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May 16, 2018

Jersey Shore beach home to one of world's most haunted bodies of water

Cape May's Higbee Beach is said to frequented by specter dressed in tattered pants and T-shirt

Beaches Paranormal
05152018_Cape_May_beach Credit/

Cape May's beach.

If you consider that 71 percent of Earth's surface is water, it becomes terrifyingly clear that there's all kinds of haunted business we don't even know about, let alone the stuff on land.

We're not even talking about the fact that humans have only explored roughly five percent of the world's oceans, according to the National Ocean Service. Within that five percent, there are already some wild bioluminescent beings gliding through the depths. Think about the organisms surviving in even more extreme aquatic conditions — actually transport yourself there, at this exact time, for a second in your mind. They're just down there, living.

The 14 most haunted bodies of water in the entire world were recently recapped in a story for Reader's Digest, including one location that might give a scare to those visiting the Jersey Shore this summer.

This tale isn't about sea creatures. No, it's about a ghost in Cape May.

Legend has it that a spooky being haunts Higbee Beach, a 1 1/2-mile stretch at the tip of Cape Island along the Delaware Bay. The beach is concealed from view by swampy woods that separate it from the dead end of New England Road.

Historians say the area of Higbee Beach once was farmland in the 19th century. A tavern that stood on the farm was purchased by Joseph Smith Higbee in 1823 and subsequently turned into a hotel called The Hermitage.

Higbee and his younger brother, Thomas Horris Higbee, operated the hotel for Delaware Bay pilots for many years and lived in a separate house on Bayshore Road nearby the beach.

Here's where the haunted part comes in. Joseph died in 1872 and Thomas died in 1879. Thomas Higbee stated in his will that he wanted to be buried near the hotel, in a grave lined with brick and flagstone. He remained there for decades until the death of his niece, Etta Gregory, who had inherited the entire Higbee estate.

Etta thought it would be a good idea to disinter her "Uncle Tom," against his wishes, and bury him next to her at the Cold Springs Presbyterian Cemetery, where their plots both remain today. The hotel was demolished in 1940, three years after Etta's death.

Ever since, Higbee Beach visitors have sporadically reported spectral sightings of "a man in a long coat, sometimes accompanied by a black dog," according to paranormal investigator Craig McManus, who shared his findings at the Cape May Blog.

This ghostly man always seems to disappear as his position is approached, the legend goes. 

One particularly creepy sighting from the area was recounted in the book "Cape May Ghost Stories." A woman who claimed not to have any paranormal leanings explained what she saw when she visited the dunes of Higbee Beach and observed the ghost of Thomas Higbee. From The Courier Post:

She said he looked right toward her, but more so through her, as if unaware of her presence. As the sun rose, she could see that his color was odd: “a pale gray, almost glowing.” She moved closer and noticed details of his dress: pants that “were too short, almost tattered at the cuffs,” “a sash instead of a belt,” and a “very dirty and tattered T-shirt.”

The woman heard a whispering or giggling sound come from the same area in which the man was standing, which she thought the man heard too, because he turned and started to, as she put it, “coast” or glide up over the hill.

When the woman pursued the ghost over the hill, she saw no footprints. Looking down at the beach, the ghost reappeared, glided into the ocean and disappeared underwater.

The area of the legend is now owned by the state of New Jersey and is known as the Higbee Beach Wildlife Management Area. It's become a hotspot for birders enjoying the migratory birds who seek out its remote habitat. Formerly, Higbee Beach was popular among nude sunbathers. Lower Township, displeased by the naked beachgoers, banned the activity and won the state's support to keep them off the beach in 1999.

If that's what kept Thomas Higbee entertained all those years, Cape May could now have a ghost on its hands who's been angry for almost 20 years.