More Than Just Casinos, Atlantic City Has Its Share Of Haunted History

Written By Stephanie Loder on October 12, 2023
image of ghosts over atlantic city, which has a haunted, eerie history you can experience for yourself

Is Atlantic City creepy? Does a ghost haunt the casino you are visiting?

If perception is everything there might be room to consider it’s a possibility given what’s taken place in Atlantic City’s history since the resort was incorporated in 1854.

Imagine the famous who trekked the Atlantic City Boardwalk after it was built in 1870: George A. Hamid Jr. owned Steel Pier in Atlantic City and brought stars like Frank Sinatra and the Beatles to Atlantic City; Dion, Louis Armstrong, and Frankie Avalon were among the famous – now deceased – entertainers who played Steel Pier.

Atlantic City, beginning more than 150 years ago, was already the place to go. Entertainers from vaudeville to Hollywood feature films graced the stages of the piers. Glamorous Hotels like Haddon Hall, The Traymore, The Shelburne, and The Marlborough-Blenheim drew guests from all over the world.

The past, and the present, seem to meet in supernatural and paranormal ways at Atlantic City casinos and the Boardwalk, says Audra Cohen of Galloway, walking tour guide for Atlantic City Ghost Tours as she holds up a lantern and scrambles visitors on and off the Boardwalk telling tales of ghosts and spirits and orbs.

Audra admits her interest in the paranormal is high and would like to see an Atlantic City ghost on the tour.

So far, she’s come close with glimpses of dark shadows and an orb.

Are Atlantic City casinos haunted or just creepy?

Outside Caesars Coliseum Parking Garage on Pacific Avenue, she tells the lore of a New Jersey man who witnesses say plunged to his death from atop the garage in 2021. His name never surfaced in media accounts of his death, which happened in front of the Caesars Atlantic City on one of the city’s main thoroughfares.

“No one ever knew his name or why he did it. Maybe he lost his money gambling,” Audra tells her group, holding the lantern high to point to the top of the multi-story parking garage which is adorned with an image of a Roman soldier overlooking the street.

A visitor got a glimpse of possible paranormal activity on a recent tour with Audra. All of the guests on tour took photographs of the highest portion of Caesars’ garage. But Audra recalls when they compared photos, one guest’s photo had something extra.

“There was an orb in the picture,” Audra says. “It was in only one picture. No one else had the orb, even though they took the same picture.”

She says people taking the tour also have reported that they feel like they’re being watched from the Caesars parking garage, or that they saw a pair of eyes focused on them.

Audra, who is also a fan of horror movies, doesn’t discount the presence of the paranormal in the photos or what visitors believe they see.

Sightings of a ‘Man in Black’ reported as well

The parking garage isn’t the only place where hauntings take place.

Audra takes visitors down Mississippi Avenue to the side of Caesars AC where it meets Pacific Avenue.

The group stands in front of the statue of four white horses pulling a Roman soldier in a chariot while Audra tells the tale.

Guests at Caesars have reported seeing a “Man in Black” who sometimes sits at a card table or who floats over the casino floor and somehow has access to different rooms.

“He’s just hanging around and no one knows why,” she says. “He’ll jiggle the door handles to rooms. Some people report smelling cigarettes when he’s around, but they don’t see anyone.”

Guests on her tour reported back to Audra that as they were staying at Caesars, and the previous night before the tour, someone had jiggled their door handle. When they looked outside the door, there was no one in the hallway.

“He’s likely just hanging around,” she says, moving on to the next location.

Reports from guests have ties to The Powhatan…

Caesars also ranks as the city’s second-oldest building. The grounds of Caesars Atlantic City Wild Wild West are known for its paranormal activity since the beach on the oceanside was the scene of the aftermath of the sinking of The Powhatan, a ship carrying 311 German immigrants, which sank on April 16, 1854.

“For days, bodies washed up on the shoreline,” the tour guide recounts.

Because it was impossible to identify the dead, 54 bodies were buried in a mass grave in the cemetery at the Smithville Methodist Church, and 45 bodies were buried in neighboring Absecon.

