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Bizarre History of Cape May -- Cape May’s first ‘rock star’ was Anna Jonas Stose

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Long before Elvis Presley or Chubby Checker came on the scene there arrived in Cape May a woman who was a rock star in her own right.

Her name then in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Anna Jonas, later to become Anna Jonas Stose, and her rock credentials didn’t include singing, playing an instrument or dancing the “Twist.” Instead, she became internationally famous as a geologist, defining many major geological structures in the central and southern Appalachian areas. She was considered a geological pioneer at a time when there were few women doing field work among rocks.

Born in Bridgeton on Aug. 17, 1881, Stose was raised in Cape May and fell in love with the city, so much that when she was 90 years old she wrote beautiful lyrics about Cape May for her cousin, Karl A. Dickinson, an early historian and a one-time organist at the historic Cold Spring Presbyterian Church. The church will be celebrating its 300th anniversary in 2014.

Stose, who claimed to be a descendant of John Howland, a passenger on the Mayflower who helped found Plymouth Colony, attended the Friends Central School of Philadelphia and Bryn Mawr College where she earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees. She quickly moved up in the world of geology, working for the American Museum of Natural History, the Maryland and Pennsylvania Geological Surveys, the Virginia Geological Survey and the U.S. Geological Survey until her retirement in 1954. She was to marry another geologist, George Stose, in 1938.

It was in 1971 at the age of 90, three years before she succumbed to a stroke, that Anna Jonas Stose was inspired to write her poetic tribute to Cape May. It includes information about days before she was born, including a reference to an alleged visit by General Robert E. Lee. That has been mentioned occasionally in historic accounts here but without definitive evidence.

“Strip the years from off my shoulder
Carry me back where I would be
To the homestead of my forebears
On Cape Island by the sea
“And I shall go on shore to worship
At ‘Old Brick,’ our own church home,
And wander through the church yard.
Where names of my kin folk are cut in stone.”

“Carry me back to old Cape May
Where the Howlands came to stay
And Poseidon and his trident
Rule the ocean waves as in the Ancient days.”

“I know the lore of Cape Island
That I learned at my grandmother’s knee
Born Isabella Hughes Eldredge Bennett
Her relatives were as numerous
As the sands of the sea.

“She told of the old hospitality
And the parties ‘Maw’ gave at high tea
When ‘Quality’ was guests on the first day
And welcomed ‘commoners’ on the next
At her home down by the sea

“The hotel with tall columned verandas
Had plenty of space for all
When Mark Hassler and his orchestra
Held sway in the ballroom
We all flocked to Congress Hall

“Fine cottages faced the ocean
Summer homes for men of high degree
One name I am proud to mention is
The great Southerner General Robert E. Lee.

“Take me back to old Cape May
And all their charming southern ways
For it’s south of the Mason Dixon line that
Passes out to sea

“I shall hear the dawn light calling
And we both at break of day
Shall wander o’er the woods and fields
By the old well trodden ways

“Swamp magnolias and arbutus
Greet us in the spring
Just a foretaste of the bounty
That the other seasons bring

“Carry me back to old C ape May
Where the ocean meets the bay
But ‘Prissie Week’s Iland’ has
Long been washed away”

“Seized of the earth from ocean to the bay
We Howlands call our own
And lived there through the centuries
With waves bred in the bone

“Cape May salts in sounds delight us
Bay and ocean yield their store
And provide us full and plenty
As our fathers had before

“Carry me back to old Cape May
And the ‘raisin’ of those days
When friends were clever to me
When I came to spend the day”

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