The new Weird NJ issue #35 has just been unleashed this week, just in time for Autumn chills and ghostly thrills. Here are some of our favorite true stories of encountering something “otherworldly” that was told to us this year. –Mark and Mark
The Ghost In The Chapel At The Devil’s Tower
The story is true. It happened when I was about 16 years old. I am not making this up in any way or embellishing it.
I have always been of a serious bent of mind, not afraid of things and not gullible. Today, I am a well-educated professional. I take a scientific and skeptical approach to stories of ghosts, tales of the supernatural and the like. But what appears below did happen. I can’t explain it and won’t try. I will just relate what took place.
I was born and raised in Cresskill, which is in Bergen County. Cresskill is right next to Alpine and the Rionda estate which is the home of the “Devil’s Tower.” When I was growing up during the late ‘60’s and early ‘70s the old Rionda estate was a regular stomping ground for many kids in the area.
The Rionda estate back then was a very special place: very weird, spooky and magical all at the same time. Large tracts of it were still intact. Most of it was heavily wooded and spread about were various buildings or ruins of buildings. You could go up there and walk around for hours, exploring what was left of the estate. I especially remember the remains of what must have been a series of pools or ponds. These had been created out of stone, were fed by a natural stream and were arranged one after the other down the side of a hill.
The Rionda estate was an especially great place to go to around Halloween (if you could get up the nerve) as the old tower and nearby chapel lent a lot to the already spooky and mysterious atmosphere created by the dark woods. Back then we did not call the tower the “Devil’s Tower.” It was referred to as the “old tower,” the “clock tower” or more commonly the “Rionda tower.” At that time there were no stories about walking around it backwards and the devil appearing. Those must have been later creations. Until the mid ‘60s it was possible to go up into the tower. That ended when someone jumped or fell from the top. There was a big uproar over that and I recall reading something about it in the local papers. The door to the tower, which is located up in the ceiling of the arch was boarded up from that point on.
Of equal interest to us kids was the small chapel or mausoleum. It was located right near the clock tower and it is still there today. It was rumored that Rionda’s wife had been interred there. Some thought that her body was still inside but we had no way of knowing whether that was true or not. It is the chapel that serves as the focus of the following story.
Late one afternoon in the fall of 1971 Lois, who was my girlfriend at the time, and I went for a walk up into the estate. It was near Halloween, a holiday we both liked and we wanted to get some “atmosphere” by going up to hang around the old tower and chapel.
Neither Lois nor I were superstitious or believed in ghosts. We were both pretty level-headed kids. For my part, I have always been of a rational, scientific bent of mind. I have never believed in ghosts and have always dismissed talk of UFO’s or other “supernatural” events.
We got up to the old tower and walked around it for a while. We had the whole place to ourselves, which was unusual because it was common to find other kids hanging out whenever you went. We tried to see if there was a way to get up into the tower. We had wanted to go up into it for a long time, but we could not find any way in, at least not without the help of a very long ladder.
After a while, we turned our attention to the chapel/mausoleum. Again, we tried to find a way in. We wanted to do some exploring. No one we knew had ever been inside. But the doors were made of very heavy wood and were tightly shut.
We decided to try the windows. The windows to this building were of the narrow gothic type. They were intricately made, heavy set, with lots of small panes of thick glass in them. We could see no easy way in, at least not without doing serious damage to the place, and neither of us wanted any part of that.
We spent some time peering through the heavy glass. In what light there was, we could see small church-style benches piled up in the place, We also saw what appeared to be a small altar toward one end of the building. It looked much like a small church. On one side of the altar there appeared to be a wrought iron enclosure. It looked like the kind you see at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the kind that people are buried behind.
It was beginning to get dark and we needed to leave if we were going to avoid walking through the thick woods at night. Just as we were about to leave, we got the shock of our lives, something I remember in every detail all these 36 years later.
Taking one last look in before we left, we saw, floating before the altar something that I can only describe as a ghost. I don’t know how else to describe it. At first, we could not tell exactly what it was. It appeared as a luminous cloud without a definitive shape. It was clearly floating above the floor, not standing on it. It was not moving, really, but hovering about three feet off in front of the altar. It seemed to have a light of its own and look like a cohesive mist.
