Hello Everyone! I’m Craig McManus, Cape May’s resident expert on ghosts and hauntings, bringing you a brand new column about paranormal happenings on Cape Island (Cape May), here at CapeMay.com!
When I was first coming to Cape May in the early 1970s, the pedestrian mall on Washington Street was a showy new attraction dubbed “Victorian Village.” At the time, my highlight of any trip to the mall was getting a summer evening ice cream cone or buying a new inflatable raft from Dellas. Little did any of us know then, or do few realize now, that the mall is one of the paranormal hot-spots in town.
Quite a few of the haunts on the mall are documented in my Ghosts of Cape May books. New hauntings here also surface from time to time, and Cape May is like the paranormal gift that keeps on giving. Just when I think I have seen it all, someone contacts me about a new ghostly uprising!
The Washington Street mall started out like many of America’s downtown “Main Streets.” Prior to 1971, the stretch of pavement that is now the pedestrian mall was a functioning street, lined with awning-covered storefronts and parked cars. People did not notice then, and they rarely notice now, that something might be watching them from one of the old windows high above the storefronts. Cape May’s mall could hardly be called “pedestrian” when it comes to ghosts and hauntings. It is, in reality, one of the most concentrated spots for paranormal activity in Cape May. Here are a few highlights.
The Haunted Ticket Booth
I was a little sad when Winterwood moved from its formerly haunted location to the new, bigger space at the head of the mall. The old haunt, a personal favorite, was active for years. It is now occupied by Colors, a clothing store, and I have not heard anything about ghosts from them to date. While the old building was quite active when Winterwood was located there, the new Winterwood space also has a ghost of its own.
The Christmas shop’s dazzling new location on the corner of Ocean and Washington was built in the early part of the 20th century. Walt Campbell, a lifelong Cape May resident, told me the building was first erected as a bank, and lasted as a financial institution until the Great Depression. In the 1960s, the building acted as City Hall for a short time.
I had never spent much time in any of this building’s previous incarnations, but since it has become Winterwood, I have stopped by to visit quite often. After about the third or fourth visit I started sensing a man in uniform, walking up and down the staircase. I could also hear the sound of coins dropping, as if someone was counting them. It did not sound like someone in the store counting out cash in a register; it sounded more like a distant echo. A psychic impression is usually fast and clear and then fades quickly. I have to notice it immediately, and then analyze it in my head before it vanishes. Luckily, I have ADD, so everything catches my attention! This noise was either residual energy going back to the building’s days as a bank or it was an actual ghost causing the sound.
I have experienced this ghost several times since that first encounter. He is heavyset, has dark hair going to gray and gives me a psychic feeling that he is laboring to walk up the stairs. I think he may have been a guard who worked at the bank many years ago.
When I do sense a ghost in a building, I gather my observations and note them on tape or on paper. Next, I interview workers or residents of the building to see if I can get a correlation. Many people have psychic or intuitive abilities and nothing proves this better than the number of people I meet who have experienced ghosts in their everyday lives. The staff told me they had sensed someone in the building, but they were not sure if it was a man or a woman. A few customers have contacted me as well relating experiences of their own, including visual sightings of an apparition and auditory experiences of ghostly voices.
It is always important when investigating a haunting to rule out all possible natural causes first. This is a vast building and being located right on the mall, one must first discount outside noises echoing in from outside to create ghost-like sounds and noises. Again, the best way to get to the bottom of this is to spend an evening inside this building in the dead of winter when the mall is empty and the store is closed. If you walk upstairs in the building, you can feel some heavy paranormal energy. I am not sure if the ghost hangs out on the upper level or if I have just had a few chance encounters with him on the second floor. He is a strong presence in that building.
The Ghosts of Cape May— dot com.
One of the most dramatic hauntings I have experienced was in the offices of Cape Publishing and CapeMay.com. Cape Publishing’s Sue Tischler had asked me to come up and investigate their offices one night a few years ago. I had sensed a former office worker named Joan who seemed to be keeping the place in order. It was in the back section of the building, where Cape May Stage had their offices that I felt the strongest presence.
The ghost of a younger man in his 20s, named James, had his energy firmly established in the rear of the second floor of the building that was at one time a private home. As we sat in a darkened office and I attempted to reach the spirit psychically, the lights in the adjoining office switched themselves back on. Two people were in full view of the wall switch and no one was near it, yet the switch was in the on position. A loud bang emanated from the rear office, and we took the cue to investigate. Something wanted my presence back there. We could feel a cold draft coming from the rear of the building. A group of us went and opened a back door to a darkened rear stairway. Cold silence filled the stairwell. We closed and locked the door and returned to our seats in the office.
