High Tide

The CapeMay.com blog

The Ghost of the Peter Shields Inn

The paint was fresh, the wallpaper glimmering, and the venerable old restaurant was once again open for business, now sporting its dressy new attire. Renovations will typically stir a ghost or two. No one knows why. Do ghosts see change, or do they continually see the way things were when they lived? Will changing the interior of a building, even so much as new paint and wallpaper, stir up a haunting? Usually, it does. At the Peter Shields Inn, the new facelift is definitely a plus, but the ghost did not need a wake up call. He was already on duty.

Located toward the eastern end of the beachfront in Cape May, the old Peter Shields Inn sits just outside the hustle and bustle of the busy center of town. The building was originally built as the summer home for East Cape May developer Peter Shields, but a failed business plan and a personal tragedy sent him packing in the end. It is the personal tragedy that brings us to this month’s haunt. A son waiting for a father to return. Unfortunately, both are now dead. The father has left for Heaven. The son stays and hopes for his return, faithfully waiting for almost 100 years.

The Peter Shields Inn has been the site of paranormal activity for many years. The Travel Channel’s Ghost Stories show even did a segment there in 2010. I was supposed to be a featured guest, but a conflict with a television show I was in the process of developing prevented me from appearing. Many people claim to have had encounters with a ghost or ghosts in the old mansion, a building that has a very interesting history stretching back almost a century.

In 1905, the Cape May Real Estate Company, under the direction of its new president, Peter Shields, began construction of the massive New Cape May Hotel. The building was later called the Hotel Cape May, the Admiral, and finally, the Christian Admiral.  When the hotel opened in 1908, it closed for repairs six months later. It was plagued by problems, bankruptcy proceedings, and strange happenings right from the beginning.  It never really caught its breath, and struggled for years until finally being torn down in 1996.  President Peter Shields never recovered fully from the events of those early days in Cape May.

I can remember a few years ago getting a call from a woman who was staying at the Peter Shields Inn.  She had asked if I would do a channeling session with her, which I agreed to do.  It would be held in her room on the third floor of the house.  It was my first time traveling to that end of town in a long time, and I was amazed to see so many large and beautiful buildings hiding “around the corner” in east Cape May. As I walked into the expansive house and mounted the grand staircase, I could sense the ghost of a young man.  The woman working there at the time told me it was the ghost of Peter Shields.  I would later research him to learn what I have just related in the above paragraphs.  He was indeed a torn and defeated man, finally resigning his post as president and leaving town in 1912.

As I conducted the channeling for my client, the large bedroom door, which was closed, kept opening slowly—very slowly.  The windows were closed and there was no noticeable draft, yet something was opening the door—three times in a row.  I invited whoever wanted to come in to join us, as long as they did not interrupt my channeling session. There was a definite presence in the room. It was not trying to communicate. It just watched us from the sidelines. I felt nothing but the feeling of being watched. Sometimes ghosts are inquisitive instead of being talkative. This ghost was giving me the silent treatment, and it eventually left the room.

I was not to return to Peter Shields until the next spring, after a client had told me about a ghostly encounter on the stairs with a young man.  The story sparked my interest in the old estate.  This time I decided to try out the Peter Shields restaurant for dinner, while doing a little surface ghost investigation for dessert. It was a delightful dinner with a few good friends and some great food. Questioning our hostess during dinner, I found out that they did indeed have a ghost named “Ernest.”  He had been seen by the previous owners and staff, but no one recently had any experiences.

After dinner, I made a trip to the restroom, which is located on the lower level in what used to be the home’s cellar. This area was also an after-hours bar called the Tuna & Marlin Club in the 1940s and 50s.  As I moved past a large bust of Shakespeare standing in the corner of the basement, I was overwhelmed with a dreadful feeling of remorse.  Not panic or anxiety,  just sadness and despair.  I had just walked into something or someone that I was not about to take lightly.  It was not a malevolent energy at all, just a strong one.  Had I found Ernest, or did Ernest find me?

I raced upstairs to let a friend, who was dining with us,  know what just happened.  “Someone either died down there, or was murdered,” I told her.

My friend and her husband went downstairs next to check out the energy.  On their return, they confirmed the strong feelings that they too could sense.  Both friends were energy workers and I felt they may be able to offer a solid second opinion when it came to sensing ghostly energies.

