As I venture outside my home state of Illinois, I’m continually amazed by how much more interest in folklore, ghost stories, and the paranormal is accepted in other parts of the country. Even though Chicago is a major metropolis, and Illinois is home to three or four annual or semi-annual ghost conferences (in Decatur, Rockford, Mattoon, and Chicago), nothing I have encountered in Illinois compares to the enthusiasm for this subject in other states.
For instance, while famously haunted buildings like Peoria State Hospital and Ashmore Estates attract a crowd, I have never waited in bumper to bumper traffic before ultimately being turned away from a tour by police because there are just too many people lined up, as happened when I tried to visit Willard Asylum last spring.
I was equally impressed when I saw that more than a dozen local tourism bureaus in New York State had banded together to create and promote a Haunted History Trail. Now, in New Jersey, I stumbled upon Paranormal Books & Curiosities, a store catering to fans of things that go bump in the night.
Located at 627 Cookman Avenue in artsy downtown Asbury Park, New Jersey (itself worth the visit), Paranormal Books & Curiosities is owned and operated by Kathy Kelly. She first opened its doors in 2008. More than a store, it offers ghost hunting classes, seances, paranormal investigations, lectures, and a paranormal museum. Several haunted tours depart from there as well.
According to their website, “Paranormal Books & Curiosities is a unique experience boutique. We carry the largest selection of paranormal books and gifts you’re ll find in a brick and mortar store. Our books range from local and regional titles, historical guides, ghost hunting primers, parapsychology, science and theory, cryptozoological research, metaphysical subjects such as astral projection, reiki and past life regression, as well as an incredible selection of paranormal fiction featuring ghosts, vampires, zombies, werewolves and more! The current issue of Weird NJ can always be found in our store along with the Weird U.S. series and exclusive collectible magazines.”
Yes, you read that right, there’s actually an entire magazine devoted to the strange and unusual in New Jersey. Their collection of books isn’t as large as I hoped, but I was surprised to see they have one of mine in stock! Their paranormal museum is interesting and features a few notable artifacts, including an allegedly haunted doll named “Alice.” The doll was said to roll around in its carriage on its own, and the owners sometimes heard laughter coming from the room where Alice was located. Another interesting item is a hand drawn map of the location of Jersey Devil sightings.
By all outward appearances, Paranormal Books & Curiosities seems to be going strong, and that is a positive sign. When a niche store can sustain itself over the long haul, that means there is a strong and dedicated subculture that wants to see the business succeed, especially at a time when the Internet is putting a lot of local stores out of business. A store like this, however, is not just about selling merchandise–it’s about fostering a community of shared interests. Residents of Asbury Park and the Jersey Shore don’t know how lucky they are to have such a unique specialty shop in their midst.