New Jersey’s Shades of Death Road attracts thrill seekers and restless youths, their backpacks stocked with cameras, spray paint, and beer. At night, they swear they see ghostly figures gliding through the forest, spooking each other on yet another Saturday night in suburbia.
Many residents, however, are weary of these legend trippers and ghost hunters. After one too many visitors attempted to rip down the Shades of Death Road sign as a souvenir, locals responded by greasing the pole to make it harder to steal.
Regardless of whose side you’re on, there’s no denying the allure of the haunted history attached to this seven mile stretch that begins at County Route 611 in Liberty Township and winds through low-lying flatlands to its northern point at Long Bridge Road.
The exact origin of Shades of Death Road remains a mystery, and whether the ominous moniker inspired its ghostly legends or vice versa is a source of debate. Some believe the stretch was originally called Shade Road. The southern point adjoins a forest and the lush trees provide bountiful shade on hot summer days.
Unfortunately, this was an inviting location for the highwaymen of the past. Rumor has it they lurked in the shadows of the trees, then leapt out and cut the throats of unsuspecting travelers, stealing the clothes and valuables right off their victims’ backs.
Not all of the outlaws got away with their crimes. Townspeople would hunt down these men and lynch them from the boughs of the trees beneath which they once hid. The bodies served a grisly warning for any other would-be thieves.
During the 1920s and 1930s, three brutal murders supposedly took place along the road. The first involved a heated argument or robbery over gold coins; the culprits crushed the victim’s skull with a tire jack and took the valuables. The second slaying involved a wife who beheaded her husband, and then curiously buried the head and body on separate sides of the road. Finally, there’s the case of Bill Cummins, a local who was reportedly shot and buried not far from the road, his murder never solved.
Such tales haunt the area’s landmarks as well. Nestled in the state forest surrounding Shades of Death Road is Ghost Lake. It was the handiwork of William Crouse Jr. and Leon G. Hull, two businessmen from the 20th century who dammed a nearby creek to create an attractive body of water between their newly built homes.
While the damming worked, their satisfaction soon turned into fear once the pair noticed eerie fog formations gliding across the surface on cool mornings (hence the lake’s name). Visitors today report ghost sightings along its shore, an abandoned cabin in the woods, and a sky that appears in perpetual twilight, regardless of the hour of the day.
Adding to this eerie setting is a small cave known as the Fairy Hole, located just to the right of Ghost Lake. Lenape Indians used the hollow many years ago, and an archeological survey from 1918 unearthed pottery shards and arrow heads. Archeologists believe the Lenape used the cave as a resting spot, yet its proximity to known burials makes it a sacred site.
Due north of Ghost Lake and just off Shades of Death Road is Lenape Lane, a dead end dirt track with a ghostly reputation. Travelers who venture down this lane report heavy fog, unusually chilly air, and an abandoned wooden structure that looks like an old stable. Those who approach say an orb of bright white light appears to chase them back to Shades of Death Road. If the orb turns red, those who make eye contact are doomed to die.
Clearly, Shades of Death Road is full of otherworldly destinations. Just be careful not to overstep bounds — you may upset the locals more than the alleged apparitions.