I rarely used any kind of ghost hunting equipment back then. I feel, as I do to this day, that a psychic medium’s best equipment is his or her intuitive abilities. Gauges and meters are built to measure known and understood scientific data. The scientific community typically dismisses the idea of ghosts and hauntings. Developing equipment to find ghosts would therefore be a moot point. The meters that ghost investigators work with currently read changes in room temperature and variations in ambient electromagnetic fields. As far as I know, science has yet to develop a device that detects the energy of a soul. We simply don’t know what that energy is.

I decided to send in another friend for a third opinion. My friend Owen had been really anxious to meet a ghost that night.  I happen to think Owen is quite psychic.  “Somebody drowned down there,” he said with a nervous edge to his voice. We concurred with each other’s opinions that something was down in the basement.

After dinner, we all took a walk around the place, and headed up to the second and third floors.  Who was this ghost called, Ernest? Unfortunately, we felt nothing on the upper levels.

I checked with Bob Fite, who has lived in town his whole life.  Had someone drowned in the Peter Shields basement?  I had heard that during the 1944 hurricane the basements along the beachfront did indeed flood.  “No,” he told me calmly, “there were no casualties, not there.”  A dead end, so to speak? Perhaps not.

Owen’s words of sensing “a death in water” kept echoing in my head.  I turned to my friend Harry Bellangy, who has also spent his life in Cape May.  He said he knew of other deaths at that end of town but not at the Peter Shields.  The next day Harry e-mailed me to tell me he had recalled a story his Grandmother told him as a child.  It was about Peter Shields’ son, who died in front of the house in the water, while his parents watched!  Bingo!  I was now thinking that Ernest was a Shields family member.

After we did some further digging, we found an old article in the Cape May Herald archives about Peter Shields’ son Earle, who died in a hunting accident in 1907. According to the reports, fifteen-year-old Earle had decided, against his father’s orders, to go out to the “sounds” hunting for marsh hens.  He and his friend, Frank Edwards, Jr. hired a yacht and a smaller boat.  It seems they were unlucky in their endeavor and decided to return home empty-handed.  At 6:30 pm, as young Earle Shields stepped from the smaller boat back up to the yacht, using his loaded gun as a crutch, the gun suddenly went off—shooting him in the face, fracturing his lower and upper jaw, blowing out his eyes and lodging the bullets in the base of his brain.  I think this was the severe trauma energy I sensed in the basement when I first encountered the ghost. What I was sensing was confusing because it had occurred in another location.  The ghost was carrying this traumatic memory with him, and I was tapping into it.

Earle’s friend Frank Edwards brought him to the Cape May Yacht Club, and every doctor in town was called in.  His family was summoned for at 9 p.m. when all hope of saving him was lost.  His father, away on business, along with Earle’s mother, managed to return just in time to see their unconscious son pass at 10:30 pm the same night.  His bodied was taken back to the family’s home in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania—his ghost stayed behind.

Ghosts haunt where they lived, and sometimes where they had a traumatic death experience. Earle returned to his nearby summer home, in spirit, waiting to make contact with his parents. There is no record indicating if he succeeded during the family’s remaining tenure at the house—for five years following his death. His parents left Cape May in 1912, but Earle seems to have been unable or unwilling to follow. We do not know what traveling range a ghost has. Maybe Earle can’t move too far away from where he died. There are many unanswered questions about ghosts.

It was now confirmed, Ernest was simply a corruption of Earle, changed by years of retelling the story.  I imagine various owners of the property passed down these stories and added their own ghostly experiences over the years.  Like a game of “telephone” the names got scrambled.

Armed with this new information, I returned to Peter Shields for another dinner by the ocean (ghost hunting is such hard work sometimes).  Earle was nowhere to be found in the basement.  Had he left?  It was during dinner, after our waiter had spilled my entire glass of red wine all over the front of my white shirt (it was OK because the great food made up for it) that I realized Earle was simply hiding on us.  I could hear his child-like laughter coming from all over the house.  It was not an audible sound, it was a psychic transmission— mind to mind. It reminded me of the old Ghost and Mrs. Muir television series from the 1960s where Captain Gregg’s roaring laughter often echoed through the house.  Earle was amused, I was soaked and stained with red wine, but happy to see—or should I say “hear” him.

I sent out a psychic message to the young spirit. I let him know that the truth would now be told.  I sensed him to be relieved and then he began to open up to me.  This does not mean he pulled up a chair and shared some wine—he actually couldn’t as I was wearing what was left. The ghost of Earle Shields—any ghost for that matter, communicates psychically.  One thing that a ghost can do is read thoughts and sense feelings of the living.  This is the way they hear us, mind-to-mind, using energy, not sound waves.  Earle told me that he lives in the attic, on the third floor.  “It’s mine,” he responded, giving me the feeling that everywhere else in the place was used for guests or the restaurant. Ghosts tend to want to move away from the living. They typically will reside in the less used areas of a building.