Guests at Resorts Atlantic City have reported “bumping” sounds and “shaking” of the room door, according to the tour guide.

… As well as World War II

It’s possible the casino is haunted by the souls of World War II soldiers whose spirits remain, the tour guide says.

From 1868 to 1869, the current site of Resorts had two three-story wooden Quaker rooming houses – the Chalfonte House and the Haddon House – and became Chalfonte-Haddon Hall in 1929.

From 1942 through November 1945, more than 300,000 men and women worked, trained and recuperated at the Chalfonte-Haddon Hall in Atlantic City, which was turned into Camp Boardwalk. The beaches were used for maneuvers and training of armed forces. Haddon Hall was transformed into the Thomas England General Hospital.

“Their trauma may echo into the present with visitors claiming to see disembodied soldiers still preparing for war,” according to the Ghost Tours website.

IN BETWEEN GHOST STORIES, TRY THESE OUT:

What is the basis for AC casino ghost stories?

The Atlantic City ghost tour is based on real-world portrayals of hauntings and well-documented history.

The Atlantic City region is rich in the history and folklore of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. It is reported to be the birthplace of the Jersey Devil, a legendary creature neither human nor animal.

The Jersey Devil originated with a Pine Barrens resident named Jane Leeds, known as “Mother Leeds.”

According to legend, Mother Leeds had 12 children. After discovering she was pregnant for the 13th time, she cursed the child in frustration and declared it would be the devil. In 1735, Mother Leeds was in labor on a stormy night while her friends gathered around her.

Even though it was born normal, the legend recounts, the 13th child transformed into a creature with hooves, a goat’s head, bat wings and a forked tail. Growling and screaming, the child beat everyone with its tail before flying up the chimney and heading into the pines.

There’s more AC history to even more ghost stories

After the sinking of The Powhatan, and at the urging of Dr. Jonathan Pitney – considered the “Father of Atlantic City” – a lighthouse was erected in 1854 and turned on one year later.

The lighthouse, in the inlet section of the city, was originally at the edge of the ocean, but it now stands over a half-mile from the beach and is called Absecon Lighthouse.

While the first light was lit in Absecon Lighthouse in 1857, there were many souls lost before the safety light was built. It’s believed the ghosts may claim the lighthouse as home.

In fact, the Absecon Lighthouse ghost stories were enough to make it the subject of the SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters, who reported paranormal activity. The reported activity ranged from untraceable footsteps and doors opening spontaneously to coughing noises in the keeper’s quarters.

What about hauntings along the AC Boardwalk?

Overall, imagine the millions of people throughout the turn of two centuries who have set foot on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

From the famous to gangsters to families to soldiers healing from the war, there are so many people who set foot on the AC beach and Boardwalk.

Audra takes visitors along a four-block stretch of the Boardwalk between Florida Avenue and Mississippi to James Whelan Boardwalk Hall and the Warner Theater, our Ghost Tours guide provides insight into more hauntings.

A sign on the Boardwalk railing identifies historic Chicken Bone Beach at Missouri Avenue. The section of beach has been known for paranormal experiences and orb sightings.

“Chicken Bone Beach was the place to be in the 1950s,” Audra the tour guide says.

One dark Easter Sunday still leaves a mark

Stars who visited the beach included Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis Jr., Gladys Knight, Dick Gregory, Dinah Washington, who also performed at the historic nightclub Club Harlem at 32 Kentucky Avenue.

Club Harlem was the site of the 1972 Easter morning shootout of a Black Mafia operative by three rival operatives, leaving five dead and 20 wounded, in full view of a show audience estimated at about 600 people. It was demolished in 1992.

“People on the beach have reported hearing voices,” says Audra. “One person recalled hearing the voice of Sammy Davis Jr. He was asked how he knew it was Sammy Davis Jr. if he didn’t see anyone and he replied that if you ever heard Sammy Davis Jr’s voice, you would know what he sounds like.”

