The late October wind was howling outside of the turret windows on the third floor of Columbia House. I had just completed one of my pre-Halloween tours, and I was getting ready to call it a night. The spacious third floor suite at Columbia House is one of my favorite places to stay in town. It was late and I was exhausted. I knew the ghost of the house, William Essen, had been quiet that weekend and probably would not be bothering me. I turned in for a good night’s sleep in my big comfortable bed and drifted off to dreamland. Unfortunately, dreams are also the place where ghosts tend to communicate with us, and my “open for ghost business” sign must have been on and glowing.
I was dreaming about the beach or something to do with Cape May when the dream segued to an exterior view of a house, an old house. A teenage boy was looking up at the roof and, in the dream, I was watching. He started to climb up the drainpipe and I was surprised it could hold his weight. As in many dreams, one’s point of view is wherever he or she happens to be thinking about at the moment. I suddenly found myself by the window, in the third floor suite of Columbia House. Now I was looking down at the pale looking boy shimmying up toward my window. I grew apprehensive, wondering what he wanted. Once the boy got to the top and peered in the window, I could see he looked waterlogged. At that moment, I woke up. The room was calm, the windows were closed and I was still exhausted.
It was in the middle of the night. It’s always in the middle of the night when a ghosts come a callin’. It seems to be their regular hours of doing business, somewhere between 2 AM and 4 AM. I sat up in bed, did not sense anything out of the ordinary and went back to sleep. A few minutes later, I woke up again. Something in the room, other than a dream, woke me up. I used the bathroom, and then decided to sit in the chair by the small table in the cupola. Suddenly I sensed extreme cold. It was rainy, windy, and downright rotten outside, but the heat was on in the suite. The cold was moving around my feet and rising along my legs. It felt like a window had been opened, or worse, it felt like something was trying to communicate with me—in a very strong manner.
I heard the name “Joseph” in my mind. Images of a boat flashed through my head. I put two and two together, and assumed the water-logged boy in my dreams was in fact a boy who had drowned at sea. Many people died this way in Cape May over the centuries—probably countless hundreds. Why this young soul was making a house call at this hour baffled me. William Essen, who built the house in 1885 and lived there until his death had a young son that died, but he did not drown. The boy’s energy faded and he was gone before I was awake enough to start a line of psychic questioning. His appearance however, triggered the memory of a previously forgotten encounter I had across the street at the Prince Albert Hall.
I had been in Cape May for another weekend event and was staying with Doug and Anna Marie McMain at the Queen Victoria. We had a room in the Prince Albert Hall, the house behind the main house. It was a building I had never been to before, having focused on the paranormally active House of Royals during my previous stays at the Queen Vic.
My partner Willy and I had just checked into our room on the third floor of the Prince Albert when the presence of a ghostly young man made itself known. Immediately becoming talkative, and by that I mean in a psychic way, the boy said he was sick and died and his father was very upset. I had asked about his mother and he had no response. I thought there might have been some family dynamic whereby he lived with his father, but he did not elaborate.
While most ghosts will move away from a medium at first, this young ghost was downright chummy. He was in my mind and in my space non-stop all weekend. He was friendly, but craved attention and seemed lost. Many ghosts are lonely. They eventually cross over to Heaven, but until they do, they spend much of their time roaming. I do believe ghosts see each other and even socialize with each other, but sometimes what they really desire is a taste of their former earthly life. Part of that experience comes from communicating or making himself or herself known to the living through hauntings.
After my Columbia House encounter, I realized I had met this young man earlier at the Prince Albert. Now all I had to do was find out who he was and where he belonged. He did not fit the Columbia House history, so the Queen Victoria was the next logical choice. The problem was Doug did not know much about the history of the Prince Albert Hall building, nor did anyone else. I try to piece together each haunting as if it were a jigsaw puzzle. Behind every haunting there is usually a ghost and behind every ghost is a story. I was having trouble figuring this one out. Who was this boy and where did he live?
The case came closer to being solved during the time when I was writing a story about the ghosts of Higbee Beach. I had been researching the Higbee family and trying (in vain) to locate a picture of their old hotel that once stood south of the canal entrance on the bay side. Thomas and Rhoda Forrest built the original structure around 1807. They ran it as a tavern for local sailors from 1807 to 1823.
In the 1820s, Joseph Higbee, a well-known Delaware Bay pilot, began buying up parcels of land up and down the bay side near the canal. Higbee purchased the tavern from the Forrests around 1823 and expanded it into the Hermitage, or as some called it, the Higbee Hotel. Higbee’s Landing was a place where boats could dock and the hotel offered nightly lodging to sailors and Delaware Bay pilots back in the 1800s.
Brothers Thomas H0rres Higbee and Joseph Smith Higbee ran the hotel for many years. When Joseph died in 1872, Thomas took over managing the hotel and land. Tom Higbee had stated he wanted to be buried next to the hotel so that his “niece” Etta Gregory would not sell the land after his death. When he died on March 26, 1879, a brick-lined vault was dug near the hotel and in he went. It is often thought the ghostly man seen walking Higbee Beach late at night is Tom Higbee, watching over his former property.
What was left of the old Higbee Hotel stood until the 1940s. Today its foundation can be seen in the winter, but beware trying to find it in the summer. Poison ivy, not a ghost, will wreak its revenge on anyone snooping into the hotel’s past!
During the investigation into the ghosts of Higbee Beach, I learned there was a family connection between the Higbees and the Gregorys. Douglass Gregory was also a Delaware Bay pilot and neighbor of the Higbees. Gregory moved his family from the bay side at Fishing Creek to downtown Cape May after he built the Queen Victoria’s main house in 1881, exactly 130 years ago this month. Gregory’s first wife, Amanda Miller Gregory worked for the Higbee brothers at their hotel for many years.
