On Friday, January 24, I packed my bags to head north to stay at my daughter’s house in Audubon, NJ. It was much easier to leave from there instead of Cape May for a seminar that I was scheduled to attend in Philadelphia on Saturday, January 25. I didn’t have an alarm clock so I used my cell phone as a replacement. This is something I normally wouldn’t do since I usually turn my cell phone off every night. As luck would have it the cell phone rang at 5:29 a.m. Saturday morning and I saw that it was a toll free number so I thought to myself, “I can’t believe a telemarketer would call this early,” so I let the call go to voice mail.
I decided I should listen to the message, “Hello this is Schuler Security and we are reporting a fire alarm at the Bedford Inn.” My heart started racing as I quickly called 911. They transferred me to the Cape May dispatcher where I proceeded to tell him that I was the owner of the Bedford Inn and that I had just received a call from the monitoring station to report a fire. He said to hold on as he was just getting ready to send out the fire department. I could hear the radio transmission in the background, “We just arrived on scene and there is smoke in the building.”
My heart sank. The dispatcher again told me to hold on as he told the fireman that the owner was on the phone. After a slight pause the dispatcher then said, “Oh, they found the fire (pause) they got it out.”
I told the dispatcher I was about an hour and a half away and would get there as soon as possible. I quickly picked up the phone to call my brother to see if he would go down to Cape May with me to help with any issues the fire may have caused. He asked me if the property was secure and I said I guess so. I decided to call the dispatcher back to see if the house had been secured. I asked him and his reply after a short pause and sigh was, “They are still fighting the fire.”
Now totally shaken up I picked up my brother, gathered some tools, and headed south. As we were about halfway there my phone rang and I answered to one of my guests saying how sorry they were about the Bedford.
Puzzled, I asked , “what do you mean?”
My guest said, “The Bedford was on fire.”
I responded, “how do you know that?”
“It was on the news.”
“Are you watching it now?”
“Do you see flames?”
“No just a bunch of firemen going in and out of the building.”
This continued so many times that I had to give my brother the phone to handle all of the calls. At this time we still didn’t know what to think. As we pulled up in front of the Inn it appeared that everyone had left. We both said well it doesn’t look that bad. The building is still intact.
We started to walk around the side where we noticed the charred exterior with some missing windows. As we entered the back door the strong smell of burnt wood hit us like a ton of bricks. We walked towards the front of the Inn by the boiler room. It was a charred mess. As we went through the next door and we looked into the dining room my heart sank. We both looked at each other and my brother said something like, “I think it’s more than just a little fix up.” (If you ever saw JAWS a similar line would have been, “I think we need a bigger boat!”).
As I walked into the dining room all the emotions that were building up all of a sudden took over. We went upstairs and as I looked through the open walls of bathrooms that were no longer there I couldn’t hold it back anymore. The devastation was more than I could take.
After seeing the rest of the damage on the third floor the fire company came back from another call. As I looked around I was not only amazed at the amount of damage but I also noticed what the fire fighters had done during the blaze: They actually moved some of the antiques and covered them with tarps. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was a volunteer firefighter many years ago so I have an idea what goes on. The fact that they would take time to move and cover up things with tarps was so amazing to me. You see, they realize that this building and its furniture is not just a building and furniture that you can replace. Don’t get me wrong, no one was hurt, and that is what it is all about. But these things are pieces of history. You can rebuild but you can’t make the rebuilt part 130 years old.
The firefighters did an awesome job saving a little piece of Cape May history in the process. I can’t say enough about the job they did. My hat’s off to them.
I would also like to thank all of my friends who came over to offer whatever help they could. The calls, text messages, emails, thoughts and prayers from everyone have been overwhelming. This is not only my loss but their loss. A lot of memories have been made while staying at the Bedford. Each person that has stayed at the Inn is a part of her great history. This 130 year-old building could have been gone if not for the fearless firefighters who worked to preserve this wonderful piece of Cape May history. As bad as it is – it could have been worse.
My plans are to rebuild the damaged parts in a way that would be fitting for this magnificent building. To restore her to the pre-fire condition freshening up as we go so that she can continue to make memories by the sea for all who will roam her halls again. Please continue to come back and watch the progress as we go forward. I thank God that no one was seriously hurt, that the damage devastating as it was, was held to a minimum and that she will live to see another day. Thank you and I look forward to serving you again!