The Legend of Aserdaten

Seldom is there found such a persistent legend in New Jersey than the one concerning Aserdaten. Located at the intersection of two unnamed sand roads in the Forked River Mountains, its only remarkable feature is the desolation of the area.

Henry Charlton Beck wrote extensively on the area in the book ‘Jersey Genesis’ but even in the 1930s, answers about the town or the people who lived there were not forthcoming. From the reactions that Beck and his friend Ned Knox, an artist from Toms River who was also trying to find out about the area, received from the locals, it was a story that everybody was just looking to forget.

The Cook Topo map of 1886 is one of the first maps that show the name of the area as being Aserdaten. The prevailing theory presented by Beck is that a man named named Asa Dayon started a deer preserve on that spot. I’m not quite convinced of this, considering that it’s unusual to see other Pine Barrens towns with their names bastardized so far from their founders name. It’s my own personal belief that the founders surname was Aserdaten, and that his first name has just been lost to time.

The road to Aserdaten is long and desolate, and when wet is nearly impassable. Fortunately for the explorer it has been rather dry, so the way is clear for an automobile to pass. The road stretches on for miles, and the only features that distinguish the site is the T intersection of a sand road, and a mound of dirt as the main road turns. The road that leads down the T intersection used to run straight to Lacey, but now the large road cut in by a gravel company bisects it near the site of the old Tuckerton Railroad. This road is impassable to motor vehicles, since the gravel company erected barriers near the intersection of the two roads.

On both sides of the road is a featureless forest consisting mostly of scrub pine. A few non-native trees can be found, as well as a chunk of concrete and an old rusted piece of metal. In Beck’s time there were several apple trees, however these are gone today. Beck also was able to find the remnants of a fence, most likely part of the deer pen, and two cellar holes. I have been unsuccessful in finding them. The Pines keeps her secrets hidden well.

Aserdaten seems to have vanished as quickly as it appeared. The story is that Aserdaten was not well liked by the locals, who were tired of their crops being eaten by his deer. He seems to have come to an unfortunate end, and it was hinted very vaguely by Dolf Arens, caretaker of the Eureka Gun Club located nearby. During one of Becks visits, Dolf showed Beck the location of a shallow grave located a few steps from the Eureka Gun Club door. ‘It’s a grave alright, they buried ‘em right in the yard in the old days. Who was it? How should I know?’ Dolph told Beck.

Today the Eureka Gun Club site is in ruins. It’s impossible to tell where the door to the club would have been, although the slab floor of the club can still be seen through the weeds. There is nothing to indicate a grave nearby, and even if it was found, the acidic Pine Barrens soil would have made short work of any remains of poor Aserdaten’s body.

The Eureka Gun Club has a history that stretches back far into the history of this area. The club had been known as the Chisler’s Club, and before that was Collins’s Club. Even today the area has relatively new ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted, and has had much of the tall grass cut or burnt away. Remnants of clay pigeons line one of the field showing that the area is still very much in use.

The club is located near the Chamberlain Branch, which winds through the area. Near the bend in the road at the gun club, a small bridge spans the water. It’s come to be known as Black’s Bridge. A short hike away, hidden on a ridge deep in the woods, lies a stone marked with the inscription ‘1869′ and the letter ‘B’ carved in the side. Beck mentions Arens showing him a stone marked ‘T.G. Black ‘ 1859′ that was as large as a crouching man. The stone that I found was smaller and didn’t have the same marking, leading me to believe that this was a different stone. Perhaps these stones were placed there as part of a survey to mark the borders of Black’s property? In any event, Black was in the area around the same time as Aserdaten. Perhaps Black knew of the fate that befell Asa Daton or Aserdaten?

Both men have disappeared into the unsung history of the Forked River Mountains. All that shows that man was here were the ruins of the Eureka Gun Club, and a lonely intersection of two sand roads in the Pine Barrens.

Lore of New Jersey’s Forked River Mountains

Now we have come to a land where clam and corn fritters are often “flitters,” where wasps are “waspers” and where the industrious ant, according to size, is either an “antymire” or something not sufficiently elegant for quotation in this family journal.

We have arrived together in an area roughly bounded by Mount Misery, once called “Misericorde” wandering grape planting Frenchmen; Dover Forge, reaching back to Jersey bog ore days; Double Trouble, named by an old preacher compelled by beavers to build a dam at least twice, and Forked River – where the “Forked” is still pronounced with two syllables.

On the fringe are Waretown, last stronghold of the militant Quaker Baptists; Good Luck, birthplace of Universalism; Brookville that was Miliville and before that, Tattletown; Cedar Bridge, an early celebrated tavern-stop, and Woodmansee. Here, as you may have guessed, are the Forked River Mountains, a wide expanse of tall barren hills and a region of much taller stories.

This is the country where old men and women pronounce names like Nescochague as if the “g” were the “ch” in chocolate, a trick that is an heirloom of the Lenni Lenapes, without counterpart in even the Elizabethan English that persists in such words, as “strip-ed” for bass. This is where, when you have all but given up your quest for Mr. Hatch, whom you conclude must have named Hatch’s Creek, you stumble the explanation that the stream was Hatchet Creek a century ago.

Botanical shrine famous in Europe

We are up and away from Quaker Bridge, which has lost every vestige of its houses, its tavern, and the bridge that was built without a nail and remained intact, within my own recollection, until a disastrous forest fire. Even so, Quaker Bridge remains a botanical shrine, better known to students, especially in Europe, than many a big city, simply because it was here, in 1805, that the schizea pusilla was found. “Over the name hangs an aura of interest in lands you may never see,” Hollis Koster my Green Bank naturalist told me not long ago. Yes, we are up and over from Quaker Bridge where John Torrey, of New York, “remained two days at Thompson’s Tavern” and was, as he reported to Zaccheus Collins, of Philadelphia, in a letter of July 9, 1818, “very well entertained.” Cedar water, white sand and endless groves of pitch pines would be John’s lonely entertainment now.

As for the wilderness beyond, land watered by the sometimes curiously – spelled “Poppose,” Tub Mill, and other branches of the Wading River, even Mr. Torrey admitted that there were moments of anxiety, just as there would be today. “After we had left Quaker Bridge,” he wrote, describing a journey along a road I would not advise you to take, even though I have splashed my way through, “we fared pretty hard. Some places called taverns that we put up at were not fit for an Arab. At a place called Ten Mile Hollow, or Hell Hollow, we expected to sleep in the woods, for it was with difficulty that we persuaded them to take us in. This was the most miserable place we ever saw; they were too poor to use candles” and had “no butter, sugar, etc. A little sour stuff, which I believe they called rye bread but which was half sawdust, and a little warm water and molasses, were all we had for breakfast. For supper I could not see what we had, for we ate in the dark.”

This, more than a century after, is proposed as an introductory warning for, if you have a mind to explore the mysterious land long set apart as the Forked River Mountain, you had better bring at least a serviceable compass and an ample lunch. Years ago, when I was trying to fight my way through to the hills that seemed ever within reach and yet remained far away, I was deluged by natives of Forked River, Waretown, and other villages along the shore with offers of guidance. These I spurned, for the most part, mistakenly or not, preferring to follow ever abandoned roads that rose from yellowing maps.

GI trails fade in rugged land

Even now, when I have discovered that secret wartime installations bulldozed their way into the most remote fastnesses, bringing even the topmost “peaks” within reach – although GI roads are falling apart even as the old logging trails did before them – I cannot say that I am sorry. I would have missed half the fun.

This “fun” was the thrill of pushing east of the flowering wastelands through which Audubon rode in a produce wagon on his way further south, a journey described in “Great Egg Harbour,” an episode of the third volume in his ornithological biography. It was, and still can be, the delight of traveling the lonely land north of where necessity developed one of the earliest toothless cranberry scoops, used in gathering “true” or upland berries, divided by the natives Into classifications like “boggles” and “staggers.” Like so many tools and utensils, the scoop was born of necessity, isolation and evolution from the first picking by hand to Rob Ford’s use of a basket and cloth covered [text missing] this device of a Green Bank genius whose name is unknown.

