Science has proven that energy cannot be destroyed; only altered. Given this scientific evidence and the truth that human body contains and expends energy, it seems reasonable that upon death of the body, energy or spirit changes into a different form. Theories exist, as do much empirical data to support them, that geographic locales, manmade structures, and even objects retain imprints of energy exuded by those who had once occupied or touched them. Therein lays the crux of every ghost story. The chills it raises along one’s spine as the tale is spun out spring not merely from the fear of the unknown, but from the understanding that the account may very well be factual.
With a rich and often violent history predating the Revolutionary War, the State of New Jersey enjoys a long tradition of ghost stories. Documented, recounted, and verified via paranormal researchers by numerous audio and video recordings as well as still photography proven not to have been doctored, the stories span the width, breadth, and chronology of the State. Atlantic County is no stranger to supernatural tales. From all reports, its courthouse, erected in 1838, appears to be the single-most haunted structure in the area.
Jo DiStephano Kapus, a past president of the Atlantic County Historical Society and a former title searcher who worked for many years in the courthouse, has diligently researched, stockpiled, and shared tales of otherworldly manifestations centering upon the country’s seat of government; her writings have appeared extensively in news publications and magazines servicing the region. Based primarily upon the corroborative reports of witnesses as well as lore surrounding the building, the stories contain elements that can be traced back to real-life occurrences. All of the narratives that Jo has collected and published indicate the presence of many spirits still bound to the earth through events that transpired within the Atlantic County Courthouse.
One of these involves a weeping spirit. Late one afternoon, a former senior court clerk was completing her duties for the day in Courtroom 1, where two other employees were also working. Within that quiet space, all three staff members were startled to hear an unmistakable sobbing emanating from the back of the courtroom. To the shock and horror of the workers, something or someone had coalesced there: a visible and bright form of energy hanging in the air, whose shape was long and although indistinctive, suggestive of a human being. The employees agreed to determine a logical explanation for the sobbing, and dispersed via three separate exits in the courtroom. Although their search was fruitless, Jo uncovered an account that seems to be linked to this particular haunting.
A local newspaper story printed in 1898 yielded the terrible tale of a ten-year-old boy, Japheth Connolly, who had gone missing. Two days later, in a shallow grave in a wooded area not far from Somers Point, searchers discovered the child’s body, brutally strangled. Just before the boy had disappeared, he had been seen with a drifter, a 28-year-old man whose name was William O’Mara. Further investigation revealed hard evidence linking O’Mara to the crime. At the man’s trial, which was conducted in the courthouse, members of the outraged community demanded retribution in the form of a lynching. Although found guilty, O’Mara escaped capital punishment with twenty-five years of hard labor. During the trial, both the drifter’s mother and the mother of the murdered child had sat in Courtroom 1, weeping profusely throughout the entire proceedings. Did the energy of one or perhaps both of these women leave its grieving stamp upon the room? While no definitive answer exists, this scenario seems likely.
A number of other witnesses have come forth to report the sound of a child running in one of the courtroom’s upstairs corridors, when no child has been present. Perhaps returned to oversee the trial, could this be the ghost of the little boy so cruelly murdered?
Other inexplicable incidents have occurred in the courthouse on a basis so frequent, they seem almost routine. Doorknobs jiggle when no one is seen to jiggle them, a chandelier sways and tinkles of its own accord, and an elevator ascends and descends upon its own whims. Underpinning all of these episodes are voices and footsteps engendered by no earthly beings, echoing eerily throughout empty rooms and hallways. Some of these energy imprints may have their roots in cases disclosed by Jo D. Kapus, including that of a prisoner whose vigorous hanging in 1907 caused some bystanders to become hysterical, a man who hanged himself in the bell tower in 1950, and another who took his own life in 1984 as the judge handed down a sentence he did not wish to live long enough to see fulfilled.
Who knows what future hauntings await those who toil within or visit these halls where justice has long been meted out and continues to be executed?