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2 New Jersey places rumored to be haunted by murderers

There are all sorts of strange legends associated with New Jersey. The most well known is probably the Jersey Devil, but there are plenty of other supernatural offerings from the Garden State. Here are just two of the many creepy haunted places in New Jersey — both of which have been rumored to be visited by the ghosts of murderers.

1. the Devil's Tree

Just off a Mountain Road in Bernards Township, in the middle of an open field, sits a tree. Trees aren’t exactly an uncommon site, but this particular one has a storied history that’s led it to be called the creepiest place to visit in the state.

Local legends tells all sorts of dark stories about the so-called “Devil’s Tree.” There are rumors that a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan used it for lynchings and cross burnings years ago. Other stories tell of a farmer who killed his entire family, then hanged himself on the tree. These deaths are said to give the tree dark energy — and a curse that causes all sorts of horrible things to happen to those who dare to mess with it.

Of course, there’s no evidence that any of these murders — or the farmer’s suicide — ever occurred. But that doesn’t seem to stop the rumors. And there are quite a few of them.

As the legends go, anyone who tries to cut the tree down is cursed. Many people have attempted it over the years, as evidence by the many marks on its trunk, but nobody has yet succeeded. Those who try are said to meet an untimely end.

Other stories tell of a “ghost truck” that patrols the area. It’s said to be driven by a sentinel from hell who guards the tree and chases away anyone who messes with it. One source says this was simply an exaggeration of the truth, and a normal, human family drove out to the tree and chased people away. Another source says the story was made up entirely by local boys who wanted to hang out and drink at the tree by themselves.

There are a few typical ghost stories associated with the Devil’s Tree. Apparitions of people hanging from branches have been reported, as well as strange noises coming from the tree — mostly the sounds of people screaming or trying to make their way out from the inside. But most of the accounts center on strange things that have happened to people after visiting the tree.

One account tells of a man who peed on the tree, then hit a deer while driving home. Another tells of someone getting into another, minor car wreck after bad mouthing the tree. In another, a group of friends visited the tree and saw a noose hanging from one of the branches. When they tried to get it off, they heard a strange noise from inside the tree and a burst of energy sent them all flying. Others have claimed they got a strange black substance on their hands or even had their hands start bleeding for no apparent reason just for getting close. Those who take a piece of bark as a souvenir have claimed to wake up to see an old man standing at the foot of their bed.

According to The Big Book of New Jersey Ghost Stories (page 130), the property owners wrapped chain link fence around the tree in 2009, which is visible in several photos of the tree. To me, this seems like a pretty clear sign that they’re tired of people messing with it. The tree also sits on private property, so maybe this is one you should just listen to stories about and not try to visit.

2. the Union Hotel

The Union Hotel was built in 1878 on the site of a former stagecoach shop in Flemington, New Jersey, about 50 miles east of Newark. By all accounts, the hotel appears to be a well known and loved landmark in Flemington. And a few decades after its opening, it would play a part in a major historical event.

On March 1, 1932, 20-month-old Charles Lindbergh Jr. was kidnapped from his home in Hopewell, New Jersey. His body was found about a month and a half later just a few miles from his home. Charles’s father, Charles Lindbergh Sr., had made headlines a few years earlier for making the first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight. The murder of Charles Jr. was also big news.

A man named Bruno Hauptmann was soon arrested. His trial began in early 1935. It was held at the Hunterdon County Courthouse, just across the street from the Union Hotel. During the month long trial, jurors were sequestered in the hotel’s upper floors when court wasn’t in session. The hotel also became a gathering place for reporters and other people who wanted to discuss the trial — sort of like a modern day Twitter, though obviously on a much smaller scale.

Bruno Hauptmann

On February 13, 1935, Bruno Hauptmann was found guilty of kidnapping and murder. He was executed the following year.

Over the years, several stories of alleged hauntings have sprung up at the hotel. Most of them are from employees and purported to have happened in times or areas where guests weren’t allowed.

Many of these stories involved children. There are several accounts of children being heard playing when there were no guests at the hotel. Ghost children have been spotted, and there are even stories of a ghost girl who sits on the steps and tries to trip people. A waitress once claimed to hear a disembodied voice singing a lullaby. In another account, a staff member saw a little girl running around the dining room hours after it had closed. When his co-workers told him she was a ghost, he was astounded because, in his words, “she looked so real.”

And there are plenty of other, non-child related stories. In one, a manager felt something press against her chest early in the morning. When she asked whatever it was to leave, the pressure stopped. Perhaps the most well known story involves an employee who locked the hotel’s front doors, only to have them fly right back open. When he went to close them again, he saw a pair of shoes walking up the stairs on their own.

Other reported hauntings include: Voices from an empty dining room and bar stools spinning on their own, more doors slamming on their own and feelings of an unknown or unseen presence, as if someone is watching you when you’re alone. At least one source suggested Bruno Hauptmann himself haunts the hotel; however, it’s not clear if he ever even entered.

It’s actually unclear just why there are so many reported ghost stories at the Union Hotel. None of these stories appear to have any sort of real world occurrences attached. There are no reports of casualties at the hotel, at least not any that are readily available online. If there were, surely they’d be talked about along with the ghost stories. Did being associated with the trial of a child murderer give the hotel some sort of dark energy? Did guests love their stays there so much they wanted to come back in the afterlife? Or are the stories simply the result of the overactive imaginations of employees who were alone in dark, quiet areas for too long? As always, I will let you decide for yourself what you believe.

The hotel was closed to guests in the late 1970’s. It changed hands numerous times over the years before being converted into a restaurant that closed in 2008. For the next decade or so, the hotel fell into disrepair.

As of June 2022, plans are underway to convert the hotel and surrounding area into 20,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. Whether the paranormal rumors will continue in this new phase of the hotel’s life is yet to be seen.

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