So, remembering Quaker Bridge as one of a half-hundred forgotten towns where elections or “caucuses” were held by the simple process of lining up those in favor of one candidate on one side of the “road” facing those preferring an opponent across the sandy way, let’s linger for a moment in Double Trouble, the settlement to which troublesome beavers gave a name; in Williamsburg, which lost itself in Cedar Creek and then Lanoka, and finally in Dover and Good Luck. It is evident that in Gazetteer Tom Gordon’s time there already was a tendency to mangle the name of the stream that flowed seaward from Dover Forge with that of the town, for Tom wasted no time on duplication. Willimsburg, he wrote in 1834, was a village of “10 or 12 dwellings, two taverns, two stores. Good Luck,” he added as if in an afterthought “is a thickly settled neighborhood. The country on the E,” he concluded, “is salt marsh; elsewhere sandy and covered with pine forest.”

Plane Still Lost after 15 Years

Williamsburg lost no time in becoming Cedar Creek and next, with equal facility, Lanoka Harbor. Lanoka, enterprising real estate men used to tell me, was an Indian maid, as real as Indian Ann or the aroma that engulfed her. However, I must assure you that this was where George Lane planted oaks, deriving temporary delight in Lane’s Oaks Harbor, streamlined into Lanoka as soon as George died. In a land where the moving of a forge, piece by piece, caused little concern, and where, when the first airplanes dared a crossing of the Forked River Mountains, one of them dropped from sight in the wilderness 15 years ago and was never heard of again; the changing of a name was nothing at all.

Dover was the forge that was moved. “I have learned,” wrote Charles W. Austin in a letter to the late Charles S. Boyer, author of the hard-to-find “Early Forges and Furnaces in New Jersey,” that an iron forge was in operation at a place called Old Hampton by my grandfather, Joseph Austin, and he demolished it and carted it to Dover with eight-mule teams.” There, where you will find blueberries and cranberries, grown in bogs and on plantations on the road over from Whiting through the Keswick that was Giberson’s, or Guilbertson’s, Mills our estimable Joseph dreaming of uses to which this desolate expanse might be put, rebuilt the whole structure and had it going again, full-tilt, prior to the 1830s.

Charles Austin was born at Dover – and please don’t confuse it with the Morris county Dover that remains. He said that bog iron there was made into pigs and taken away to become a variety of serviceable articles. There was a saw mill, too, where cedar shingles, siding frames, plaster 1ath, fence pickets and all [text missing] even the business in plentiful cedar was less than a memory. I talked with Walter Price, then the overseer of the Holloway cranberry bogs, which long after the forge was swallowed up by the saw mill that ended its days as a barrel factory, expanded across the intermittent lowlands. Walter had worked at Cedar Crest, he said. “Been there” he inquired, I told him that I had and that I worked the signals at the abandoned railroad station near Bamber before the station and tracks were taken away.

“Ever see the peach trees?” he demanded suddenly. I surprised him with an affirmative, remembering some rotting peach baskets in a shed near the Cedar Crest station. “I was a part of all that,” Walter confessed, giving me the only first-hand explanation of another broken hope that I have had. “It was the New York Fruit Co. that came there, almost within sight of the Forked River Mountains,” he went on. “They was going to grow peaches all over the place, and you know, peaches all over the place was what licked “em. Maybe the borers got those trees in the end, over there back of Bamber where you’ve wondered at “em, but it was a bumper crop that ruined the owners. First of all, not many people live around there and they couldn’t get enough pickers for Jove or money. Then, everything was too far away from decent transportation, even if the fruit got picked. If somebody had only thought of a canning plant in those days…”

Water so cold “it kills teeth”

The ruined outline of the forge itself was visible in those days, close to the edge of a flooded bog often rimmed with the red of cranberries that had floated away. The cedar water was crystal clear and down at the bottom were fragments of telltale Dover slag. Below the spillway of what used to be the sawmill was an “ice-cold North Pole” spring which Walter, as I recall it, pointed out with boyish delight. This, he said, was once a kind of community refrigerator for workers on the bogs – jars and crocks of edibles had been, plunged deep In the water which, Walter said, was “too cold to drink.” It kills your teeth and poisons your gums and cuts your tongue out while you’re talkin’,” Walter said, spitting to punctuate his declaration. It was Walter Price who sent me to Double Trouble, first drawing a map of the road in the sand and then suggesting that it had been the Indians who had left such a gloomy name behind them. When I left him he provided a helpful Introduction to J. Reed Tilton, then superintendent of the cranberry bogs at Double Trouble, holdings of the Double Trouble Cranberry Co. Tilton quickly denied that the Indians were responsible. “Only goes to show how stories get around,” he said. That was how I heard the legend of the parson and the beavers who fought it out with dignity, time and again.

“Sometimes they use muskrat in the tale,” the supervisor said, “but beavers sound much better. First the old man would build up the dam and, when it was busted, with the water sluicing through, he’d say to his wife, “Here’s trouble!’ – just like that. In the end, when the dam was eaten through twice in one week, the old preacher really put his heart into what he had to say. “Here’s double trouble!’ he hollered, with his voice as loud as one of his sermons in his good days. All I can say is,” Mr. Tilton concluded soberly, “it’s a good thing he was a preacher. Anybody else’d ha’ used a lot stronger language!” I am, in my errant way, inclined to agree with him.

This may be, as my unidentified man of God must have thought, a land of errant fortune but it is, as well, the country of Good Luck, Which requires the telling of another tale about another preacher, one who built a church and then settled down to wait. This is the story of the Rev. John Murray, first preacher of Universalism in America, who sailed from England July 1770, as supercargo on the brig, “Hand In Hand.” You must have seen a sign designating Murray Grove, even if you have been intent im making something of a speed record down along the coastal highway. It is probable, however, that you missed the little church at the end of the lane and, to be frank, would go on missing it, if I were you, until the first frost comes. I will whisper the word, mosquitoes, and then say no more.

Ship struck bar in berry inlet

As for John Murray, he has long since ceased to worry about such matters. He was, however, a little concerned in the September of that same 1770 when his ship struck the bar of the old Cranberry Inlet, now closed, where he remained several days until help arrived to get her off. Great quantities of romance have been woven round Tom Potter, the man who built the church Mr. Murray was to use, but I prefer to conclude that there was a far more practical idea involved especially behind the notion that Potter’s house could be used for services no longer and a sure-enough church must take its place. “My wife became weary of having meetings held in her house,” wrote Tom Potter, “and I determined to build a house for the worship of God…” So, you see, once again it was a matter of disrupted housekeeping, mud tracked into a tarnished living room by clodhoppers, and unexpected visitations of the clergy at ungodly hours.

“While lying here the provisions of the brig,” wrote my old friend, the late Freddie Bunnell, who used gild the story of Mr. Murray and others under the shudderous sobriquet of June Daye, “became exhausted, and after locking up the vessel, the entire crew proceeded cross the bay in search of sustenance. Being unacquainted with the main, they spent the greater part of the day before they could effect their purpose and, it then being very, late, they proceeded to a nearby tavern to reman over night. (Mr. Murray’s mind seems to have been much exercised by eventful scenes in his previous life, and he longed to get to some place where the busy cares of the world would’ not disturb his meditations.”

And so has each of us reacted at [text missing] soon as the boatmen arrived at the tavern, Murray left them for solitary walk through the dark forest. “Here,” said he, I am as such alone as I could wish, and my heart exclaimed, O, that I had in this wilderness the lodging of some poor walfaring man, some cave, some grot, some place where I might fish my days in calm repose.”

