Ranging from the shadowed woods of the Somerset Hills to the dappled banks of the Delaware River, Ghosts of Central Jersey delivers a rich mix of factual history and the sound investigation of ghostly phenomena.
This collection of reports on local legends and traditional stories informs, entertains, and takes you to places in New Jersey where the past is considered to be very much alive and entwined with the present.
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A house is never still in darkness to those who listen intently; there is a whispering in distant chambers, an unearthly hand presses the snib of the window, the latch rises. Ghosts were created when the first man awoke in the night.
– J.M. Barrie, Little Minister
I was puzzled more by my father's reaction than by the phenomenon itself. When I was seven years old, my father seemed to know everything. He was, after all, a college professor, so I believed that there wasn't much in this world that he could not explain. Having said that, you might better understand why I stood with my mouth agape when my father, for the first time I can remember, said, "I don't know." His unexpected words seemed to linger in our upper hallway like one's warm breath when it meets the frigid winter air. It was lightning striking, and I knew at that moment that I was determined to find the explanation for the phenomenon we were experiencing.
The phenomenon in question was the muffled conversation that emanated from my home's first floor and drifted up our stairway in the dark of night. It sounded exactly like several people having a discussion, but the words were impossible to discern. It occurred several nights per week, steady, never changing in intensity or location, and it always ceased abruptly whenever anyone set foot on the top tread to descend the steps — almost as if it knew when one of us was approaching. After it stopped, the conversation would often resume several hours later. Everyone in my family heard it, even some guests, and we all came to accept this paranormal phenomenon, and the others that occurred in our house, as part of the fabric of our dwelling place — real things that existed within the walls of our home. They seemed to belong as much as we did.
The house of my childhood in Bernardsville, New Jersey, developed a reputation for being haunted. There was an apparition of a man in a light shirt and dark pants that was seen twice in the dining room, and there was another apparition of a woman that appeared in a bedroom doorway. When you live in an older home, you get used to its "normal" sounds, so my family and I became rather adept at picking out the "unusual" sounds. We experienced the sounds of loud crashes and bangs that occurred without anything being found out of place to explain them. In the evenings, there was often the sound of someone ascending the stairs. Footsteps were heard on the second floor when no one was up there, and other footsteps were heard on the porch late at night, followed by the rattling of the front door handle, which happened to be inside a locked screen door. Upstairs doors would open and close, and no breeze or other explanation could account for their movement. A potted Christmas cactus was seen by three people to rise off of a planter, move three feet away from the planter, hover in the air for several seconds and then crash to the ground. A number of clocks, one of them a watch that lay discarded and hidden at the bottom of a drawer, reset and/or stopped themselves at 4:28 p.m. And there was also the constant feeling of something watching you on and from the second floor, whether you happened to be inside or outdoors. When people would descend the stairs from the second floor, many of them, including guests and other family members, described feeling something like a pressure behind them. It was almost as if you felt you weren't welcome, and you couldn't get down the stairs fast enough.
As I mentioned, however, my family got used to these events. It wasn't as if these events happened every day. Other than the muffled conversation and the feeling of being watched on the second floor, things would catch our attention at a rate of perhaps once every several months. Paranormal events also occurred at neighbors' homes and in other parts of our extended neighborhood as well. I was literally surrounded by reports of the paranormal since I was a child, and so it was that I developed a keen interest in the reports, study and documentation of ghosts.
I don't believe that anyone can argue against the existence of ghosts. They exist. Their reports have, after all, been with us since the dawn of mankind, entwined throughout history and stretching across cultures and socioeconomic strata. They've been seen by the young and old, the simply schooled and the erudite, dreamers and men of science. Ghosts even exist in the Bible. No, one cannot argue against their existence, but one can argue what the phenomena are and how they can be explained. Explanations range from flights of fancy to the spirits of humans endeavoring to make contact from beyond the grave. In between these are the explanations that equate ghosts with various types of energies or psychic impressions that are imprinted on environments.
