Nestled in one of the most happening hipster districts in New Jersey—amidst chic restaurants and indie concert venues—lies a handsome storefront. The auspicious gilded lettering above its sleek black doorframe reads Paranormal Books & Curiosities. Towering bookshelves of dark, polished wood wainscot the walls, recreating the atmosphere of a classical study or Victorian parlor. Broken up by lofty Greco-Roman busts and stony, brooding grotesques, the shop paints a picture of the perfect juxtaposition: elevated wisdom and debased wickedness within mankind.
Curated by the conversant-in-all-things-creepy shop-owner, Kathy Kelly, she opened her doors to the paranormal on Friday the 13th, June 2008. As a shopkeeper, historian, paranormal tour guide, and author of Asbury Park’s Ghost & Legends, Kathy has always had a passion for the paranormal.
“This is what I do. I opened the shop because this is the overflow of my life.”
The bookshop features 2,500 titles in sections pertaining to the afterlife, astrology, demonology, ufology, haunted history, paranormal investigations, parapsychology, psychic phenomena, Wicca, witchcraft, and all that is wonderfully weird. Candles, tarot cards, and other transmundane trinkets can also line the mantles of this eerie establishment.
So, what specters lay hidden in this vogue seashore community?
In the shadowy back quarters of the store hangs a somber shroud, beyond which lies the barrier separating this world from the otherworldly, and all the marvelous things it contains. A timeline outlining five thousand years of paranormalists—those who study the paranormal—and paranormal studies cover the staircase walls as you ascend to The Paranormal Museum.
“This is not something that just began with TV shows in the nineties,” Kathy tells us, “the study of the paranormal has been the study of human nature since time immemorial.”
At the entryway of the second-floor museum, patrons are treated to a cache of all that is mysterious and mystical: haunted historical items and relics, pictures purported to capture ghostly entities, and artifacts from all around the world that in some way evoke phenomena that, to date, is unexplainable by the individual or society.
The Ritual Room
In operation since the museum’s launch in 2009, one highlight from the constantly changing and rotating exhibits would undoubtedly be the Ritual Room.
“All of the things here have been used in some kind of occult or ceremonial ritual. We keep this separate because some people have physical and emotional reactions to it,” says Kathy.
On display is a Voodoo altar that was donated by a woman who fell ill after converting to voodooism, which she attributed to the shrine.
“It’s likely psychosomatic,” Kathy tells us, “but it’s a perfect example of how beautiful a Voodoo altar can be… even if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Collectively one of the best pieces of her museum, according to Kathy, are the implements associated with the venerable African-Caribbean religion of Palo Mayombe. Next to a necklace made of goat teeth stands an iron cauldron. “This was donated to me by a police officer who absolutely believed that it had activity associated with it. He believes a spirit is attached to it,” Kathy recalls.
Filled with bones, sticks, and dirt, the cauldron was evidence in a case involving a drug lord who created this curio in effort to enslave a spirit to perform his bidding. To complete this dark ritual, he committed an act of sacrilege anathema to the benevolent spirit of Palo Mayombe.
Kathy explains, “In order for this [ritual] to be activated, a grave had to be desecrated. A portion of a body—probably a finger or hand—had to be exhumed and burned to ash with a blood sacrifice committed over it—likely a chicken or lamb. That would call the spirit.”
Regardless of if one subscribes to these beliefs, so far as practitioners of Palo Mayombe are concerned, the threat was all too real. The criminal in question used the cauldron as the seat of his power to manipulate others to do his bidding: “If you’re a true believer in Palo and you believe in the power of the cauldron, then you believe the spirit must do my bidding because I am the controller of the spirit. If I tell you to do something, you’re going to do it, because you know I have a spirit who will do to you whatever I choose for it to do. If you have this happening in your community, you have people who believe in it. And people who believe this can be dangerous. Whether it is true or not, it doesn’t matter: someone believes it.”
Nearby, an ominous-looking box houses a human skull, that Kathy refers to as Michael, engraved with the word “DEVIL” on its forehead.
“At one point, some idiot decided they would use his skull in a satanic ritual that was not legitimate,” Kathy confirms.
Michael has since been acquired by Kathy and repurposed as an educational tool. “There are real Satanists in the world. There are real magicians. They are people who devoutly believe this stuff. And then there are idiots who have no respect for the ceremony of anything… or the remains of others.”
Also included in the Ritual Room are all of the accouterments necessary for making an authentic voodoo zombie, coup padre, and a selection from Kathy’s three-hundred-plus ouija board collection.
“There’s only one way to get rid of a cursed object. You can’t burn it. You can’t break it. You can’t bury it. You can’t throw it out. The only way to get rid of it is to give it to someone else, which makes you complicit in cursing someone.”
“Sometimes things just get left for me at my doorstep that people get uncomfortable with.” When being given objects presumed to be cursed or haunted, Kathy asks, “Why give it to me? If you’re afraid of it, why not burn it or break it?” She explains, “If they say, ‘I’m afraid that would set it free,’ then I know there’s probably something to their story. It might not be what they believe, but if they’re afraid of it and they’re afraid of releasing it by destroying it, I think there’s probably some kind of phenomena associated with it.”