This was when, as if Mr. Murray had rubbed a magical Aladdin’s amp, a log house appeared, and in it, in Fred Bunnell’s version, a young woman who was cleaning some fish.

Collectors Items as Gustave Kobbe’s “Jersey Coast and Pines,” Mr. Murray didn’t flee the motion of a bar room, didn’t wander off into the woods by choice, and certainly did lot come upon a comely young woman. “Murray,” wrote Kobbe, separating from the rest, came to a house where he found a tall, tough-looking man standing by a pile of fish. “Pray, sir,” said Murray, “will you have the goodness to sell me one of those fish?” “No, sir,” was the old man’s abrupt reply. “That is strange,” replied Murray “when you have so many, to refuse a single one.” “I did not refuse you a fish, sir; you are welcome to as many as you please. But I do lot sell fish; I have them for the taking up, and you may obtain them the same way.” The upshot of this singular conversation,” continues Mr. Kobbe who was, as you bay remember, the musical traveler of the New York Times in the 1880s, “was that Murray, after taking up some fish to a tavern where the crew had put up for the night, turned to potter’s house.”

If the conversation was singular before, it was phenomenal from this point on. For the moment, however, let’s resort to Tom Potter’s own words. “I am a poor, ignorant man,” he said. “. . . I was born in these woods, and my father did not think proper to teach me my letters. [Text missing] away and returned. I entered into navigation, constructed a sawmill, and have got together a large estate. I opened my house to the stranger, and especially if a traveling minister passed this way, he always received an invitation to put up at my house and hold his meetings here. I continued this practice for years and was fond of asking them questions,” It was at this point that Mr. Potter also disclosed Mrs. Potter’s estimate of seven years of question-and-answer programs as the dubious reward for extra laundry.

Dedicated church for use by all

Neighbors offered assistance in the building of his church, Potter went on, each with an eye to business in view of subsequent developments but, such proposals were successively declined. Tom Potter said. merely “that God will send me a preacher, and of a very different stamp from those who have heretofore preached at my house and are perpetually contradicting themselves. . .” Baptists asked for the church, once Potter had completed it, and were refused, presumably because they wanted to exclude others. Similar denials were given to both Presbyterians and the Society of Friends, whereupon old Tom “engaged the first year with a man whom I exceedingly disliked. We parted,” he explained briefly, “and for some years have had no stated minister.”

This was an interim in which representatives of a variety of denominations, thwarted in their own plans to use the meeting house Tom Potter had fashioned with his own hands, taunted him with the sarcastic question: “Where is the preacher of whom you spoke?” “My constant reply was,” he wrote afterwards, “He will by-an-by make his appearance.” So, when John Murray had returned from the tavern to Mr. Potter’s house, he was astonished by Tom Potter’s heartness of greeting. “Come my friend, I am glad you have returned,” said he. “I have longed to see you; I have been long expecting you.” Following other details of his story, pieced together before a warming fire, and probably with worrisome Mrs. Potter hovering around in the background, Tom said that at the very instant he saw John Murray’s ship stranded he felt a sense of great happiness. “It seemed as if a voice in my ear said, “There, Potter, in that vessel cast upon the shore is the preacher you have been so long expecting.” I heard the voice and I believed the report and when you came and asked for the fish the same voice seemed to repeat, “Potter, this is the man – this is the person whom I have sent to preach in your house.”

John Murray was clearly amazed. Some say he had preached in England. Other accounts declare that he had been among the Universallsts but had been nothing more than “a believer.” Tucked away at the back of Dr. Brainerd’s “Life of John Brainerd” is the statement that “the wind continuing unfavorable for Murray’s departure, he on Saturday afternoon consented to, preach, and servants were sent on horseback to give notice, far and wide, until 10 in the evening.” It was, continues this fragmentary entry, “September, 1770, when John Murray consented to accept Potter’s invitation, and remain a few years preaching universal salvation.” Kobbe says that Murray, who had preached In England but had decided never to preach again, succumbed to the quiet at the “foothills” of the Forked River Mountains. Tom Murray wrote in his journal that John Murray begged God to send a changing wind to carry his ship away and when there was no wind, he remained. The “unpretentious, white, oblong structure” still stands mostly as it must have been in 1766 when Murray first preached Universalism there, surely as it was when Gustav Kobbe came upon it in 1891.

Today, when the makers of modern maps have for the most part discarded the name of Good Luck as a village, I wonder if it is true that the brig on which Mr. Murray was supercargo gave Good Luck Point its name or if, as no less than Gustav Kobbe has written, the reference is to an episode in the revolution when a refuge, McMullen, spurred his horse into the water, eluding his pursuers with the wholly inadequate cry, “Good Luck!” So it is, as I remember that It was from Good Luck that I once tried to attain the Forked River Mountains, that I reflect on Mr. Potter’s disdain of Baptists in the light of what happened from 1809 to 1874, when Methodists and Universalists worked out a joint schedule of worship in the Good Luck church. And I have always wanted to know something of how Mr. Potter would have felt about the somewhat ornate brick church the Universalists built on the lot adjoining Murray Grove.

Woman dug graves in old cemetery

Especially would I give much to know something more of the old woman who told me she was a grave-digger, there in the Good Luck cemetery, for although my experience with grave-diggers has been limited, I assure you that this one, buxom, full of talk, and leaning on a shovel with a technique developed by long service, is the only one of her sex I have encountered in this vocation. Still in quest of “the way” to the Forked River Mountains in the old days, I was there when she urged me to try another road from Waretown, or Waeirtown as it used to be.

The usual guidebooks dismiss; Waretown as a quiet village, disowned by the Jolly Tar Highway in quest of fewer curves. They call it, ordinarily, “the home of retired sea captains and of many who earn their living from salt water,” Reluctantly, it seems to me, they go on to admit that the name once was Waer Town, even Wiretown in the writings of itinerant divines who used a Universalist headquarters there when other church doors were closed to them, Waretown is the namesake of Abraham Waeir, an early settler who died In 1768. Abraham, it seems, succeeded John Cover as the local leader of some Rogerines, thrown out of Connecticut, who came down the low roads to the shore in 1737. Although I went to Waretown armed with facts, first that the Society of the Rogerine Baptists was founded about 1674 by John Rogers; second, that John was for baptism by immerslon and celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the evening, and finally, that every day of the week should be observed as a holy day, my good friend, the woman who dug graves at Good Luck, had put some strange ideas into my head, not all of them having to do with “flitters” and “waspers.” These, for better or worse, were confirmed by those I met in Waretown.

“To the believers of John Rogers,” they said, as if they had been reading an encyclopedia, “the Sabbath had no special sanctity, It was held that since the death of Christ all days had become holy alike. Rogerines scorned the use of medicines and even of tonic herbs, employing neither physicians nor surgeons. They refused to say grace at meals and insisted that all prayer, except that which might be inspired by extreme occasions, must be mental.” To these Quaker Baptists, all unscriptural religious ritual was idolatry and all good Christians, therefore, must exert themselves against idols, infant baptism and observance of Sunday were idolatry and the Sabbath, obviously, was a New Englaid idol which must be forever shunned.

I was told long ago in Waretown that Quaker Baptists there insisted on observing their own Sundays, if they knew which day it was and that they made a point of upsetting the church services of others. Since that time others have come to me with the variation that Waretown Rogerines never took their knitting to rival churches, seldom banged on church floors with hammers to the distraction of alien preachers, and rarely resorting to sawing pews apart in protest against distasteful sermons, although I may say that I have heard some sermons which, could, I am sure, inspire similar reactions in me. The Quaker Baptists who spent 11 years in Ware- town, says one record, “made no attempt to disturb other societies, although more ardent members seem to have found it convenient to be at some manual labor near meeting houses or in the way of people going to and from church.” All I know now is that they seem to have left Waretown in a hurry, expressing a preference for Northern New Jersey mountains higher than those at hand, where, I hope, they found God from a higher pinnacle.

