The house creaks with footsteps of long dead souls. Whispered secrets of war still echo softly against the walls. A female phantom appears, clutching her crying baby and vanishes. In the shadows creeps a devil-worshiping sea captain. A ghostly child peers out from the second story window. In the basement lurks a famous blood-thirsty pirate. This is what you’ll find if you dare enter the Seabrook-Wilson House, the most haunted place in America!
Or…maybe not. What was once called The Spy House was known for its hauntings (some suggest as many as 22 different ghosts dwell there), and has attracted much attention from supernatural experts, but the so-called Most Haunted Place In America is actually just the subject of some much-needed hype.
“It was kind of a marketing tool to get people interested in saving a very old house that was in need of a lot of work,” said Gail L. Hunton, Supervising Historic Preservation Specialist of the Monmouth County Park System. As is the case with most too-good-to-be-true stories, all of the supernatural events of the Seabrook-Wilson House are most likely as true and honest as spam email.
Since acquiring the house in 1998 from Middletown Township, the Monmouth County Parks System has not only returned the house to its true historic roots, but has tried to debunk the ghost stories by fighting back with the only weapon that can harm a legend — stone cold facts.
The oldest part of the home was built in 1720 by the Seabrook family, and over the centuries has been expanded and used as a tavern, church and museum. It was later owned by the Wilson family, and while the home is among the oldest in all of New Jersey, the ghost stories date back to only the 1970s.
“When Middletown Township owned it, it was run by a group that, to their credit, saved the house — it had been in very bad shape — but one of the ways they saved it was by building a mystique around the house.” Hunton said. “The former curator, who ran it in the 1970s and ’80s embellished the place. That’s where you get most of the stories of ghosts and spies.”
That curator, Gertrude Neidlinger, was known for adding myths with the facts, telling tales of spies and spirits, and even implying that the one-and-only Captain Morgan not only hid treasure in the basement, but also used the space as a torture chamber. The hype worked, and sparked interest in the dilapidated landmark.
Neidlinger conducted seances and candle-lit ghost tours before being asked to stop because allowing frightened tourists to carry open flames around a wooden historic building is, well, not exactly a good idea. When the Monmouth County Parks System took over, they brought the truth with them. And step one was to kill the Spy House legend.
If you’re from the area or love spooky stories, you probably remember the Seabrook-Wilson House as The Spy House. According to the legend, Patriot spies (perhaps Daniel Seabrook — or his wife in some versions of the stories) hid behind secret walls in the house-turned-tavern to hear drunken British soldiers discuss clandestine military plans during the Revolutionary War. One problem: The home wasn’t turned into a tavern until 1910, well after the war.
It’s little facts like this that slowly unravel Neidlinger’s tall tales. The home was never a Spy House. A more fitting name is Regular People House.
“It is true that there were a lot of spies and pirates and rum runners during the American Revolution in the Sandy Hook Bay, which was largely controlled by British troops during that time,” Hunton said. “And Seabrook was a Patriot, but he was not known to have been a spy.”
Okay, so the James Bond of New Jersey didn’t live there — but that doesn’t mean this house is without merit! The real story of the Seabrook-Wilson house isn’t in the mysterious woman in the rocking chair or the strange noises coming from the fireplace — it’s the story of saving a New Jersey landmark.
“Although the ghost stories and spy stories were half-truths and enhanced, the big story is that the house was saved,” said Hunton. “It was almost torn down and Middletown Township and the group of people saved it. After a time, the house came to us and we restored it lovingly and now opened it to the public.”
Despite history dispelling the campfire stories, it doesn’t stop people from believing. The house has been called The Most Haunted Place in America by several websites, including Weird NJ., and people claim to have caught ghosts on film — such as in this photo from Flickr user Jackie, who takes note of “the face outside of the front window. It looks like it’s the [mustached] ghost of the guy with the yellow rain slicker. Creepy!”
“This time of year, there’s an increase in interest,” said Hunton. “We don’t encourage it. We’re trying to promote the history. But of course, people are going to do what they’re going to do.”
And has Hunton herself ever seen a ghost in the hose? “I’ve been in the house alone at night, and during the day, and I’ve never felt a presence,” Hunton said. “I’m not a cynic, but I’ve never felt it. Sometimes you go places and you feel weird and eerie, but this place doesn’t feel that way.”
The Most Haunted House In America is now becoming one of the nicest parks in New Jersey. “People in the community love it. It’s really a local attraction even though it doesn’t have the ghost tours anymore. It’s like their neighborhood hangout. Since we got the house in 1998, a new generation is enjoying it and enjoying the park. It will take a while for people to form new memories and then they’ll forget about the old stuff.”
Of course, if you hunt down the the Q and A portion of an old Seabrook-Wilson House Restoration document you will find, “Due to code constraints, public access to the second floor is not ordinarily permitted.”
It makes one wonder: What’s on the second floor? What are they trying to hide? And did you just feel that? Did that feel like the beard of a devil-worshipping sea captain on your neck?!
Decide for yourself! The Seabrook-Wilson House is now open to the public and showcases exhibits on local ecology. It’s also home to a number of family activities throughout the year. For more information, please check out www.MonmouthCountyParks.com.
(Main image: DeviantArt/MOrdinateur)