There’s an old story that Tracy Walsh, the innkeeper at the Jonathan Pitney House, tells about the gorgeous bed and breakfast she runs.
Admitting right off the bat that this story has less-than-credible origins, Walsh explains how the former owner of the house Dr. Jonathan Pitney (more on him later) probably suffered a rather drawn-out death. The year is 1869, and Pitney is confined to a dark, elegant room, right next to the airy chamber of his wife Caroline. Before he died he allegedly said to her, “I want you to stay here forever.”
Today the Jonathan Pitney house is supposedly one of the most haunted structures in the area, an indication that Caroline perhaps took the wish of her husband a bit too literally.
This is just one of the tall tales born within the walls of Absecon’s Pitney House. Walsh has collected many during her time as innkeeper, most told by excited guests over freshly brewed coffee in the B&B’s cozy kitchen.
“We had a lady stay here who did filming throughout the night. She was excited about being in the most haunted room at the Jonathon Pitney House (Caroline’s room). She got many (pictures) of orbs throughout the night,” Walsh recalls when asked about stories that verge on the paranormal.
She shares another:
“My brother was doing some work here ... and he was showing people around and talking about Caroline and the door slammed. No other doors were open, there was no wind that day. He definitely felt that she was here with him.”
Walsh took over the Pitney House when the mayor of Absecon approached her and her parents, the innkeepers at the Colonial Inn in Smithville, about potentially running the historic old house. For Walsh, it was love at first sight.
“The moment we walked in, there was so much character, we knew people would love it here,” she beams.
The ghosts were an added bonus. None of whom, we should mention, Walsh has ever seen herself.
“This house has been here a long time, since the 1700s, so I’m sure it’s been through quite a few families … People are having experiences that are hard to explain away,” she shrugs, casually.
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Some history: Jonathan Pitney was a 19th century physician who moved to Absecon in May 1820 to reap the benefits of the sea air. He gained the title “the father of Atlantic City” by bringing the railroad to the area, an ultimately successful endeavor that locals at first pejoratively called “the railroad to nowhere.” Pitney is further recognized as the person responsible for the construction of the Absecon Lighthouse. He petitioned Congress to set aside the money for it after years of recording the corpses that washed up on the shore after vicious storms.
Needless to say, much of the area’s success can be traced back to Pitney, and his charming home is a living testament to his legacy, run expertly by Walsh and her small team. Intrigued and slightly trepidatious, Pamela Dollak, editor of At the Shore, and I, Rebecca King, associate editor of At the Shore, decided to spend the night at the Pitney House to see what all the fuss was about. In fact, we stayed in the two most haunted rooms — Pamela in Caroline’s and me in Jonathan’s.
Rebecca and I arrived at the Jonathan Pitney House Bed & Breakfast separately. She left the office before I did, but arrived after me. She got lost — her GPS steered her in a completely different direction. Was it trying to tell her something? Like, maybe to stay away — stay far away?
When Rebecca did get there, we met up with Tracy Walsh, who gave us a tour and a quick history of the building. The grounds were lovely; resplendent with beautiful flowers and tasteful fall decorations. The main building was stunning, with one room prettier and more ornate than the next.
Once inside, we chose to start our tour from the top floor, where the widow’s walk was, and work our way down, like what you do when visiting New York’s Guggenheim Museum. An extremely narrow and mostly unlit staircase was the only way to reach the widow’s walk, which was small, sparsely decorated and enclosed. Nothing to see — or hear or feel — here, so we moved on.
We creeped our way back down the staircase to the third floor to check out the bedrooms there — all decorated differently, all inviting.
The second floor was where Pitney’s bedroom was, as well as that of his wife Caroline.
Back on the first floor, there are a couple of more attractive bedrooms, a modern-equipped kitchen and a living room stocked with books, board games and a slew of antique Atlantic City memorabilia.
Over the fireplace in the living room was a striking portrait of Dr. Jonathan Pitney, painted by a former patron of the B&B, who gifted it to Walsh. While a nice enough portrait of the good doctor, I couldn’t help but feel as if his eyes were following me around the room, like in a scene right out of a “Scooby Doo” mystery.
Naturally, we wanted to stay in the most haunted rooms, so Walsh graciously handed Rebecca the key to Pitney’s room and me the key to Caroline’s — the most haunted room in the house. I blatantly tried to swap keys with Rebecca, as I’m not as brave I as think I am. But she held fast to hers.
The witching hour
“I want you to stay here forever.”
Walsh told us that those were words spoken by Pitney to his wife Caroline just before he died in his house nearly a century and a half ago.
