BY Nick Kurczewski NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
If you see strange lights in the woods, or have coins mysteriously tossed at you, don’t stop the car! Only a 90 minute journey from New York City, Clinton Road is legendary amongst ghost hunters, folklorists, and anyone brave enough to drive it. With the founders of Weird NJ as our guide, we took on this bone-chilling stretch of asphalt.
“It’s like a dark highway into people’s innermost fears.”
That’s how Mark Moran, publisher and co-creator of the Weird NJ magazine and website, sums up Clinton Road, a quiet and twisty stretch of road roughly 55 miles northwest of New York City.
Moran, along with Weird NJ co-creator Mark Sceurman, knows a thing or two about the strange, the mysterious and, well, many things that are just plain weird.
Clinton Road is all of those things and much, much more.
This eerie 10 mile stretch of road sits in a quiet corner of the Garden State. Clinton Road isn’t far from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, but it’s not exactly near much of anything.
Beginning at the fairly well-trafficked NJ Route 23, Clinton Road winds its way north, before terminating at Upper Greenwood Lake. Other than trees, picturesque Clinton Reservoir, a few bridges and the very occasional house set back from the road, there isn’t all that much to see.
Unless you happen to see a sofa in the road, or the pack of blood-thirsty cannibals lurking in the shadows, hoping you’ll stop your car to investigate.
Before meeting the two Marks from Weird NJ, I’d finally dared to travel down Clinton Road at nighttime. My traveling companion for this drive into the unknown was the stout-hearted Michael Schuy, the 13-year-old-son of a neighborhood friend.
My job was to keep an eye on the road, and remain vigilant for ghosts and, perhaps, even a visit from the Jersey Devil himself. Mike, meanwhile, kept careful watch on the woods, along with our survival gear which included, in order of importance: two bottles of soda, licorice, a pair of flashlights and, just in case, a rosary his mother had given him before setting out.
Several passes up and down Clinton Road revealed nothing more sinister than a busted transistor radio in the middle of the road. We decided to keep its partially smashed electronic remains as a trophy of our bravery.
Weeks later, in the light of day, and with Weird NJ’s Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman as my guides, Clinton Road is more of a history lesson than 10-mile-long spook house.
“Let’s see, what did we get in trouble for last time,” joked Sceurman, as he steered his SUV right, off Route 23 and onto Clinton Road. There are several locations you can park along the road, but venturing deeper into the surrounding woods requires an official hiking permit.
After a mile, the houses become scarcer and the woods begin to loom over the roadway. The weather was brisk and the trees bare of leaves but, in the daytime, Clinton Road feels lonely rather than unsettling. A rickety abandoned house with warning signs to “Keep Out” at least added a hint of danger and mystery.
“People definitely play on the legend [of Clinton Road],” said Mark Moran. He mentions the menacing black truck that lurks on the road. Appearing out of nowhere, the truck gets extremely close to your rear bumper, flashes its lights, and then suddenly disappears into the night.
Sure enough, during my earlier Clinton Road visit, I’d noticed a black truck traveling in the other direction each time I drove down the road. The truck’s blazing fog-lights and loud exhausr made it stand out, though I’m positive there was nothing ghostly about this grumbling pick-up.
“We don’t really expect anything paranormal,” explained Mark Moran. “We explore folklore, we’re not interested in proving if a story is true or not. We believe in ghost stories, they tell us a lot about the human psyche. We’ve never said any place was haunted, we’re just sharing people’s stories.”
Having visited and chronicled countless bizarre tales and legends, Moran says this unassuming stretch of road remains unique. “Clinton Road kind of wrote itself.”
Reports of strange occurrences continue to bring the Weird NJ team back to Clinton Road. “We hear about the strangest things…lights over the water, UFOs, snow in July. It keeps us coming back,” adds Sceurman.
The first bridge we cross, a sturdy stone affair with rushing rapids beneath it, is famous amongst Clinton Road fans for the tale of the mischievous ghost of a boy who drowned there. Legend has it, if you toss coins over the bridge and into the water below, the boy’s ghost will throw them back, or place them in the middle of the road.
We attempted to conjure the spirit world with several dimes and quarters but, in this instance, the ghost boy opted to keep the change.
The Clinton Ironworks is even stranger, and the structure is often mistaken for being some type of Druid creation, or a temple to the occult. Built in the early-1800s, this pyramid-shaped structure was part of a short-lived iron making community which faded away in the 1850s. Today, it’s surrounded by chain link fence, but is easily visible from the road.
Next is a visit to the aptly-named Dead Man’s Curve. This bend in the road lives up to its name, if only because it’s the sharpest corner on Clinton Road and could easily catch out the unwary. Ghosts, the occult and even KKK rituals have all been linked to this particularly menacing corner. The graffiti-covered barriers were put up fairly recently, according to Mark Sceurman.
Yet nothing comes close the wild stories linked to Cross Castle, a former mansion that was left to rot in the woods after being gutted by fire. For years, the decaying remains of this once grand estate served as the unofficial epicenter of Clinton Road folklore.
Some stories are more than tall tales, however. Before it was demolished in the 1980s, many people reported being physically affected by the site, or coming across unexplained rock formations and eerie writing on the building’s walls. One visitor snapped an image of perplexing graffiti at Cross Castle, and on a plank of wood placed nearby. These odd ramblings turned out to be from the official Lex Satanicus,’ the La Veyan Church of Satan’s code of conduct.
Cross Castle is long gone, but the site remains accessible via hiking paths. I opted to stay closer to the relative safety of Clinton Road, thank you very much.
“What’s strange is that Paradiso Road, which runs about parallel to Clinton Road, is even lonelier,” says Mark Sceurman. “But it has nothing, no legends or stories connected to it.”
Clinton Road remains one-of-a-kind as the strangest, most mysterious and, yes, the weirdest road you’ll ever encounter.