One of Kathy’s gifted items is a funerary casket kneeler from the early 1900s. The original owner became overburdened by its accompaniments. As she told Kathy, “There’s a guy that walks and kneels down here. This is the only one he comes to. I don’t know who he is, but every night between 2:30 and 3:30 I get woken up. I’m not afraid of him, but he keeps me up.”
Since receiving the antique, Kathy has experienced unusual activity on her shop’s security system.
“Every night between 2:30 and 3:30, I get an update saying there’s movement here. There’s never anything on the camera, but it’s always the same time.”
Kathy then brings us to an incredibly moody painting—an anguished portrait of a gaunt, ghastly, nameless woman composed in sunless shades of bluish-grays. Just looking at the artwork makes us feel like we’ve been submerged in ice.
“This is something that came to me about 13 years ago; I’ve only recently put it on display. This was painted in 1968. The artist believed that his subject was possessed and he felt the best way to remove the possession was by painting her. I will tell you, there is something strange about this picture. As you walk, she follows you.”
We can’t help but agree with her; the piece is deeply unsettling. Kathy continues, “I don’t know whether or not the artist believed it to be successful. I do know that it went from hand-to-hand-to-hand because nobody wanted to keep it.”
After receiving the work, it sat in Kathy’s basement for years of solitude out of fear of what dangers the piece may bring to the unsuspecting public.
“If I think something is blatantly a fabrication, I want to say, ‘this is a fabrication.’ But then again, if something makes me uncomfortable, I do want to be careful of other people. I went back and forth with this until this past year, and I thought, ‘it’s cowardly not to put it out.’ She only went up two months ago.”
Across the room: “This is my most favorite haunted object,” Kathy says, presenting an opulent 160-year-old flower-print cushioned lounge. With an undulating wooden frame, the chair encompasses strong hints of French Rococo and British Victorian furniture.
“This is the Singing Couch. The reason why: we have evidence; you can hear it.”
The museum had received this two years prior from the family of Thomas Day, a freeman of color and master carpenter and craftsman in the Antebellum South who is credited with creating American Heritage style furniture.
“He claimed when he would lay on this he would hear what sounded like a woman singing gospel tunes.” He described these tunes as sounding like field-sang spiritual hymns, only no one else was present. During an interview by a third-party ghost investigation team, something was heard in addition to the recording of Kathy’s voice: a woman, singing in the background. “A tonal hum with some vibrato. I love this piece because of its real history. Someone other than me spontaneously caught exactly what people report.”
Reporting with Ripleys.com, Kris Levin listened to the audio clip—available to all patrons who visit the museum—and, sure enough, he heard the devious dirge exactly as Kathy described.
Kathy let slip a secret: there is a private research and lending library in the museum for paranormal investigators to request access to. This secret stash plays host to various occult readings from the annals of history with nearly 150 arcane volumes of forgotten lore lining the museum shelves.
Rescued from an inexplicable house fire that destroyed the majority of the private collection of an occult professor, these estate findings include texts and tomes from the American arm of the Society for Psychical Research—from which the famed London branch dates to 1882—which weighs paranormal and parapsychological research as a legitimate esoteric study.
Also available are shuddersome spellbooks, 18th-century folklore on vampires and werewolves, and early enigmatic editions of renowned folklorist Montague Summers.
Paranormal Books & Curiosities also serves as a home base for private psychic readings, monthly séances, lantern-led ghost tours, and festivals dedicated to fables, folklore, and mythology, including the Jersey Devil and Krampus. How’s that for some paranormal activity?
Kathy feels that the success story surrounding her paranormal endeavors has less to do with its odd and ominous aura and more about its place as part of the resurgence of Asbury Park, the city.
“Asbury Park was a forgotten place when we got here. It afforded us the opportunity to dive into subject matters and do things we might not have been able to do in other communities. It’s a rare thing for a shop like Paranormal to be the oldest retailer in a central business district. It’s a testament to the staying power of our subject matter and people’s interest in it.
“Our ability is to not change what we do or change what we are interested in, but change how we communicate with people about it. Somebody referred to us as the ‘world-famous’ Paranormal today and, when we think about it, it’s true. We’ve had people from nine different countries visit us in the last fifteen days alone!”
Identifying as both a skeptic and believer, she tells us, “I’ve had enough experiences that it keeps me looking.”
Kathy elaborates, “The funny thing with the paranormal is that we say a ‘rational’ explanation, but what we really mean is a ‘common’ explanation. Because the paranormal, by definition, is not necessarily irrational. It just is not something we know. As we learn, it pushes the boundaries of what is considered to be paranormal further back.”
Paranormal Books & Curiosities is an indelible and quirky facet of the resurrection, revitalization, and renaissance of the “Jewel of the Jersey Shore,” Asbury Park. With its predilection for the preternatural, this shoreside hotspot is a must-see experience for enthusiasts of all-things eerie. Believe It or Not!
By Kris Levin, contributor for Ripleys.com
Kris Levin is a traveling storyteller, professional wrestling referee, and everybody’s favorite nephew. He can be seen internationally on IMPACT Wrestling as their most junior official, #KidRef, and on social media at @RefKrisLevin.