and memories you might associate with a more romantic and exotic locale.

Apparently, it WAS romantic. Who cared if management was in financial straits? It was more than a nice place to sleep. From the eighth floor open terrace you could see the world! The lobby, sunlit through a huge stained glass dome, spoke of elegance and luxury. The formal dining room gave unbroken views of the ocean. There was a dance floor, a swimming pool and a bowling alley. What’s not to love?

The Hotel Cape May dining room in 1908. Photo courtesy Don Pocher. Click to enlarge.

And fall in love they did. Locals, summer visitors and cottagers treated the Admiral Hotel as the social center of summer life at the shore. It was a source of income for locals who made summer money setting pins in the bowling alley, waitressed or bartended, bussed tables, cleaned the guestrooms and worked the front desk.

“When I was 16, I was hired as a cigarette girl in the bar,” recalls a Cape May native who, perhaps understandably, wishes to keep her identity a secret. “I went home and said to my mother, ‘Guess what I’m doing this summer!’ ” To which Mother replied, “Oh no, you’re NOT.” She was underage, of course.

Before the final demolition began in 1995, the new owners of the Christian Admiral, headed by Curtis Bashaw, Rev. McIntire’s grandson, held a spectacular yard sale which people treated as a social event that would yield them a memory. When the doors opened that morning, people filed slowly in and began to wander among piles of restaurant china, painted wardrobes clustered in the center of the chilly room, and hundreds of chairs, some assembled as for a meeting, other folded and leaning against the wall near stacks of disassembled brass beds, worn and rusted, but intact. Some of those people are gone – they’ve moved from Cape May, or they’ve died. Some only vacationed here, but they returned for this event, then disappeared again to their home towns.

Click to enlarge.

“They were fun times,” recalled Jack Powell of Cape May. He was among several who were happy to share memories with others wandering through the crowd, looking for stories and for a few souvenirs of their own. “It was the social spot of the city. We’d get dressed up, dance to live music. It was nice.”

Ann and John Violand used to dance and drink there. “It was party time in the late 1940s,” they said.

“I’m looking for a desk for my daughter,” explained Pat Loranger of Cape May, as she stood outside. No doubt she found one; there were probably 20 lined up near the wardrobes.

But most people wanted one last look at the old place and one souvenir of the building that had a place in their lives.

Photograph by Vincent Marchese. Click to enlarge.

“I always dreamed that if I won the lottery I’d buy the place,” said Colette Smith of Atco, who said she’d take home “anything cheap I can find.” Libby Toner, a lifelong Cape May resident, was more specific. She wanted a dish bearing the CA logo. They were plentiful, if not as “cheap” as the unlabeled dishes. But anyone unwilling to pay for the plates could buy silver-plated serving pieces still in good enough condition to use.

“Oh, look! This brings back memories,” someone would say, and they’d begin to poke among the dishes or pictures. Sadness mixed with the joy of recollection.

“How’s this?” said Helenclare Leary, poised next to some bowling pins and searching for her best memory. “Standing in my bare feet, in a bathing suit, in the downstairs bar, drinking cocktails out of old ginger ale bottles.”

Photograph by Vincent Marchese. Click to enlarge.

“That must have been before 1962,” said a passerby, “because after that . . .” When Dr. McIntire bought the building, alcohol was banned.

The bowling pins and accompanying balls lined up on their racks were a favorite attraction, sparking some of the liveliest talk. But crouching quietly in the crowd, Peter Baldwin carefully searched for a couple of the best. They were, he said, in memory of his dad, “who was a pinsetter here.”

Outside, Anita Beck reminded the crowd that Cape May’s tallest building was a landmark for every fisherman. There is a legendary fishing ground just off the Admiral’s beach. “It’s called the Hotel Sluice – pronounced ‘slew’ – she clarified for landlubbers, “and it’s not on the charts.” People coming in from a day’s fishing, commercial or recreational, knew where they were and how long until they were home, when the building came in sight.

Photograph by Vincent Marchese. Click to enlarge.

Some people remembered the view from the big bridge over the canal. It was a long road trip to the shore in the days before Route 55 and the Garden State Parkway, and restless children watched for the big building to cut across the flat view of the ocean. “There it is,” they’d murmer, and knew the ride was over.

Audrey Conant’s father, U. S. Navy Captain Edward C. Kline, Sr., was a section base commander during World War II, long enough for her to attend 9th grade here, in the building that is now City Hall. Her cousin’s family had a summer place in Cape May Point, next to St. Mary-by-the-Sea, and she remembers her cousin as a teenager riding his bike all the way to the Admiral to his job as a pinsetter – for 25 cents a week. At the yard sale, she bought a room key, and a fork and spoon as a memory for him.

