Shroud of tourin’: Lantern and staff in hand, Red Bank Ghost Tours guide Bill Normyle leads his group through the streets of downtown.
By TOM CHESEK (First published on RedBankGreen October 15, 2010)
The packed and popular public house on Monmouth Street hosts an apparently eternal tenant by the name of Mrs. Patterson. The dark waters of the Navesink have reportedly seen the nocturnal navigations of Captain Cooper and his spectral sloop. The business blocks of West Front Street are said to be home to pet-shop poltergeists, murderous maids and the occasional caught-on-camera “orb.” Even the local surf and skate emporium can boast its own free-spirit at unrest.
The way Tabitha Bradley tells it and sells it, the sidewalks, storefronts and second-story suites of Red Bank’s downtown represent a whole other city that never sleeps, nor rests in peace. From Lenape tribespeople to Revolution-era figures and Civil War infantrymen, the denizens of “Dead Bank” jostle for attention with the Friday night throngs of barhoppers, theatergoers, park-hanging teens, emergency vehicles and Escalades.
Every Friday from August through Halloweekend, Bradley’s team of experienced spirit guides from Jersey Shore Ghost Tours shines a LED lamplight on some largely forgotten fragments of local lore. With multiple tours departing from 8:30p in front of The Dublin House(where an upstairs room is kept dark and quiet, as to Mrs. Patterson’s preference), the sepulchral safaris are a way to gain an altogether different perspective on some familiar scenery, an activity with which “you’ll have a good time and even learn something without realizing it,” she says.
As teachers by profession (in the Keansburg school system), forensics students and avowed history buffs, Tabitha and her husband Ryan Bradley founded their ectoplasmic excursions venture with an emphasis on learning, rather than competing with the jump-out horrors of the many live spookhouse attractions that spring up this time each year. Researching their tour-guide scripts for historical accuracy — and participating in ghost walks at history-drenched haunts from Harpers Ferry, WV to Charleston, SC and New Hope, PA — the Bradleys set up their first lantern-lit tours in 2006, in the Bayshore borough of Keyport, home to tales of rum runners, pirates and Prohibition botleggers.
When the Keyport tours began to swell to 60 attendees in a single group, Tabitha (who may or may not be named for Samantha’s daughter onBewitched) began to take on additional tour guides — and when the Bradleys inaugurated their Red Bank walkabouts in the summer of 2009 (securing the necessary permits and meeting with the folks at Red Bank RiverCenter), their roles became that of coordinators, with guides such as Bill and Genny donning the shroud and wielding the walk-staff.
During the peak weeks leading up to Halloween, the Red Bank Ghost Tours (which quickly started outdrawing the original Keyport walks) can have as many as three tour groups — each of them numbering up to 25 people — out on the streets at the same time. Unlike the Keyport tours, the guides stick strictly to the commercial blocks of Broad, Monmouth and Front streets — a route that might not seem so atmospheric (it’s often necessary to shout over the hubbub of traffic, crowds and sirens), although it surely casts seemingly non-spooky places like Stokabokaand Tobacco Paradise in a new light. Patrons will come away from the experience having learned a little something, whether a generalized fun fact (such as why theaters like the Count Basie keep a “ghost light” burning) or the particulars on William Reed, apparently the only man to have fought on both sides of the Civil War.
While a steadfast belief in restless spirits isn’t a requisite here, the JSGT website does feature its share of controversial “orb” photos — nighttime scenes dotted with the scrubbing-bubbles of what’s believed by many to be the ectoplasmic manifestations of the deceased. Althoughredbankgreen’s recent excursion yielded no such photographic evidence of “boo-boogers,” they’ve been known to show up when and where you’d least expect it.
Of course, even the most skeptical of scholars must embrace the local ghost story as a vital component of hometown identity — and as Tabitha has said of the town fathers, “It’s in their best interest to bring people into the business district — anything that draws people into town, they’re on board with it.”
A full house for one of multiple Friday night tours.
“Everybody’s got a story, or knows someone who does,” says Tabitha, who praised “the people who are in charge of promoting Red Bank” for helping the seasonal venture get started — even to the point of helpfully supplying leads to some eerie local legends.
Red Bank Ghost Tours continue on October 15, 22 and 29, with tickets (available on the spot at The Dub’s front courtyard) priced at $12 for adults, and $10 for kids 10 and under. Do try and check out the Keyport Ghost Tours as well; they continue Saturday nights through October 30 and depart from the harborside pocket park across from Espresso Joe’s on West Front Street (attendees who take the Red Bank tour can mention that fact for $2 off the Keyport ticket). Reservations are strongly recommended for both, and can be made by calling (732)500-6262.