In the world of the paranormal, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal on the Delaware side is considered a prime location. It might have something to do with the 800 souls lost at sea over the years that washed up near the location.
The only visible evidence of those lost souls is a Unknown Sailors' Cemetery marker along the terminal dock placed there in memory of the “hundreds of sailors who lost their lives and whose unidentified bodies were here cast ashore.”
After an intensive paranormal investigation this past spring by Delmarva Historic Haunts, enough data was gathered to lead founder Rick Coherd of Milford to say: “The Cape May Lewes Ferry terminal is haunted – without a doubt.” The team serves as the mobile lab group of the Gettysburg Paranormal Association.
Nearly 50 people turned out July 17 for a public investigation of the terminal. When asked, more than half of the participants said they had experienced a paranormal event. After the last ferry left from Lewes, the terminal was closed, the lights were shut off and following a Paranormal 101 class, ghost hunting commenced.
Another public paranormal investigation of the terminal is scheduled starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14. The $35 cost includes a buffet dinner. For tickets call 1-800-643-3779.
Bones in the sand
No one is sure how many bones of dead sailors were buried over the years in the dune along the shoreline. According to Coherd, at least 300 frozen sailors from two “ghost” ships caught in a deadly nor'easter in 1888 were buried there. Lewes was an important port-of-call dating back to the 17th century.
Some of the bones have been removed from the site. In May 1998 in a ceremony at Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes, a British Royal Navy unit reburied the remains of British sailors from the sinking of HMS DeBraak 200 years ago.
Coherd said the ferry terminal has all the right buttons for hitting ghosts. In addition to the buried sailors, during construction back in the 1960s, pottery shards were found. “It could also be an Indian graveyard,” he said.
He said Delaware River, Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean tides converge at the ferry terminal. “There is a lot of electromagnetic energy here,” he said.
Over the years, Coherd said the area was a place people tended to stay away from. It was not unusual for bones to be uncovered during storms and extreme tides.
Coherd started the southern Delaware group about two years ago after spending five years as a lead investigator at Fort Delaware, the state's top haunted spot, which has been featured on national television. History always serves as the backdrop to every investigation his team does.
“Life is complicated, so why wouldn't death be the same for some people,” Coherd said.
Strange happenings at terminal
During the spring investigation, Coherd's team recorded a white figure moving in the area of the terminal's sunroom on two cameras. “You can clearly see movement,” Coherd said as she showed the video. “It looked like a person in a white jacket; it had been seen before.”
Since the initial investigation, several stories have circulated among ferry employees who have had unexplained encounters over the years.
Heath Gehrke, director of ferry operations, said almost every employee, and especially those who come in early-morning shifts, have experienced something strange. A man in a cape with long white hair was seen one morning in the gift shop area. “He walked into the women's restroom, but there was no one in there,” Gehrke said.
Coherd, who has a background as varied as doing floral arrangements at the White House and installing HVAC systems, said the same entity has been seen walking the streets of Lewes.
The strong odor of cigar smoke has been detected in the women's restroom. Loud crying has been heard in the kitchen and storage area and several employees said they have heard the restroom doors banging and hand dryers coming on with no one in the building. “It's happened over and over again for many years,” Gehrke said.
Perhaps the strangest story involves the sighting of Sonny, a deceased police officer. A woman reported to her husband that she saw an officer walk out of a door that she didn't recognize. She described Sonny to a tee, including his clip-on tie that he always wore clipped to the side of his shirt.
As recently as the morning of the public investigation, several books were found knocked off the storage room shelves; all were ghost stories.
Because of its long history, Lewes is favorite haunt of Coherd's team. They spend most of their free time traveling the region doing investigations. “Sometimes history breaks through and talks back,” Coherd said. He wants to make sure he is there listening.
A growl and the light comes on
After more than four hours of hearing ghost stories and learning the art of ghost hunting, there was some excitement in a group led by Cory Parson. The team uses a process called torching when they place small unscrewed flashlights in areas where ghosts have been sighted. It only takes a slight touch to turn the lights on and off.
For about 15 minutes Parson tried to coerce a spirit to turn on a light with no luck. Then, as if on command, one of the lights came on. To verify the action, Parson asked the spirit to turn the light off, and it went out.
Over the next 15 minutes, one of the flashlights turned on off four more times. On one occasion, Parson did a countdown and when he reached the last number, the light went off.
“If we are talking to someone, they are not strong because we didn't detect an energy source,” he said.
Most of the night was spent sitting or standing and looking and listening. “Honestly, this is what we go through,” Parson said. “Sometimes it's like watching corn grow.”
But other times, he said, meters go off the chart, people report touches and voices and movements are recorded. That's what keeps ghost hunters coming back for more.
“If you had asked me four years if I believed in ghosts, I would have laughed,” he said.
Parson's group also experienced electromagnetic readings when they visited the terminal's police station.
“They feed off electromagnetic fields and they also dish it out by draining electronic equipment and draining the heat from the air,” Coherd said.
In the same walkway, Coherd said, one of the most significant encounters took place during his first session. A distinctive loud growl – the same sound heard by two team members during the spring – was heard. He plans to listen to his digital recorder to see if the sound was captured. “People heard it and jumped up,” he said.
In the same location, he received several electromagnetic spikes when he asked historical questions.
Ghost hunting lab on wheels
The lab on wheels is stocked with thousands of dollars of the most high-tech ghost hunting equipment including cameras, recorders, laser grid detectors, temperature sensors, thermal imaging cameras, an official Ghostmeter that allows the team to ask questions of the dead and meters that detect changes in electromagnetic fields.
Lead investigator Rick Coherd said 75 percent of the evidence his team obtains comes as Electronic Voice Phenomenon or EVP, which is now recorded on highly sensitive digital recorders.
Coherd said the most valuable equipment is an investigators' five senses.
The team uses a process called torching when they place small unscrewed flashlights in areas where ghosts have been sighted. It only takes a slight touch to turn the lights on and off.