Somewhere in America, far off the beaten path, nestled deep in the New Jersey countryside there is a very small, very dark and quite terrifying place. A place where strange sounds, unexplained sights, and floating apparitions leave you with a permanent chill. What’s worse is that it’s common; too common to be considered anywhere near normal. The history reveals that it’s a place where the spirits of the countless dead traipse the dark forested highway. It’s scary, so scary that some go so far as to call it one of the most haunted places in the country.
From an outsiders view, it’s hard to believe that this pristine wooded area and the winding country highway could pose any threat to anyone. In fact, it has an world charm reminiscent of so many other quaint small towns; at least from a distance. Firmly set right in the heart of rural Warren County, however is a place that bears evil fruit. It is a seven mile long road that runs parallel to the edge of a sinister, almost-skeletal, twisted treeline. The Jenny Jump State Forest is so thick, the branches overhanging the highway have formed a tight canopy over the years; so tight that the road remains dark even at the peak of the day. And the road’s name you ask? A name that instills fear and mistrust; the rural highway is named the Shades of Death Road.
Are You Kidding Me?
The initial reaction to the name is usually one of disbelief followed by a request for the road’s “real name”. Unfortunately, Shades of Death Road, it’s not the road’s nickname, but the actual name on the street sign. What’s even stranger is that no one is exactly sure how the gruesome moniker became a reality. The history of the area certainly supports the name. There is a lengthy list of frightening legends and stories of heinous crime. Many end with bloody death somehow associated with the Shades of Death Road and the surrounding area. It’s a dark place in more ways than one.
For more than one hundred years, the area was simply known as “The Shades”. Ironically there are differing stories about how that name originated as well. Yet, regardless of the origin, there are plenty of factual accounts of unsolved murders, strange occurrences and outright mystery attached to the road and the surrounding areas today. They alone more than solidify that it was the correct name for such a ghastly place. But if you’re still not convinced, try to truly understand the area by reviewing the timeline of history.
The Distant Past And Restless Spirits
Long before the highway, when the Jenny Jump State Forest was just a forest, Native Americans who lived there considered the forest an accursed place, with restless spirits. The Iroquois and Lenni-Lenape were the dominant tribes in the area, but they were constantly at war with one another, leaving countless numbers slaughtered warriors littered across the landscape. Settlers were also attacked and slaughtered by one tribe or the other, while their numbers were still small. There are accounts that one of those settlers was a young girl named Jenny who lived in the forest with her father. When attacked, her father told her to run and jump from a cliff rather than be defiled and murdered by the savages. She apparently did, and died from the fall; her story is considered the most accepted one for how the forest was named, Jenny Jump State Forest.
Eventually, the white man’s encroachment either saw the death of, or the driving away of most of the Natives and led to the building of the infamous, but unnamed, road in the early 1800’s. The meandering thoroughfare cut through the dark and thick forest, which created a dangerous and often deadly passageway. Highwaymen and brigands would lurk in the edges of the treeline waiting for unsuspecting travelers. It was rumored that the bands of thieves were both ruthless and greedy, brutally killing their victims by slitting their throats, before taking anything of value. No one was spared including women and even children. The murdered corpses were dragged out of sight into the shades and left to the mercy of wild animals, insects, and scavengers.
Mob Justice Leads To More Bodies
Law enforcement seemed powerless, so local citizens gathered into unruly lynch mobs and handed out stiff sentences of roadside justice. Anyone caught in the dragnet of the angered citizens would be summarily beaten within an inch of their lives before being strung up in plain sight on one of the many low hanging tree branches. The act served to punish, but also to warn the ones who weren’t captured that day; their fate would be the same eventually. Similar to how pirates were left chained to harbor rocks, the bodies of these criminals were left hanging until they decomposed entirely and their bones fell in a pile on the ground.
Although it wasn’t publicized, the area around the Shades of Death Road was quickly developing a reputation for bloody death and unchecked retribution. Most of these victims, whether from tribal conflicts or outright murder, were never given last rites, had proper burials, or had any memorial placed at the site of their demise. No one is sure of the total number of restless spirits concentrated in the area.
Confirmed Murders Of The Early 1900’s & Other Accounts
In the early 1900’s several brutal murders took place along the road. In one case, an elderly man was dragged from his vehicle and summarily beaten to death with a tire iron for a coin collection. His body was recovered by the authorities later and it was reported that he was unrecognizable due to his skull being completely crushed. In another high profile case, a jilted lover butchered her former beau, decapitating him before burying his body parts in several areas on either side of the road. The highest profile murder was a local resident named Bill Cummins. Mr. Cummins was shot in cold blood and hastily buried in a pile of mud alongside the road. His murderer was never brought to justice.