Her brother, Dan Kline, was 10 or 11 during the war, and used to play ball in the Admiral hallways with a chief petty officer while their father worked. “He used to say, ‘If my son gets in trouble, I’m after you.’ ” Kline laughs. It was “mostly Navy” in there, with the lower two or three floors taken up with personnel offices. Above that was still a hotel, with some guests. But the building was never fully booked.

Photograph by Laura Keen. Click to enlarge.

The pool was the star attraction, “because the beach wasn’t much then,” Kline recalls. In the 1950s Cape May “almost native” Cindy Schmucker and her brother begged their father for a seasonal family membership that gave them unlimited use of the pool. It cost $100, not insignificant on her father’s school teacher salary, but apparently worth it. “We were always on the beach [until then], so the pool was different,” she remembers. Every morning they would ride their bikes from their summer home on South Lafayette Street, spend the morning swimming and playing with the “gang” of their young teen friends, go home for lunch, then return for the entire afternoon.

One reason for the popularity of the pool was the condition of Cape May’s beaches. Erosion had taken a great toll, and only a few places were accessible. Dan Kline went up to Decatur Street along with most of the town, because it was the first place where there was enough beach. Poverty Beach held no attraction either because it had an unpleasant “coarse and shell-y” surface.

Lobby. Photograph by Laura Keen. Click to enlarge.

Cindy Schmucker and her family used to go to Howard Street where there was a good beach and a swing set. It was convenient from her aunt and uncle’s house, but they still had to climb – or jump – about 12 feet down from the macadam boardwalk. Under that paving were big boulders like those on the jetties. Those boulders were on the ocean side of the boardwalk (they didn’t call it a promenade then) and the water came right up to the rocks at high tide.

“When I was a child it was kind of an elegant place, so when they offered memberships, it was neat,” but even then the Admiral Hotel building was “very run down,” says Cindy, and she never went inside. But she knew people who did: many young summer workers were paid so little that they could not afford to rent a place to live. Somehow word got around that they could get into the fourth floor of the Admiral and “just flop somewhere.”

Stained glass dome. Photograph by Laura Keen. Click to enlarge

By the time she was in her late teens, when earning summer money became more important than hanging with friends all day, she heard that “kids were down there messing around, getting into trouble; it was very run down.” It was during that period that the story – apparently true – circulated that a woman had fallen into an elevator shaft and been decapitated. “They locked up the building better after that.” (Some say that the woman’s ghost haunted the Admiral’s hallways.)

Even after it became a Christian college and unsavory practices like drinking and smoking were banned, the Admiral remained THE place to hang out, even for secularists. The top-floor terrace had been enclosed to become another dining room, and McIntire added an auditorium, Gardener Hall, onto the east wing to hold religion classes and rallies. It became a community center, hosting antique shows and other public events. When no Shelton College officials were looking, drinking continued and the happy party atmosphere prevailed alongside McIntire’s evangelical messages broadcast regularly from the hotel and later from a boat anchored several miles offshore.

The drive leading to the Admiral. Photograph by Laura Keen. Click to enlarge.

Sue Carroll, along with Lorraine Schmidt and several other women, organized and hosted a “really elegant” dinner in the first-floor dining room as part of Victorian Week. “We were sneaking wine bottles in and all kinds of devious stuff,” recalls Tom Carroll. After dinner, while the live band played, everyone would wait for the McIntires to go upstairs to bed so the dancing could begin. McIntire banned dancing and smoking. Music was okay – it was just the dancing that was naughty.

The first concerts of the Cape May Music Festival were in a grand presentation room off the lobby opposite the dining room, recalls Tom Carroll. Concertgoers could listen to the music and look right out through picture windows behind the musicians and see the ocean. “It was an elegant setting,” he remembers.

Photograph by Laura Keen. Click to enlarge.

Like the others before him, McIntire could not keep the aging building afloat. Plagued by accreditation problems at Shelton College and controversy over his radio broadcasts, he moved his ministry to Florida, and once again, the monument stood empty, now in the hands of the McIntire grandchildren. The construction problems inherent in the original project were now taking their toll as parts of the building literally began to fall apart and were judged hopeless by more than one civil engineer.

Dining room. Photograph by Laura Keen. Click to enlarge.