Within minutes, the cold returned and, upon inspection, we found the door to the stairway wide open. As we leaned into the darkened space, an earth-shattering loud bang echoed up the stairs. Something had chosen to slam the banister and cause it to vibrate loudly. We were the only ones in the stairway, and none of us had touched the banister. We returned to the office to notice a bright blue glow illuminating the next room. Something had turned the computer on, and the monitor cast its blue glow throughout the office.
Each time I tried to contact James he would go off in another direction and cause another incident of physical phenomena to happen. The psychic energy began to overwhelm me, and I told Sue I preferred to return to the front office. The energy was not malevolent; it was agitated. For a psychic medium, this is a type of energy to avoid. When I open myself up or “turn my abilities on,” I become a conduit for all energies around me. This is the only way I can sense what a ghost is feeling, but it also sets me up for a potentially dangerous mental encounter if the energies are too strong. Agitated people (living or dead) can drain the life out of me. I chose to close down and pull in the psychic line. As soon as I shut down the conduit, the energy quieted down. You can read about it in The Ghosts of Cape May Book 2.
Haunted Pages—Atlantic Books
Speaking of books, books are flying off the shelves at Atlantic Books, literally! Stephanie Spalding, the manager at Atlantic Books, told me books are always falling off the shelves in front of people. She told me it happens even more when I visit the store…hmmm. During book signings at the store, several people have come up to me and told me they witnessed books fly off the shelves. Books can fall off the shelf by accident. We can’t blame everything on ghosts, but in this store, the books just keep falling!
When Stephanie had first started as manager, the staff had been experiencing odd things happening in the building. For many years, the building was Merchants Bank (see the picture from 1960 to the right) and many years prior to that, the United States Hotel stood on the property. That hotel burned in 1869, and I think a few of the guests are still checked in.
Late one evening, while Stephanie was upstairs unpacking some books, a burst of cold air pushed right behind her. She described it to me as almost feeling like someone cold had walked behind her. It was the same set of stairs that also leads to the vast basement under the old building, a set of stairs on which I sensed a lot of energy. The entire building seems to have layers of paranormal energy.
Ghosts of “the Mug”
The Ugly Mug has been paranormally active for many years, probably long before people really talked about places being haunted. When I did my original investigation, I encountered a ghost of a boy named “Danny” and ghosts at the bar named “Phil” and “Junior.” As I wrote in the Ghosts of Cape May Book 1, the boy told me he fell off a roof and broke his legs and died. I could not find anything in the building’s history to collaborate this story. The owners of the Mug at the time did however recall two older bar patrons named Phil and Junior.
I let the story rest until I started to work on my latest book, 400 Years of the Ghosts of Cape May. I had heard “the Mug” as it is affectionately called by the locals, was active again. Lights were flickering, and an employee, closing alone one night, encountered the ghost of a young girl sitting on the steps. She vanished as quickly as she appeared. Now there seemed to be another ghost associated with the old watering hole―another ghost, another mystery.
I never could figure out who “Danny” was. Not until one night while talking to my friend Barbara Morgan about her haunt in West Cape May, did I discover a connection that put the pieces of the paranormal puzzle together. We began investigating the destruction of the massive Mount Vernon Hotel in South Cape May in 1856. As I researched old newspaper articles on the fire, I began to see a pattern in the names of people who perished in that inferno. Young brothers Anderson Cain and Philip Cain, Jr. were two of the victims. Anderson jumped from the second floor of the burning building, broke his legs and died in the flames. His brother Philip was taken to the United States Hotel, located where Atlantic books is now, and died there of severe burns.
Could Danny actually be “Andy” or Anderson and could two ghosts, Philip and Junior, actually be Philip Junior? Could these ghostly brothers still be haunting the Washington Street Mall where Philip died? With ghosts, it is all about history and mystery. Whoever is doing the haunting at the Mug, they do it very well. Objects move, lights flicker and apparitions appear, making the Mug one of Cape May’s best haunts.
There are many other great haunts and ghost stories on the mall. Join me on October 9, 7PM, at Just for Laughs, and I will tell you about the rest in detail…at least the ones I know about. In Cape May, one never can tell where another ghost will turn up.
Until next time―don’t forget to leave the light lit―in case something dead decides to follow you home… from the mall.
For more on ghosts and hauntings and what I do as a psychic medium check out my website CraigMcManus.com