Another story is told of a man who was a tinker, selling pots and pans door to door. He was executed along with his horses for reasons unbeknownst to anyone. What could the man have done that was so bad that even his horses needed killed? Seems as if they might be more valuable to a common thief. There are some who say you can still hear the sound of banging metal pans in the night wind, if you are deep in the forest. Other nameless corpses have been discovered along the road or in the forest; more restless spirits. There have also been multiple accounts of Satanists practicing in the deepest darkest parts of the forest. Dark hooded figures of unknown name or origin committing all sorts of depraved acts including human sacrifice.
The Malaria Outbreak of the 1850’s
In the 1850’s, the area around the Shades of Death Road was a swampy marshland full of stagnant fetid water. It was also heavily infested with mosquitoes, which ultimately led to several major malaria outbreaks. At the time, the wooded area was still quite remote, despite the roadway. There was no local doctor and people were limited in how far they could travel to seek medical attention. Family members of the afflicted would instead carry the suffering to the roadside in hopes that someone passing with a wagon or cart would offer them aid. This led to many people dying along the roadside since once the word was out that infected people were waiting, the road was less traveled. Wave after wave of malaria killed countless numbers of settlers until a permanent solution was enacted in 1884. The state government came in and drained the swamps and the plagues stopped.
Surrounding Areas – The “New Shades”
The stigma associated with the area is growing as time passes. Other sites in the vicinity of the Shades of Death Road have started developing their own reputation for being haunted or otherwise evil. Ghost Lake, the Fairy Hole, and Lenape Lane each have their own story to tell; stories which only help to add to the overall mystique of “The Shades.” Unlike the historical tales, these stories are new and provide enough raw meat for the curiosity seekers and ghost hunters of the world.
Lenape Lane is a dead end road; possibly a lover’s lane for the really brave. It’s said that if you drive down to the end and park your car, a mysterious fog will roll in and surround your vehicle. While in the fog, apparitions may emerge and strange hand prints will appear on the surface of your car. Legend also has it that sometimes nocturnal visitors to Lenape see an orb of white light appear near the end of the road which chases vehicles back out to Shades Of Death Road. If it turns red in the process, those who see it will die.
Ghost Lake has sightings of mysterious figures walking across the surface of the water. None, unfortunately, are biblical characters arriving to bring salvation to the masses. These figures are believed to be the spirits of Native Americans slaughtered by early settlers and then dumped into the lake without the proper crossing-over rites. Other report spectral pillars of white mist rising from random spots in the lake and then just floating above it. People also claim that while parked at Ghost Lake, ghostly footprints appear out of thin air, around their cars.
Another area is called the Fairy Hole. It is a cave which had been explored and documented by Archeologists in 1918. Found inside were pottery shards, arrowheads, and other flint tools which were later identified as Lenape Indian. It’s assumed that the cave had significance to the natives and it is close to a Lenape burial site. Whispers in Lenape are reported to be heard when inside.
It seems that all good ghost stories have a haunted cabin in the woods in them somewhere. The Shades doesn’t disappoint. Near Ghost Lake is an old dilapidated cabin; one which can barely be seen, especially at night. The story has been repeated and altered over time, but it can be summarized. Some teenagers took the dare to enter the cabin and once inside found it to be literally destroyed. The structure was full of decaying furniture and was crumbling away from lack of maintenance. Strangely enough, this cabin had a built-in piano on one wall, which is reported to play by itself in short angry bursts when no one is looking. Also the kids reported the sounds of someone walking on broken glass, which seemed to be closing in on them. Yet, as in most great unexplained mysteries, once the lights were on, everything seemed normal.
Current Supernatural Or Otherwise Unexplained Claims And Sightings
In the 1990’s someone discovered lots of strange Polaroid pictures scattered about – they appear to be dead women lying next to metal objects or images from a television screen. Authorities initially thought to be the work of a serial killer which was investigated with no leads. The twist is that the pictures mysteriously disappeared before the investigation could be completed.
Others have told tales of a beastly man who acts like a troll and intimidates people passing in the night. He drives a black truck and has been said to threaten people to stay off of “his road.”
Haunted Hollow Pass is a section of the road where travelers have reported seeing ghostly apparitions walking alone on the side of the roadway; disappearing when anyone gets too close.
Others have reported a small girl looking for her parents, walking along the road at night. She will approach and ask where her parents are – it’s said that if you panic and run, you’ll die in 40 days. If you give her any other answer, she goes away. Rumor was she was kidnapped and murdered there.
Also, as expected, there are a lot of car accidents along the stretch of road.
The volume of paranormal sightings and the violent history of the area cannot be taken for granted. It’s believed that some of the current tales are questionable, but to date, none have been debunked. The curious still take the risk and try to get a firsthand account of something unexplained. Professional supernatural investigators have also made visits. Regardless of what you believe, this place has to be taken seriously. And in closing, if you are thinking about making a visit to the area, please use caution and good judgement; most of the area is now private property and your presence is not welcomed.