We all know that New Jersey is a weird place. You can’t pump your own gas (it’s literally illegal) they happily import New York City’s trash, and one of their mascots is a demonic creature birthed in their backwoods. But while the majority of Jersey’s quirkiness lies squarely in the realm of the lighthearted and the offbeat, there are a few places with a much more menacing background. One of the darkest corners of the Garden State is a stretch or road where murder is mundane and the ghosts of the dead still roam: the haunted Shades of Death Road.
The winding two-lane terror is located smack in the middle of Warren County, NJ, and runs for seven miles alongside the eerie tree line of Jenny Jump State Forest. While the route is definitely maintains a spookier vibe than many stretches in the state, it didn’t come be to known as Shades of Death for its looks.
Back in the early 1900s, Shades of Death was ground zero for a spate of brutal murders. One man was beaten to death with a tire iron for a handful of gold coins. In another incident, a jilted woman messily beheaded her husband, burying each part of his severed body on opposite sides of the road. In the third confirmed murder, a local man by the name of Bill Cummins was gunned down in cold blood, his body buried in a roadside mud pile. His killer was never found.
Skeptics will tell you that the road received it’s spooky name thanks to a local malaria outbreak that occurred long ago, but locals know better. The tragic tales from Shades of Death don’t end with the three previously-mentioned cases of murder, but stretch deep into the local legends that have haunted the road for decades. It’s said that the low-hanging branches of the Jenny Jump Forest were often used for late night lynchings, and a few strange, barren portions of the nearby land have long been rumored to have hosted human sacrifice and black magic ceremonies by mysterious hooded figures.
New Jersey’s knack for names has also extended to a particular pass on Shades of Death known as Haunted Hollow, where travelers have reported seeing ghostly figures wandering the lonely stretch of road at night, only to vanish when approached.
Running parallel to Haunted Hollow is Ghost Lake, where drivers often report seeing ghostly, human figures walking the still water’s surface, figured believed to be the spirits of Native Americans slain by early settlers and unceremoniously dumped into the lake.
Cat Swamp, now known as Bear Swamp, was named for the packs of vicious wild cats that called it home, creatures known to frequently kill travelers foolish enough to traverse the road alone.
Like all of the greatest ghost stories, the legend of Shades of Death Road even involves a deserted cabin in the woods, where those who enter are rarely seen again. A tale shared with Weird NJ several years ago recounts one man’s frightening visit to the cabin:
There is an old cabin that’s right off of Ghost Lake. You can barely see it in the day, but at night forget it. If you don’t know where to look, you wont find it. Me and a couple of kids were inside it one night and I remember it was trashed – the windows were all broken, the walls were falling apart the floor had holes in it, the place was a mess. In one of the far corners of the house is a hallway with a piano built into the wall. The keys are all smashed up on it and that alone is enough to be kinda freaky. We went on exploring the place and then went upstairs, and I was the last person up the stairs. I remember that so there wasnt anybody else downstairs. All of a sudden the piano sounded like someone banged on it really hard. Then it happened again, and there was a crunching sound like the glass on the floor was being stepped on. This sound came closer and closer down the hallway. Our first reaction was that it was the cops. But when we heard the sound right in front of us and saw no flashlights, wee quickly ruled out that one. So someone shined a light on the area and there was nothing there. We took off out of there as quickly as we could and didn’t look back. when we got to the road we noticed that there were no cars parked along the side, so it wasn’t any body fucking with us.
One of Shades of Death’s more interesting legends is backed up by local historians and attached to what has been dubbed the “Fairy Hole”, a small cave inside of a nearby rock face. After archaeologists surveyed the area in 1918, they stumbled across the cave and discovered pottery shards, arrowheads, and flint, evidence that the Fairy Hole once held significance to the local Lenape tribe. Since the cave is located so close to numerous Native American burial grounds, many of the archaeologists believe that it was once a sacred site. Today, it’s not uncommon for brave cave explorers to report hearing whispers in the cave, murmurings that appear to be in the Lenape’s native tongue.
Despite its legendary status among ghost hunters, there have only been a few attempts at in-depth paranormal investigations along Shades of Death Road. One of the most publicized investigations was conducted by Jack Osbourne as part of the aptly-named reality show Haunted Highway. As usual, you should take paranormal television with a grain of salt (particularly ones starring celebrities), but the results were more than a little strange, nonetheless.
By rigging their vehicle up with half a dozen cameras, Jack and his co-host Dana Workman are able to capture footage of the spooky stretch from every angle, though it doesn’t take long for the video equipment to mysteriously malfunction. A flat tire and two commercial breaks later, the duo see a lone, ghostly figure standing near the tree line and Jack captures footage of the Ghost Lake figures as they rise out of the water. Whether Haunted Highway‘s evidence is actually proof of the road’s sinister legends or just a ratings booster doesn’t really matter at this point. Every new story of ghostly activity only serves to bolster Shades of Death’s reputation as one of America’s most haunted roads.
Of course, there are a few downsides to being an evil road with a terrifying name. Over the last several decades, all the tales of haunted cabins and ghostly figures have drawn more and more thrill-seekers to the area, and not all of them are as interested in capturing evidence of the anomalous as they are in capturing the infamous Shades of Death Road sign. To the annoyance of locals, the marker has become something of a prize, forcing the residents to resort to covering the road sign’s pole with oil and grease to prevent theft. Sometimes the old methods work the best.
So, do you think you could handle a night on Shades of Death Road? Have you ever visited it yourself before? Share your experiences with me on Facebook, tweet me @nuekerk, or leave your thoughts in the comments below! Want to check out some more spooky roads? Go investigate Wisconsin’s Beast of Bray Road, visit the creepy Archer Avenue that runs by the even creepier Resurrection Cemetery, or Clinton Road, where drivers regularly report everything from little ghost children to Satanic rituals in the forest.