Friday, May 19, 2006


Ousted mayor may finally realize her dream to open museum


Asbury Park Press
By Joe Pike
May 15, 2006

BEACH HAVEN — The spring has been rough for Deborah C. Whitcraft.

The 51-year-old lost her father unexpectedly to a stroke, she lost her bid for a third full term as mayor last week and she recently found out that her husband's cancer has become active again.

But there's light at the end of the tunnel, or rather light at the end of Dock Road, for Whitcraft.

That's because her dream of building a museum on 528 Dock Road, celebrating the history of the Jersey Shore, appears to be coming to fruition.

The Museum of New Jersey Maritime History, a project that Whitcraft, her husband, Jimmy Vogel, and ex-husband, Robert Yates, have been working on for about the last two years, is scheduled to open as early as July 4 weekend, Whitcraft said.

"I need this now more than ever," she said. "It's the only thing keeping me going. I had a lot of things come down on me at once, but the museum and my husband's health are the only things I care about now. This is my dream and it's finally going to happen."

But that dream was also a source of attack by several of her opponents in the May 9 nonpartisan election, she said. Whitcraft, who was vying for one of the three-open seats on the three-member Board of Commissioners, received the fourth-highest number of votes behind local businessmen Tom Stewart and Mike Battista and Long Beach Township Police Sgt. Tony E. Deely.


A registered nonprofit facility, the Museum of New Jersey Maritime History will house a large collection of nautical antiques, accounts and photographs of New Jersey shipwrecks, historical documents relating to the establishment of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, a research library, theater, Internet cafe, computer database, and recovered shipwreck artifacts.

In several candidates' campaigns, Whitcraft was accused of building the museum only to get a tax exempt status, she said.

That's because the museum includes two third-floor apartments with panoramic views, one for herself and her husband, and a second for her ex-husband.

"When I went door to door, people kept asking about that," Whitcraft said. "I think residents were starting to believe everything my opponents were saying about me and the museum. I couldn't believe it. I thought it was silly. I'm going to be paying the same property tax as I do now. I'm not exempt. I'm doing this because this is my dream. I'm doing this for the people of Beach Haven and the rest of the Jersey Shore."

Victorian in appearance, the three-story building and its parking lot would cover a 12,399-square-foot tract. The public will be charged no admission fee, and the museum would be classified as nonprofit, with funds for its operation to be sought through public grants and private donations, Whitcraft explained.

An environmental watchdog group, Alliance for a Living Ocean, has accepted the mayor's invitation to move its office and gift shop to the future museum rent-free, she said.

A lecture hall would host guest speakers, groups and experts to give talks on the Shore's history and its natural environment.

"What she is doing and what she has done to try to get this place open really shows her dedication and her love for Beach Haven, the Jersey Shore and everybody living in it," said former alliance President Joan Koons. "I feel bad for her that people tried to use the museum against her. She has nothing but good intentions."

But those intentions were both time consuming and pricey for Whitcraft, and both her husband and ex-husband.

Whitcraft, former owner of Black Whale Cruises, said she used her own wealth as capital to finance the museum's plans and eventual construction.

Planned exhibits for the museum include one on the ill-fated Morro Castle that ran aground off Asbury Park in 1934, and another on the U.S. Life-Saving Service, founded in Stafford in 1871. The lifesaving service was one of the precursors to the Coast Guard (the Revenue Cutter Service the other). Other exhibits would detail infamous shipwrecks off Long Beach Island, surfing, and the perils of early deep-sea diving, to name a few.

"We have been waiting a long time to see this place ready to go," said Larrell Brown, also a former Alliance president. "It seemed like it would never happen and now it's right around the corner from opening."


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