by Deborah Worchel
AS ANOTHER sunny summer season winds down, the days grow shorter and the darkness comes earlier. The evening air carries more of a chill, and the town grows just a little bit quieter, save the occasional sound of wind whipping between buildings or seagulls laughing over their evening catch. Or is it something else entirely making that sound as night falls? Ocean City has its share of ghost stories, as I learned during my candlelight walking Ghost Tour…
Our tour guide Lee Griscom greeted us on the steps of City Hall clad in a billowy white tunic and a black baseball cap bearing the words “Ghost Tour” in bold white letters. “The stories you are about to hear are all based on interviews, careful research and involve shipwrecks, strange happenings and even murder. They are,” he intoned, “believed to be true.”
“Have you ever lost anyone on a tour?” joked a young man. Lee paused, and gazed into the distance. “Uh, yeah,” he answered, as he began walking. His apparent age and anecdotal story of his previous winter surgery and rehabilitation left our group woefully unprepared for the speed at which he set off, and we hurried to catch up lest we miss part of a story or get lost.
Perhaps the most famous ghost of Ocean City, and the first subject of our walking tour, was Emily, the ghost of the Flanders Hotel. Sightings of a woman with long, dark curly hair in a flowing white dress abound. According to Lee, the sightings of Emily all began when a group of investors decided to renovate the Flanders Hotel to restore it to its original Roaring-Twenties style. Witnesses say they can feel when she is around, as they get chills and some report feeling sick to their stomach. Many believe she is looking for something, as she has been spotted looking through boxes in the basement. Sometimes she plays the piano on the second floor, and she has reportedly spoken to children when their parents are not present. Later the children point to her portrait, which hangs on the second floor, and tell their parents “That’s the nice lady who was talking to us.” By all accounts, Emily is a friendly ghost, not a malevolent spirit, and the Flanders has embraced her presence, even naming their restaurant after her.
Another ghostly presence who seems to relish music inhabits the second floor of a building on 8th Street between Central Avenue and Wesley Avenue. This ghost has been dubbed the “Restless Spirit,” and for a time, there was a music store on the ground floor by the same name. When the business was in operation and some renovations were underway on the second floor, the owner heard the faint sound of music and footsteps upstairs. Each time he would venture up the stairs, he found no one there and no explanation for the noises he was hearing. The footsteps sounded like someone dancing, and they moved across the complete length of the upstairs floor, seeming to pass right through spots he knew full well had walls. He hired a medium, who confirmed a “cold spot” right in the middle of the upstairs floor. It was, in fact, a visitor on the Ghost Tour who helped to provide some explanation for this restless spirit. According to Lee, the woman on the tour became “quite emotional” at this stop, but didn’t say anything at the time. She later contacted the tour owners and explained that her elderly father had recently passed away after a long battle with dementia. He had asked her and her sister repeatedly to take him “to the dance hall at 8th Street.” As far as she knew, her father was not a dancer and they had chalked the requests up to his illness. As they were going through his things after he passed, they found several awards he had won for “marathon dancing” at the 8th Street Dance Hall. As it turns out, the building on 8th Street was a dance hall during the 1930s and ’40s. The woman is convinced that the footsteps people hear upstairs are the sound of her father finally getting his dying wish to dance again at the Dance Hall.
Another stop on our tour is the deceptively cheerful yellow Victorian building at the corner of 7th Street and Asbury Avenue, which is purportedly full of supernatural spirits. Jim Penland owned the building for years, operating several businesses there. According to the book, Ghost Stories of Ocean City, NJ, by Tim Reeser, which is the source for most of the tales on the Ghost Tour, the supernatural activity began when Jim started renovations in the building. An old dairy store bottle was discovered behind a wall, and inside the bottle were curly locks of hair, a needle, and thread. The building functioned as a dairy very early on, and many believe disturbing the curls from their resting place awakened spirits who now haunt the building. Objects moved from place to place unexpectedly, music boxes that were for sale in the shop played with no explanation, and multiple contractors hired to work in the building left because they “heard noises,” or discovered that their tools had been moved. People have reported seeing the ghostly apparition of a man in the building, and sometimes visitors walking Asbury Avenue at night report seeing glowing orbs in the windows of the widow’s peak (as seen in the photo on opposite page).
The Ghost Tour also tells tales of a haunted beach near the site of the Sindia wreck, makes a chilling stop in the “Alley of the Dead,” recounts the history of a distant relative of Betsy Ross who has returned to haunt his Victorian-era beach home, and winds its way back to the steps of City Hall, which apparently has ghosts of its own. In case sitting on the steps of a haunted building isn’t enough to send shivers down your spine, the tour concludes with a rendering of the History of the Jersey Devil, who roams the pine barrens outside Ocean City. Our tour group included a family vacationing from Pennsylvania, whose children, aged 8, 11, and 13 had plans to further investigate several of the stories they heard about during the tour. The youngest son wondered aloud what “weakness” the Jersey Devil might have that could lead to his downfall, and said he would recommend the tour to friends and other kids.
If you are brave enough to wander the dark amongst the ghosts and spirits who inhabit Ocean City, tours run through October 31, and you can purchase your tickets online at www.ghosttour.com.