If you find this too strange to fathom, consider this: if one were to take a digital audio recorder back to seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts, and record someone's voice, one might very well end up being hanged as a witch. The collective knowledge at that time wouldn't be able to conceptualize or explain it, and people often fear what they can't explain. Ask any scientist, and you'll be told that as much as we know of the workings of our universe, we have barely scratched the surface. There is so much left to discover, and I believe ghostly phenomena are part of that great unknown. The worst things we can do are ignore the things that we can not explain, sweep them under the rug or dismiss them as nonsense. There are just too many credible reports out there to do that. The best we can do is to try to substantiate the reports with a healthy skepticism, physical evidence and an open mind.
Before we move on, I think it prudent at this point of the book to do some explaining about different types of ghostly phenomena and electronic voice phenomena (EVP). A "haunting" is defined as the repeated manifestation of strange and inexplicable sensory phenomena — smells, sounds, sights, tactile sensations — said to be caused by "ghosts" attached to a certain locale. Within this definition, we can divide the ghostly phenomena into three categories: residual (also called "place memories"); poltergeist; and apparitions.
Let us first deal with the residual type. Think of residual phenomena as leftover, recorded energy. In this case, ghosts have no more to do with the grave than a movie or audio recording has to do with the physical presence of the actors or singers. The images, scents and sounds are recorded energy and nothing more. One of the theories pertaining to ghosts is that they are the result of energy that sometimes gets imprinted upon a building or environment. When the right conditions occur, or people with enough sensitivity are present, these recorded events replay themselves and can be perceived.
We all have different strengths. For example, barring accident or illness, we all develop the ability to run, yet only a few of us are of Olympic caliber. Some of us are better at mathematics, while others are stronger with languages. There are people who can draw and paint, and others who have little talent in these areas but have amazing abilities in sports and athletics. The bottom line is that we are all unique, and while all of us have some degree of psychic ability, some individuals are more sensitive than others. This explains why some people sense phenomena that others can not. I'll give you an example. I'm slightly colorblind. There are some shades of green and red that I just can't see as well as others. The red-and-green traffic lights are no problem for me, but I'm often tripped up by those small LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights that are found on some microphones and other electronic equipment. Typically, the red LED changes to green when the unit is on mute. Try as I might, I just can't see the color change. Someone right beside me can see it, but I can't. It's not that there's something wrong with the lights. The problem lies in the manner by which the receptors in my eyes process the light.
Think of the information recorded on a CD. You can keep the CD in your house forever, but if you don't have a CD player and speakers, the recording can't be experienced. It's much the same with paranormal phenomena, especially the residual type. Given the correct conditions and the people with enough sensitivity, the events will be experienced. Much like a CD, residual phenomena, whether they are visual, olfactory or auditory, don't change. They repeat themselves and do the same thing each time they are sensed, which is why this group of phenomena is sometimes classified as "time/place" or as "place memories." These place memories are recorded in and rooted to a very specific time and/or location. You wouldn't expect a song on a CD to suddenly end a different way, and you wouldn't expect an actor in a movie to change his lines or speak to you. Similarly, residual phenomena do not change and do not interact with people because they are not conscious and do not possess intelligence. They are simply recorded energy, and there is no more to fear in this case than there would be in viewing a movie or listening to an audio recording.
The second type of phenomena is often referred to as a poltergeist, meaning "noisy spirit." A poltergeist is most times not a spirit at all, but rather a manifestation of a person's own energy within the physical environment, an event called psychokinesis, defined as a technique of mind over matter through invisible means. In times of physiological change or mental stress, it's theorized that a person's own energy can be responsible for the movement of objects or other phenomena that appear to be caused by an external source. Most times, the reoccurrence of poltergeist phenomena is rather short-lived, lasting somewhere between a few months to a year. Often times, it is centered on an adolescent, and most times the adolescent is female. Poltergeist activity is not like most of the activity seen in the movie Poltergeist. Hollywood did a great job creating a frightening movie, but it is not what one finds in actual cases. Movement of cups, chairs, doors and the sound of bangings and rappings fall into the poltergeist phenomena category, although they can sometimes be associated with other types of ghostly phenomena. While unnerving, there is very rarely any cause for alarm.