On top of everything else, the seaside climate was doing its work on the structure: its steel supporting columns were rusting and disintegrating inside their decorative brick enclosures. The city and its residents fought for the Admiral’s survival in the face of fact after fact detailing not only the progressive damage, but the cost to halt and repair it. Numbers like $20 million were bandied about, with no promises that the fixes would hold. Tom Carroll had conversations with several engineers, including one who was a member of the New Jersey Historic Trust. The engineer inspected the rafters and concluded that the entire roof needed to be completely removed and rebuilt. “He said we would be looking at $60 or $70 million before even starting to think about the rest of the building.”

It was inevitable and a little ironic when a deal was finally struck to demolish the condemned building, sell the land for development, and use the income to restore what had become the Admiral’s sister property, Congress Hall Hotel. East Cape May had come full circle.

The winter of 1995-1996 was one of the longest and coldest in recent memory. By November icy winds were already blowing off the ocean. It was a wet, unpleasant season, but through those bleak months, well into March, day after day, Cape May locals bundled up and ventured down to the asphalt sea wall on the beach facing the Christian Admiral Hotel. They came to watch their beloved building disappear, a process that proceeded painfully beginning in December. Finally, on Monday morning, March 25, the last of the beacon and tower, landmark to locals, longtime summer visitors, even fishermen, came down.

Photograph by Laura Keen. Click to enlarge.

The usual crowd was on the seawall, in the street, or in their cars. These people, perhaps a couple of hundred, had been there almost every morning starting around 8 a.m. through the bitter winter to watch the process, share their stories, and mourn the building’s passing.

On the site, on this last day, thick steel cables were wrapped through the building’s window frames, as they had been on so many days before. One long cable looped around the rear east corner where an elaborately decorated column housed a metal chimney. After coping with several of those stubborn columns around the building, project manager Skip Bushby of Winzinger, Inc., the demolition contractor, declared his determination that this last one would fall with the rest of the building.

“Three pulls,” went the word through the crowd. By now, everyone knew what that meant – they had seen it several times already. The cables were hooked onto a powerful tractor, nicknamed “Big Yellow,” that would move slowly and gradually forward, pulling the cables taut. It would keep moving until its force pulled the cabled section down.

Photograph by Hope Gaines. Click to enlarge.

So it would all be over today. Until time for the pull, there was the endless, now familiar, flow of bulldozers and men, sorting, dumping, tossing, cleaning wood and metal from the ever-higher piles of brick and plaster rubble – the remains of the eight-story monument to history, elegance and, finally, failure.

It was foreman Alex DePalma’s last day. Would he miss us? He shook his head.

“I won’t miss that ride every morning, I can tell you,” he said, looking forward to a new assignment closer to his Bricktown home. “And this is the windiest city I’ve ever been in.”

While they waited for the pull, people talked about what they would do when they no longer felt compelled to show up here every morning. Most laughed about getting their lives back, cleaning their houses, getting to work on time.

Photograph by Hope Gaines. Click to enlarge.

At last, at about 10:30 a.m., the first pull came and part of the remaining corner fell. A rusty water tank blew out its burden of black sludge as it spun down and clanged onto the pile of rubble.

When the dust cleared, DePalma climbed up the pile and entered the narrow section of building that was still standing. Spectators watched him inch along an interior wall and up what remained of a staircase, inspecting a cable that seemed to be buried in the dust. He leaned out a window, adjusted the cable, then crept cautiously back down along the wall and out onto the rubble, now nearly three stories high.

Photograph by Hope Gaines. Click to enlarge.

The crew cleared the area for the second pull. That one took away the staircase DePalma had just climbed, some fluorescent orange-painted windows, and the last of a series of bathtubs that had appeared as each layer of rooms was exposed after a pull.

Then word passed that there would be a wait. Winzinger’s top project manager was on his way. He had just called from his car phone at the red light at Exit 10, and was expected momentarily. The crowd was restless; it was later than any of the pulls before.

When he arrived, the manager climbed a pile of rubble and focused a camera. DePalma stood at the foot of the pile, shouldering a video camera. The cable around the last, rear corner was moved, adjusted, maneuvered, first by men, then by machines. The last, slim section of the Hotel Cape May faced the ocean, white interior walls exposed, blue sky shining through vacant window frames.

Photograph by Hope Gaines. Click to enlarge.

Big Yellow puffed black smoke that rose over the rubble. The cables slowly tightened until they were taut. Nothing happened. The machine moved forward a little, then back, tightening the cable again. Some tiles fell from the roof.

Another forward-back motion, a hard jerk, and the structure shook. Someone yelled, “Look! The chimney!” as the top section of the corner tower broke off and flew over the rooftop.

