Sunday, January 27, 2019

More Haunted Places in New Jersey

I question why I often post photos that invoke the macabre.

There's no earthly reason for this. My life couldn't be more ordinary.

Wait. I think I just answered my own question.

Last Sunday, I wrote about three haunted places I visited in New Jersey in 2018 -- but, upon further review, I've found more evidence that perhaps I seek a life less ordinary.

First, on a tip from a co-worker, I took the photo at the top of this page. As posted on Instagram on Friday, this is the old (and former) library in Bernardsville. It used to be the Vealtown Tavern, built in the 1700s.

Phyllis Parker, the tavern owner’s daughter, has been rumored to haunt this building ever since. Librarians claimed to have seen her or heard her crying so many times, they issued her a library card.

The historic marker, which looks like a tombstone, states "By this route, Washington with his army retired to Morristown after his victory at Princeton, January 1777 - erected by the DAR."


Above is a photo I took in September of the Hermitage Museum in Ho-Ho-Kus. Built in the 1840s in Gothic Revival style, the site is Bergen County’s first National Historic Landmark. Guests of the original estate included a who’s who of Revolutionary War heroes, and Aaron Burr was married there.

The gardens are maintained by The Friends of the Hermitage, who also sponsor various events, such as ghost tours in October.

A related story in The Record provides more detail:
Tour guide Craig McManus said the Hermitage Museum is haunted: Voices have been recorded. Lights and motion detectors have gone on unprovoked, and a woman has been seen in the upstairs window. “We think there are about four or five spirits in the house,” he said. “The house itself is kind of a paranormal hot spot.”
The Hermitage has been known as a ghost house since at least as far back as 1917, when Bess Rosencrantz and her niece opened a popular tea room there.. The tea room operated for about 15 years. Its haunted tales made headlines as far as North Dakota...
According to McManus, Mary Elizabeth Rosencrantz probably knows about the home’s more recent history, because her spirit never really left. She can sometimes be found in her room. “She’s very aware of who we are and what year it is,” McManus said.

Finally, here’s a photo I took last February: Jesus in a Garfield cemetery, with the only splash of color from a storefront on Passaic Street.

It startled me to notice how many of my other posts in 2018 featured a cemetery or a graveyard (which, distinct from a cemetery, is a burial ground within a churchyard). For example, these two:

The image on the left is from October in Totowa, where I grew up. I noted at the time that there were 96,000 people buried there, in a borough with a population of only 11,000 living souls. The image on the right is from March in North Arlington -- a borough with several cemeteries and nearly 20 times more deceased (300,000) than living residents.

In the posts I tagged last year with #NJchurcheverySunday, at least four included graveyards:

2019 promises more of the same: Just yesterday, after attending a memorial service at a cemetery in Lyndhurst, I literally tripped over the grave of poet William Carlos Williams.

I don’t know what this all means, but I declare -- emphatically -- that I don’t believe in portents.

To prove it, I’ve just eaten the plums that were in our refrigerator.

Forgive me. They were delicious. So sweet and so cold.

Monday, January 21, 2019

7 Reasons for Hope: Revisiting MLK Park

Newly planted redbud; AME Baptist Church
On this bitterly cold Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I visited two green holly bushes, and five bare redbud and weeping cherry trees in an otherwise vacant lot in Paterson, NJ.

It gave me seven reasons for hope.

Across the street -- long known as "Auburn Street" but officially designated as "Freedom Boulevard" in 2013 -- stands the AME Baptist Church.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had memorably spoken at this small church for 20 minutes on March 27, 1968.

As reported in The Record, thousands of people had jammed the sidewalks where I stood to catch a glimpse of him that night. He spoke to raise awareness of the Poor People's Campaign, and afterward left New Jersey to travel to Memphis, where he delivered his prophetic "mountaintop" speech on April 3.

He was assassinated on April 4.


Five years ago, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2014, Paterson's municipal leaders unveiled plans for a park on this lot.

Nothing happened.

When I visited in March 2018, a lone sign stated that a park in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s name was "coming soon," while the lot remained dormant and undeveloped.

This worried me, and I contacted several people about this. Councilwoman Ruby Cotton was kind enough to reply, saying that efforts were under way to revive the plans.

True to her word, on Nov. 30, 2018 -- with the help of community groups like City Green, the United Way of Passaic County, Paterson Habitat for Humanity, St. Paul's Community Development Corp. and The Bronze Heat firefighters -- Mayor Andre Sayegh broke ground to plant one of the weeping cherry trees. (See The Record's photo gallery.)

Coulcilwoman Cotton and Mayor Sayegh help plant a tree. Photo: Bob Karp  

Thank you to all. This is a sign of hope in what The Record describes as "one of Paterson's most drug-plagued thoroughfares."

In early November, just three weeks earlier and just three blocks from the site of the ground-breaking, more than 80 people had been arrested in an operation targeting drug buyers. Police seized more than 300 heroin bricks, semi-automatic handguns and hollow-point bullets.

