Creepy Cape May

September 26, 2018


I can remember, as a youngster living in New England, driving to Long Island to visit my grandmother. It seemed that no matter when we went, we should have come either the week before or waited a week. One of the first things we heard was “you should have come while the azaleas were blooming” or “it’s too bad you didn’t wait until next week when the azaleas will be blooming.”


Nowadays, I find myself doing something similar when I talk to people about visiting Cape May, only it’s more along the lines of telling springtime visitors that fall is the best time in Cape May or that, no matter when they’re here, they should come at Christmas.


It used to be, here at the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities, that Christmas was the high point of the year, in terms of number of tours and events and length of the season. While it still is, the ghosts and ghoulies of Halloween are giving St. Nick some real competition.


I admit it: I’ve never been a fan of Halloween, but maybe it’s the whole Cape May atmosphere, that aura of other-worldly spirits that are purportedly counted as residents, that makes it hard not to get caught up in the season here.


The Physick mansion will soon be undergoing its transformation to a more haunted-looking house, but in the spirit of fun, there’s “more of gravy than the grave” to what we do. The cobwebs and spiders are store-bought and some of the creepy spirits you’ll encounter are fairly mild-mannered in real life, but if you’re a Halloween addict, there are plenty of thrills and chills in store. It may be pretty staid and refined in its everyday life, but the Physick house takes to Halloween like a duck to water. Or a spider to a web.


In addition to the nighttime Phantoms of the Physick Estate tours, the special daytime tours on Fridays and Saturdays focus on Victorian spiritualism. Those Victorians were fascinated with what was happening on the other side of the veil, and crystal balls, Ouija boards and tarot cards were popular in Victorian parlors. Maybe in terms of today’s Friday the 13th movies the Victorians were pretty mellow, but you can get a glimpse of the explorations that thrilled and chilled back in the day.


The grounds of the Physick Estate will once more be home to Scarecrow Alley, thanks to the determination and persistence of MAC’s Anna Leeper. Dozens of scarecrows, from silly to chilly, grace the grounds, contributed by area schools, organizations and individuals. An amazing amount of work and creativity goes into some of these creations, so you don’t want to miss seeing them. Barbara Hubmaster and I will continue the tradition of our spoof of Director Michael Zuckerman, an annual rite that tests his sense of humor, as well as my future with MAC. Be sure to visit before Oct. 31 and vote at the Carriage House for your favorite.


So, Christmas – still my favorite – will be here soon. In the meantime, ask yourself: Do you dare come to Cape May? Booyah!


-- Jean Barraclough is manager of publications & website  at MAC