It was a complete turnaround from the previous day. The gray skies that had brought rain were now burning off, letting the sun shine. It’s warm rays were gracing the earth and the temperature was rising. There was still a wind blowing inland, but by now it was more of a breeze over calmer waters.
Today was the perfect day to do some exploring. Today, I was headed down the coast to Cape May. There were many things I wanted to see — the Cape May Lighthouse, the WWII bunker, the S.S. Atlantus, Sunset Beach, the WWII Lookout Tower — and the list goes on.
The first place I stopped was the nature preserve. I wanted to walk the paths with my camera and see what kind of wildlife would enjoy making an appearance for a photo opportunity. Unfortunately, most of the birds, reptiles and other animals seemed to be camera shy. I only saw one turtle (who happened to be making his way across the hot asphalt of the parking lot and decided to rest in the shade produced by a car’s back bumper), several swans (who appeared elegant) and many other birds (of names I’m unsure of). I did, however, still enjoy the beauty of nature and the Cape May Lighthouse could be seen from different angles while on the paths.
Next up was the remains of a WWII bunker, know as Battery 223, built in the 1940s. There was a straight path from the nature preserve to the beach where it sits. Upon seeing it, I thought about how big and strong it looked, but knew that it had changed drastically over time. I’ve seen photos of this bunker throughout the years and the changes are astounding. People used to be able to walk under it, but due to land transformation that’s become impossible. It used to sit on top of giant, strong pillars (and still might, although it’s hard to say for certain) and the ocean would rush up and surround it. Now the pillars can’t be seen and the bunker appears as if it’s sitting on top of sand. I believe there was also a time when people were able to climb a set of wooden steps, which were built after the war sometime in the 70s, to an observation deck and even walk inside. I have no proof or photos of these steps or an observation deck, only word of mouth from those who say they remember it from years ago. As for the inside, I’ve seen only a few photos and as amazing as it looks it’s unfortunately covered with graffiti. There’s a large part of me that wishes I could’ve seen the inside for myself, walked the halls and entered the rooms that so many brave souls did long ago, but today the entire structure is sealed off. People can still walk around the perimeter of the bunker and touch the concrete walls, which I did, gladly. I had a feeling of awe as my hands rubbed along the concrete. When it comes to old, historical places part of me can’t believe I’m actually seeing it while the other part can’t believe it’s still standing. And the whole time I’m playing its history in my head, as if I can see it for what it was back in its prime as well as what it is today — a wonderful piece of history.
The Cape May Lighthouse was next on my list of places to go. It was built in 1859, the same year it was first lit. In 1946 it was automated and is still operational today. As is the case with many lighthouses today, people are able to climb the stairs, like lighthouse keepers. There were 199 steps to the top of the lighthouse and I climbed every single one. My journey started at the bottom and continued in intervals, as I stopped briefly at each landing to observe the view. At the top, surrounded by bright red metal bars, what I saw was breathtaking. From one side I could see the entire beach, another side the town and from another side I thought I could see the remains of a sunken ship sticking out of the water.
The S.S. Atlantus was launched in 1918, a month after WWI ended, but was used to bring American troops home from Europe as well as transport coal in New England. In 1920 the ship was retired and six years later (1926) the S.S. Atlantus was purchased. The plan was to use it as a ferry dock in Cape May, NJ along with two other concrete ships. So it was towed to Cape May where it was kept waiting, but when a storm hit the ship broke free and ran aground 150 feet off the coast. Any attempt to free the ship was unsuccessful. By the late 50s the S.S. Atlantus begun to break apart in its midsection. I’ve seen photos of the ship through the years, as it’s slowly broken apart and it’s striking how large it used to be verses what remains of it today. From what I can tell there’s barely anything left. Still, there’s something about seeing it in person. Maybe it’s the sight itself. Maybe it’s the history behind the ship. Maybe it’s a little of both. Whatever the reason, the S.S. Atlantus is still an amazing sight to see with a great history.
Since the remains of the S.S. Atlantus sits off the coast of Sunset Beach it was easy to see both (practically simultaneously.) While the beach is sandy there are more and more colorful rocks and pebbles closer to the water. The way the sun bounces off their surfaces makes them sparkle and shine. It was a beautiful sight to behold.
The WWII Lookout Tower (Fire Control Tower No. 23) was near Sunset Beach so it was my next, and last, stop of the day. Built in 1942 it was one of fifteen towers meant to aim batteries of coastal artillery from North Wildwood, NJ to Bethany Beach, DE. There used to be four of these towers in Cape May, but two were torn down while the other two still stand. However, the one I visited is said to be the last remaining restorable WWII tower in New Jersey. Behind the tower is a deck with an “All Veterans Memorial” and inside the tower, on the third floor, is a “Wall of Honor” which features photographs from over 100 area WWII veterans. Although, I didn’t see this wall for myself. Considering this was my last stop of the day and all the other walking and climbing I participated in, I asked my legs a very serious question — if they thought they could make it up the nearly 200 steps. Reluctantly they responded with a no. It was the day’s first disappointment for me, but definitely on my list of things to do on my next trip to Cape May.
I loved the history of Cape May along with its beauty. If you’re ever in the area and enjoy history I’d recommend checking these place out, or go for the simple beauty of the ocean.
To see more pictures please visit my website.