A weekly column by Catherine Dugan. This week: Greet the ghosts.
American spiritualism caught fire in upstate New York in the 1840s during a wave of religious reform. The Fox sisters, farm girls who “rapped” with ghosts, found followers among the nation’s elite. Soon there were mediums in every town, offering “spirit writing” and ghostly conversations to the bereaved. Grieving families began to consider the line between this world and the next as one more frontier to be conquered. When Queen Victoria lost her husband to fever in 1861, she, too, turned to seances to reconnect with her Albert.
Cape May’s ghosts predate this spiritual trend. Captain Kidd’s crew has been lingering in the area since 1700, reportedly guarding the treasure hidden in Lake Lily. Believers say that the quantity of quartz in the sand – the same mineral that gives us our Cape May diamonds – makes Cape May a natural gathering point for spirits. A walk on any moonlit beach in October, with the moon low and large over the ocean, will sensitize you to the visitors around you. Perhaps that’s why so many living tourists come here seeking answers to ghostly questions. Does Esmeralda still work at an inn on Jackson Street? Is that a figure in white at the Southern Mansion, or simply a curtain fluttering in the breeze?
And how does one get a good night’s sleep after Craig McManus informs you that room 93 of the Inn of Cape May – your room – is haunted? Lisa McLain Deverin and Dawn Brockup Kukor can answer that one for you. They met the Ghostwriter and were surprised to learn that their room was already inhabited, but it didn’t disturb their sleep. Their strategy was to fortify themselves with a great dinner (ahi tuna) at Freda’s and stock up on laughs from the show at Elaine’s. They made it through the night without incident.
If your room doesn’t come with a ghost, it shouldn’t be hard to find one. Try the Ghosts of Cape May trolley tour, or visit the spirits who linger at the lighthouse. The Phantoms of the Physick Estate – and their dogs – are eager for company, and afterwards you can sip psychic tea at the Carriage House with Madame Parmentier. Duck into the dark at the Cape May Film Festival. Dress up and march in the Halloween parade on October 24, or trick-or-treat on the mall on Halloween.
Greet the ghosts – no ouija board required.
Next week: The Cape May Wine Festival