There’s spirited activity in a landmark Ocean View restaurant, which no longer spooks owner Maria Fraser.
By Bill Newcott | Photo-illustration by Bill Newcott and Autumn Grinath
From the October 2019 issue
“Thank goodness they’re friendly,” says Maria Fraser. “They seem playful. They seem happy.”
“They” are also ghosts. Two of them, at least. And they walk the stairs and haunt the halls of Fraser’s atmospheric restaurant, The Cafe on 26, in Ocean View.
“At first I thought I was going crazy,” she recalls. “It was all so … so weird.”
As Fraser regales me with creepy tales of apparitions and disembodied late-night mayhem at her award-winning restaurant, I search her eyes for hints of hucksterism. I spent 10 years suspending disbelief while reporting hokey ghost stories for the National Enquirer. As a writer at National Geographic, I personally scoured the windowless rooms of the Tower of London for spirits in the middle of the night — and called out my guide when she tried to fake some rattling dishware. I think I know a phony phantom sighter when I see one. And right now I’m not seeing one.
It is morning at the cafe, a lovingly restored 1920s house on busy Atlantic Avenue. The lights have not yet been turned on, and as Fraser shows me around the home’s shadowy former front parlor it’s not hard to imagine life here nearly 100 years ago: the original owners, Cecile Long Steele and her husband, David, snuggling in the love seats and lounging on the settee.
You may not know the name Cecile Long Steele, but you have certainly seen her monuments — the miles of chicken houses that span southern Delaware and Maryland. Even as the region’s population explodes, chickens still outnumber humans here 300 to 1, and it’s all thanks to Cecile, who did more to promote chicken consumption in America than Colonel Sanders and Frank Perdue put together.
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