When we saw it we looked at each other. I said to Lois: “Do you see that too?” She said “yes.” We looked at it again for a minute and I said to Lois: “It’s probably some sort of reflection or light coming in from the other window. I am going to go over to the other window and look in and see if I can still see it. You look at it and see if my being in front of the window diminishes or changes it. That would mean its really light coming in from the other window.”
So, with this theory in mind, I ran around the building to the other window. When I got there, the ghost was still floating above the floor. Furthermore, I could see the other window and Lois’s face looking in, and I could see her right through the apparition! I tried to cover as much of the window as I could by standing in front of it, but this made no difference at all. The ghost was still there! I decided to go back around to rejoin Lois. As I got halfway around I heard Lois scream. I ran around the corner of the building and Lois was standing there with her face in her hands looking away from the window. I asked what had happened and she said in a trembling voice that the ghost had changed and had looked at her. I looked into the window and sure enough, what had been a floating cloud now looked distinctly like a woman of about five feet tall with a sort of flowing dress on. And there was absolutely no mistaking what looked like a face with some sort of a shawl around it looking directly at us!
I said to Lois: “You have to see this!” She looked again, and together we both watched as the womanly apparition began to slowly float in our direction. I have to admit that we were both scared to death at this point. I know that I had a very strong urge to run away, but was really transfixed by what I was seeing. I kept trying to figure out what natural explanation would explain it.
The ghost got about two thirds of the way to the window we were looking in. It did not seem to get any more distinct, however, despite getting closer. At this point, the urge to turn and run was becoming overpowering and Lois was squeezing my hand so tight that her fingernails were drawing blood. But before we could turn and run, the ghost slowly dissolved away to nothing. It did not happen all at once, but took about 10 seconds or so. At the end there was nothing left.
We ran around to the other window to see if we could see it, but it was not there. After looking in for a long time and from every angle we finally left.
We told our friends and family about this experience but I don’t think anyone ever really believed us. They must have thought we were putting them all on. No one we knew had ever seen this except for us, and our friends eventually got tired of hearing about it.
I have visited the place since, but it now sits on or near someone’s property and with all the woods gone it is a lot less spooky than it was. I have not had the nerve to go up to the building, fearing getting caught for trespassing. Still, after all these years, I wonder if anyone else had a similar experience to that of Lois and me. Maybe someone reading this will write in with a similar tale. I have never come up with an explanation for what we saw, except to say that maybe ghosts do exist.
—A Former Cresskill Resident.
The Third Shift
For five years I worked as a security guard for a major manufacturing company. The company is a household name, and this particular central Jersey site is its oldest continuously operating manufacturing facility. While I was there, the plant celebrated its 105th anniversary. I worked the graveyard shift from midnight to 8:00 a.m. The incident I am about to tell about occurred in my fourth year. By that time I had managed to explore virtually every square foot of the 600-plus acre site. I even managed to climb the 100-foot water tower to see the view after several failed attempts due to high winds.
After about a month of overnights, the human body is able to overcome its diurnal nature. In time, I came to enjoy the quiet and the freedom that came with the job. We were required to make two mobile patrols of the entire site during our shift. I would take my first patrol around 2:00 a.m. to break up the monotony. It took close to an hour to cover the grounds and several administration buildings. The plant ran three shifts so it wasn’t necessary to check the manufacturing areas. It was on one of these routine patrols that the incident occurred.