Photograph by Hope Gaines. Click to enlarge.

Another pull. The broad face of the structure shook, then twisted, turning its west wall inward. Then it fell, toppling forward. And it was gone.

The blue sky seemed to be a gaping hole, a rip where a solid surface had been. It was a shock to look up and see – nothing.

To this day, many people insist that the building could have been saved. They don’t believe the extent of the hidden damage or the figures quoted to repair it or they don’t believe the money couldn’t have been raised somehow. They look at the mansions erected along the site with disapproval and sadness, even as they celebrate the restoration of Congress Hall. They want both; they want their Admiral back. They want the pool, and the parties, the eighth-floor view and an elegant place to dine in full formal dress.


Want more on the Christian Admiral? Read “Watching History Go Away.”

Watching History Go Away: The Christian Admiral Hotel


“Lot for Sale” signs dot the landscape today like headstones in a graveyard. Most bear another message as well — “sold.” Four houses already face the beach. Homes of fine proportion with grand views. Summer houses. Cottages, they’re modestly called in Cape May.

View from one of the Admiral's windows.

View from one of the Admiral’s windows.

But there’s an eerie vacancy to the scene, too. One can feel it in the air. There’s an immediate coolness, a sense of void.

Something’s missing.

“You’re watching history go away, kid,” an unidentified one-armed man wearing a Vietnam veterans’ jacket tells the little boy standing next to him. It is Monday morning, February 26, 1996 — a cold and damp day in Cape May — but one that will live in memories for years to come. A day generating countless tales future generations will have to hear, and bear, again and again.

In a town whose very existence depends on its historic buildings, the loss of one from fire, much less demolition, is felt intensely. The Christian Admiral Hotel was like a living, breathing member of the community and her passing was mourned as such.

This morning demolition is slated to begin, though no one knows for sure if it will.  The razing had been halted the previous week because of weather conditions. Still, spectators line the beach front well before 8 a.m. determined to witness the making — and unmaking — of history.

Though some bring video camcorders and most carry cameras, few are here simply to ogle. Memories have brought them to watch, wait, share stories and even shed a few tears. Personal recollections of days gone by and the moments when the old hotel touched their lives.

Built between 1906 and 1908, the same years as the ill-fated ship Titanic, her soul and destiny were much the same. She was a brick mammoth boasting 333 rooms and touted as the world’s largest hotel when she opened April 11, 1908.

Her lobby featured a glass-domed ceiling much like that aboard the Titanic, and a staircase also reminiscent of the great ship bending in two directions as it led visitors to the upper levels.

Now, the Christian Admiral is sinking too, literally being pulled to the ground by large cables that wind around exterior walls of the building and connect to small bulldozers.

The crowd is quiet. Many drink coffee while talking in hushed tones, a sense of camaraderie begins. “Have you heard anything? Are they going to do it?” everyone asks each other. As coffee runs out and the cold sets in, many are hesitant to leave in fear of missing something. The waiting — and the stories — continue.

Adm8PillarBoth the Titanic and the hotel were designed to cater to the wealthy, the Christian Admiral, or Hotel Cape May as she was first called, was an intricate part of the 4,000-acre East Cape May Project initiated by wealthy Pittsburgh steel magnates in hopes of creating another Newport, Rhode Island.

Besides the hotel, yacht clubs and golf courses were to be built and “entertainments” as posh as Newport available. A harbor was dredged, trolley tracks laid and stately homes, including that of project president Peter Shields, built in Cape May’s then-remote eastern section.

The hotel itself cost $1 million to build, and from the moment ground was broken, judgment seemed passed — the project was doomed.

Trouble started when the construction workers, amidst racial tension, went on strike within the first six months on the job. Small riots, and even the sabotage of a trolley carrying African-American workers to the construction site, brought work to a standstill. The hotel opened two years behind schedule.

Despite setbacks, the grand opening celebration was magnificent. Cape May’s local newspaper, the Cape May Star and Wave, reported the event to its readers stating, “One of the greatest events which has ever occurred at Cape May is the formal opening of the million dollar Hotel Cape May. It undoubtedly will stand in all future time as an incident marking the beginning of a Greater Cape May, which thus embarks upon a career of upbuilding (sic) and importance which will make all past history of the resort pale and insignificant.”

It was, perhaps, the hotel’s finest hour — many guests danced to small orchestras in the hotel’s grand ballroom as others strolled the wide beach front verandah watching Henry Ford and Louis Chevrolet race their newfangled “auto-mobiles” on the sands of East Cape May’s beaches.

