By Rachel Skerker, Opinions Editor
Tales of ghost sightings, stumbling upon the remains of an 18th century coven of witches, and strange, unexplainable occurrences, don’t just belong in American Horror Story. They belong in Berkeley Heights and Mountainside as well.
Years ago, there was an old, red telephone booth next to the Berkeley Heights public library. A librarian at the library reported that the booth had been taken away quite a while ago but had been standing there reportedly for decades. The booth used to stand in an area that is now part of the library’s parking lot. Years ago, when the telephone booth was still standing as a historic relic, some people reported seeing a strange, transparent girl inside, slumped over the seat reaching for the telephone. Urban legend holds that a ghost had haunted the telephone booth for years. Rumors hold that the ghost was a girl who after being attacked, had run to the telephone booth in hopes of calling for help. Mid-dial, she died, and her ghost continued to linger, always trying to call for help.
Along with this ghost girl, there were several accounts of a ghost of a Native American woman near the field on Snyder Avenue. Before this region was settled, the Lenape Native American tribe inhabited the area. Although not widespread, several individuals reported having seen the apparition of a woman, dressed in her ceremonial garb, wandering through the woods.
The Watchung Reservation is home to many urban legends, including one tragedy about a teenage boy who used to live in Mountainside during the 1970s. Gregg Sanders was a 15-year-old boy attending Pingry School. On January 15th, 1975, Gregg left school at 4:45 p.m. and came home with the intention of committing suicide. It was later revealed that Gregg often felt like he was under immense pressure from his parents to do well in school and was thus often teased by his peers for his strict attention to academia. After murdering his parents in the living room of their Mountainside home, he jumped off of the nearby water tower in the Watchung Reservation. The 150-foot water tower still stands in the Reservation today, but this time, without a ladder. Tales of Gregg’s ghost have been reported around the water tower, and one individual reported to having heard crying late at night near the tower but was unable to find the source.
The Watchung Reservation in its entirety is notorious for ghost sightings and strange occurrences. Within the Watchung Reservation lies Surprise Lake, in which stories circulate around “the Leaper”, a strange man who has been seen hopping around the trails. Also by the lake, a woman reported having seen old, abandoned animal pens surrounded by traces of blood. During the 1700s, when the region was becoming more settled, there were tales of satanic and pagan worshippers conducting ceremonies in many areas of the Reservation. A group of teenagers in 1986 told authorities that they had heard moaning and screaming coming from a part of the forest, and later, a group of Eagle Scouts reported having come across an ancient altar, bone-like structure complete with bloodstains. Urban legend holds that there is a part of the Reservation known as the Magic Forest, where back in the years of early settlement pagan and Devil worshippers had gone to practice dark magic and conduct ceremonies. Just beyond the Magic Forest, is the Witches’ or Enchanted Forest, which according to legend, used to be home to a coven of witches. Legend holds that the descendants of the witch coven still meet every full moon in the Enchanted Forest to conduct ceremonial rituals. Another account holds that while coming back on one of the hiking trails in the Enchanted Forest on a full moon, a group of friends heard eerie chanting and saw shadowy figures dancing in the Forest.
The presence of witches in the Reservation expands to 13 Bumps Road, a road that runs through the Watchung Reservation. The road is rumored to be the burial ground of thirteen witches, who were either hung or burned back in the 1700s. One version of the myth holds that the thirteen witches were thirteen “sisters,” who had killed many children in the now deserted town of Feltville (the Deserted Village), and were put on trial and burned. Many of the locals report that the road has been re-paved numerous times over recent years, but every time, exactly thirteen bumps re-emerge.
The Deserted Village is home to many stories as well. The history of the village runs back to its construction in 1845 by David Felt, the owner of a paper mill who was commonly known as “King David.” The inhabitants of the village were the workers at Felt’s paper mill. Within the village lies a pre-Revolutionary war cemetery. There have been several stories of ghost sightings, including one of a girl aimlessly wandering from house to house late at night. Like other areas of the Watchung Reservation, the forest surrounding the Deserted Village is rumored to having been the ceremonial ground for a local cult during the time period. Strange rock clusters have been reported as often being seen on the side of the trails leading into the Deserted Village.
Whether or not you believe in ghosts, the Berkeley Heights-Mountainside region has a historical background that allows for such urban legends to exist. Although many of the stories are hard to believe, perhaps there could be a small ounce of truth to every myth.
*Research conducted using a variety of sources, including Weird New Jersey and individual accounts.