By Greg Caggiano, AHHS Board Member
That is the question I was left pondering when my team and I finished our first paranormal investigation of the Strauss Mansion Museum back in August of 2013. It was a quiet night with only limited experiences. Despite this now-126-year-old building having everything you could want in a “haunted house”, I was still skeptical. In my first ever visit a month before that, I walked into the Tower Room on the third floor with one of my devices and the word “tower” came up on the screen. But that could have been a coincidence, right? All I knew was that I wanted to return to see if this place was truly haunted.
By October of 2013, I had become a volunteer, participating in the annual lantern tour. Then in January of 2014, I officially joined the board of directors. One of the first ideas I had was to expand our paranormal programming throughout the year and not just be limited to October. Along with co-board members and friends, we founded a new group and YouTube web-series called Ghosts on the Coast. Joanne Dellosso, Roy Dellosso, Lou Fligor, and myself became the new committee which our current acting-president Ken Frantz nicknamed “Greg’s Ghost Adventures”.
On tap in that first year was a public paranormal investigation fundraiser for the spring. I had experience with such events at a different museum I worked at previously. This would be a limited event where Joanne and I would give a brief lecture on ghost hunting, Roy and Lou would give the group a history tour of the museum, and then we would allow people to explore and investigate either on their own or with us. This event became so popular that we had to add two more nights and also private group investigations for people who wanted to come back with their families. We wanted to make the Strauss Mansion accessible to all who dared investigate it.
It was during this time that I discovered the answer to my initial question. After hearing countless stories of past experiences from others, I had some of my own. They started to mount, and rather alarmingly so. That first year was abnormally active. As a seasoned investigator who knows that 90% of paranormal investigations yield little to no results, we had one thing after another happen. There were disembodied voices, shadows moving, footsteps on upstairs floors when we knew no one was above us, items being moved around on their own (including a piece of furniture dragged several feet), and perhaps most shockingly, a picture frame flying off the wall in the parlor in front of 40 people in mid-October 2014 when I was giving a lecture on our evidence findings.
The identity of a spirit we communicated with quite frequently was learned. His name was Bob and he lived in a third floor apartment back in the 1970’s when the mansion was being used as unsanctioned low-income apartments. He told us he died in the bathroom in that apartment and also a little about himself, such as a love for Bob Dylan and rock music. As it happens, shortly after finding this information out, we discovered his name and a famous lyric from one of Dylan’s songs written in graffiti on one of the walls in the apartment. It had previously been hidden by a stack of boxes and was unknown to us.
We conducted seances using a Victorian wine glass method (I want to point out that none of us are psychic), added more gadgets to our arsenal, and gained more experiences with each investigation, both the public ones and private for ourselves to collect stories to share at future events. By that same fall, I had already written a book about the strange goings-on at the museum which is available in our gift shop (100% of the proceeds benefit the AHHS), but the best of all experiences were still to come.
Following an intense investigation on Halloween night 2014 which had also followed one of our lantern tour events, we had our most chilling encounter. Available on YouTube for your viewing (strong language warning!) is a shadow captured moving around in the second-floor bathroom window. This evidence remains our best visual to date and despite constant efforts to debunk and re-stage what happened, we have yet to garner the same results, indicating it was genuine paranormal activity. Subsequent episodes offering explanations and insight prove this incident more bizarre than we originally thought. It may be humorous for you to hear how unnerved we are. The night was simply one for the ages between a seance at midnight and a slow build-up of other events that month, including the picture frame flying down two weeks earlier. In more than 150 videos spanning many locations, there is only one where we are visibly scared, and it was at the Strauss Mansion.
As I said, 2014 was an abnormal year. You can learn of more experiences by coming on one of our ghost tours (currently sold out for October 2019 but we have a waiting list) or public investigations we offer throughout the year. Since that time, paranormal activity has been steady in the museum, though there are periods of dormancy. I always remind people that no matter how haunted a location may be, we cannot just direct the spirits to come out whenever we want. Sometimes, it is when you least expect it. Just last year, when I was filming a Vlog episode in the library with another one of our co-investigators Patrick Osborn, a shadow was seen moving on the bookcase behind us. Unknown at the time, it was pointed out to us by a viewer on YouTube.
We continue to encounter new spirits and learn of new identities. When our newest team member Patty Bickauskas joined Ghosts on the Coast a couple of years ago, she brought with her a focus on EVP recordings, which we previously put aside in favor of using a radio communication device called the SB-7 “Spirit Box”. Many of her excellent recordings from 2016 to date are available on YouTube along with a multitude of videos featuring the Strauss Mansion. I invite you to check them out and see and hear for yourself.
Our ghost hunting group is not affiliated with the Atlantic Highlands Historical Society, but we work together closely for fundraising events. Since 2014, I estimate we have raised more than $25,000. All of our team members are either board members or active volunteers. We love the ghost hunting, but we love and appreciate the history more. As a historian, I have long felt that a study of the paranormal goes hand-in with a study of history, because if done right, it can give us a glimpse into the past. The Strauss Mansion is open on Sundays from 1-4 PM from April through December and hosts a wide-range of events every month. Please come for a visit. You never know who — or what— you might encounter.
Greg Caggiano has served on the board of directors of the AHHS since 2014. He is an instructor at Brookdale Community College where he lectures on a variety of historical topics including the American Civil War, the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, witchcraft and the inquisition, the history of liquor, Prohibition on the Jersey Shore, and New Jersey legends and folklore. He also works as a field guide for Brookdale’s Ocean Institute on Sandy Hook, which focuses on local marine life, maritime history, and the history of Fort Hancock.