It was Thanksgiving night and the plant did not run a third shift, so the place was more desolate than usual. During my patrol I stopped at one building I frequented because it had the best vending machines. All the lights were on. Most of the buildings except for some of the really old ones kept the lights burning all night to deter intruders. I scoped out what was left in the vending machine, but realized that I needed to use the rest room. I used this rest room all the time, and there is nothing better than using a public rest room knowing no one else would be coming in. I chose my usual stall, the third from the end, and sat down to “drop the kids off at the pool.” As I bent over to pull my pants up, I naturally looked down and saw something terrifying (not what you’re thinking). It was a tan construction boot very close to the adjoining wall in the next stall to the right. What was more terrifying was that it was not facing forward; it was pointed toward my stall as if the person was facing the partition. It felt like an invisible man was leering over the divider at me. Immediately, I shot straight up with my pants still down. Paralysis set in and I was too scared to look back down. For two minutes I carefully listened, and then I peered down: there was no boot. I yanked up my pants and blazed out of that stall and into the cafeteria next door. I assure you I never heard anyone enter or leave while I was in that bathroom. Furthermore, it had very creaky doors that slammed shut after you opened them.
For the next couple months I didn’t enter that building. It could have been a ghost. It could have been a reoccurring imprint left from years of endless toil from the workers that got projected onto this building. I became well acquainted with the theory of the factory mentality while working there: Most of the employees had been working there for over 20 years and for most this place was their first home and identity. The men worked three rotating shifts, short swings, holidays, and never turned down overtime. I watched many men eligible for retirement refuse to take their pension because they didn’t know what else to do with their lives. Seven or eight men died while I worked there; two on the job. That type of living leaves a stain on a place.
The guard who relieved me in the morning had worked there for 33 years in various positions. About a week later I told him my story. He listened and then told me two of his own. Now, he was a very tall, stern guy; they called him “Robocop.” Everything was black and white to him. There was no room left for interpretation. He followed the rules and made damn sure everyone else did too.
He told me how just before I started, he was forced to work double shifts until they got new guards. On one of his patrols he swears he saw someone standing silhouetted in the lighted doorway to the administration building. He was just about to enter the building to do a sweep. He said he saw no one while he walked through the halls. His next story baffled me even more.
He mentioned that while on patrol during the daytime, he was driving along the perimeter fence and saw a fire. The fire was about 30 feet from the fence in the middle of a railroad track that ran behind the factory. Years ago finished product was put in freight cars and shipped off using this rail line. He said all he saw were these huge, intense flames centered in the middle of the track. He jumped back in the patrol car and went to the nearest building and called the on-site fire chief. But when he returned to the spot to await the fire personnel, there was no fire. He opened a nearby gate and inspected the area. There was no sign of a fire on the track—no burnt wood or vegetation. He mentioned the incident to another employee and he thought it might have been some type of portal. I believe he saw what he saw and I can’t explain it.
Something In Suite 5G at FDU
My friend Laura and I were Resident Assistants at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison a few years ago. Before school started, the RAs were confronted with the task of checking each one of 100 room and apartment keys in a shoebox-sized container for one of the upper-classmen residence hall buildings. Laura and I teamed up to check building 5, a building in “The Village.”
It was exceptionally hot that September afternoon and the buildings on campus were even hotter. Although they were equipped with air conditioning, the units only seemed to work when it was 80 degrees or below outside, not when they were really needed, especially on days when it was 95 degrees and humid.
Hoping to limit our time in the building, I suggested it would work quicker if we split up, so I took the top floors of the building, and she took the lower floors. We would meet in the middle and choose from there.
I took my sets of keys and made my way to the third floor of the building as she made hers to the basement. I decided to go from back to front, and started in Suite I, and then Suites J and H. The front door unlocked with all the designated keys, and each of the bedrooms locked and unlocked with their corresponding keys.
About 15 minutes later, I was in Suite G. Even though G was in the front of the building, it was one of the darker suites I had been in that day. It faces the courtyard of the Village, an upper classmen pseudo-quad, at an odd angle that shades it from most of the daylight, and a large and looming tree in the distance cuts off any hope of direct sunlight.
After trying the front door with my master key, I tested each of the marked apartment G keys to make sure they fit, turned, and unlocked the door. There were no problems, and so I moved into the suite itself. Once in the common room, a square living room-sized space that connects the three bedrooms and common bathroom, I noticed something odd.
The left and middle bedroom doors were open, but the right bedroom door next to the bathroom was closed. I noticed in each of the other suites the cleaning women left all the bedroom doors open, to show which rooms they had been in, but rationalized it away by thinking that this door had probably just accidentally closed.
