The Ghosts of Cape May
It’s no secret that Cape May is haunted. Like, really haunted. There are probably more ghosts than people in Cape May, at least in the off-season.
Don’t quote us on that.
Nonetheless, they seem to be rather friendly ghosts. They’ve yet to revolt. Yet.
The subject of a recent interview has had quite a few run-ins with some of the famous ghosts that haunt Cape May, as well as the namesakes of our Barrel Aged Series.
Craig McManus is a medium and the author of five books on the ghosts of Cape May. A current resident of Bergen County, NJ, he considers Cape May his second home, having been coming to the area since the early 1970s when he and his family would travel to Cape May to visit his aunt and uncle.
“I always sensed things, but the one that I remember is being out in the surf as a kid,” he tells us. “I sort of went under the waves and saw what looked like a girl wearing a white dress to swim in. She was swimming a ways down from me, and at first I thought it was a jellyfish or something, but then I saw feet.
“I came up, and I waited, and I waited, and no one else came up.”
When he started coming back to Cape May in the nineties, he noticed quite a bit more paranormal activity.
“I thought, ‘What happened? Did somebody bus some ghosts in?’” he says, laughing.
He got together with our good friends over at the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities and proposed a ghost tour of the town.
Now they have seven.
We wanted to find out why Cape May was so haunted, and Craig had a very practical reason: people like it here. You really can’t blame the ghosts for wanting to hang around after their bodies have shuffled loose this mortal coil.
Cape May is awesome and even the ghosts know it.
“Being a resort community for hundreds of years, you had a lot of people coming there, and the energy was always very positive,” he tells us, as he drives through the beautiful Virginia scenery on his way from a conference in Asheville to his home in North Jersey. “There are place energies throughout the world, and Cape May’s place energy is just really strong.”
If you lived in Philadelphia and summered in Cape May, where would you rather spend eternity? Not knocking Philly, of course — Philly is a great town — but does it have a beach?
So. Much. History.
“There’s certainly a lot more activity in Cape May than in some of the other shore towns I see,” Craig says. “Cape May has a very rich history, and layers of it, so the majority of the people who are haunting Cape May lived there, worked there, and died there. There are some vacationers haunting Cape May, but most of them are people who actually worked there and lived there.”
Some of our ghosts are a little easier to contact than others. The guys who frequent Battery 223 — and who give their name to Phantom Crew — don’t seem to want to tell anyone why they keep hanging around.
“The bunker has had reports for many years of two guys that are seen either smoking or walking around it or standing on top of it, but when people go to investigate, there’s no one there,” he says. “People hear two men talking, especially if it’s at night and there’s no one there, you just hear the voice of a man and another man talking.
“So we think it’s two former military guys, we just don’t know who they are.”
Craig has had a few experiences in the House of Royals at The Queen Victoria®, the home of our own Brothel Madam.
“One of the more interesting times was up in the old counting room on the third floor that originally didn’t have a window, just the skylight,” he recalls. “I was there, and something made a noise in the room, and I sat up. You could actually see the shadow of a person walk from the dark part of the room, right towards the door and go through the door.”
Another time he stayed at The Queen Victoria, he stayed in a room that adjoined with the room in which a young couple was staying.
“We heard footsteps walking around,” he tells us, “and I thought that it was probably the crossbeams of the house, the young couple is walking around the room next to us.”
Then the doorknob on the adjoining room started to jiggle and turn.
“I said, ‘Hey, you know, there’s people in here! We’re trying to sleep, could you respect our privacy?’ And it sort of stopped.”
The next morning, he spoke to Doug, the owner of The Queen Victoria, to ask him to ask the couple staying next door to mind their own business. Doug told him that there was no way for the couple in the room next door to unlock his door to turn the knob.
“They couldn’t have turned the doorknob,” Craig says, “but it was turning.”
And that’s the general sort of activity that The Queen Victoria sees.
“It’s movement,” Craig says. “It’s not really people.”
At Higbee Beach, Craig attributes many of the hauntings to the fact that the cemetery for the early settlers there has long since been washed into the Bay.
“When they dredged the canal, they started pulling up pieces of the old tombstones,” he says, “and one of the guys had taken a bunch of the old stones, and built the front of his fireplace.”
That sounds like the perfect way to find yourself in a Stephen King novel.
“I can’t imagine that whoever moved into that house would have kept that,” he laughs.
While Craig hasn’t had any personal experiences at Higbee beach, he tells of an interesting connection between two of our brews in the series.
Last week, we told you about Thomas Higbee and his niece Etta Gregory who, very ungraciously, moved his grave from Higbee Beach to Cold Spring Cemetery. Apparently, there was some suspicion during the day that Etta was actually Tom’s daughter. Nonetheless, Etta’s father William Gregory built the main house at The Queen Victoria in 1881.
We’re thrilled we could bring the two back together in our Barrel Aged Series.
When I brought up the Hotel Macomber — the location of the next release in our series, The Lady in Room #10 — Craig audibly lit up. It’s one of his favorite locations in town, but you’re going to have to come back for those stories when we release that brew, probably near Halloween.
Craig loves the idea of naming our beers for the ghosts that haunt Cape May, and even had numerous suggestions for more names.
“I think it’s cool,” he says. “It preserves the history, and it’s also a nod to someone who was part of that history and might be forgotten otherwise. I think it’s cool.
“How the ghosts feel,” he says, “I’m not sure.”
Stop down to the Brewtique on Saturday to pick up your part of history.
You can purchase Craig’s most recent book, The Ghosts of Cape May NEW HAUNTS / OLD GHOSTS, here and at haunted establishments throughout Cape May. Photos courtesy Craig McManus.