Sacred trees can be found in ancient origin stories all the way to the popular world of fiction with J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ents. Trees, stretching all the way back to ancient times, is a universal symbol of growth, fertility, and transformation. There are trees where people travel for pilgrimage, perform rituals, worship, and celebrate around. But are there haunted trees?
According to many locals of Bernards Township in New Jersey, there is at least one haunted tree: The Devil’s Tree. The Devil’s Tree does appear fairly ominous, but at its surface there seems to be nothing unique about this solemn oak tree. The Devil’s Tree presides over a field in Somerset County and is, according to local lore, surrounded by loss, evil, and blood.
Like any local legend, the origin story of The Devil’s Tree isn’t readily apparent. One of the most pervasive origins of the evil surrounding this tree has to do with New Jersey’s branch of the KKK. Bernards Township with the focal point of KKK meetings in New Jersey. Because of this, many demonstrations, meetings, and even lynchings happened near the field and in the surrounding area. Many believe the malignant feeling the tree emits is due to the spirits of innocent African Americans who were so brutally murdered in its branches.
Although the KKK brutality and hate seems to be the most popular theory, it is not the only one. The tree is in a secluded and private field, far from the view of curious eyes. For this reason, it is also the alleged site of several suicides. One of the most curious cases is a nearby farmer who murdered his entire family. Unable to live with what he had done, he went to the tree and hung himself. It is believed that his deeds, hate, and malice have permeated the wood of the tree, tainting. Of course, no name or even year can be provided for sleuths looking to find out the identity of this man. Local lore alleged that those who pluck up the courage to touch their hand to the tree have oily, black stains appearing on their hands...and they are not easy to remove.
It seems that the pervasiveness of tree lore also enters into the paranormal realm as well. Stories of devil trees, which seem popular all over the USA, seem to pervert the hallowed symbol of the tree into something to be feared - surrounded in local lore, rumors, and an impretable sinister feeling.
Today, there are pranksters and thrill-seekers alike who venture to the tree. Another rumor that has cropped up is a car that ‘chases’ the would be tree vandals. There are reports of a big pick up truck that will barrel towards you and will chase you down away from the tree, its headlights blazing. But, when you turn around or go to confront the car, the headlights are gone and the car has inexplicably vanished. The Devil’s Tree is such a popular destination that locals have constructed a wire fence around the base of the tree, in an effort to ward off vandals.
A the Weird NJ article (linked above) quotes a local citizen who did not wish to be identified as saying, “The inherent unholiness of the Devil’s Tree is the result of the evil that men do, and should not be blamed on the Devil.”
Do you have a local devil tree’s lore?
The above image was provided in creative commons from wikimedia commons. Photographed by Daniel Case 2006-07-27