In 1861, the Gregory’s had their first child, Martha Mariah Antoinetta Higbee Gregory. Their daughter, nicknamed “Etta”, was given part of the same name as Higbee’s infant sister Marie Antoinette Higbee, who died at one year of age in 1802. I wondered why the Gregory’s would name their first kid after a Higbee family member instead of one of their own? Maybe Amanda really like her bosses at the hotel. Then, in 1863, the Gregory’s welcomed their first son Joseph Smith Higbee Gregory—named after Higbee himself. Don’t you think it’s odd to name your two children after your boss and his dead baby sister?
Ghosts can have strong attachments to family members and since Joseph was only six when his mother died, he and Etta probably shared a close bond. Ghosts haunt where they lived, not where they died. At least that is typically the case. I think it would be difficult to haunt in the middle of the Delaware Bay. Scaring stripers or bluefish would not be my idea of fun if I were a ghost. Young Joseph Gregory most likely tried to swim home, even though he no longer had a body. Ghosts follow old actions. He may have been haunting the house in Lower Township and followed the family when they moved to Ocean Street. Ghosts will follow people.
The Gregorys moved to 219 Perry Street after selling the Ocean Street house in 1889. Etta lived with her father and stepmother until they died in 1915 and 1919, respectively. She then married a doctor from Philadelphia and left Cape May. At some point Joseph Gregory’s ghost stopped following the family. Perhaps he cannot leave Cape May. Maybe ghosts are limited to how far they can travel. For some reason, young Joseph is still haunting Ocean Street. Since I have experienced his ghost at two different venues, he does not appear to have an exclusive on haunting any one house.
As the main house of the Queen Victoria property turns 130 this month, I have to admit there have been very few ghost encounters reported over the years. Why Joseph haunt the Prince Albert Hall and other nearby houses (including appearing at one of our Craig House séances across the street) is a mystery. The main house is a showplace. What is the matter with this ghost? I would be haunting the Queen Victoria’s main house in a minute!
There have been a few, scarce reports of people seeing a woman’s ghost in the Queen Vic. Could this be that of Emily Tuthill, Gregory’s second wife? Joseph would have known her as Douglass Gregory had remarried while Joseph was still alive. Is this female ghost keeping him away from the house? Ghosts can be territorial.
During a recent channeling event at the Queen Victoria, I stayed in the third floor of the main house. There was not a ghost to be had. When I came downstairs in the evening however, I sensed the ghost of a woman in the parlor. I was about to do a channeling for the second group, so I could not investigate the ghost further. All throughout the channeling session, as I was reuniting people with their loved ones from Heaven, I kept glancing over my shoulder wondering who the lady ghost could be. She never said. I would be interested to know if any of you have ever sensed anything in the main house.
If Joseph has taken refuge in the Prince Albert Hall (pictured right), he certainly has a lot of company in the neighborhood. That intersection of Cape May has more than its share of ghosts. As the Queen Victoria building happily celebrates its 130 birthday, I cannot help but think how sad the family must have been at the time they built the house. Joseph having drowned less than two years earlier in the icy Delaware Bay. I wonder if that was the reason they moved from their old house. Sometimes memories of a dead family member associated with a home are too much to bear.
While I can solve most hauntings, this one remains a mystery. Joseph had only made limited contact with me both times. He was more curious that I could sense him, rather than wanting to tell me his story. Maybe if I am lucky, Joseph Smith Higbee Gregory will stop by for some cake at the Queen Victoria’s 130th birthday party. I hope he does. Imagine all guests and ghosts that will be attending the festivities. No one in town living or dead wants to miss a good birthday party. That’s the great thing about Cape May, you never know who you may dig up at a party, or on a beach.
Happy 130th Birthday Queen Vic!
A paranormal afterthought… When I wrote this article I only knew that Joseph had died while working on a pilot boat in the Delaware Bay. I thought using the a picture of a pilot boat for the title would be appropriate and set the mood. I found dozens of great pictures of old pilot boats. First, I had a picture from the 1920s of a Delaware pilot boat, but I thought that would be too modern for a story set in 1879. So I searched for pilot boat pictures or drawings from the period and settled for the picture above, the E.C. Knight. Edward Knight had at one time owned Congress Hall and since he was from the area, I thought his boat would do just fine. I also really wanted a shot of the side of the Gregory tombstone with Joseph’s inscription, but I did not have that picture in my files. Since I would be in Cape May for my first “Wine & SPIRITS” event on April 1-2, I made some time to get over to Cold Spring Cemetery.
It was a beautiful spring Saturday afternoon in Cape May when I arrived at the old churchyard. I made my way across the graves to the Gregory and Higbee plots. I wasn’t there more than a minute when I heard a loud flapping over my head. The cemetery was full of ravens and hawks, and a group was circling overhead! I assured them I was not the roadkill of the day, that I was quite alive, and then continued my work. The magnificent birds were enormous and continued to move from place to place watching me as I photographed various graves. When I finally got to the Gregory marker and moved around to the western side where Joseph’s inscription was, you could have knocked me over with a hawk father. Under his name was the text “Lost off Pilot Boat E.C. Knight.” (insert Twilight Zone music here) It was the same boat pictured at the top of this article, the one I had chosen at random from dozens of pictures. What are the chances of that happening? I thought the air show sponsored by the graveyard birds was good—but this one sent chills down my spine, right into the ground below where all the dead Gregorys were probably snickering at me. Just another day in haunted Cape May.Columnist Craig McManus is an author and medium and has written four books on the Ghosts of Cape May. To read more about what he does you can visit his website here.