'Haunted New Jersey' recounts the state's spooky legends, from North Jersey to Cape May
CHARLES A. STANSFIELD, Jr. has never had a close encounter of the supernatural kind, but as he puts it, "I've never seen a ghost ... yet!" Stansfield, a geography professor at Rowan University for more than 35 years, has co-authored, with longtime friend Patricia A. Martinelli, Haunted New Jersey: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena. Stansfield usually writes travel guides, the most recent being Vacationing on the Jersey Shore: Guide to the Beach Resorts, Past & Present. To hear Stansfield tell it, going from vacation guides to a chronicle of ghost tales is not that big of a leap. "There were two reasons that made me want to do this book," he says. "While doing research on [Vacationing on the Jersey Shore], I came across some interesting ghost stories, from Sandy Hook to Cape May. I incorporated some of the stories as sidebars."
The second influence on his ghost search came from friends Bill and Jill Top of Hove, England, acknowledged in the book, who were chased from a cottage by a ghost. So, when his friends confided in Stansfield, waiting 15 years before they felt comfortable enough to reveal their ghostly encounter, Stansfield realized how many other people had stories to tell, if they trusted that the listener wouldn't make fun of them. He even uncovered a ghost story from his own family. "One of my aunts told me about her encounter with a ghost. She had never told anyone but her parents and her husband. Now, I like to call myself an open-minded skeptic. I believe that they believe."
It is not surprising that as a professor, he sees ghost stories as part of the oral tradition of the various cultures that have inhabited the state. "Ghost stories are very geographic," says Stansfield. "They are connected to the physical environment. Ghosts are territorial: they have a turf and they defend it. Maybe just in a room or a stairwell, or the Jersey Devil, who wanders around a lot."
Haunted New Jersey not only incorporates the tales of the numerous Europeans who came to live here, but the rich spiritual history of New Jersey's native people, the Lenni-Lenape. It's also not surprising that with 127 miles of coastline, many of the tales revolve around shipwrecks.
Stansfield's writing partner, Patricia Martinelli of Vineland, a historian at Batsto Village, uncovered a comedic Jersey Devil tale as one of her contributions to the book. She met Stansfield as a Rowan student in 1974 and typed many of his manuscripts. As the years passed, she also began editing and assisting in the research, before joining him as co-author of Haunted New Jersey.
Her mindset has been influenced, "By a couple of experiences that veered into the supernatural." For example? "When I was 14 some friends and I were fooling around with a Ouija Board. Just as we were calling the spirits, my kitten wandered under the board, let out an ungodly scream and ran for the hills."
Stansfield's favorite stories are "about the ghosts of historical people who did live. For example, William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin, who haunts the governor's mansion in Perth Amboy." The younger Franklin, the royal governor of New Jersey, disgraced his family by remaining loyal to the British, despite being given numerous opportunities to join the American Revolution. He is said to restlessly wander the mansion at night, saying, "Oh, why? Why did I do it? Why did I turn my back on my father and my country?"
Stansfield also sees ghost stories that are passed down through the generations as cautionary tales, similar to fairy tales. They teach a lesson. "'Little Red Riding Hood' has a moral that evil doesn't always look like evil; you can't take people at face value."
"The Woman in White," a popular ghost story told in several different versions in the book, also has a moral. In one version, the woman in white is the beautiful daughter of a band of "wreckers" who prey on ships along Long Beach Island. In the years before the first lighthouses were built, the wreckers set up lanterns to deliberately cause ships to crash, then looted the bodies that washed ashore. One night, the woman in white was helping loot the bodies when she came upon the sailor she loved, dead on the sand. Mad with grief, she wandered the sand, looking to the sea for the return of her beloved. After death, her spirit can be seen late at night or in the early morning mist. "The moral is: The evil that you do can come back to you like a boomerang," says Stansfield.
While at various book signings around the state, Stansfield has people ask him for help in getting rid of ghosts. "I try to put them in touch with experienced professionals (a.k.a. ghost hunters)."
Martinelli says she and Stansfield are already working on a sequel. "We covered a lot of ground, but there are always more stories to tell, especially from Cumberland and Salem counties, and the coastal towns in Cape May County."
Has Stansfield ever tried to meet a ghost? Despite his skepticism, "I stay out of areas that they haunt." Like Stansfield, Martinelli doesn't go out of her way to hang out in haunted locales. "I don't go walking into the woods in the dark of night," she admits. "I have a healthy curiosity, but also a healthy respect."
Haunted New Jersey: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena is available at Borders, 2200 Wrangleboro Road, in Mays Landing.
If, unlike Charles Stansfield or Patricia Martinelli, you wish to explore haunted locales, Ocean City and Cape May offer ghost tours.
The Original Haunted Cape May Tour runs now through November. The final tour dates in October are Thursday, Oct. 28, and Friday, Oct. 29 at 7pm, Saturday, Oct. 30 at 7 & 9 pm, and Halloween, Oct. 31, at 7 & 9. The tour continues on Saturdays through Thanksgiving at 7pm. The tour meets on the Boardwalk at the corner of Howard St. and Beach Drive, across from the Macomber Hotel, and lasts approximately 90 minutes. Wear comfortable shoes! Purchase tickets at the Boo-Tique, 727 Beach Drive, between 11am-11pm daily. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for kids 10 and under. According to co-owner Diane Bixler, the tour is about a mile long through the historic district. The ghost tales are told just outside the various haunted estates. She explains that each tour guide puts their own particular spin on the tour, with different stories. Pirate tales are a particular favorite.
According to a local legend, a young girl inhabits the top floor of the inn, and guests have reported hearing the sounds of a ball bouncing in the upper floor.
This article is the first of four to be published this month on ‘haunted houses’ and ghosts in the Atlantic City region, written by Amanda Hopkins.
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