The coronavirus pandemic may have altered the way we start to usher in spooky season, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still celebrate—safely and responsibly.
Take Cape May, known regionally as one of New Jersey’s most haunted towns. The Cape May MAC (Museum, Arts and Culture) hosts annual ghost tours and other seasonally appropriate haunts, and though this year has been “challenge,” said Susan Krysiak, director of media relations, the organization has adapted. The MAC will still host its popular Halloween Happenings series, just with a few more rules and regulations put in place.
“Cape May has a reputation among ghost hunters,” Krysiak said. “Perhaps it is the fact this seaside town is surrounded by water, or that it is America’s oldest seaside resort, recognized since 1976 as a National Historic Landmark City for its well-preserved concentration of Victorian seaside architecture, but the fact remains that many people have documented experiences here that they cannot explain in any other way than to say they felt a ghostly presence.”
Some events, like the Ghosts of Cape May Trolley Tours and Historic Haunts Combo Tours, run year-round. Those tours are based on the findings of medium and writer Craig McManus, who helped develop the tours with the MAC. The 30-minute trolley tour takes attendees through Cape May’s Historic District, while the one-hour Historic Haunts tour starts with a trolley ride and ends at the Emlen Physick House.
This year’s Halloween Happenings, though—set for Oct. 16-3—has several unique offerings for those who crave a little more trick than treat.
“Guests can expect to be immersed in stories that cause one to pause, and wonder, what could be beyond one’s senses,” Krysiak said. “Guests will also learn some of the history of magic and mystery, for example, on those tours that touch on Victorian spiritualism.”
First up is the Magic and Mystery House Tour, which uses the circa-1879 Physick House to demonstrate Victorians’ fascination with magic, illusion, the mysterious and the odd. Learn about magicians like Harry Houdini and the Great Lafayette, Ionia, the Goddess of Mystery, Pepper’s ghost, Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper.
The MAC’s Ghost Walks, hosted by McManus, leads guests around some of Cape May’s most notorious haunted properties. The one-hour tour is packed with McManus’s own tales of personal paranormal experiences.
The Spirits and Oddities Trolley Tour is a motorized journey through Cape May’s Historic District. Hear about some of the strange fads, superstitions and oddities of the Victorian era, as well as bizarre and inexplicable stories from Cape May’s history.
Interested in something more immersive? Try A Gloomy Apparition. The 45-minute performance, held at the Physick House Museum, follows Helen, who finds herself in the middle of a mystery when she travels to a friend’s home in a remote shore town. Audience members are encouraged to help Helen figure out who—or what—the Gloomy Apparition really is.
Finally, Tea and Confessions: An Expose of Victorian Spiritualism reveals the practice’s ruses and hidden tricks that helped create believers during the Victorian era over brunch at Vintage on the grounds of the Physick estate.
And don’t underestimate the haunts. Krysiak has had her own unexplained experiences.
“I stepped outside of the museum onto the grounds during a break very late at night and happened to walk past the estate’s 1876 Carriage House, where Dr. Emlen Physick used to keep his horses and carriages during the late 1800s,” she said. “I heard a distinctly loud, sustained ‘neigh’ as I passed by the entryway. It was startling to say the least, as there were no horses on the street, or anywhere nearby at that very late hour close to midnight.”
Halloween Happenings events run Oct. 16-31 at various dates and times. For more information, or to book tickets, visit capemaymac.org.
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The Princeton Tour Company is hosting private ghost and cemetery tours throughout October. Ghost hunter guides lead guests through the university’s darkest corners and into Princeton Cemetery, operated by Nassau Presbyterian Church.
Guides help attendees use paranormal investigation tools like EMF meters, dowsing dowsing rods, thermometers and the Psyleron lamp, though not at the cemetery—since it is a resting place, tours walk through without investigating. Instead, historians point out the gravestones of and tell stories Grover Cleveland, Aaron Burr, Jr., Paul Tulane and others. The tales can be graphic, so attendees should be ages 13 and up.
Group tours are $400 for the first eight people, then $35 per person. All tours are limited to 10 participants, and guests and guides are expected to maintain a six-foot distance. Masks are required. Participants must also sign a waiver stating that they are not experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus and have not for two weeks. Guides will receive wellness checks before all tours.
For more information or to book a tour, visit princetontourcompany.com.
Bordentown Walking Tours will also host a Halloween-themed event. Haunted History Tours run Wednesday to Sunday throughout October. The one-hour walking tours feature tales of the macabre, haunting and spooky hidden history of Bordentown.
Guides will lead guests through downtown Bordentown, along different routes and with all-new stories from years past. Tours are family friendly.
“Our ghost stories and paranormal experiences are a retelling of legends and historical events that have been reported in Bordentown throughout the centuries,” the website says. “It may give you a spooky chill down your spine, but not a big scream.”
Masks are required. Adults are $15. Children 10 and under are $7.50. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit bordentownwalkingtours.com.