Lost Limbs Foundation

Monday, April 22, 2013

Shades of Death Road!

Shades of Death Road
Dark Places

With a name like 'Shades of Death Road' it is little wonder that this stretch of rural road in New Jersey, US, is quite well documented for strange happenings and unnatural goings on. Travelling for 6.7 miles (approx 11kms), this tree enshrouded road has quite a few stories and legends told about it.

It gets a little creepier when one finds out about landmarks close by, including the fairy hole and Ghost Lake. A deserted shack at the end of a dead-end lane rounds out its overall creepy nature.

The legends began in the early 1800's when the settling populace of the area was said to be quite violent (legends also state inbred). Fights would start out amongst families, and at times family members would go missing while out hunting in the wilds. Of course, another family would be blamed for the disappearance, and the old saying 'an eye for an eye' would come into play.

Later on highway men and bandits would ply their sinister ways along the darkened, tree choked stretches of the then dirt roadway. Robberies and hold-ups were not too uncommon, and much of the time the person who had their possessions pilfered would be left with their throat cut on the side of the road.

Reprisals against these highway men were severe, and the locals would hunt them down and lynch them from one of the trees lining the road. The bodies would be left to rot on the low lying branches, to serve as a reminder to others to take their criminal business elsewhere.

Even after so many deaths, this rural route was still known as 'The Shade', due to the constant blocking out of the sun from the trees reaching overhead. This was soon to change.

In the 1850's 'Bear Swamp', located next to the road, began to be a breeding ground for malaria carrying mosquitoes. Every year the mosquitoes would blow out in plague proportions, causing mass outbreaks of the disease.

'The Shade' was so remote, that access to doctors was next to impossible, and the mortality rate was high. Some legends state that doctors, being quite expensive, did not have the want to treat the many 'poor' people living in the area, but would still be seen travelling the road between towns. In an effort to appeal to their compassion, families of those stricken with malaria would place the sick in beds along the roadside, in the hope that a travelling doctor would stop and treat them.

If true, it would have presented quite a macabre scene, as those near deaths door would have been seen in their beds, soaked in fever sweat, convulsing or in the stillness of comas.

These outbreaks became so severe that towards the end of the 1800's the swamps were drained with state sponsored money and labour. Although the outbreaks were now much less severe, people could not forget the terror and fear of the years before, and the roadway was renamed 'Shades of Death'.

In 1918, archaeologists surveyed a landmark in the area known as the 'Fairy Hole'. This small, shallow cave seemed to play host to short stay visits to the Lenape Indians. Arrow heads and pottery shards were all found in the cave, but today it is filled with graffiti and broken beer bottles.

Close to the vicinity of the cave are several Indian burial sites. It is believed that the cave may also have been used for sacred/religious purposes, and the next story, the first of our 'ghost' stories, may be linked.

Soon after the survey, a creek that ran near the road was dammed, and a lake was formed, flooding the burial sites. The original name for the lake is forgotten, but that's not a big issue, as that name did not stick for long. In the cooler mornings, thick tendrils of vapour would form on the lakes surface, and slowly creep into the nearby vegetation.

Due to this spooky play of mist and fog the lake was renamed Ghost Lake, further adding to the atmosphere of the area. An abandoned cabin, that can be seen across the lake from the road, has its share of stories as well, with many believing that the ghosts seen there are the spirits of the lost and murdered congregating.

One of the more interesting legends concerns the Native American Spirit guide. This spirit takes the form of a deer that appears to run along the side of cars travelling the road in the twilight hours. The deer is said to forewarn the driver that other deer are seeking to cross the road ahead, and if the driver does not slow down the deer will be struck.

This can be fatal to both the deer and the occupants of the car.

During the 1920's and 30's the road was the location of a number of murders. The first was a robbery, with the victim meeting a grisly end after being savagely beaten with a tyre iron. The second was a man who was shot and left to die on the side of the road.

The third murder had a woman kill and decapitate her husband. She buried the body, but for some reason elected to bury the head and body on opposite sides of the road. Even to this day nobody knows why she sought to bury him like that.

When you take in all the history, and the name of the locations themselves, it is little wonder that the place has a reputation for being haunted. The ghosts of armed men, creeping through the trees, seemingly stalking visitors to the area are witnessed, only to disappear into the night. Balls of light are seen in the dilapidated ruins of old farmhouses, and the sounds of an old piano can be heard as if the keys are being randomly smashed by an unseen force along Lenape Lane.

But one of the creepiest stories of all, concerns a find by some visitors to the area in the 1990s.

A husband and wife were walking through the woods along Shades of Death Road (now a sealed two lane road), when they came upon a small rise. They could see that in the distance what looked like small pieces of paper were scattered across the ground. Curious, they walked the short distance to see what they were.

They were shocked to find thousands of polaroid photos, most of which contained blurred, faded images, of bound women laying on a bed or on a floor. None of the women were smiling.

Soon, the story started the rounds via word of mouth, and another group went up to see if the pictures existed.

They certainly did. Blowing slowly down the hill in the wind were thousands of polaroid photos. Once again most depicted bound women, but it was soon discovered that the ones not on a bed were not laying on the floor, but some sort of metal surface, possibly a table. These women, eyes half closed did not appear to be sleeping.

Only two of the polaroid’s can be found online. I have added one to the picture here, the blurrness makes it hard to make out but her bent legs and knee ancan be seen clearly at the right of the picture. They were found by the second group of people who went out there, searching.

It has been suggested that when some of the women were identified as missing persons, the police started an investigation. Soon after all traces of the polaroids were removed. Likely by the police themselves, but nothing much else is known about the investigation or whether it continues.

Shades of Death Road, what is happening here?
Is it haunted by the spirits of those who lost their lives to murder, tragedy and plague?
What of the Native American burials that were flooded during the creation of Ghost Lake?
Then there are the polaroids...