Mountains found but didn’t know it

It may have seemed to you that I have scuttled all around the Forked River Mountains without actually getting into them. This would not be a fair conclusion. You may try various ways in, just as I have done through the years, only to emerge with stories of Good Luck, Waretown, the Lacey road, the way, only to be told that you have wandered into the “mountains” without knowing it.

This is what they have told me, time and again. Now it is different and there is little point in merely writing paragraphs of description, however mysterious and limitless the wastelands may seem, when one ridge of scrub pine and stunted oak seems like the next. Apart from mortalized in the village that bears his name. You may emerge, crestfallen, believing you have missed and even Nathan Whiting in that, standing the other day on the highest elevation of all, 175 feet above the sea where I never had been before, I realized suddenly that the high moors were not the same. The far-away, kept intact in peacetime; had lost some of their charm in an accessibility made possible by war. I wonder if the challenge of the unknown has gone.

Deep down, I know that it hasn’t for I always like to think of the Forked River Mountains as belonging to Adolph Arendes, long ago a forester in Germany but a lean and ageless man who has been wandering these hills since 1906. “Dolph” has been my friend for many a year, even if I did call him a “woodjin” in a book long ago only to discover afterward that the name had been taken as anything but a compliment.

A woodjin to me is a Down Jersey man who knows the woods better than anybody else and that was what I told “Dolph” when 1 got around to seeing him. He laughed but down at the home of Dr. Nelson & Newbury in Waretown, not long ago, I found out that the old pet name still rankled. This is something that must be cleared up some day soon and until it is the puzzle of the dwarfed mountains will plague me and remain unsolved.

For “Dolph” has a wise head crammed full of lore, stories bristling with odd names of the hideaways he knows better than – Chicken Bone, Red Oak Grove, and Cat-n-Rat. I want to know more about Cave Cabin Hill, about Rutherford Stuyvesant and the Frenchmen he imported to these mist-curtained hills, about Lacey Station that vanished with its railroad, and about John Chamberlin who, they say, was farming those flatlands as early as 1740. I must learn something of the Ransomes who boasted everywhere of Indian blood, of James DeBow, of Sally Brown, Sally Griffee, and the Bowkers. Until I can corner “Dolph” for at least a full day of tall talk, that grove of Australian pines he planted across from the trail the jeeps used from the Lacey road to Whiting will haunt me in a never never land where fritters are “fritters” and tiny ants an unprintable name.

First published in the Newark Sunday Star Ledger, Sept. 7, 1947. Reprinted with permission. Transcribed by Ben Ruset. The Star Ledger requests that you do not copy, retransmit, or link directly to this article. Please link to our homepage at http://www.njpinebarrens.com

The Story of Pasadena and it’s Neighboring Clay Industry

Pasadena is little more than a name on a map. Coincidentally, this is about all that Pasadena, New Jersey ever amounted to; it was a name on a map, and only a small bit more. However, to understand this claim requires a more in-depth view at its history and the history of its neighboring clay industry.

The clay industry started around 1858 when an Irish imigrant named Lewis Neill moved to a remote corner of Lacey Township (then Union Township), located along the Manchester border, from Philadelphia. He began a terra cotta and fire brick operation that has been known for generations as the ‘Union Clay Works.’ The name ‘Union Clay Works’ was not a proper name for the operation at any point in time, but instead a name given it by locals who never knew the name of the company operating at the factory. Quite simply put, it was a clay works located in Union Township, New Jersey. The operation was known as Lewis Neill and Company, and it obtained its clay from nearby sources. The most noted of these sources was near the remnants of a hotel and popular stopping point on the Egg Harbor Road known as Half Way. In time, Neill’s operation obliterated this small stopping point, leaving few traces behind. By 1859, Neill had attracted several investors in his company, and he took a partner, John McManus, the same year. Coincidentally, the manager of Neill’s factory was a tobacconist and Minister by the name of Andrew McCall. The name of his property was ‘Red Oak Grove.’

Neill and McManus continued operation until 1865 when the factory was sold to a fire brick and clay retort manufacturer from Brooklyn, New York named Joseph Keasbey Brick. Under Brick’s ownership, the factory became part of the Brooklyn Clay Retort and Fire Brick Company. Even after his death in 1868, the factory remained under the company’s ownership until 1897 when Brick’s wife died and her estate, which included the Union factory, became a charitable donation to the Brooklyn Memorial Hospital. The factory was closed down, and the entire property remained dormant until it was sold in 1910.

Not far from the Union factory, about three miles north, was the site of another clay works that opened in 1866, the Townsend Clay Manufacturing Company. It was located in a part of Manchester Township then called Wheatland, and was owned by a successful war profiteer named Daniel Townsend. Within a few years, good fortune smiled on the company as the Raritan and Delaware Bay Railroad laid its tracks only yards from the factory’s kilns. By 1873, the company had attracted the attention of several powerful local bankers and was incorporated as the ‘Wheatland Manufacturing Company.’ The factory operated until about 1878 when Daniel Townsend died. After his death, however, the company took another path to profit.

In 1883, the remaining officers of the Wheatland Manufacturing Company decided to change the mission of the company from terra cotta manufacture to real estate development. A development was drawn up and registered with the county clerk; it was named ‘Pasadena.’ At first, lot sales were high, but soon turned for the worse. In fact, the Pasadena development failed utterly by 1915 without a single house ever having been built.

Not far from the remains of the Wheatland factory, just south along the railroad tracks, lay the remains of another site associated with the clay industry. These are the remains of the Brooksbrae Brick Company factory; the same remains that Henry Beck, in his Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey, called the Pasadena Terra Cotta Company. Incorporated in 1905 to manufacture bricks on behalf of the Adams Clay Mining Company, a firm that excavated clay from mines just a mile south along the railroad tracks, the Brooksbrae Brick Company erected a state-of-the-art factory on a small parcel of land near the failed development of Pasadena. In full operation it could have produced thousands of bricks per day. However, the factory never reached that potential. In fact, it is doubtful that the factory ever began operation at all. In 1908, the owner of the Brooksbrae Brick Company, William J. Kelly, died and due to a problem with his will, his entire estate was frozen and became embroiled in litigation for the next decade. The Brooksbrae factory was mothballed until the problem with the will could be sorted out.

In 1915, there was an interesting incident that began with the laborers from the Central Railroad of New Jersey going on strike at the Brooksbrae siding. The strike tied up the rail lines and attempts by railroad management were unsuccessful in easing the tensions. In response to this, agents for the Brooksbrae Brick Company sent a caretaker to the factory. However, during a cold night, the elderly caretaker and his wife lit a fire in their stove without checking or cleaning the chimney’s flue. Smoke backed-up into the house while the couple slept, and within hours it was ablaze. The next morning it was found in ashes by several workers from the nearby Bullock cranberry bogs. After an investigation it was determined an accidental death with no foul play involved. However, the locals in the area, remembering the strike several days earlier, insisted that murder and robbery was the real cause. When Henry Beck recorded his tales about Pasadena, it was this last tale, about murder, that he attached to name ‘Peggy Clevenger.’

The problem with William Kelly’s will had finally been figured out by 1918. Due to an escape clause, the estate could be sold as seen fit by the executors and, the Brooksbrae factory was one of the first pieces to go. After the tragic deaths at the factory, it was sold and never completed.

So, in retrospect, Pasadena was little more than a name on a map. It was a failed attempt at a development in the Pine Barrens, and its current notoriety is only associated with a clay industry that, for the most part, preceded it. The only legacy that Pasadena holds is the folktales that confused and combined the histories of several forgotten localities and one fairly successful clay industry. However, Pasadena is also the key to learning about this wonderful and interesting region of both the Pine Barrens and New Jersey’s past.