The location of the park was once an eyesore, said Passaic County Freeholder TJ Best in a Paterson Times report. He lived two blocks away a half-decade ago. The new park is on two lots – one 47×56 and another 30×53. A house that stood in one of those lots had been notorious haven for drug addicts. It caught on fire and had to be demolished years ago.

Rendering (without trees) vs. current state
The new park will feature a rain garden, a walkway and a pathway with quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (also in Braille for the visually impaired).

A little library, an iron fence, gate, wall mural and two lamp posts will be installed as well, said Veronica Rogers of Habitat for Humanity, project manager for the park.

It's now scheduled to open in April 2019.

Mayor Sayegh spoke of creating a legacy: "We're taking back the neighborhood for good."

Those trees may not look like much now, but I think they're beautiful.

I'm looking forward to returning to take photos of the redbuds in bloom. Maybe, by summer, some kids will be playing underneath.

Amen to that.

And, just as the great civil rights leader said to end his speech in Memphis, I'm happy tonight. I'm not worried about anything.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Devil in New Jersey

This past year, I've photographed three local places that are haunted.

An interesting story about 13 haunted places in New Jersey mentioned two, and one of my resolutions this year is to visit several of the others.

Here's one of 13 photos I posted this summer of the Devil's Tower. As describes it:

"The Devil's Tower, located at the end of Esplanade Road in Alpine, was built in 1910 by Manuel Rionda for his wife so that she could see the view of New York City. Legend states, Manuel's wife was enjoying her view in the tower one evening when she spotted her husband with another woman. Overcome with anger and rage, she leaped to her death."

Local legend (and every schoolgirl at nearby Academy of the Holy Angels) also states that if you drive or walk backward around the tower at least three times, you see the ghost of Manuel's wife. You might also find yourself face-to-face with the devil.
A second haunted place I recently visited -- The Devil's Tree -- is (disturbingly) close to where I work. writes:

"The tree, located on Mountain Road in Bernards, is a solitary oak located in a field on Mountain Road in Bernards Township. Local legend suggests the tree is cursed. The story goes that a local farmer killed his wife and children, then hanged himself from the tree. The legend continues that anyone who cuts down the tree will come to an untimely end."

The third site I visited, not in the 13 haunted places story but very close to home, was Easton Tower in Fair Lawn. describes it this way:

"Easton Tower is a stone and wood frame structure, once an irrigation pump, built in 1900 as part of a scenic park. It now abuts the Saddle River Bikeway. It was named after Edward D. Easton (1856-1915), founder and president of the Columbia Phonograph Company. It is sometimes mistakenly called the Red Mill because in the early 1800s a mill nearby was painted red, and many mistook it for the Easton Tower. Residents who live near the tower say strange noises come from the building at night, and at least one witness saw a white apparition at the window."


I do not find the supernatural frightening; I find it interesting, and comforting. If we don't understand everything, there's still wonder in the world. Belief in ghosts is a belief, not just a hope, that life doesn't end with death.

Actually seeing a ghost is an empirical experience that transcends science. Even if it can be disproved, it's still possible that our understanding of life and death is unfathomable.

Only once in my life did I think I saw a ghost. But for all of my life, I've loved ghost stories and the folklore related to the Jersey Devil.

I cited the Jersey Devil in the beginning of my short story about lost love. When I posted a photo of Devil's Tower on "Found in New Jersey," my Tumblr friend acommonloon asked if I'd ever read F. Paul Wilson's books that sometimes feature the Pine Barrens and the Jersey Devil.

Books about this local legend are legion, including those by James F. McCloy and, within the past year, by Hunter Shea and co-authors Brian Regal and Frank J. Esposito.

Jersey Devil craft beer? Check. The name and logo of a professional hockey team? Check. Sightings in the wild? Here's another interesting story about 13 times the Jersey Devil has been spotted.

I don't believe in any of those sightings.

Also, I don't believe I'll capture a photo of the Jersey Devil this year. But still -- and this is the important part -- I do believe anything's possible.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Epiphany in Paterson, NJ (2019)

This is a love letter to New Jersey.

It begins last Sunday morning, on "Little Christmas," while I was standing inside St. Bonaventure's on Ramsey Street, just off Route 80, in Paterson.

This beautiful but modest church is home to a Franciscan parish that celebrated its 140th anniversary in 2018.

I was there, mostly, to listen to the music.

The Chopin Singing Society Male Choir of Passaic, NJ, was scheduled to sing at the 11:30 Mass. Organized on March 10, 1910 (the 100th anniversary of Fryderyk Chopin's birth), it is one of the oldest male independent choral groups still active in the United States.

The choir had been scheduled to sing at the same Mass last year, but a snow storm canceled those plans.

No snow fell last Sunday. On this feast of the Epiphany, the weather was blustery and the mood at St. Bon's was festive.

A catering truck from Anthony & Sons Italian Bakery in Denville was parked across from the parish hall, a sure sign of an after-Mass "coffee &" reception. Soon the nine members of the choir arrived wearing black tuxedos and white shirts, with bright red bow ties and cummerbunds.