The third type of phenomena is considered to be the holy grail of paranormal investigation — the apparition. Parapsychologists use the term "apparition" to indicate conscious, intelligent, interactive "ghosts." While the term literally relates to visual sightings, the idea is sense-independent in the last one hundred years of parapsychology and psychical research. There are auditory apparitions (heard only) and olfactory apparitions (smelled only), but, generally speaking, apparitions are experienced through a variety of perceptions. In the case of apparitions, there is a clear indication that the entity has an intelligence and is conscious of events in the environment. These phenomena respond to human activity. They may motion to you, acknowledge one's presence, change their behavior and communicate. This is the classic image portrayed in Hamlet, where the prince has a dialogue with his deceased father. There is give and take between entity and human. Intelligent phenomena may involve visual sightings of apparitions (an extremely rare occurrence), touches, voices and sounds, even moods swings, tastes and scents. Apparitions, as they are strictly defined, are extremely rare. The key is that they respond and interact with the physical plane and are conscious of events going on around them.
Consider this metaphor. When we disrobe at the end of the day, we step out of our used clothes, but we still exist. Similarly, our spiritual essence still exists after we shed our physical bodies. How would you feel if people were to think that you no longer existed simply because your previous day's clothes were empty and unanimated? This is one reason why I do not agree with trying to provoke entities that are believed to be at a site. If you wouldn't do it to a person on the physical plane, then you shouldn't do it to someone on a spiritual plane. Any attempts to do so are rooted in selfishness and arrogance. We tend to mourn people as ceasing to exist at the death of the physical body, but perhaps we only step out of it to exist on another level. If that is the case, and our consciousness survives, then there may be times when the spiritual and the physical planes intersect and interact, and we as humans may be able to find evidence of that.
The collection of forensic evidence is becoming a more common practice among paranormal investigators. Photographs are often offered up as proof of a ghost's presence; however, most "ghost photos" can be explained away as camera straps, insects, water vapor or dust caught in the camera's flash and lens. The classic photo of an "orb" is the most common and can usually be explained away as dust. These objects of various sizes, looking very similar to a dandelion gone to seed, appear as though they are hovering in space several feet from the photographer when, in reality, they are tiny droplets of water vapor or dust particles very close to the camera lens and reflecting the light from the camera's flash. If you want to try to make these orb photos for yourself, take a flash photo of a room in your home. After you've done this, beat some pillows together, blow some talcum powder into the air or do something else to kick up a bit of dust. When this is accomplished, take another flash photo. If you stand where the dust is located, you'll capture the image I'm describing. Many times, the photo will capture multiple orbs of different sizes, but you'll see that they all share a similar quality. The only orb photos that bear any consideration for extended study are those very few that seem to emit their own light, and even many of these wind up being explainable.
Another type of forensic evidence is electronic voice phenomena, usually referred to as EVP. This is the recording of anomalous voices, typically consisting of short utterances of just a few words. Recordings of these voices have involved almost every known technology that is capable of supporting human voice. Some people use tape recorders to capture these voices, but most investigators tend to use digital voice recorders, which allow the recordings to be downloaded onto a computer for analysis.
EVPs are divided up into three classes: A, B and C. Class A consists of voices that can be heard as easily as any human voice on a speaker. It is clear and can range from a whisper to a shout. Class B voices are more difficult to discern, often requiring special attention in order to hear it. Class C is most times a whisper and necessitates the use of headphones and audio enhancement. One intriguing point about EVP is the fact that they respond directly to questions. Posing a specific question, the investigator will often get an intelligent reply. EVP voices can also be male and female, from full voices to whispers.