Theaters around Atlantic City also hotbeds of activity

Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall also has been the site of eerie happenings, she says.

The Hall dates back to 1929. And lore includes some possible paranormal happenings, many of which occurred after people would look in a mirror. Other reports include a worker who died when a stack of pallets fell on him and construction workers who witnessed a hammer that moved by itself across the floor.

“Did they also look in a mirror? We don’t know,” Audra says.

The Warner Theater, which reopened in June, originally went by the name of Earle Theater, built in 1925 as a movie palace that presented vaudeville and first-run silent movies in the 1930s. (Caesars reopened the theater in June with “The Hook” and Superfrico.)

The tour guide reports that the ghost of Elvis Pressley supposedly visits the theater. It’s not difficult to imagine the spirits left wandering inside the Warner after nearly a century of history in AC, Audra says.

“Most theaters are extremely haunted,” she says. “At the Warner, they may be confused about the show changing from Burlesque.”

Many historic theaters like the Warner have spirit light or ghost light, which is a single bare bulb that shines on a dark stage of the theater even after it’s closed and visitors have gone home. It’s one of the many traditions of theater and one of its many superstitions, Audra says.

“A ghost light enables a ghost to navigate the theater to find the lighting control or avoid falling into an orchestra pit,” she says. “That’s the lore.”

If this all weren’t enough, Bally’s has its own history

The tour and ghost stories end on the Boardwalk in front of the historic Dennis Hotel, which operates as Bally’s Atlantic City. Visitors report an apparition who appears at the edge of the bed while someone is asleep.

“The apparition is reported by the other person in the room who wakes up and sees this figure at the end of the bed,” says Audra. “Then it goes away.”

Also floating through Bally’s is an apparition of a man with no legs, just half his torso and he is dressed in civil war garb, the tour guide explains.

Who could the apparition be?

It’s hard to determine since the Dennis Hotel is one of the oldest in AC with famous past guests like Helen Keller, Alexander Graham Bell, John Wanamaker and the nation’s Army when it was occupied along with other AC hotels during World War II.

Built in 1860, school teacher William Dennis started the hotel as just a small summer cottage for himself on Michigan Avenue. He expanded it to 22 rooms in 1864 to accolade relatives. After opening it to paying guests, Dennis sold the property in 1867 to the Buzby family, who operated the Dennis Hotel for more than 100 years.

The North Tower of the Dennis, which remains today, was completed in 1911, while the South Tower was finished in 1925.

The Dennis was sold in 1975, along with its neighbors the Marlborough and Blenheim hotels, to Bally’s, in speculation that casino gaming would soon be legalized in Atlantic City.

The Marlborough and Blenheim were razed years later after they were deemed too impractical and costly to renovate during the casino era. However, Dennis was spared from the wrecking ball, receiving a complete makeover to accommodate Bally’s hotel guests.

The Dennis served as the complex’s main hotel until Bally’s completed their pink glass tower in 1989, becoming the first casino in Atlantic City to have over 1,000 guest rooms available. The “Dennis Wing,” as it is known today, is still open for hotel guests.

How to learn more about AC casino ghosts

If any or all of this sounds up your alley, be ready to get in your 10,000 steps for the day. Meet in front of the Rainforest Café on the Boardwalk after you pre-register online.

Look for the tour guide who likely will be holding a lantern. Dress for the Boardwalk at night, which means wear sneakers and bring a hoodie.

Cameras are welcome and guides, many of whom are local, are happy to answer any questions.

Atlantic City Ghost Tours, available every night although guests must pre-register, takes an hour of walking time on the Boardwalk and goes on unless there is a hurricane.

Photo by PlayNJ
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Stephanie Loder

Stephanie Loder is a freelance writer for PlayNJ. She provides coverage of New Jersey's Atlantic City casinos while also focusing on the beach, boardwalk, and special gaming events. Prior to writing for PlayNJ, she covered Atlantic City government, breaking news, and casinos for The Press of Atlantic City in Pleasantville, N.J.

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