When we think of New Jersey, we might think of Atlantic City or Bruce Springsteen. In this post, I’m going to introduce you to the Pine Barrens and many of the crazy, paranormal occurrences, including sightings of a headless pirate ghost and a creepy cryptid.
The Pine Barrens, also known as Pinelands, is 1.1 million acres of preserved woodlands in New Jersey. That’s about 22% of the state. It spans seven counties and includes four state forests. Most of the acreage is rural and dotted with ruins of former mills and mining settlements. Ghost towns are scattered throughout the Pine Barrens.
The Lenni Lenape Native Americans first inhabited the area in 1200 AD. In the late 1600s, European settlements started to pop up in the area, as fresh water was abundant. The iron industry flourished and brought wealth and jobs for many pioneers. Munitions were produced for the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
Other commerce over the years included glass making and paper, cotton, and clay production. The soil is sandy in the Pinelands, so farming was not a major industry in the beginning. Nowadays, cranberries, orchids, and carnivorous plants grow in the Pine Barrens.
When coal was discovered in Pennsylvania, settlers in the Pine Barrens abandoned their New Jersey homes. They moved for the work in the coal mines. This explains why there are dozens of ghost towns throughout the Pinelands region.
In 1978, the acreage was designated to be preserved as part of the Pineland National Reserve. This was America’s first National Reserve.
The Pine Barrens are a strange part of New Jersey. Natural hot springs occur in the Pinelands. In Burlington County there’s a tree where a man was murdered and the tree is said to stay green all year, along with a patch of grass in front of the tree. In the very center of the Pine Barrens, a forest of slender pine trees, none higher than four feet, exists. Abandoned railroad tracks run through the forest, contributing to the eerie feeling of the landscape.
In the 1960s, part of the Pine Barrens allegedly was used as a dumping ground for mobsters and the mafia. Because the land is sandy, it was easier to bury bodies in cold weather.
Ghosts have been seen throughout the woodlands. A small boy apparition is seen in the Atco area. The boy was a victim of a hit and run accident on Burnt Mill Road and he may still be searching for his killer. He is also seen at night chasing after his ball.
Another popular haunting involves an African American doctor during the time of slavery. His name was James Still. Legend has it that he was hanged for practicing medicine but that’s not true. He died in 1882, following a stroke. His ghost is said to assist the lost and injured in the area by pointing them in the right direction.
Another helpful phantom is a white stag. One stormy night in 1809, the stag appeared before a group of Quakers who were about to plunge into the Batsto River. They avoided certain death because of the specter.
Emilio Carranza, a Mexican aviator, flew around the world to promote peace. In 1928, he was flying in a storm with only a flashlight to guide him. He crashed in the Pine Barrens. A statue was erected for him in the Pine Barrens with the inscription, “Messenger of Peace”. It’s said that if you flash your car lights at the statue, you’ll hear his plane and see the flashlight, as he is looking for a place to land.
Although the pirate Captain Kidd died in England, his ghost is reportedly seen in the Pine Barrens. The legend is told that he hid treasure in this area and his headless ghost is either searching for or protecting the prize. He is often seen with the Jersey Devil. It isn’t known why he is headless. He was hanged and not decapitated. Maybe it’s to scare people away from his treasure. Maybe that’s why he likes to hang with the Jersey Devil.
The last ghost sighting I’ll tell about, although there are many more hauntings reported, happens in Batsto Village. The town was vacated in 1989. Today, it’s a historical site. The Batsto Mansion is the biggest structure in the village. It was built in 1785 and has 32 rooms. On top of this building in a cupola, a ghost with facial hair is seen. He appears and eventually fades away.
The first story I ever heard about the Pine Barrens was the monster legend of the Jersey Devil or the Leeds Devil, if you live in the area. The story told is that Deborah Leeds had twelve children and found out she was pregnant again. In her despair of another pregnancy, Mrs. Leeds said she wanted the child to be the devil. In 1735, the child was born and, by all appearances, he was a normal child. But soon after, he morphed into the Jersey Devil. He was described as having wings, hooves, a horse-like head, claws, a forked serpentine tail, and a blood curdling scream. After he changed to this creature, he flew out of the house through the fireplace and he’s been haunting the Pine Barrens ever since.
A few reports of the Jersey Devil-
- In 1820, Joseph Bonaparte, the brother of Napoleon, claimed to have seen the creature on his Bordentown Estate while he was out hunting.
- The devil was thought to be responsible for the killing of livestock in 1840 and again in the 1920s.
- In January, 1909, hundreds of sightings and attacks by the Jersey Devil were reported. Widespread hysteria broke out. The schools were closed for a short time in the Haddon Heights and Camden area. A $10,000 bounty was offered for the capture of the cryptid.
Over the years, hundreds of reported sightings of this beast have occurred.
Could he be an unknown prehistoric creature?
Or maybe he was an invention to keep federal agents, searching for illegal activity, or curious children out of the woods.
If you do a comprehensive study of the Pine Barrens, along with ghosts and the Jersey Devil, you’ll find stories of time travel, aliens, big foot, skinwalkers, and the Witch of the Pines. The area is definitely a paranormal hotbed.
Lots of people hike and camp in the Pine Barrens. I would hike but I don’t think I could bring myself to spend the night out there. Strange things lurk in the forest!
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Click the link on the right to listen to episode 69 of TCKP and learn more about haunted New Jersey. Jenni reports on the Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital.
Turn the crooked key and join us.
(All sources for this story are included on the show notes for the podcast)