Abode of Jersey Hermit Blossoms Into New Fairyland

If the ghost of Turner Brakeley is as benign as I feel he must be, he must approve, I feel very sure, of the La-Ha-Way he knew in the quiet days he passed there more than 50 years ago. For, I must report to you, a gentleman whose name is Stanley Switlik has not only restored what first were the La-Ha-Way plantations to the glories Turner evolved but, in terms of peacocks, swans, trustful deer, lakes, cranberry bogs and even piney retreats themselves, the present has exceeded every dream of the past.

There was a time when I began to doubt some of the things that had been told [to] me about the Bordentown man who, disappointed in love as they say, deserted his fathers fashionable school for young women to hurry away to this woodsy retreat, grow a beard, and chronicle the goings and comings of birds and flowers and other seasonal indices. There are some who have said that Turner Brakeley seemed to emerge as a kind of ogre from the records that remained and the rumors that went around. For my part, I never thought of Turner, the hermit, as an ogre but rather a sensitive soul having much in common with my friend, the Boston man who deserted almost certain success at the bar to fall in love with a mountain in Maine.

Many of my doubts were dispelled when, at one of those services in which you may have joined me at St. Thomas’s, Alexandria, the little church near Pittstown where we will hold our first reunion of another year May 24, a kinsman of Turner Brakeley, journeying over from Easton, PA, thrust a sheaf of the hermit’s notes into my hand. Until then I had been told that all such records had been lost, presumably in a cleanup of La-Ha-Way after the hermit had died. From all that I have learned since then these may be the only writings of a truly unusual man — and I shall quote from them for your benefit anon.

Other doubts were dispelled, I remember, when, after I had mentioned the hermit in Newark, new corroboration was supplied.

Tycoon Restores Old Planations

“You have begin to doubt the existence of Turner Brakeley,” said John Herron, Newark supervisor of schools, when I had finished. I demurred and John smiled. “He was very much as you have written and spoken of him,” he reassured me. “I ought to know. I lived in Bordentown when he was in La-Ha-Way and I was often at the plantations doing erranfs for him…”

I doubt if John Herron, or Mrs. Lewis C. Bayles of Easton, or any of the others appreciate fully what a wonderful place Stanley Switlik, parachute manufacturer and philanthropist, has made of La-Ha-Way. It is almost as if the new owner, working with the hermit long since departed, had resolved to realize what Turner Brakeley mooned over and then, having achieved that, to go far beyond in remaking the economy of the whole neighborhood. And so I say again that Turner Brakeley returning at least once a year to his haunts as some have said he does, must be more than satisfied.

What all that as preamble, let me reach back to what I wrote in the first book for forgotten towns, a volume that appeared after many delays in 1936 and which, much to my own surprise, has become a collectors item. “Northeast of New Egypt and Prospertown,” I said in words that well may date me, “and not too far from the east of Ivanhoe Brook, there is a strange named deserted village whose story struck us as decidedly unusual. Here, where older maps of the locality mark it down as the Lahaway Plantations and where those who know all about it call it Layaway, is La-Ha-Way. The name is an Indian heirloom…”

I could not swear to any aspect of a village even noew. It may be that I blotted up too much of what was told me by my guide of those times, Warner Hargrove of Pemberton. However, I can assure you that Warner had been picking up the folklore of the neighborhood for years, perhaps without realizing it, and I, in my generation have passed on only what he and others have said, no more and no less. I do not know for sure if there were Indians but Warner said the name of La-Ha-Way came “from a tribe of Indians once making it’s headquarters in he locality roaming the wilds of the Central Pines dividing the provinces of East and West Jersey, and making easy marches to the seashore for wampum.â€? That there were Indians in the vicinity is proven by relics now in the La-Ha-Way collection.

“The Indians are mostly forgotten,” I confessed all those years ago, “except when relics are turned up in the woods and fields. However, two well-preserved dwellings, vacant, on the crest of a graceful knoll, remain to recall the memory of the strange man who spent his life in La-Ha-Way in voluntary exile.”

“The road to La-Ha-Way,” I wrote then, “is narrow and winding” and so it remains from the Court House road that links Freehold and Mount Holly, an ancient county line. “Without a guide who knows his business you may miss it altogether,” I went on, revealing that it was the late Charles Remine of Wrightstown, who took all of us there. “Close by each side, we saw a tangled mass fighting the invasion of an automobile. There was just room for a car to get through cautiously, but the driver was ever alert for boggy ruts, fallen and broken limbs of trees, and possible traffic the other way. As on many such paths, one vehicle would be compelled courteously to back out of such a crisis.

Shaggy Gardens Blooming Again

“Suddenly the pathway twists left through a cluster of pines and cedars. Through them, in passing, there is a glimpse of two more deserted buildings, weather-beaten and windowless. Then there is an unexpected halt for it is impossible to go any farther: The road, high on an embankment, attains an impasse where once there was a bridge. This has fallen among the charred, timbers of a broken dam.” I must remind you again that this is the description of La-Ha-Way as I saw it long ago and as it will never be again.

“There is no need to ride on,” the record continues. “From here the exploring is interesting on foot. On the hill are two painted and well-preserved houses, with barns behind them. Near them is a shaggy garden, uncared for, unappreciated, contrasting the dried-up berry bogs across the way. There was a little pond where water lilies were to bloom, when we were there, and across it was a shaky, rustic bridge. This was La-Ha-Way, the inhabitat of the Poet-Who-Never-Wrote-Verses.”

In the folksay of the country-side Lahaway, which is how they spell it now, is inseparable from its post-hermit. The recluse was John Turner Brakeley, I wrote, giving a full name I don’t know even now. I have a signature, J. Turner Brakeley, followed by a characteristic “Brakeley of Lahaway” but the “J” may stand for John.

Turner has been remembered as a tall, well-built man with whitish hair and a well trimmed beard. Born in Bordentown, he was the son of John Howell Brakeley, D.D., a Methodist minister and proprietor of what used to be the Bordentown Female College. Parenthetically I must explain that I have never sought out the relatives of the hermit because, I discovered many years ago, ago, few wished to say anything at all for publication. This is why the notes, given to me at the old pre-Revolutionary church, are so precious, so priceless in their way that I intend to present them, for framing, to the man who has made Lahaway what it has become.

“Brakeley,” I must again transcribe from the old record, “an only child, was well educated. Aiming to prepare himself for a career at the bar, he was graduated from Princeton and later studied law at several other colleges. He was personable, a good-looking young devoted to his father, and unusually energetic. At 25 he seemed possessed of all that one could wish for. It is with considerable reluctance,” I wrote then and I repeat now, “that one makes public the intimate details of Turney Brakeley’s personal life, as gleaned from Remine, our guide who knew the hermit as well as Mrs. Miller Emley of New Egypt, widow of Brakeley’s caretaker . . .”

Exile Was Caused by Love Affair

Whatever the reluctance may have been in those earlier days and whatever it may be now, I can only assure you that at no time has there ever been the slightest contradiction of what I presented almost in a whisper in the beginning. “If the ghost of the poet should tap you on the shoulder at this precise moment and, pointing to this account, say:

“I only told that story once, so why should it be revealed after all these years?” the writer, as well as the reader, would be decidedly at a loss for a reply.

“But since there is little likelihood of such a supernatural occurrence, I continued bravely in that chronicle of more than 20 years ago, and since Brakeley’s love affair was at the bottom of his exile at Lahaway, perhaps we can take a few liberties. Surely, there have been a score of stories of what happened and if this one is true, as I have every reason to believe it is, some small service may be achieved in the task, even so.”

Mrs. Emley did not know the name of the girl who changed everything in Brakeley’s life, nor did she have any idea what became of her. Turner Brakeley spoke of her but once and then, remembering quietly, used no names.