I made my way from the left bedroom to the middle bedroom, trying each of the corresponding keys to make sure they worked. Everything was fine, until I got to the right bedroom. I slid the first key into the lock. Turned. Nothing. Thinking it had to be a mismarked key, I reached for another, and tried that one. The same thing happened. Frustrated, I called to Laura, who I could hear working her way through the second floor of apartments.
I yelled to Laura that my key did not work, and she yelled back that she would come up in a minute to help. While waiting, I continued to fidget with the key and the door.
The room, which had felt like 110 degrees only a few minutes before, was now much colder. It was so much colder, in fact, that Laura commented that she was surprised the air conditioning was working so well when she walked into the suite. She sat on the couch, tired from having checked the rooms below, put the brown box of keys on her knee and sorted through to see if there were any more for Suite G. She had no luck.
Laura told me the key had to be one of the ones I already tried, because it had opened the front door and the apartment door, so that either meant they were extras to the other rooms or just sticking in that lock. She then asked to try. I handed her the keys and watched as key after key failed to open the door.
Finally, just as we were thinking we would have to walk back to the office to grab some more keys, something inside the lock made a “click” sound. Laura held the key in place as I turned the knob and pushed the door.
There was a loud boom and the sound of something big rubbing against the carpet from within the room. Although the door opened about an inch, we could feel a counter pressure from the other side, preventing us from forcing the door any further. It was like an evenly distributed pressure on the other side of the door.
Slam! The door shut. The air from inside the room blew some of the strands of Laura’s hair across her cheek, and I could feel the goose bumps rise on my skin.
Laura turned the key and again we managed to get the door to open an inch before being stopped by something on the other side. We made eye contact with each other, pressed both hands on the door, and pushed with all our strength. With a few heaves, we moved the door open just enough to squeeze through.
Inside, we could see that the room’s two moveable wardrobe closets, about 250 pounds a piece were placed side by side against the door from the inside. We reasoned that it was likely a prank played by whoever had been living in the room last. Laura and I laughed, but stopped as we turned toward the window.
The normally noisy aluminum mini-blinds were drawn closed and the security bar was locked firmly in place, its key hanging motionless from a string inside the room. None of it was moving, which would have been the case had someone jumped through the window in a hurry.
It was not possible for anyone to get out of the room through the window, or for anyone to get out of the room with the wardrobes pressed flush against the door.
We squeezed back through the opening in the door and left the building.
At dinnertime, the rest of the Resident Assistants were gathered around one of the cafeteria tables. Laura and I quietly shuffled past the people in the line, grabbed our food, and took our place next to the others.
“We just had a weird experience in your building,” I said to one of the female RAs of building 5.
Her already pale face greyed slightly as the word “what” formed on her lips. I told her the tail end of what had happened to us and watched as she tightened up, looked at her co-RA and then back at me.
The RA of building 5 told me she was in there two nights before, and as she was sitting in the common room of her apartment she heard violent screaming and shouting. She thought someone had moved back early and was in trouble, so she grabbed her master keys, went upstairs, and followed the noise to Suite G.
She went in all of the rooms and noticed they were all closed and locked. She opened them, but the right bedroom felt like it was blocked, as if something was pressing firmly against it. She pressed harder and got in to the room. She expected to be greeted by someone, but the room was empty. While she could not see (none of the rooms in the Village have built-in lights), she could tell there were definitely no wardrobes pressed against the door.
Another RA, Lauren, was sitting across the table and overheard the end of the story, not knowing we were talking about building 5, Suite G. Lauren added how afraid she was to live in building 5 the summer before, adding that she frequently heard footsteps and other noises.
Friends who lived in the building later that year told me that candles would flare up and then go out. And, at certain times of the year, when almost everyone is home for vacation/break, sounds come from the empty building. -Bill Devers
Weird NJ publishes two issues per year of everything that is weird about New Jersey. Not only ghosts and unexplained phenomena, but a broad spectrum of everyday encounters of what looks odd, out of place or just downright funny, as only a New Jerseyan would appreciate. You can find it at www.weirdnj.com