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Williamstown Theatre Festival

Thursday, August 6, 2009

GHOSTS in New Jersey

by Sarah Slight, Dramaturg

“It starts with the sounds. Creaking floors and slamming doors, fading footsteps down empty halls, whispered words in the wind. Sensations and shadows follow. A feeling of being watched, tingling taps on the shoulders, spectral shapes crouched in corners or gathered in front of fireplaces long gone cold” (

This quote from the official website dedicated to Edith Wharton’s The Mount recounts the numerous eerie feelings felt by its temporary inhabitants. Our own, Melinda Lopez, playwright of Caroline in Jersey, has experienced it there. “Although my experience was very limited to feelings and dreams and lights flickering and…creepiness” (from my interview with Lopez for the program).

While Lopez’s experience happened in Massachusetts, Caroline’s own encounter happens in New Jersey, another state known for unearthly run-ins. In fact, their professional hockey team is named for a nearly 300 year old creature dubbed the Jersey Devil. Many legends exist telling the tale of the birth of the Jersey Devil—either it was a Mrs. Leeds in any number or cities or a Mrs. Shrouds of Leeds Point, for the devil’s other name is the Leeds’ Devil—but most agree that a mother, after bearing 12 children, wished or exclaimed that the 13th would be a devil. At birth, the child was severely deformed and had horns. One night, it flapped its arms, which turned to wings, and flew out the chimney never to be seen by his family again, but to be spotted by many (a bat-like, devil creature) for centuries to come—the most recent being in October 2008 when a man saw a creature whose “wing span must have been a startling three feet. It was brown in color, and it seemed to be a mixture of various animals” (

Sightings of the Jersey Devil happen all over the state, whose inhabitants seem to encounter other supernatural forces quite frequently as well. Numerous online communities exist through which one can share their ghostly encounters. Most divide stories up via state—some of the best for New Jersey are,, and my favorite, the one the following story comes from, It is called “Was My Imaginary Friend Real?” and was posted in September 2008.

“My mother tells me stories about when I was younger. As most children do, I had a so-called imaginary friend, named Sarah. When my mother could not find things and I swore I hadn't taken them, she would sometimes find them under my dresser. After finding things she had lost under there, she confronted me about it. I would say things like, 'Mum, it wasn't me' or, 'Mum, it must have been Sarah!' She would think I was just trying to get over on her and let it slide. But after this happened more and more in the passing weeks, she confronted me with it again, saying, 'Enough with these games! Stop taking my things!'

After that, they stopped but other strange things started to happen. Like the pantry door swinging open when everyone is in the living room, coming home from vacation with the windows open when we knew that they were locked and closed when we left. We blamed it on the ghost, thinking nothing of it, then. Things like these continued to happen over the next eight years.

My father got a promotion moving him to another state. While we were packing up my room, my mother told me about when I used to hide things under my dresser. While we were moving the dresser, a part of the molding fell off of the wall. Inside the wall there were small trinkets like lockets, candies, dolls, coins, a book and a diary, telling about a girl named Sarah.”

This is just one of the many, many personal, New Jersey ghost stories out there. I suggest you take a read to find out just how creepy a place it can be. Perhaps you have some of your own tales to add...

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