I recently visited Atlantic City for the first time in my life, expecting the city to resemble the portrait of Atlantic City that had lived in my mind thanks to old books and movies; the playground of Frank Sinatra and Cosa Nostra mobsters, the home of opulent resorts like the famed Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel, the birthplace of salt water taffy. But, much to my disappointment, it became quite clear that the Atlantic City of my imagination was but a fantasy. Today, it is a place of vacant properties, high unemployment rates and shattered dreams-- in recent years, the unemployment rate has hovered somewhere around 25%, and crime is rampant.
It is, quite frankly, a city that seems haunted.
Naturally, this visit inspired me to investigate Atlantic City's storied past, and I stumbled upon a pair of strange stories.
A remarkable series of hauntings took place in Atlantic City in 1899, when, for a period of several nights, an apparition was reported to have been seen emerging from the ocean near a bell buoy. The ghostly figure of a woman would emerge from the water every night around midnight, walk quickly across the surface of the water, and then disappear.
In July 13, 1899, the Philadelphia Times reported on the haunting, stating:
The "weird lady of the sea" is reported to have been seen by quite a number of visitors who happened to be on the boardwalk between midnight and 1 o'clock this morning. One of the night policemen also declares that he saw it, and the whole town is excited.
The article also states that one of the witnesses-- a Baltimore socialite named Miss Russell-- voluntarily signed an affidavit confirming the phantom's existence. The newspaper story endeavored to uncover the ghost's identity, theorizing that it may be that of a New Yorker named Miss Wilson, who drowned near the buoy a few years earlier. Miss Wilson and her fiance went bathing in the ocean and she waded beyond her depth and was carried to her death by a strong undertow. The woman's body was never recovered.
|The boardwalk as it appeared in 1905|
The Veiled Lady of the Boardwalk
What makes this story truly astounding, however, was another article that also appeared in the Philadelphia Times on the same day.
Shortly before nine o'clock on the morning of July 12, a tall, handsomely shaped woman emerged from beneath the boardwalk below New York Avenue. In spite of the sweltering summer heat, this mysterious and unidentified woman was dressed in black from head to toe, and her face was covered by a black veil. Inexplicably, the woman waded into the breakers to a distance of fifty feet, then knelt down in the water. After a moment she disappeared from view and was never seen again. Mrs. James Mervine, who owned a row of bath houses along the beachfront, later found the woman's wet black veil in vacant bath house.
Stated the Philadelphia Times:
Those who watched the veiled bather from the boardwalk advanced all sorts of theories. Some declares that she was erratic and wanted to create a sensation. Others insisted that there was a method in her disguise. At all events this strange bather stirred up no end of gossip. Among the persons who saw her were W.B. Moran of Altoona, Pa.; Mrs. J. Wheeler Wilcox of New York City; George Hayes of Baltimore; D.P. Light of Chicago; Charles H. Smith of Philadelphia, and many others, all of whom have been trying to ascertain the identity of the mysterious bather. But nobody knows who she is, and thus the mystery deepens.
Whether these two strange events are related remains a mystery, and today they are just two out of dozens of strange tales involving the fabled resort city of Atlantic City.