Friday, January 08, 2010

#207: Shades of Death Road

This blog post originally appeared over at the Random Wikipedia Article but since I have decided to delete that blog, I have to move it over here so it doesn't get lost. So enjoy.

Shades of Death Road is a two-lane road in Warren County, New Jersey. A portion of it runs alongside Jenny Jump State Forest. Several explanations have been given for the road's macabre name, none of which has ever been conclusively established. Some theories about the origins of the name include:
  • Some focus on the road's southern half, where the adjoining forest with its aged trees provides much actual shade from the sun on even the brightest days. Highwaymen or other bandits would supposedly lay in wait for victims in these shadows, then often cut their throats after taking what they had, or they would engage in fights to the death among themselves over women.
  • In the 1920s and 1930s there were three brutal murders along the road, one a robbery in which a man was hit over the head with a tire jack over some gold coins, a second in which a woman beheaded her husband and buried the head and the body on different sides of the street, and lastly one in which a local resident, Bill Cummins, was shot and buried in a mudpile. It was never solved.
  • The twists and turns of the road have led to suggestions that it has led to an inordinate number of fatal car accidents, and supposedly the reflective guard rails along the road indicate where that has happened. However, the road had earned its name well before automobile use became common in the area.
  • A final explanation points to the Pequest lowlands and nearby Bear Swamp, used today for sod-farming. In 1850, malaria-carrying insects were discovered nesting in a cliff face along the road. They flourished in the nearby wetlandsof Bear Swamp, causing annual outbreaks of the disease. The high mortality rates due to the remoteness of the area from effective medical treatment cut a swath through so many families that a street once called merely Shade or Shades Road due to its tree cover took on the name Shades Of Death out of black humor. The problem was so widespread, that in 1884 a state-sponsored project drained the swamps, ending the threat.
There are two locations along Shades Of Death are said to be good places to see ghosts or other supernatural phenomena at the right time, but not without some supposed personal risk. The first is Ghost Lake, created in the early 20th century when two wealthy local men dammed a creek that ran through the narrow valley between houses they had just built. They gave it its name from the wraithlike vapor formations they often saw rising off it on cooler mornings. They further named the pass Haunted Hollow. To the right of Ghost lake, there is a small cave, once used by Lenape Indians. Though the cave is now easily accessible, and also covered in graffiti, archaeologists who surveyed the area in 1918 found pottery shards, flint, and broken arrow heads. From their findings, the archaeologists concluded that "The Fairy Hole" was not often visited. It may have been used as a simple resting point for traveling or hunting Lenape, but with its close proximity to several known burial sites, it is possible this was a sacred or religiously important site.

The next place is Lenape Lane, an unpaved one-lane dead-end street about three-quarter mile in length running eastward off Shades just north of I-80. It ends at a farmhouse for which it is little more than a driveway, but halfway down there is space to park or turn around next to a wooden structure described as looking like an abandoned stable. Visitors to this stable site at night have reported extremely local fogs surrounding it and seeing apparitions in it, or sometimes even in clear weather. They have also claimed the air is sometimes unusually chilly, and feeling general unease in the area for no immediately apparent reason. Legend also has it that sometimes nocturnal visitors to Lenape see an orb of white light appear near the end of the road which chases vehicles back out to Shades Of Death. If it turns red in the process, those who see it will die which may be attributed to an old tree near the end of Lenape that was never cut down when the road was built. As a result, the road forks right before the tree, and a big red reflector has been nailed to the tree to warn drivers. Legend says that if one circles around the tree and drives down the road again at midnight, a red light will shine and the driver will never survive.

The old sign to Shades of Death Road at the intersection of Hope Road. The sign, which was the target of thievery for years was finally replaced with vertical posts which are harder to steal and not as attractive.