The Emlen Physick Estate and the Ghosts of Cape May

Cape May, New Jersey, is one of the most haunted towns in America, and nowhere in town is quite as haunted as the Emlen Physick Estate. This spectacular Victorian mansion is home to the region’s only house museum, providing a peek into life over 100 years ago—and perhaps, a peek at some ghosts. Ocean Club Hotel is committed to helping guests from all over get the full Cape May experience. Here, we discuss why the Emlen Physick Estate should be part of your Cape May vacation itinerary.

The History of the Emlen Physick Estate

Emlen Physick was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His family was fairly well-off due to the legacy of Dr. Philip Syng Physick, Emlen’s grandfather and the father of American surgery. Emlen inherited this wealth in 1859.

In 1876, Emlen Physick arrived in Cape May and purchased eleven acres of property. Here, he built a carriage house and an eighteen-room mansion as a country home for himself, his widowed mother Mrs. Ralston, and her two maiden sisters.

He hired renowned architect Frank Furness to design the mansion. Furness utilized the “Stick” style, which was avant-garde for the period, with exaggerated features that became the architect’s trademark. Emlen also owned two tenant farms, and livestock were kept at the estate. All four residents lived at the mansion until their deaths.

The estate then passed through several owners. None stayed in the house long, allowing it to fall into increasing disrepair. This ended when the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (MAC) petitioned for city ownership of the property. They succeeded in 1973 and transformed the mansion into a museum.

Is the Emlen Physick Estate Haunted?

The Emlen Physick Estate isn’t just an architectural wonder. Many believe the mansion to be haunted. Residents after the Physick family reported sounds of phantom footsteps and strange voices coming from the house’s upper floors. MAC staffers have also mentioned unusual disturbances while working at the estate.

Stories name several ghosts. One is Aunt Emilie, a cheerful socialite; another is Aunt Isabella, a resident who passed away soon after moving into the mansion. Some visitors also describe a pack of ghost dogs, Emlen Physick’s pets.

MAC offers a variety of Cape May ghost tours and encounters, granting hopeful hunters a chance to spot one of the estate’s ghosts. Indeed, Cape May is regarded as one of the most haunted places in America. Whether or not you see one, there’s still plenty of spooky fun to be had.

A Step Back in Time

The estate offers a complete and engaging experience even without the ghosts. The eighteen-room mansion is a picturesque example of iconic Victorian architecture. Its first- and second-floor rooms are fully restored with period-accurate housewares and furnishings, offering a glimpse into upper-class life in the 1880s. Learn how the Physick family lived, worked, and relaxed, or explore the lives and duties of household staff.

The Emlen Physick Estate also offers a variety of educational tours, each focusing on Victorian history and society through a unique lens. Here are just a few options to choose from:

  • The Doctor Is In: Discover Dr. Emlen Physick’s influence on the Cape May medical community, as well as common turn-of-the-century medical practices.
  • Meet the Staff: Get to know the various staff members employed by the Physick family, including their duties and importance to the household.
  • Strange Victorian Obsessions: Learn about Harry Houdini, The Great Lafayette, Ionia the Goddess of Mystery, and other Victorian illusionists.
  • Physick Family Christmas: This living museum takes guests through the estate and the Carroll Gallery for a look at historical holiday traditions.

Exploring the Emlen Physick Estate isn’t limited to tours. Free experiences include an exhibit on medical quackery, a family-friendly scavenger hunt, and story stops providing firsthand accounts of life in Victorian times. If you get hungry, the Carriage House offers tea luncheons, afternoon tea, and café fare.

On-site parking is free and RV-friendly. The museum is child-friendly, and its first floor is wheelchair accessible.

Experience the Emlen Physick Estate

After enjoying the chills and thrills of Cape May ghost tours, you’ll want somewhere to sleep comfortably. The Ocean Club Hotel offers a range of amenities including luxury accommodations, fine seafood dining without the fuss, and more. Check out our FAQ to learn more, or kick-start your Cape May vacation by booking your stay today.