Man has a love/hate relationship with nature. If you look at 17th century paintings of America, you’ll notice that the wilderness, for the most part, seems ominous and foreboding. Nature could kill you. It was the enemy, and it had to be tamed.
That was the general consensus until Yellowstone, the first national park anywhere in the world, was designated under the administration of President Grant in 1872. Preserving nature seemed like a strange concept up to that point. I’m convinced that the only reason we managed to keep large swaths of uninhabited land until then was that the environment in those places was harsh and unwelcoming to human habitation. If it weren’t for that, we’d be one big housing development from sea to shining sea.
So, three cheers for uninhabitable land! But the majority of us rarely, if ever, step foot in the untamed wilderness. It’s daunting. It’s threatening. Anything could happen.
Because of that lack of direct experience, these places sometimes become the source of legends and stories of paranormal activity. The Boogeyman lives under your bed or in your closet because you rarely hang out in there. The forest primeval is the Boogeyman writ large.
Case in point: the Jersey Pine Barrens, 1.1 million acres of nearly impenetrable forest that stretches across about 7 counties in the state of New Jersey. It butts up against some of the most densely populated parts of this country. Even so, these woods have always been sparsely populated. People tend to avoid the area because the sandy soil isn’t conducive to farming, and all you have to do is go a few yards in and you can become completely lost.
It’s creepy enough to contemplate the fact that this forest is the home of brown water and several species of carnivorous plants, but then add to that the fact that people have been known to disappear, and… shiver.
Many strange stories involve the Pine Barrens. The most well known one is that of the Jersey Devil. Sightings of this scary kangaroo-like creature, with a horse’s head and bat-like wings, abound. And many people claim to have heard its blood-curdling screams. I chalk this up to campfire stories gone wrong.
The place is full of ghost towns, where industry never quite made it into modern times, and odd place names, too. Shamong. Chestnut Nuck, Nesco. Water Witch. Whitesbog Village. Batsto. Mount Misery. Hog Thief. Shell Pile.
Perhaps the strangest name is the one given to the ghost town of Ong’s Hat. That place, with its abandoned buildings that are slowly rotting into the underbrush, is ground zero for a conspiracy theory game that got too real. I highly recommend that you read that article. It’s fascinating, and just goes to show that a lot of people are willing to believe the most outlandish things, such as portals to other dimensions that were created by “The Institute of Chaos Studies and Moorish Science Ashram”. I kid you not. People still believe this, despite the story’s creator debunking it over and over and over again.
A massive, dense forest full of witchy water and strange plants and stranger names… That’s the perfect cocktail for legends and scary stories, don’t you think?