Adm6stepsOne year later, the East Cape May Project was in financial ruin. Peter Shields quit and the project declared bankruptcy. In 1910, the new president Frederick Feldner, and a major stock holder were killed instantly when their auto-mobile was hit by a train at a nearby railroad crossing.

Nelson Graves, a wealthy Philadelphia manufacturer, took over the project and temporarily revived East Cape May and the hotel offering guests a major convention center, improved trolley lines and an amusement park.
In 1914, Graves too declared bankruptcy.

During World Wars I and II, the hotel was used as a military hospital. Postcards from both wars depict her grand halls housing ward after ward of gravely wounded soldiers, nurses at their sides.

Ralph Cornwell stands waiting among the spectators with his wife, Madeline. He remembers being treated here during World War II. “It’s a real shame,” he mutters as he shakes his head and turns away from the spectacle for a moment. His wife, too, remembers the treatment Ralph received here… and other moments when the building served as a hotel and she would have dinner in its Corinthian Dining Room.

After the First World War, the building was purchased by one Frank Schroth who ran it as a hotel until 1931 when he sold it to the Admiral Hotel Co. — for $128,000. Renamed the Admiral Hotel, it wasn’t very long before Schroth’s hotel, too, failed to succeed.

On August 16, 1940, the City of Cape May bought the building at a sheriff’s sale for just $900. The Pennsylvania Company bought it later that year and sold it in October of 1957 to the Masefield Corporation for $142,000, who subsequently declared bankruptcy. In March of 1962 the First Pennsylvania Bank and Trust Company purchased the building at yet another sheriff’s sale for $66,000.

Adm10chrsBy October, the building was sold again, this time to Reverend Carl McIntire’s Christian Beacon Press — purchased for $300,000 in an effort to save the structure from demolition. Again renamed, the now “Christian” Admiral operated from 1962 to 1991 as a bible conference hotel. It was during the 1980s the building began to age and deteriorate. New building codes forced the changes in the hotel she would never recuperate from. Its last owner, Curtis Bashaw, McIntire’s grandson, grew up in the hotel and remembered her in a 1996 issue of the Cape May Star and Wave — 88 years after the grand opening article.

adm2“First it was the transoms — those lovely glass windows above the doors that tilted into the room. They had to come out, replaced by pieces of metal. Then the doors had to have sheet metal tacked on the back, either that or be replaced by metal fire doors. Then the gorgeous stairwells had to be enclosed, the long corridors shortened and the old fire towers enclosed,” he wrote.

“One thing led to another — code upon code — none of them unexplainable, but nevertheless closing up the place.  And so the story becomes modern and more familiar. There were operating realities and enormous expenses that just couldn’t be eliminated. Rehabilitation costs were in the tens of millions.”

The reality of the situation by the mid-1990s, as Bashaw saw it, was like coming to terms with a terminal illness. The Admiral was dying, time had passed it by. “After accepting the inevitable, everything became easier. Instead of trying to make that dear, tired edifice something it wasn’t, we just embraced each other. And with that there was peace.”

This fateful day in February, hours have passed, and suddenly the crowd of resolute onlookers notice something is happening. An expectant hush befalls the crowd. Even the dog who has been merrily playing fetch, hesitates and stops, noticing something is up. As the cables are connected to the bulldozer, a man mumbles, “This is it, this is what we came here for.”

Anticipation mounts and workers spew from the building toward the spectators warning, “The bricks are gonna fly. Move back. Keep moving back.” Then they, too, turn to watch.

Adm4guttedA small bulldozer starts to tug, groaning forward as the building grieves a distinctive creaking and moaning sound, hesitant to fall, as if fighting her inevitable end. Seconds tick by as the creaking and moaning continues and then, suddenly it happens, the walls give. Each member of the crowd reacts differently.

As the bricks hit the ground and a huge wall of dust begins to rise, some witnesses shout, others are silent, people grab unto one another, and one woman is left on her knees laughing an odd, uncontrollable, laughter.

A wall of dust descends the area. As it swells, visibility is totally obscured. People close their eyes from the dust and then are hesitant to open them, minutes later, to see what is left — or not — of the Christian Admiral. The east wing has vanished, and the show is over for the day.

Work continued until April when the last brick fell and the Hotel Cape May — a.k.a. the Admiral, a.k.a. the Christian Admiral — was no more. Thousands of spectators watched week after week, dogged in their vigil of being by her side when she died — for when a long-standing member of the community passes, the whole village mourns.