Who Needs History When We Have Ghosts!

As the Scandal at Proprietary House in Perth Amboy continues to unfold like a billowing, radioactive mushroom cloud, we find ourselves veering from the gutter of cronyism and institutional corruption into the feculent swamp of superstition and the occult, where actual historical persons, places and events are stuffed into the closet while ghosts and the lurid practice of Santeria make themselves at home in the Drawing Room.

Courtesy of a source close to the Executive Board, here’s another glimpse inside the Bizarro World of Jeff Huber’s Prop House:

On Labor Day weekend in 2011, Prop House was “exorcised” by certain members of the local community: blood was smeared on every window and door and animal parts strewn around the property. The incident was reported to the police department and a report filed.

I was not totally surprised. Earlier that summer, I was approached by a close neighbor who introduced herself as a priestess of Santeria. Many of the people from the Caribbean practice this strange occult religion that combines African paganism and elements of Catholicism.

“We get a bad rap,” she told me. “Our religion is only for good, but we have serious problems with what has been happening here at the House.”

I asked her what she meant. She explained, “They don’t know what they’re doing. They bring forth the spirits, but don’t know how to calm them and return them peacefully. The spirits are then left to wander about and if they leave the House they can disturb the community.”

By “they” she meant Huber and his cronies. I’m not a believer in ghosts, much less in anything that smacks of the occult – but the Santeria ‘priestess’ had a point regarding the crowd in charge of Prop House: they appear to be true believers in this nonsense.  Trustee Greg Caggiano often touts it on his website as “the most haunted house in New Jersey” a moniker that rankles state officials. First V.P. Jane Hogya believes that the spirits speak only to her and that they tell her to stop the restoration.

At January’s trustee meeting, Linda Blomquist reported that all five requests for rentals were made by occult groups. One of the trustees (who will be resigning soon) said she was uncomfortable with this and objected – but she was overruled.  One past president has taken it on himself to publish some of these stories in pamphlets and a book. I put them in the trash every time they show up in the gift shop.

I understand the “haunted house” angle when publicizing Proprietary House: a local “haunted mansion” will attract people anxious to spot a ghost or experience a brush with the supernatural. Once you have them in the house itself – so the thinking goes – you can then push the historical angle. The problem with this scenario can be summed up succinctly by an old aphorism: “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Folks who visit Prop House just for the spooks and chills aren’t going to be at all interested either in the history of the place or the place it occupies in history. For them, Prop House is nothing more than a glorified carnival fun house and they will treat the experience accordingly.

I know this first hand, because I was among those who participated in one of several “ghost tours” sponsored by the Proprietary House Association last year. The volunteers certainly pulled out all the stops in their effort to scare the pants off the visitors, but in doing so the effect was ultimately a cheesy, B-movie effort at evoking cheap shivers. I yawned and rolled my eyes through most of it – in spite of the fact that I believe in both ghosts and the existence of the supernatural.

In my opinion, the glaring deficiency of the “ghost tour” approach to publicizing Prop House is the fact that it almost completely subordinates solidly fascinating history to the clashing cymbals and flashing lights of supernatural hobgoblins, as if to say “Who needs history when we have GHOSTS!”

Naturally, the Huber-led Executive Board has already made arrangements for yet another “ghost tour” this coming September.

While this approach might be an appropriate one for the relatively obscure Thomas P. Hunt house in Sussex County, it becomes a tawdry and ultimately tedious exercise that panders to the lowest common denominator when implemented at the last surviving Royal Governor’s Mansion in what was one of the thirteen original colonies. The memory of Gov. William Franklin – Tory though he was – deserves better than this and was given its proper due every June for the past three decades in the re-enactment of Franklin’s arrest at the hands of Col. Nathaniel Heard.

Sadly, this year’s re-enactment never took place and if you aren’t familiar with the reason, you can get up to speed on the matter here and then here. The current sorry state of affairs is made all the more tragic by the fact that this year is the 250th anniversary of the construction of Proprietary House. It is also the centennial of the nation’s first airmail delivery (South Amboy to Perth Amboy).

The City of Perth Amboy has chosen to recognize these important dates on July 4th.  The dates are mentioned in all the city’s advertising and the Post Office will produce a cancellation stamp for that day. The festivities include a parade from Prop House to the historic City Hall Circle, where the replica Liberty Bell will be rung thirteen times and a public reading of the Declaration of Independence will take place.

Will the Proprietary House Association be participating in this notable celebration in any way or form?

According to my source, at the January meeting Executive Board President Jeff Huber announced that the PHA would not be celebrating the 250th anniversary of the construction of Proprietary House. I can’t help but wonder if his decision was based on the fact that ghosts generally aren’t spotted in the daytime.

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2 Responses to Who Needs History When We Have Ghosts!

  1. Barb says:

    As a “cult leader”, maybe I should start hanging out there! ; )

  2. kenny says:

    The Catholic Church once called me a cult. Looks like I’m in good company.