“She was very beautiful, Turner Brakeley said, recalling how they had been betrothed. Apparently he was to establish himself in the law, and then the wedding would be planned.” As Mrs. Emely recalled the story, the young woman was a student at the Bordentown College directed by the elder Brakeley. Stories that Turner was jilted, as were told from time to time, were seemingly without foundation. Turner informed Mrs. Emily that it was he who broke the engagement.

In the hermit’s brief, hesitating description of what happened, it came out that Brakeley unintentionally came upon the girl one evening in the arms of another man. He said he would not have seen the incident at all if it had not been for a sudden glance in a betraying mirror.

“Apologies, explanations, and pleas were to no avail. Turner Brakeley’s dream had been forever shattered. Turner went to his father with the disturbing announcement that he was going at once to live at Lahaway. He said that he wanted to be out of the sight of women and away from “the noise and bustle of the city.” His father, the pastor, owned land in and around the secluded spot and had built the dwellings that were there. Being interested in the cranberry culture, the Rev. John Brakeley had developed berry bogs, where he found the plants already growing in wild profusion.

“The minister,” my record proceeds on pages you would have difficulty in finding now, received the news in astonishment. Here was his son, educated at considerable expense, on the threshold of a career and the more certain of sucess, because of a comfortable legacy to which he had just fallen heir, telling him in a few terse sentences that he wanted nothing more than permission to take his few belongings and live in the heart of a desolate wilderness. Whether Turner went into details as to his reasons or whether his father remonstrated at any length with him one can only surmise. At any rate Brakeley was soon established at Lahaway as a recluse.

Poet Led the Life of Naturalist

From then on began the living of a strange life almost out of contact with the world, and those who had been the young student’s friends. Brakeley took enough furniture to Lahaway for simple comforts, with some writing materials, small plants and seeds, and a supply of well-chosen clothing. For the most part, he put people out of his mind. He began to concern himself with the natural world.

First, he made the clearing around the house larger. Then he planted many varieties of flowers throughout the vicinity. At long intervals he returned to the home town but such visits were as infrequent as they were brief. Back he would come with more clothing and more books, requirements that he could not send for. Brakeley’s study of wasps was, among many other studies, more than ordinary. “Pouring plaster into their earthen tunnels and digging out cross-sections wrote Charles Remine on one occasion, “he demonstrated for his satisfaction just how they lived. Several of these exhibits are on view in the collections at Princeton.”

In one room in his house Brakeley placed five desks, arranging them like the points of a star, with a swivel-chair at the center. In these desks he filed away unlimited data on the winds and weather, the stars and birds, and all the other wonders of the days and nights that were never monotonous. He read his barometer at eight each morning, at noon, and five each afternoon and at midnight just before he went to bed, I was told.

Even a letter he wrote to Rhoda Brakeley Correll, which I have before me, underscores this information for at the top is the fact that at 9 PM Oct. 14, 1909, it was 15 degrees Fahrenheit on the bogs. Notations for several days, which I intend to present to Stanley Switlik, record the wind’s velocity and direction, the temperature and the fact that there was a fine frost, as the hermit called it.

Many of the records, as remembered by Mrs. Emley, would seem worthless but, I have it on excellent authority, the observations he made from the top of what he called Cock Robin Hill on such matters as the habits of wild duck and how they moved their young, were valuable in correcting certain suppositions. One of the legends is that Turner Brakeley imported the first carp from Germany but that his experiments ended when a storm washed out the dams. Mrs. Emley told us those long years ago that prior to her coming to Lahaway with her husband as caretakers— who ever heard of a hermit with caretakers—a certain John Dove and his wife had charge, John being recalled in a story that involves the cooking and eating of a cat that had devoured a choice rabbit that had been shot for supper. It seems that the rabbit just couldn’t be wasted, inside or outside the cat.

As far as I have been able to determine, Turner Brakeley died in 1912 in Bordentown where he had been taken when stricken ill at Lahaway, having lived at his beloved “Plantationsâ€? about 30 years. It was always said, and never denied, that stacks of records and writings were lost in the invasion that followed Brakeley’s death and that among the treasures that disappeared were pieces of New Jersey glass and Indian artifacts. Many of the naturalist’s flowers were still blooming there when I first was taken to the retreat although these had all but disappeared when Stanley Switlik came upon the place in the years of the depression. Intending to make Lahaway only a summer hideaway, Switlik quickly caught much of the charm that Turner Brakeley had known and so restorations were begun wholesale, many of them undertaken to give work to men from the Trenton area without jobs.

Mosquito Named for the Hermit

Bearing out the note I made in 1934 that a mosquito had been named for the so-called hermit, Lottie Switlik, daughter of the man whose enthusiasm for the retreat she shares, told me that Brakeley had worked in cooperation with those who were fighting malaria carried by mosquitoes in the days of building the Panama Canal. Coming over from Red Valley, Stanley and his family weren’t sure about the isolation at first and then, perhaps like the man who lived almost alone there for so many years, they came to love it. Restoring so many of Brakeley’s little ponds and cleaning out his bogs painstakingly, Stanley has become something of a cranberry grower, not only at Lahaway but over at Lakehurst and back of West Creek.

The Switlik story and how the energy and imagination of one man has induced a restoration that has gone beyond Lahaway to bring about a transformation of the economy of Jackson township is something to which I hope we can return. For the moment I must be content, and so must you, with assurances that the Brakeley ghost is pleased with a lily pond dug out by hand, by a duck pond entirely restored, by the creation of Mink Island Lake and by the creation of an entirely new lake that took many years to clear.

Others find satisfaction in a game preserve given to the state and dedicated in October, 1951; many adjoining acres given to Girl Scouts of Trenton, and deer and other creatures of the woodlands grown tame in the new safety of the old Lahaway. Fifty years from now some children aren’t going to know what a tree looks like, Lottie Switlik said, quoting her father.

“Unless – – – ,” I began, and looked all about me, through magnificent rooms and beyond their windows into the acres and acres of unspoiled pine- lands. There was no need to go on. A new genius has taken over where a dreamer began.

First published in the Newark Sunday Star Ledger, March 15, 1953. Reprinted with permission. Transcribed by Ben Ruset. The Star Ledger requests that you do not copy, retransmit, or link directly to this article. Please link to our homepage at http://www.njpinebarrens.com

The Bear Swamp Hill Airplane Crash

In January of 1971 the war in Cambodia was expanding, George McGovern made his presidential bid official, William Cahill was NJ Governor, and practice at the Warren Grove bombing range was ongoing. On January 16, 1971 an F-105 Thunderchief took off from McGuire Air Force Base on what was intended to be a routine bombing run at Warren Grove. The F-105 is a single seat, single engine supersonic jet capable of traveling at 1,386 mph that was the first jet designed to release Nuclear warheads at supersonic speeds.

At the controls of the F-105 was a United Air Lines pilot who was also the flight commander with the Air National Guards 141st Tactical Squadron. Residing in River Vale NJ, he was on his weekend assignment for the short flight from McGuire to Warren Grove. Major William F. Dimas, age 36, was en-route when something happened that my investigations have not yet revealed.

At about 11:35 A.M. Major Dimas who was married and a father of two sons and a daughter, lost his life when his plane struck some trees 100 feet from the Bear Swamp Hill Fire Tower, and then proceeded to hit the tower and a generator building at the towers base. The tower was struck 19 feet 6 inches from its base completely destroying the tower and observation platform. The plane ended it’s journey 3/4 of a mile away coming to rest at a spot near the Papoose Branch.

The crash cut a path across the top of Bear Swamp Hill 32 to 40 feet wide destroying about 988 trees during the incident. Blurry black and white photocopies taken after the crash pretty much look the same as this photo taken by a friend of mine in 1976.