EVP voices are not heard at the time of recording but appear audible upon playback. Voices and other sounds that are of a paranormal nature and are heard naturally by the human ear without the use of recorders or audio enhancement are referred to as "direct voice." The developing consensus supports the theory that EVPs are not produced using sound waves at all. All sound on this planet needs a medium through which to travel. Whenever you or I speak, we employ the vibration of our vocal cords, and the resulting sounds travel through air molecules. Spirits, entities and ghosts (call them what you will) do not have diaphragms or vocal cords, and we think they modulate their voices using the electromagnetic fields of the earth or those belonging to the recording devices themselves, which is why EVPs are only heard when the audio recordings are being played back. Supporting this theory are the results of some EVP researchers that record voices on hard drives without using any microphones. It may be that the microphones used in EVP recordings are really only recording the researchers' questions. Whether one believes that the EVP voices belong to disincarnate entities or not is up to each individual to decide for themselves, but no matter what one's beliefs are, the phenomenon is interesting as a form of tangible documentation.
Thomas Edison is quoted as saying that it might be possible
to construct an apparatus which will be so delicate that if there are personalities in another existence or sphere who wish to get in touch with us in this existence or sphere, this apparatus will at least give them a better opportunity to express themselves than the tilting tables and raps and Ouija boards and mediums and the other crude methods now purported to be the only means of communication.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Ghosts of Central Jersey"
Copyright © 2008 Gordon Thomas Ward.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword, by Loyd Auerbach,
Chapter 1 Portal,
Chapter 2 The Former Vealtown Tavern and Bernardsville Library,
Chapter 3 The New Jersey Brigade Site and Hardscrabble Road,
Chapter 4 The Grain House,
Chapter 5 The Gladstone Tavern,
Chapter 6 Prallsville Mills,
Chapter 7 The Great Swamp,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
What better way to spend a wintry day than listening to ghost stories in an old house. I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Gordon Thomas Ward this past January that was held in the Van Wickle House, a 18th century Dutch farmhouse. He is an excellent speaker, holding us spellbound with accounts of his investigations into hauntings in central New Jersey. Afterwards, he held a book signing. Being a collector of autographed books as well as wanting to know more about his investigations, I purchased his book.I finally took the time to sit down and read his book this past week. It covers the same material as his lecture but goes into more detail about the historical background of each location he investigated. Too much more detail for my taste. Chapter 6 about the Prallsville Mills was a classic case of overkill. Reading it is like reading the begats in the Bible as he meticulously traces every owner of the property through three centuries. Twelve pages into the chapter, the last paragraph on the page starts out ¿This second period of operation at the Prallsville Mills property came to an abrupt end with the destruction of the stone gristmill by fire on the afternoon of August 21,1874.¿ Twelve pages, and we¿re only up to 1874? How much longer until we get to the ghosts?Perhaps he is writing for skeptics, trying to establish himself as a serious scholar in a legitimate field of study. He doesn¿t have to convince me. I¿m a believer. I used to live in a haunted house. The first few months after we moved in, we were awakened every night by the sounds of someone stomping down the stairs from the attic to the second floor, across the hall and then down the stairs to the first floor. That phenomenon subsided and the rest of our ten year residence was more playful. The ghost loved to hide things. Which was merely an annoyance unless I needed something urgently, like my car keys. After a few minutes of looking, I would ask the ghost to return them, wait a few more minutes and then look around the house again. They would always turn up in an odd place such as the top of the microwave or on a shelf in the bookcase, places I would never leave my car keys (metal and microwaves, yikes!).Mr. Ward doesn¿t just look for evidence supporting evidence of paranormal activity, he also actively debunks local legends such as the story of the phantom carriage. There is a vintage photo of the very same scene. So he questions if the legend was inspired by the photo.Another debunking was not so much a debunking as an historical correction. Having been raised in upstate New York on Washington Irving¿s "Leatherstocking Tales", I was disappointed to learn that the legend of the Headless Horseman originated in the Great Swamp in New Jersey and not in the Hudson Valley.If you enjoy a good ghost story and are curious how they are investigated, I recommend you attend one of Mr. Ward¿s talks. If you prefer more in depth coverage of the historical background involved in paranormal phenomena, then definitely buy his book.