Friday, October 29, 2010
I am not ashamed to admit that I am a Jersey girl. What other state can boast not one but two volumes of a book called Weird New Jersey? So I wasn’t surprised to discover, while watching a program on the Travel Channel, that New Jersey is home to the “scariest road in the U.S.” It turns out to be Clinton Road in the small rural town of West Milford. (As a side note, Clinton Road is also the location of the longest traffic light in New Jersey. Coincidence? I think not!)
I Googled the road and several sites appeared recounting chilling stories of ghostly encounters: a bridge haunted by the ghost of a young boy who fell to his death there, a young girl who drives a ghostly 1988 blue Camaro up and down the road, a truck that tries to frighten unwary drivers off the road and a large beast that is said to prowl the forest on either side. Perfect, I thought, time for an October road trip.
My intrepid best friend Debbie agreed to accompany me, on one condition. Since all the strange doings occurred during the dead of night, we had to go in broad daylight. I’ve written about Debbie before, calling her the George to my Nancy Drew, but it’s really more that she’s the level-headed one to my ditz, hence the perfect cohort on a supernatural safari. I agreed to her terms and we met on a fall Friday afternoon, ready to take on whatever awaited us on Clinton Road.
As we drove west, the scenery changed from malls to forest fairly quickly, and I began to notice a change in my companion, too. It started when a screaming ambulance flew past us in the opposite direction, with the lettering “West Milford” on the side. Debbie made a comment that it probably had picked up some poor soul from Clinton Road but when I turned to her laughing, her brow was furrowed. Next we reached the entrance to Clinton Road and, while we sat waiting at that longest light in N.J., I pointed out something disappearing into the undergrowth to our right, but before I could say I thought it was a deer, she floored it through the light so that we made a rather spectacular entrance onto the infamous road.
The supposedly haunted thoroughfare winds its way through state forest for ten miles, making for a formidably dark trip at night, but a rather lovely one by day. Well-trodden paths that disappeared into the forest lined the roadside, but every five feet, a No Trespassing sign was tacked to a tree. The state of New Jersey was definitely trying to send a message here, and it wasn’t sitting too well with my companion. When we reached the legendary bridge, I told her to stop; I wanted to take a closer look. She just stared at me dumbfounded, “You want to get out of the car? You want us to stop on this road?!” I couldn’t convince her to pull more than an inch off the road, even though there was a perfectly usable parking area, so I left her safe in the car while I ventured to the bridge.
Legend has it that the little boy who fell to his death will, if you throw a coin off the bridge, throw it back at you. A simple experiment, but a demeaning task for any spirit, I thought, so I stood on the bridge instead and spoke aloud that I wished him well. Beneath me was a gorge of rushing water, tumbling down towards the ruins of an old mill. Behind me, off the other side of the bridge, I could see a waterfall in the distance and an overgrown island below it. It was easy to see what could tempt a little boy to play here; it looked like a painting by an artist of the Hudson River School. I was beguiled and I went back to get my friend.
“Oh thank the Lord!” she greeted me at the car and I swear her face went pale when I told her I wanted her to come with me to see something. First I had to convince her that it wasn’t some specter I planned to show her, then I had to coax her into parking the car off the road, and then, as she got out of the car, she asked, “Should I leave it running?” I thought of us, pursued by demons, hightailing it back to the car, throwing ourselves into it a la Starsky and Hutch, and then beating a hasty retreat, tires squealing, and I lost it. Standing there, laughing to the point of crossing my legs, I had to ask myself – when did we change roles?
The rest of the trip down Clinton Road was uneventful, although I did hear Debbie mutter as a group of backpacked schoolchildren emerged from the depths of the woods, “That’s a good sign; none of them look dead.” No killer truck, no skulking creatures, not even a glimpse of a young girl in a blue 1988 Camaro did we see, although we both admitted later that we wouldn’t know a Camaro if it ran us off the road. All in all, it turned out to be nothing more than a pleasant, if “spiritually” disappointing, fall outing.
Spookiness, I realized, is in the eye of the beholder; one person’s haunted house is another person’s fixer-upper. While I felt a bit let down, Deb smugly announced that she wanted a bumper sticker that read “I survived Clinton Road.” Maybe our roles hadn’t changed after all. She understood Clinton Road for what it was – a thrill ride, nothing more. She’s still George to my Nancy Drew and, whenever I talk to a spirit under a bridge, she’ll keep the motor running. ∆
© 2010 The Carlisle Mosquito