On January 29, 1971 the USAF sent the N.J. Bureau of Forestry the claim form that was needed for the state to be refunded the money for the cost of the damage of the accident. On February 10, 1971 William B. Phoenix the State Fire Warden sent a revised claim to the USAF for the damage. Excluded from the claim was the cost for a $1.250 radio base station that was found to be inoperable at the time of the crash. A partial list of the claim are as follows.

  • 40 Foot Tower with Cab from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma $4,015
  • Observation Platform from Braden Industries (estimate) $2,050
  • Freight from Broken Arrow Oklahoma $450
  • Wooden Steps and Platform $450
  • Erection Costs $10,000
  • 8 X 10 Tower Building (Estimated) $750
  • Tower Electrical Installation $200
  • Radio Microphone $37

There was an estimated 988 trees damaged at a cost of 1 dollar per tree which would be replaced by a professional forester. The total cost came to $19,277.27.

On November 8, 1971 Allan M. Tyrrell, a claims officer for the Air Force notified William B. Phoenix that due to the amount of the claim, the jurisdiction was passed to the Air Force “Headquarters” for consideration.

We have all wondered why the tower was never replaced, and I think you all can surmise by the length of time from the accident until the last letter from the Air Force why there is not a tower there presently. Also, when a claim is sent to “headquarters” there usually is a reason for that and it rarely is good. Read on:

Here is the abbreviated text of a letter dated Jan 14 1972 almost one year after the crash from Colonel William E. Shannon of the USAF to William B. Phoenix the State Fire Warden.

Dear Mr. Phoenix

The claim of the state of NJ for property damage arising out of the crash of a NJ ANG aircraft on 1/16/71 has been considered and denied. This action was necessitated because of claims for property damage caused by members of an Air National Guard unit who are employees of the claimant state are excluded from payment. Under the circumstances, there was no alternative but to deny this claim.

William E. Shannon, Colonel, USAF

Today all that remains on Bear Swamp Hill are the crumbling cement foundation of the fire tower. Even the wooden bathrooms for the recreation area have been removed by either the state or by vandals. The only evidence left of the plane is one landing gear located in the swamp nearby, which is slowly sinking into the ground. Serial numbers on the gear are still in perfect shape due to the high quality chrome used on supersonic planes.

About the F-105

The F-105 Thunderchief flew for the first time on My 27th 1958, and was capable of twice the speed of sound. It was the first jet that was able to drop it’s bombs at supersonic speed and was used extensively in Vietnam. It is one of the few military jets that was never exported for foreign use, and many were used by the Air Force Reserve and the National Guard. The F 105 was a single seat fighter with a top speed of 1,386 mph, and was built by Republic Aviation Corp with 833 of them manufactured at a cost of 2.14 million each. It was originally built to deliver Nuclear weapons, but many of them were used with conventional bombs, and it was the largest single-seat, single-engine fighter ever built. It was retired from service in August of 1981 and up until that time it was the first Air Force aircraft to have a formal retirement ceremony.

The Legend of the Jersey Devil

Stretching from Toms River in Ocean County, to Cape May lies a tract of forest that has captivated people since pre-colonial times. Some of the first permanent settlements in North America were in the Delaware River area. Dutch, Swedes, Portuguese, and English settlers all found the area a harsh but profitable area to settle.

In the early years of British Colonials, iron making towns sprang up, converting the local bog iron found in the cedar streams to a crude form of iron – pig iron. These foundries provided much needed ammunition for the American fight for freedom.

But there is something else about these woods that makes it a place shunned by many. The Pine Barrens are truly a world cut off from the rest of society. Within the Pine’s stretches many strange things have happened. Paint Island Spring, a natural hot spring, has been said to cure many illnesses. A tree in Burlington County that a man was murdered in front of is perpetually green – as is a patch of grass in front of it. A huge forest of stunted pines lay nearly in the center of the forest – you could look from horizon to horizon and not see a tree bigger than four feet.

And then there’s one thing that makes many of the locals dive for cover, when eerie screams ring out and cloven footprints appear in the ground – what many of the locals call the Leeds Devil, or to those outside of the pines, the Jersey Devil.

Birth

The weather that usually accompanies supernatural events is the standard “dark and stormy night”? stuff. And indeed, this night was one of those nights. Leeds Point, where our story begins, is located on the Southern shore of the Great Bay in Burlington County. Leeds Point today is a small dot on the map, just a few houses that are used only seasonally. Leeds Point, back in pre-colonial days, was a larger community, located conveniently on the Mullica River and the Great Bay.

Like any good folklore, the details of the Leeds Devil’s birth are shadowed by the mists of time. The most commonly accepted belief is that a lady known only as Mrs. Leeds (although many insist that her name was Mrs. Shourds) was blessed with 12 children. Upon finding out that she was pregnant with her 13th, she cried out, “May this one be the devil!”? Her wish was granted. The birth was normal, but accounts say that almost immediately, the infant began changing. It’s skin grew rough and scaly, it’s hands and feet elongated and grew hooves, it’s back sprouted a pair of bats wings and serpentine tail, and it’s face twisted and changed to have the face of a horse. Reeling about, it thrashed everyone in the room with it’s tail and flew up the chimney and off into the night.

The devil began raiding local farms, feeding off of crops and livestock, it’s most favorite animal being chicken, which would either be missing when their owners would check them in the morning, or be found dead, for apparently no reason. In 1740 one of the wandering missionaries that preached from town to town in the Pines exorcised him for 100 years. This may not have been effective, because the Devil was reported seen a few times between 1740 and 1840.

Another theory is that Mrs. Leeds refused food to a wandering gypsy, and that the gypsy cursed her unborn child. Another version has it that someone other than Mrs. Leeds had the child – that a young woman was impregnated by a British soldier, and that the offspring was the Devil itself. The latter is probably just Revolutionary War propaganda, because in the eyes of colonials, the Redcoats were the devil themselves! It should be noted that the British had several campaigns against smugglers and pirates in the area, and that the disastrous Battle of Chestnut Creek was fought not far from Leeds Point.

No matter what the variants on the legend, the basics are the same. It was man sized, with a forked tail, cloven hoofs, and the head of a horse. Sprouting from it’s back were two large leathery bat wings. It’s diet consisted of crops and livestock, but oddly enough, there are no reports of it every attacking a human. Many people believe the Devil to be a harbinger of doom. He has been spotted right before every major war, and legend has it that the Leeds Devil will perform some act of mischief on you if you hold evil thoughts.

The Devil was also not alone in the lonely pines. He has been seen with the spirit of a pirate thought to be one of the infamous Captain Kidd’s crew, killed so that his spirit would guard the treasure. The Devil was also thought to be cavorting with a mermaid out to sea, and a beautiful white clad girl with radiant golden hair.

Week of Terror – January, 1909

Many people had hoped that the new century would see the end to the Jersey Devil. He had remained quiet since the late 1880’s, when he was last seen raiding sheep near the New York – New Jersey border. However, fear and panic struck Burlington county in the latter half of January, 1909 – and a new era of Devil sightings were about to begin.

January 16-23 was a week not forgotten quickly by residents of the Delaware River valley. Thousands heard or saw the devil himself, or his footprints. Factories and schools closed for lack of attendance. Many people refused to come out of their homes unarmed, and that was in daylight. Trolley conductors were armed, and posses roamed the countryside following mysterious tracks that would lead for miles, crawl through areas with less than eight inches of clearance, hop fences, or suddenly disappear. His name also changed. In newspaper articles, he was given names like “jabberwock,” “kangaroo horse,” “flying death,” “kingowing,” “woozlebug,” “flying horse,” “cowbird,” “monster,” “flying hoof,” and “prehistoric lizard.”

