Clinton Road (New Jersey)
Clinton Road is located in West Milford, Passaic County, New Jersey. It runs in a generally north-south direction, beginning at Route 23 near Newfoundland and running roughly 10 miles (16 km) to its northern terminus at Upper Greenwood Lake.
The road and the land around it have gained notoriety over the years as an area rife with many legends of paranormal occurrences such as sightings of ghosts, strange creatures and gatherings of witches, Satanists and the Ku Klux Klan. It is also rumored that professional killers dispose of bodies in the surrounding woods—with one recorded case of this occurring. It has been a regular subject of discussion in Weird NJ magazine, which once devoted an entire issue to it. In the words of a local police chief, "It's a long, desolate stretch and makes the imagination go nuts."
There are very few houses along the road and much of the adjoining property is undeveloped publicly owned woodlands (either City of Newark watershed or state forest) and the road itself is a narrow two-lane highway that receives little maintenance, is not part of New Jersey's county-highway system and was until fairly recently unpaved for some of its length, connecting two areas of minimal population and growth and thus having little traffic even at the busiest times of day.
It is also notorious for having the country's longest traffic light wait. This occurs at a double intersection where Route 23 crosses the road. The two lights can cause motorists to wait for 5 minutes in total. The lengthy wait was a result of traffic planners giving increased priority to Route 23 to reduce the tailbacks during rush hour.
Legends and folklore
There are several tales regularly told about different areas along or near Clinton Road.
- The ghost boy at the bridge: At one of the bridges over Clinton Brook (Dead Mans Curve) near the reservoir, if you put a quarter in the middle of the road where the yellow line is, at midnight it will supposedly be promptly returned by the ghost of a boy who drowned while swimming below or had fallen in while sitting on the edge of the bridge. In some tellings an apparition is seen; in others the ghost pushes the teller into the water if he or she looks over the side of the bridge in order to save him from being run over as he was in life.
Besides the ghost boy, there have been other ghosts described by Weird NJ readers. One claims to have seen a ghost Camaro driven by a girl who supposedly died when she crashed it in 1988 (any mention while driving the road at night is supposed to trigger a manifestation). Another claims to have encountered two park rangers one night while camping with friends near Terrace Pond, a glacial tarn on a ridge accessible from the road by hiking trails, who in the morning turned out to have been the ghosts of two rangers who had died on the job in 1939.
- The Druidic temple: A conical stone structure just east of the road south of the reservoir was said to be a site where local Druids practiced their rituals, and horrible things might come to pass for any intruder who looked too closely or came at the wrong time.
The building is actually an iron smelter left over from the 18th century when the ore was common in the area and needed for the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Clinton Furnace in 1976. It is currently fenced off by the Newark water department to prevent any entrance and the liability for injury that might result.
- Ghost truck: There are accounts of phantom vehicles: pickup trucks or even floating headlights not attached to any vehicle that supposedly appear from nowhere in the middle of the night and chase drivers to the end of the road, then disappear.
- Strange creatures, from hellhounds to monkeys and unidentifiable hybrids, have allegedly been seen at night. If not of supernatural origin, they are said to have been survivors of Jungle Habitat, a nearby attraction that has been closed since 1976, which have managed to survive and crossbreed.
- Some visitors to the area report also seeing people dressed weirdly at odd hours who simply stare at those who see them and do not speak. Sometimes these people disappear or are apparently not seen by those present.
- Lastly, some travelers have reported a feeling of uneasiness or mounting dread as they drive down the road, sometimes so great that they have to turn back.
In 1905, a man named Richard Cross built a castle on high land near the reservoir for his wife and three children. Later in the 20th century, it fell into ruin after a fire had destroyed part of it and thus became a popular destination for hikers and local teenagers looking for secluded locations to camp out and have parties.
It was also widely believed to have played host to gatherings of Satan worshippers and their sacrifices. Several past visitors have written to Weird NJ telling of strange occurrences in or near the castle site, such as people going into seizures and bruises appearing on their bodies afterwards, or having strange, disturbing visions. Writings that suggest Satanism have been reported as appearing on the castle's interior walls, particularly in areas that were supposedly inaccessible.
An autopsy found that the man had died of foul play but also something initially puzzling: ice crystals in blood vessels near his heart. His interior organs also had decayed at a rate far slower than his skin. Pathologists concluded that someone had frozen his body after death in an attempt to mislead investigators into believing he died at a later time than he actually did.
The man was identified as someone on the periphery of Mafia activities in nearby Rockland County, New York. The investigation ultimately led to the 1986 arrest of Richard Kuklinski, a New Jersey native involved in Rockland organized crime who confessed to being the killer of not only the victim at issue but a veteran hit man for the mob. He claimed to have killed over a hundred others and similarly treated their bodies, which earned him the nickname "The Iceman." He pled guilty to five of the murders and received two life sentences, which ended with his death in March 2006.
Other realities behind the stories
Reports of Ku Klux Klan activity in the area may come from the presence of the German-American Bund, which maintained some camps in the area in the years prior to U.S. entry into World War II. A number of local residents also were reportedly Bund members.
Weird NJ has also published an e-mail from a correspondent who had claimed to have been a practicing Wiccan and said that he and fellow adherents built shrines in the area and practiced casting spells, which he said accounted for some of the stories people told. He claimed there was a lot more of this activity than the magazine's editors knew about.
- Moran, Mark and Sceurman, Mark; Weird NJ: Your Travel Guide to New Jersey's Local Legends and Best-Kept Secrets; Barnes & Noble Books, New York, New York, 2003, p. 206
- Justo Bautista & Maia Davis (August 13, 1998), "Haunted-House Nightmare", Hackensack Record reprinted in The Seattle Times.
- Caren Chesler (June 24, 2001), "On the Road; The Longest Light", The New York Times.
- Mike Frassinelli (June 14, 2010), "N.J. motorists continue to be frustrated by 'nation's longest traffic light'", The Star-Ledger, "Various publications have paid ironic homage. In 2001, the New York Times declared it 'America’s longest traffic light,' a year after The Star-Ledger in an editorial called it America’s second-longest light behind one in Delaware. New Jersey Department of Transportation officials say they have no ranking or idea where the intersection stands nationally. ... Actually, it’s a two-lights problem — two long lights at two closely spaced intersections confronting motorists on Clinton Road. The 2½-minute red lights are at either end of the double intersection."
- Moran, Mark and Sceurman, Mark; Weird NJ: Your Travel Guide to New Jersey's Local Legends and Best-Kept Secrets; Barnes & Noble Books, New York, New York, 2003, 200
- Moran & Sceurman, 200-07.
- Moran & Sceurman, 204.
- "New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places - Passaic County". NJ DEP - Historic Preservation Office. July 7, 2009. p. 19. Retrieved March 23, 2010.
- From an interview in the television special "Most Terrifying Places in America 2" (2009) on the Travel Channel
- Moran & Sceurman, 203.
- Moran & Sceurman, 205.
- Moran & Sceurman, 202.