The Shades of Death road winds through a small part of rural America. Deep in the New Jersey countryside there is a very small, very dark, and quite terrifying place. A place where reality seems to have forgotten. Here you’ll encounter strange sounds, unexplained sights, and even floating apparitions that will most certainly leave you with a permanent chill. Some places speak of random paranormal sights, but here, it’s a regular occurrence. Much too common to be considered anywhere near normal. History tells the tale of countless spirits of the dead which traipse the dark forested highway. It’s a scary place. Some say it ranks as one of the most haunted places in the nation.
There are always skeptics when someone makes such a claim. 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. The area has an old world charm reminiscent of rural America. But, as noted, that appearance is quite deceiving. The seven mile-long road runs parallel to the edge of a sinister, almost skeletal-looking twisted tree line. Branches of tightly packed trees of the Jenny Jump State Forest hang over the highway in a tight canopy. This canopy is so tight that the road remains dark even on sunny days at noon. This feature explains part of the Shades of Death road name. The rest however, well that’s based on other sinister facts.
Shades of Death Road – Are You Kidding Me?
The initial reaction to the name is often one of disbelief. Usually followed by a request for the road’s “real name”. Shades of Death Road is not a nickname. It’s the actual name on the street sign. Strange indeed, but what’s even stranger is that no one can say exactly how the gruesome moniker became a reality. The terrible history of the area certainly supports the name. There is a lengthy list of frightening legends and stories of heinous crime. Many of the ones ending with bloody death are 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”. This was most likely an offshoot of the shade caused by the tightly packed forest canopy. However, not everyone is in agreement with this likely origin. Regardless, there are multiple factual accounts of unsolved murders, strange occurrences and outright mystery attached to the area. The road seems to be at the center of many of the tales. The accounts more than solidify that Shades of Death is the correct name for this 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
The tale starts long before the highway existed. Back when the Jenny Jump State Forest was just woodlands without a name. Native Americans who lived in the area considered the forest a cursed place, with many restless and dangerous spirits. Two tribes, the Iroquois and Lenni-Lenape who lived there were constantly at war with one another. The forest was a battleground and the bodies of countless numbers of slaughtered warriors littered the area. Simultaneously settlers that tried moving in were attacked and slaughtered by one tribe or the other. One tale was told repeatedly of a young girl named Jenny who lived in the forest with her father. When they were attacked, her father breathlessly told her to run and jump from a cliff rather than be defiled and murdered by the savages. She apparently did this, and died from the fall. Her story is considered the most accepted one for how the forest was named, Jenny Jump State Forest.
Eventually, more settlers arrived, driving away of most of the Natives. These settlers laid the path for the infamous road. in the early 1800’s. The Shades of Death road didn’t have a name back then. It was a meandering thoroughfare that cut through the dark and thick forest. unintentionally, the pathway was a dangerous and often deadly passageway. Highwaymen and brigands would lurk in the edges of the tree line waiting for unsuspecting travelers. Bands of thieves that roamed the area were both ruthless and greedy. Victims of their assaults were brutally killed and often had their throats slit. No one was spared. Men, women and even children were dispatched with a a cruel hatred. The murdered corpses were then drug out of sight, deep into the shades and left to the mercy of wild animals, insects, and scavengers.
Mob Justice Leads To More Bodies
At the time, law enforcement seemed powerless. Local citizens gathered into unruly lynch mobs and handed out stiff sentences of roadside justice. Anyone suspected of criminal actions would be chased down and captured by the angered citizens. They would be summarily beaten within an inch of their lives before being strung up in plain sight on the nearest tree branches. The act served to permanently punish, but also to warn the ones who weren’t captured that day that their fate would be the same eventually. This action was similar to how ocean front communities would treat pirates. They would chain the bodies to harbor rocks or on the public dock as a warning. The bodies of these criminals were left hanging until they decomposed entirely and their bones fell in a pile on the ground.
Between Native American wars, settlers being slaughtered and mob justice. the area around the Shades of Death Road became a huge graveyard. It was also 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. Bodies were left in the forest without ad proper burial. Some didn’t even have a grave marker or memorial placed at the site of their demise. The actual count is unknown. But everyone agrees that many of them are restless and have not left the area.
Confirmed Murders Of The Early 1900’s & Other Accounts
Stories are one thing, but actual confirmations are another. 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. 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. She decapitated 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. No one knows much of the story and 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. His story remains part of the lore of the area. It is said that you can still hear the sound of banging metal pans in the night wind when you are deep in the forest. Other nameless corpses have been discovered along the road or in the forest. These unknown victims are considered to be restless spirits that haunt the area. To make matters worse, multiple accounts of Satanists practicing their Devilish arts have come from the deepest darkest parts of the forest. Horrific tales of dark hooded figures of unknown name or origin supposedly committing all sorts of depraved acts including human sacrifice.
The Malaria Outbreak of the 1850’s
Fast forward to the 1850’s. The wooded area around the Shades of Death Road had morphed into swampy marshland full of stagnant fetid water. It was heavily infested with mosquitoes, which ultimately led to several major malaria outbreaks. At the time, the wooded area was still quite remote, despite the single 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 practice 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 until 1884. The state government came in and provided a permanent solution to the mosquito problem by draining the swampy areas.
Surrounding Areas – The “New Shades”
With more than one hundred years of gruesome death, the stigma associated with the area continued to grow. Surrounding areas also started to develop a reputation for being haunted or otherwise evil. Places like Ghost Lake, the Fairy Hole, and Lenape Lane each had their own frightening story to tell. These stories collectively added to the overall mystique of a remote place called “The Shades”. Because of the concentration of so many stories, curiosity seekers and ghost hunters from across the world have sought out the area for research.
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 of them, 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 of their people. Others 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 the Lenape language are reported to be heard when inside the cave.
It seems that all the 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 as this. A group of teenagers took the dare to enter the cabin and once inside found it to be nearly destroyed. The structure was full of rotting wood furniture and the building itself was crumbling away from lack of maintenance. But, strangely enough, this cabin had a built-in piano on one wall, which was reported to suddenly play by itself in short angry bursts without any warning. The kids left terrified, reporting the sounds of someone walking on broken glass, which seemed to be closing in on them regardless of which direction they turned.
Current Supernatural or Otherwise Unexplained Claims and Sightings
In the 1990’s someone discovered lots of strange Polaroid pictures scattered about the area. They appeared to be shots taken of dead women, who were lying next to metal objects and other images from a television screen. Authorities initially thought them to be the work of a serial killer. This theory was was investigated but provided no further leads. No one could identify the women, or how the pictures got there in the first place. In a strange twist, 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.” Also there is an area dubbed Haunted Hollow Pass. In this section of the road, travelers have reported seeing ghostly apparitions walking alone on the side of the roadway; disappearing when anyone gets too close.
Still others have reported a small girl who appeared to be lost and looking for her parents, walking along the road at night. She will approach and ask where her parents are. The lore says 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, although not supernatural in origin, there are a lot of car accidents along the stretch of road. It’s winding and due to the history, many people probably speed to get through it as quickly as possible.
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.
Other Unexplained and Haunted Places
If you’ve enjoyed this article, Seven Terrifying Miles on the Shades of Death Road and would like to read similar accounts, the following list of links also found on this site, might be interesting to you.
Updated in April, 2022, from the original publishing date of August 21st, 2018, by the author