Saturday, January 16th was the first day that sightings started being reported. A lone sighting in Woodbury, NJ, and two in Bristol, PA started off the furor. The Woodbury sighting, reported by Thack Cozzens, was quick – he just saw the Devil crossing the road near the Woodbury Hotel. He described it as moving faster than an auto, with two spots of phosphorescence for eyes. In Bristol, one sighting was made by Patrolman James Sackville, later chief of the Bristol Police Department. He described the beast as being winged, but hopped like a bird, with features of a “peculiar animal.” It’s voice was like a terrible scream. The creature fled after Sackville started firing his service revolver. Immediately after, E. W. Minster, the postmaster of Bristol reported seeing the Devil flying across the Delaware River at two o’clock in the morning.

Monday found Burlington in an uproar. Hardly a yard was untouched by them. The contents of many trash cans were strewn about and half devoured. Many people attempted to capture the devil, and the woods were filled with steel traps. Dogs would refuse to follow the tracks of the Devil. Posses combed the woods, shouting “If you’re the devil, rattle your chains.”

The next day, Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Evans awoke to ungodly sounds in their back yard. Peering out their bedroom window, they watched as the Devil perched atop their shed. Evans told the press:

“It was about three and a half feet high, with a head like a collie dog and a face like a horse. It had a long neck, wings about two feet long, and it’s back legs were like a crane, and it had horse’s hooves. It walked on it’s back legs and held up two short front legs with paws on them. It didn’t use the front legs at all while we were watching. My wife and I were scared, I tell you, but I managed to open the window and say, ‘Shoo’? and it turned around, barked at me, and flew away.”

More tracks appeared throughout Burlington and Gloucester counties. This time the descriptions varied. Some claimed the Devil to be the size of a dog, while others claimed it had antlers, and still others claimed it had three toes and was dog-like.

An unidentified policeman in Burlington was sure he saw a Jabbwerwock Wednesday morning. It’s eyes were like blazing coals, he claimed. It had no teeth “and other terrible attributes.”? The Leeds Devil was seen in Collingswood by a posse as it flew towards Morristown, where John Smith saw it near the Mount Carmel cemetery. He chased it unit it disappeared in a gravel pit. Later in the evening, the beast frightened riders of a trolley car in Springside. The driver, Edward Davis, reported that “It looked like a winged kangaroo with a long neck.”

The next sightings happened early Thursday morning, the 21st of January. It’s first stop was the Camden area, where it appeared to the Black Hawk Social Club at 1 a.m. It again frightened passengers on a trolley, circling above the tracks, hissing ominously. Fortunately, it kept with it’s pattern of not attacking humans, and was off into the night. The Devil then flew North to Trenton, where it made tracks in the park and several yards. The Devil also tried to enter the home of Trenton councilman E. P. Weeden, but was foiled by a locked door. Many residents elected not to venture outside of their homes until they were sure the threat of the monster was gone. So frightened were local residents that ministers noted an increased attendance at their churches.

Many poultry farmers also reported missing large numbers of chickens. Further adding mystery to this, chickens were soon found dead with no markings on them. Farmers speculated either choking or fright. They all agreed on one thing – that the Jersey Devil was at the root of the problem.

The monster didn’t limit it’s activities to New Jersey on Thursday, either. He was seen running up the Chester Pike in Leiperville, Pennsylvania running along on it’s hind legs faster than an automobile. This time the devil had skin like an alligator, and was about six feet tall. The Devil didn’t stay for long in Pennsylvania – William Wasso, a trackwalker for an electric railway company, watched as the Devil sniffed the center rail. He then saw the devil touch the rail with it’s tail, and explode, melting the track for twenty feet in either direction. Finding no trace of the creature, Wasso believed that it was dead.

The Devil, however, has a history of being impervious to harm. Commodore Stephen Decatur, a captain in the Revolutionary Navy, was in Batsto testing some ordinance when he spied the Devil flying overhead. He ordered the cannon to be fired at it, but the shot passed right through the beast. It flew away unharmed.

Friday saw the Devil back in Camden, observed by another policeman who described him to be a Jabberwock. By this time, the strain of the events of the week had taken their toll on the citizens of the area. Schools closed, and theater performances were canceled. The Devil was seen in Mount Holly, where William Cronk spied him from his window while eating his supper. The Devil was supposedly captured in the barn of C. C. Hilk in Pennsylvania. Two farmhands had locked him in there while he was riding on a wagon driven by one of the farmhands. Many curious people crossed the Delaware to see the beast, but in it’s usual fashion, it was nowhere to be found.

The Jersey Devil was also not the only strange being to appear this Friday. Dan Possack of Millville had a struggle with “one of the strangest freaks of nature, or a monster straight from the bad place.”? While Dan was doing his chores he heard someone in the backyard walking around, calling out to him. When he turned around, he beheld a “monster beast-bird” about 18 feet high. The visitor demanded to know where the garbage can was, asking in perfectly good English. Dan, terrified, ran towards the barn, but the bird caught up with him. It wrapped it’s sinewy and red beak around Dan’s body. Dan began hitting it with a hatchet that he kept in his belt. He was astonished to see that he could chop splinters out of the body, much like he could out of wood. While he was chopping, the beast whispered something in Dan’s ear, and with a mighty blow, Dan set the hatchet square into the monster’s face. Out popped an eyeball, and with a scream of pain, the assailant took in a long breath, filled it’s body like a balloon, and floated into space.” Mass hysteria was certainly gripping the area.

What is It?

Many theories abound as to what the Leeds Devil was. Many were proposed in seriousness and in jest. Some believed that it was a prehistoric creature trapped in a submerged limestone cave. With plenty of air and a constant supply of food (fish) life could continue, separated from the rest of the modern world. The caves could have been opened by seismic activity. The Grand Banks area is known for earthquakes – could one of these opened up the cave that held the Devil?

Or could it be Mrs. Leeds 13th child? Was there really ever a Jersey Devil? According to Rutgers University Folklorist Angus Gillespie, no. Gillespie tells of the first written tale of the Devil, found in the diary of a woodsman named Vance Larner. Stories of the beast Larner say gradually emerged into the Leeds Point myth. Why Leeds? The Leeds, like many early Pines settlers, had been around the area for ages, and many people carried the surname. It might have been easy to pick the Leeds name. The stories of the Devil haunting the woods might have also been devised to discourage federal agents from sweeping the area looking for contraband – something hard to sneak into New York or Philadelphia, but relatively easy in the Pines. It may also have been the perversion of a mothers warning – “Don’t be out late or the Jersey Devil may get you!.”

Nonetheless, the Jersey Devil in recent years has been quiet. He made a brief appearance in the 1950’s, and aroused many curious citizens to thrash around the bushes of Leeds Point. Maybe he’s silent now because his name has been commercialized. Countless bars and taverns bear his name, as well as a potent drink and a hockey team. Maybe the ever encroaching population that replaces more and more trees with modular homes and Sport Utility Vehicles has driven the devil farther and farther into the woods.

Yet there are many people who refuse to go into the pines, be it daylight or night. The pines are an eerie place, physically separated from civilization only by a few miles, but lost in an age of its own.

“Where stunted pines of burned over forest are revealed in darksome pools, the Jersey Devil lurks”? wrote the late New Jersey historian Henry Charlton Beck. Maybe he’s is right.

Sources

Beck, Henry Charlton, Jersey Genesis: The Story of the Mullica River, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 1963.

McGloy, James & Miller, Ray Jr. The Jersey Devil Middle Atlantic Press, Wilmington, Delaware, 1976.

Mother Leeds Curse, World & I Magazine, November, 1995, Vol. 10, Issue 11, p202

A Haunted Place, House Beautiful, November 1994, Vol. 136, Issue 11, p20

Claim They Have Seen “Leeds Devil”?, Asbury Park Evening Press, January 22, 1909, p2

An Awful Struggle, Asbury Park Evening Press, January 22, 1909, p2

What Mysterious Tracks Are These?, Asbury Park Evening Press, January 20, 1909, p2