Trees have been symbolic motifs since the dawn of time, ranging from creation stories – including the Tree of Knowledge in the Bible and Yggdrasil, the world tree in Norse mythology – to the Buddhist’s Bodhi Tree and ancient tales about people being transformed into trees. The majority of these tales have been mostly positive and charming, which makes the following report one of the darker, if not the darkest, stories involving a tree.
Situated on Mountain Road, the tree reaches it gnarled branches out in a threatening manner, seeming to be daring those who fear it and warning those who might not know any better. The Devil’s Tree is considered by many locals to be cursed and even haunted.
A dark and troubled past
One of the most prevalent and disturbing origin stories surrounding the curse of The Devil’s Tree involves the rumor about Bernards Township having been the headquarters for the New Jersey branch of the Ku Klux Klan. As troubling as that rumor is, a more frightening story tells of the ghosts of African-Americans haunting the immediate area, who were hung on the tree by vicious lynch mobs back in the dark days of the white supremacy movement.
Weird NJ Magazine conducted intensive research into the folklore regarding The Devil’s Tree and the surrounding area, interviewing many locals, who share stories from several witnesses claiming that they saw the bodies of the victims hanging from the branches. It turns out that one of those stories involves the thoughtless actions conducted by a local high school, when they hung up effigies of a rival football team on the lower branches of the tree.
The site of murder and suicide
Some of the sadder elements behind the legends surrounding The Devils’ Tree are the many suicidesattributed to it and the site. One sinister story involves the tragic murder of a family by the crazed father who then hung himself from one of the branches of the tree. Some believe that his evil nature has imbedded itself in the tree – absorbed into the bark and the wood – essentially infecting the tree with his terrible sins.
Several people who dared to get close enough to touch the tree stated that they ended up with black, oily stains that were almost impossible to wash off afterwards. Another witness reported the time she pressed her ear against the trunk of The Devil’s Tree. She advised that she could hear “the sounds of screaming” coming from deep within.
An odd rumor reports that in recent times, a black Ford pickup truck has been seen approaching The Devil’s Tree when people get too close to the site – disappearing just as quickly and in a shroud of mystery and secrecy. Witnesses apparently told Weird NJ that a “sentinel from Hell” owns and controls the truck, who is considered to be a guardian who protects the tree against nosey visitors and vandals.
Some still dare to visit The Devil’s Tree
The Devil’s Tree has a curious allure for the people who continue to flock to visit the site and touch the tree, in spite of the local’s hushed warnings and the threat of the curses and hauntings. Others seem to have more nefarious intentions, seeking to try to damage or even destroy it. Local authorities have attempted to protect the tree and its large trunk with makeshift wire fencing around the base.
The trunk of the tree bears the scars of several attempts to vandalize or kill it, with the use of chainsaws, axes and other tools and weapons – all of them failing miserably. The tree still stands tall and imposing, but no one knows if the same can be said of those who dared to try to harm it or bring it down.