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New book says ghosts return to old haunts

When Jean Muchanic started nearly three years ago as the executive director of the Absecon Lighthouse, her father came by to see what was up.

When Jean Muchanic started nearly three years ago as the executive director of the Absecon Lighthouse, her father came by to see what was up.

"It was February and he decided he wanted to climb to the top of the lighthouse," said Muchanic. "My father was 79 and was taking his time going up, but we kept hearing maybe three or four voices talking and laughing above us.

"There are six levels and we stopped at every level so he could rest, but we kept hearing the voices," said Muchanic. "When we got to the top, though, there was no one there. So I just say it is the merry ghosts who inhabit the lighthouse and look out for all of Atlantic City."

Ghosts abound in Atlantic City and the New Year's weekend may just be the time to find them. Charles A. Stansfield Jr., a recently retired professor of geography from Rowan University, has made it a mission to seek out the filmy creatures and report on them in a series of books for Stackpole Press, one of which is "Haunted Jersey Shore: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Garden State Coast" ($9.95).

"I was raised as a skeptic, but my two best friends and a favorite aunt told me stories about ghosts, and they seemed sensible people, so I wanted to make sure I recorded what I could find out about ghosts," said Stansfield.

His favorite Atlantic City ghost is Clayton "Peg Leg" Bates, an old-time tap dancer who often appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on early TV. When he was 12, in 1919, he lost his left leg in an accident while working at a cotton mill in his native South Carolina. He had loved to dance as a boy, so he didn't let his wooden leg deter him, putting a tap on the bottom of it.

A wonderful clip of Bates performing can be found on the Internet (

v=2H62Xsxziiw), and his ghost can, too, on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, according to Stansfield.

Bates loved to perform in Atlantic City, particularly at the Club Harlem, a prominent place in the segregated era of Atlantic City just before and just after World War II. Stansfield said if people listen well enough on a winter's night, they can hear the tap-tap-tapping of a joyful Bates ghost all along the Boardwalk.

Down at the Garden Pier, another old entertainer's ghost is dead and well. It's Rudolph Valentino, who before he went to Hollywood as the biggest lady-killer of the silent screen was a dance instructor in Atlantic City, most prominently at Garden Pier. Stansfield's book claims Valentino can still be seen doing the tango just up the Boardwalk from the House of Blues.

Perhaps the homiest story of an Atlantic City ghost, though, according to Stansfield, is that of Night Life, the designated-walking dog.

Night Life, said, Stansfield, was the pet, more or less, of a local bartender. Whenever one of his master's barflies had too much to drink, Night Life would guide him home. If he was too far away, Night Life would merely hail a cab to get himself back home.

Longtime Atlantic Citians, Stansfield said, still see the ghost of Night Life, especially when they are a little tipsy, and often claim the old dog is on a street corner, one paw up, hailing a cab back to get him back to his home bar. *