Cape May MAC trolleys: their names, namesakes, and how they’re christened

Like a new ship, sometimes that includes a bottle of bubbly, but it’s never smashed on the side. These beauties are too precious.

Shown here, the families of Audrey Conant and of Mary Ann Gaffney gather Aug. 16, 2018 for a photo at the celebration of their loved ones at the Carriage House on the grounds of the Emlen Physick Estate, with an official naming ceremony of Cape May MAC Trolley #60.

CAPE MAY — Costing upwards of $150,000, each one made to specification, Cape May MAC trolleys might be heard to be called “those Cape May trolleys,” the “jolly red trolleys,” “MAC trolleys,” “Santa trolleys,” “Ghost trolleys” and “Cape May MAC trolleys.”

Let’s say you pop into the Tour Office at the rear of the Physick House Museum, on the Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St., the home of Cape May MAC (Museums+Arts+Culture). Among the din of conversation, jibes and joking among tour guides, drivers, tour managers — and interlopers — you’ll likely hear one or more of these: “Trolley 25,” ‘Trolley 45,” “Trolley 50,” “Trolley 55,” “Trolley 60.”

Now let’s say you find a way to drop in on a private moment between two or three Cape May MAC staff persons. Imagine a long-time staff person who remembers, talking to one or two new staff members who are listening. That’s when you might overhear some quiet conversation about a trolley’s namesake: “Audrey,” “Mary Ann,” “Lois,” “Drake,” “Dick” or “Marie.”

In this very real sense, Cape May MAC trolleys help keep alive the memory of beloved colleagues. The rare honor of having a trolley named in memoriam is given by committee.

“Naming has always gone through our Staff Advisory Committee,” said Nanci Coughlin, Director of Tour Operations. “Of course, the sad thing is they are named after employees who have died. The wonderful part is each has been named after some really special people.”

Most recently, names were given to Cape May MAC’s newest trolley: Trolley #60. Audrey Conant and Mary Ann Gaffney were each longtime tour guides who died within six months of each other. It was the first time a trolley was named for two people.

“​Here are two wonderful women. No one could decide. We actually had to vote and, as always, I think it was a close tie. So we decided to put both of their names on the trolley,” said Coughlin.

“Audrey was the sergeant,” Coughlin said. “She was a real advocate for MAC, but boy she could give Michael (Cape May MAC’s Director Emeritus) a run for his money. If it were not for Audrey, the little bit of fence we have out front would not be there. Mary Ann was a real advocate for the Historic Preservation Commission, and she left no stone un-turned when it came to preservation. I had the pleasure of meeting up and walking the Promenade on many mornings with Mary Ann. She was always coming up with some one-liners. Whenever she gave a tour she managed to make people laugh.”

Shown here, the families of Audrey Conant and of Mary Ann Gaffney gather Aug. 16, 2018 for a photo at the celebration of their loved ones at the Carriage House on the grounds of the Emlen Physick Estate, with an official naming ceremony of Cape May MAC Trolley #60.
Shown here, the families of Audrey Conant and of Mary Ann Gaffney gather Aug. 16, 2018 for a photo at the celebration of their loved ones at the Carriage House on the grounds of the Emlen Physick Estate, with an official naming ceremony of Cape May MAC Trolley #60.

Trolley #55 was dedicated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 12, 2013. It was named after Drake McCarron.

“He was so special,” Coughlin said. “Drake McCarron and his wife JoAnn were employed as a driver and a guide. JoAnn died pretty young and it was not long after that Drake died as well. He was always so excited and so proud of driving that trolley. He always got dressed up, donned his vest, driver’s hat and his pocket watch.”

Shown here, the families of Audrey Conant and of Mary Ann Gaffney gather Aug. 16, 2018 for a photo at the celebration of their loved ones at the Carriage House on the grounds of the Emlen Physick Estate, with an official naming ceremony of Cape May MAC Trolley #60.

Trolley #50 is named for Marie Lawrence.

“She was one of the first guides I met prior to coming on board with MAC,” Coughlin recalls. “I was at a B&B and Marie came in one day to do a trolley-inn tour. What a wealth of information. ​She knew about 18 different tours. She always dressed to the nines and was so impressive. She was a tough cookie, though — just don’t ever bring up politics in front of Marie. I still have a beautiful sweater of hers, so I do think of her often.”

Trolley #45 is named for Dick Cottrell.

“He was awesome. He only lived a block away and would always be there at a drop of a hat. He cared so much about each of those trolleys. I never needed to write anything down, I just had to ask Dick. He actually left me a set of instructions when he started to get ill. It was a sad day.”

Trolley #25, Cape May MAC’s most venerable trolley, is named after Lois Williamson. Lois was a ticket seller before they were called Visitor Services Associates.

Cape May MAC’s Barbara Obertholtzer recalls Lois fondly.

“Lois was one of MAC’s first ticket sellers,” Oberholtzer said. “Two women were hired to sell tickets at the booth (Washington Street Mall Information Booth), Lois and Claire. Before that, we (guides) all sold our own tour tickets in rotation. Lois and Claire were fantastically adept at keeping track of the number of riders on each trolley tour, which was important, since the policy then was to limit the number who also took the Physick Estate House Tour, to allow enough seats for returning visitors. It was very involved,” she said. “Lois was a dear, sweet woman.”

Machines like trolleys don’t last forever and it’s inevitable the fleet will grow and change, as it has over the organization’s 50-year history. The oldest trolley is often sold or retired as a new one takes its place. But as each Cape May MAC trolley works its routes, from January through December, carrying ecstatic wedding parties, die-hard travelers in groups from all over the country, and happy trolley tour-goers who bought their ticket for an entertaining and educational tour experience, they move through the town as living reminders of special people who are fondly remembered and who loved Cape May.

Go to www.capemaymac.org.