Fr. Daniel, who later delivered a thoughtful sermon, introduced the group, correctly, as the "Show-pan" choir. A lone dissenting voice from the congregation called out "Show-PEAN."

The pastor greeted the choir in Polish, pronouncing: "Nee-ekh benje pokh-va-lohn-ee Yezus Kristoos," meaning "Praised be Jesus Christ!" The men's response, pronounced "Na vee-ekee vee-ekoov, A-men," meant "Now and forever, Amen."

Then the dull, white noise of Route 80 traffic echoed through the church during Mass, until the music overwhelmed it.

When the choir sang "Lulajze Jezuniu," a traditional Christmas Eve lullaby to the baby Jesus, I thought of my mother, who grew up in a Polish-speaking household in nearby Garfield. Chopin sometimes used Polish religious music in his compositions and had included the melody of this song in his "Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Op. 20."

Last Sunday this was the soundtrack of everything around me:

  • the properly dressed men in the Polish choir...
  • the copies of "The Italian Voice" newspaper on a table near the entrance, next to church bulletins noting the Spanish-language Mass scheduled later that afternoon...
  • the Filipino and African American families in the adjacent pews....
  • the old woman who lathered her hands with Purell before the Sign of Peace...
  • the young altar girl, struggling to stifle her yawns, wearing a headband with be-glittered kitten ears.

I stood, taking this in, and realized, "I love living here."

New Jersey is extraordinarily ordinary. It's quirky and diverse. It's full of casual history from many sources.

No one around here is just like everyone else, and this reassures me that I'm home.

My faith isn't so much in religion. My faith is in the power of diversity, and in the beauty of ordinary things.

According to the Roman Catholic tradition, the Christmas season ends today on the feast of Jesus' baptism. "Ordinary time" starts tomorrow.

I can't wait.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

A Visit to Citi Field, 38 Days Before Pitchers and Catchers

With the Christmas season ending tomorrow, what’s left to provide hope and joy during this winter of discontent?

It can’t be merely “rooting against the Patriots, Cowboys, and both Clemson and Alabama” – although these are noble pastimes given the apocalyptic end to Notre Dame football and the lingering death of the New York Giants.

Surely, there’s more to life than this.


Well, first, don’t call me Shirley. And, second, how’s this for an epiphany:

There’s only 38 days (February 13, the eve of Valentine’s Day) until pitchers and catchers report to major league baseball spring training camps.

That’s why the other day I took my Valentine to tour an otherwise empty Citi Field in Queens, New York.

These tours are wonderful.

Jackie Robinson Rotunda
They begin and end at the main entrance of Citi Field, in the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, a 19,000 square-foot open-air space with 70-foot archways constructed of thousands of the stadium’s 1.2 million bricks.

Why Jackie Robinson? Our tour guide -- Cort, perhaps the nicest guy in the world and who knew the number of bricks -- explained that Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in New York, and that the Mets’ ownership had an affinity for Ebbets Field, which served as the model for Citi Field’s exterior.

Also, Jackie Robinson is Jackie Robinson. His story transcends any one team, which is why every ballplayer wears a No. 42 jersey every April 15, the day he made his major league debut.

Cort also imparted other bits of Citi Field trivia. Such as: This is the only stadium in the majors where the foul poles are painted orange (since orange and blue are the Mets’ team colors).

As the tour continued, we wandered through surreally empty hallways, event spaces and game-day suites. Here’s a collage…

Our tour guide, Cort
Cort said he had recently attended a wedding reception in the largest event space, the Foxwoods Club. He noted that my favorite mascot, Mr. Met, attended and danced for hours – including on top of one of the tables. Baseball’s Twitter King, Noah Syndergaard, would not have approved.

Foxwoods also provides panoramic views of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park: the U.S. Open tennis grounds and what’s left of the 1964 World’s Fair. To the west, you can see the New York City skyline in the distance and, adjacent to the stadium in Parking Lot B, the ghost of home plate and the base paths of the Mets’ ballpark from 1964 to 2008, Shea Stadium.

Site of Shea Stadium's home plate

The best views on the tour were three-fold. First, from the press box:

Second, from ground level... in the dugout, on the field and in the bull pen:

Orange foul pole

A final best-view was from inside the Mets clubhouse and locker room. No cameras were allowed in these parts. But fortunately we were allowed to take photos in the nearby Media Room, where post-game press conferences are held and trade announcements are made.

Here’s me at the mic, and Nancy and I announcing that we’ve re-upped our marriage contract.

After the tour, we returned to New Jersey to have lunch at a Mexican restaurant. As we sat down, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” began playing in the background.

How appropriate, Nancy remarked, since this is the walk-up song for our favorite Mets’ player, Jacob deGrom.

Thank you, baseball, for this bit of summer magic on a cold, windy day in January.


PS - I forgot to ask Cort two things: Why is there a sign next to the press box phone saying, “All calls are recorded and monitored by the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball”? Also, why is there a stash of sulfuric acid behind the door next to the Ticket Office?

I'll have to take the tour again to get the answers.


See a related recent post, "Stalking Mr. Met: A Happy Recap of the 2018 Season."