• Hoboken {TBT}: Sybil’s Cave and The Murder of 1841

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    Thursday…you know what that means! Time for our weekly walk down memory lane. This week’s #HobokenTBT is dedicated to Sybil’s Cave on Sinatra Drive by the waterfront. Before we begin, we’re assuming the big questions that come up for you right now: Is there really a cave in Hoboken? Why a CAVE? Well, guess what, ladies and gents: it’s really a cave!

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    Sybil’s cave is one of the oldest structures created by humans in Hoboken — created in 1832 by the Stevens Family {shoutout to these guys for their castle-building skillz and engineering wizardry}. According to the Hoboken Historical Museum’s website, “The Stevens constructed the cave as a folly [in laymen’s: something that was pretty but literally did nothing practical or resourceful] on their property that contained a natural spring.” There was also a riverwalk created for local residents and visitors.

    It was all fun and games at Sybil’s Cave until the summer of 1841. That summer, two men by the name of discovered a young dead woman floating in the Hudson River right by the cave. The 20-year-old woman went by the name of Mary Rogers, and she ran a boarding house at the New York City Hall located on Nassau Street as well as working as a sales girl in a tobacco shop on Broadway. That morning, Mary had left home telling her boyfriend, Donald Payne, she’d be visiting her aunt uptown. She never returned — and three days later her body was found in the Hudson River. It appeared she died by strangulation and had been sexually assaulted and beaten.

    Known as the “Beautiful Cigar Girl” after her death, her murder sparked much interest by NYC publishers whom they knew through their tobacco-buying habits on Broadway. Because of this, many journalists spent time researching her death, as their publishers made the death a personal matter to them. The only upside to her death was that with all the press, tons of people started seeing it in the press and flocking to Hoboken as tourists {think a dark Carlos’ bakery situation}.

    While the murder mystery was never solved, many of Mary’s ex-boyfriends and suitors were charged and brought in for questioning. Things really hit the fan when her current boyfriend at the time of her death committed suicide by poisoning himself {it was told that he was majorly harassed after she died}. While the mystery was actually NEVER solved, all of the eerie happenings are actually said to be the inspiration behind the first installment of “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” by Edgar Allen Poe {and published in November of 1842}, according to The New York TimesSo juicy!

    Once the mid-19th century approached, the cave was merely a spot where you could mark off that you went a certain distance while jogging {similar to what we do now} — as health inspectors shut it down in the 1880s due to water quality control. There was also a restaurant created by a man named Fred Eckstein, and Sybil’s was made accessible by a sliding door but only used for food and drink storage {cool temps = natural fridge}.

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    Once the area became Stevens Institute of Technology, the cave became property of the college — periodically opening to the public in the early 20th century. However, in general, the area was covered in a ton of building debris when all the building happened in the 1930s so it pretty much decayed.

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    Fast-forward to 2007: the cave was rediscovered and cleared by the city of Hoboken in an effort to preserve its appearance. Rebuilding the entrance, the city developed a new cast stone arch and fence that marked the cave — BUT entry is still prohibited {so feel free to pass by for a pic, but stay on the outside!}. In 2009, the area was excavated and researched by archeological experts to learn about the site’s interior {and its safety and quality of the spring water that Mr. Stevens put in place}. The result? The water still isn’t safe to drink, so it’s pretty much a stagnant spot at this point.

    Sybil’s cave has been left as is with its new fence — plus a murder in cold blood that is yet to be solved. So, if you ever pass by the cave on Sinatra Drive, beware: the “Beautiful Cigar Girl’s” spirit may greet you near the cave for an adventure.

    Have an idea for a historical #HobokenTBT? Email us: hello@hobokengirl.com. 

     


    Written by:

    Aida is a full-time reporter for the Town News, a part of North Jersey Media Group, and she received her Bachelor’s in Journalism from NJCU back in 2012. When she isn’t out investigating sources and digging up interesting Hoboken history, she is training at CKO kickboxing in Hoboken. Aida is Instagram and food-obsessed {and you can see her love of both by searching the hashtag #adamandaidatakethecity}. Aside from eating her way around town, Aida spends time shopping in NYC, reading actual books {no e-books to be found}, and spending quality time with her boyfriend, parents, older brother, and cocker poodle, Benji.