Earle made me understand that he stays out of guilt.  He made his mother very sad and went against his parents’ wishes by going hunting.  He was well liked, and his death caused wide-spread sadness in the community. He regretted his actions very much.  He misses his friends, his family and just being alive.  He also told me something that completely changed the way I thought of ghosts as a community. Many paranormal investigators and psychic-mediums feel ghosts cannot see or interact with each other.  However, some of us (myself included) feel that ghosts can see and interact with each other.  What I did not realize until investigating hauntings in depth in Cape May was that ghosts seem to form a community.  It is a rather Lord of the Flies type setting where ghosts do as they please and have their own “places” to stay. At least that was the impression I got from young Mr. Shields.

On my next trip to Cape May, I contacted Peter Shield’s newest owner, Lori Whissell.  Lori walked me through the property and mentioned that most of what she has experienced was at her other property, the Angel of the Sea, which adjoins the Peter Shields property.  Some of the housekeepers have reported experiencing minor things upstairs on the third floor.  Former owners and staff members experienced much more of the haunting activity, especially mentioning the area in the basement where I first met Earle. The third floor also had a special feeling. In a beautiful old cedar-lined room, I experienced a surge of psychic energy. I realized that this must be where young Earle calls home.  A small old wooden ladder lead up to an even larger attic, a space that, I imagine any young boy of 15 (or 115) would love to explore and hang around.

Fast forward about seven years to March 2011. My partner Willy and I decided to return to the Peter Shields Inn upon hearing the establishment was under new ownership and had undergone a major renovation. One of our favorite chefs, Carl, formerly of the Ebbitt Room, was also cooking at the restaurant, so we decided to give it a try. Late winter-early spring is the perfect time to investigate a haunted location in Cape May. For a while, we had the dining room all to ourselves. Since it was a quieter evening, I asked the hostess if I could go upstairs and see the renovations. Of course ghost hunting was on the agenda as well. She kindly granted my request, and I was off for a psychic excursion between dinner courses.

I went floor by floor, on the prowl for ghosts. Basement—not a paranormal peep. Second floor—all clear. Third floor—Earle. He was still alive and well. Make that just, well. His energy was still present, and he seemed to enjoy the new look. After we acknowledged each other on a psychic level, I returned downstairs to finish dinner with Willy. Dinner was great. I would highly recommend the place, as Carl’s cooking is top-notch. Just remember to bring a bottle of wine. It’s BYOB. Spirits they got, wine is only of the local variety.

By the time we were on dessert, several other tables were dining around us. I took the opportunity to try to contact Earle one more time. I asked him to come to the dining room and join us at the table. Nothing. I then asked him to let us know that he was there. Silence. I even went as far as to ask him to flash a light somewhere. Ghosts can affect electrical circuits, being fields of energy themselves. Not a blinking light in the house. Oh well, I thought, maybe another time.

As we finished our sticky toffee pudding, I heard an alarm going off outside the window. We had just paid the check and were on our way out the door. I asked the hostess, who was also noticing the sound, if it was from the historic Star Villa next door. All three of us left the building together, only to realize it was the fire alarm on the front of the Peter Shields! It was a rather surreal moment. Willy and I walked away from the building, as diners were running out holding their dinner plates—still consuming their food! Everyone started to gather on the front walk. We did not smell any smoke or see any flames. The police and fire department soon arrived. Was it a false alarm?

I glanced up at the third floor windows and thought, just for a moment, that I saw the face of a young boy looking down at the crowd. Earle? I never found out what set off the alarm that night. Of course, it was probably just a coincidence that I asked for a sign and all the fire alarms went off. One of the staff members told me the alarms never go off, that they never have activity like that.  I guess I will have to dine there more often.

The Peter Shields Inn is a great place to gather with friends and family. For those who want an up close experience, it is also a Bed & Breakfast. Just remember to leave an extra seat at your dinner table. Earle may join you for a course or two. The Inn is beautiful, the lodgings comfortable, the food fabulous, and the paranormal activity is—alarmingly good.

Until next time. Don’t forget to keep the light lit, and be sure to check my website for upcoming events, including a paranormal evening at Historic Cold Spring Village on July 22nd!