I couldn’t get that sentence out of my head, as I securely bolted the door of the Caroline Room. I admit that before getting into bed, I did a quick scan of the closets, shower and under the bed, just to make sure nothing or no one was hiding. Not that I’d be able to catch a ghost hiding, but it made me feel better.
It was nearing 10 p.m. when I finally got the nerve to turn the lights off and try to sleep. I’m not sure what I was worried about; sleep came swiftly as I laid on perhaps the most comfortable queen-sized mattress ever.
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Somewhere in the middle of the night, though, something woke me. And although I didn’t hear a sound or see anything, I distinctly felt a strong presence in the room. And it was moving. Not walking, though. More like gliding. Or floating its way around the room.
The next thing I knew, this “presence” was in bed with me — so help me — it was. It’s not as if I felt anyone — anything? — physically climb into the bed. I just suddenly felt a weight lying next to me, as if someone was sleeping there.
Why I didn’t high-tail it out of there, I’m still unsure. I guess I figured I was there for a story, and a story I was gonna get — no matter who was sleeping next me.
The morning after
I woke the next morning with no memory of what had happened. I went through my usual morning routine thinking, “huh, I really wish I saw a ghost last night.” I had no memory of the floating spirit.
I went downstairs, grabbed a mind-blowingly good cup of coffee, and sat with Rebecca to discuss her night. It wasn’t until after she recounted her experience that I remembered mine. It was the strangest thing. As if suddenly a light bulb went off in my head that had been doused on purpose. Did someone not wish for me to recall and reveal what had happened in the middle of the night in the middle of the bed in the middle of the Caroline Room?
The funny thing is, neither Rebecca nor I were ever afraid. Whatever spirits we encountered were not menacing in the least. In fact, in hindsight, I remember feeling a sense of peace while lying in bed.
Do I really believe the Jonathan Pitney House is haunted by Pitney and his wife Caroline? To quote the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz,” “I do believe in spooks.”
I am a firm believer in ghosts. It seems to me that those who don’t believe in ghosts are pulling the wool over their eyes, ignoring empirical evidence that spirits walk among us. There are too many sensible, non-superstitious people in the world who have experienced the supernatural for me to feel otherwise. Also, recently my hairdresser showed me a video of a high school in Ireland being terrorized by a ghost (seriously, Google it).
All of this to say, staying in a notoriously haunted house is not something I’d go out of my way to do. Staying at a charming bed and breakfast, on the other hand, I’m in.
Once we arrived, Tracy Walsh and Lori Cimman, another member of the Pitney House family, welcomed Pamela and me by showing us around and entertaining us with ghost stories.
When we got to Jonathan Pitney’s room, the room I would stay in for the night, Walsh told of a “shifting of the sheets” reported by guests that stayed there. “I’m not sure if he’s tidying up or tidying them out,” she laughs, “But he’s definitely hanging out.”
The witching hour
Once goodnights were said and the locks to my (read: Jonathan Pitney’s) room were double bolted shut (not that ghosts heed such earthly things as locks), I tiptoed around the creaking floors of my quarters for the night. I expected to feel uneasy, but the room, and bathroom, I might add, were gorgeous, and I was really just excited to be there. At the Pitney House, it’s delightfully easy to forget what era you’re actually in, but for the flat-screen TV hanging on the wall and the occasional revving of cars outside.
Once in bed, I felt none of the reported “shuffling of sheets” I was warned of. However, as I was in that middle zone between sleep and consciousness, I did feel a slight pressure on my back, like someone had placed a hand on me. It wasn’t the brief touch of something like a shifting bed sheet. In fact, it lingered so long that I thought to myself, “Is this gonna be my paranormal experience?” I turned over and the pressure went away.
The next morning I was greeted with a cup of coffee, a yogurt with granola, and a pleasant chat with Gineen Demari, who was cooking up breakfast for us — a fabulous egg dish made with fresh herbs from the garden outside. When Pamela joined me, I nervously told her my story, prefaced with an “I swear I’m not crazy.” On any other night, I would have explained the moment away as a figment of my imagination. But, after all, we were in a haunted house. Is this not what we came here to report on?
I was relieved when Pamela responded with her story, solidarity bringing validation to my own “haunting.” Yet, in the moment, I didn’t feel threatened. I didn’t jump out of bed or drive home in the middle of the night (my in-case-of-emergencies plan). I just rolled over and dozed off. And in case you were worried that everyone who stays there will have some type of brush with the dead, I’m happy to say that the couple having breakfast next to us reported a quiet, ghost-less night.
Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, here’s what I can definitively say of the Pitney House: while there, you’ll encounter a ton of friendly people, be they dead or alive.