New Jersey’s Devil Tree

deviltree01A dark history surrounds this tree, a relic of days gone by. Nestled in the countryside of central New Jersey, the Devil Tree’s lure and legend still manage to frighten those who would tempt its power. As Halloween draws nigh, CryptoVille investigates the Devil Tree.

Let me begin with some irony. I spent most of my life living in New Jersey and never heard of this place until recently. I have close friends who’ve lived in this same area all their lives and they know I write for CryptoVille, yet they never mentioned it. It’s nuts! (The Devil’s Tree on a rainy day above right.)

Even nuttier – the Devil Tree of Bernards Township, NJ is only the second most famous tree in the area! What could beat it? More on that later.

Rumors

Several disturbing rumors surround this tree, the first being that this area was once home to the central headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s said that since the Colonial era,  members had used the longest branch of this tree to lynch African Americans and slaves who misbehaved.

deviltree03Others say a farmer killed his entire family then committed suicide by hanging himself on the longest branch of the tree. No one seems to know what year that was. This claim further states that if anyone tries to cut down the tree, they will die. (See photo left, the lowest left-hanging branch has since fallen off. That was supposedly the hanging limb.)

In classic Urban Legend style, there are tales of a mysterious black Ford pick-up truck that chases cars that come too close to the tree before vanishing into thin air.

Some claim the tree trunk is perpetually warm, explaining that the souls of all who lost their lives on it keep it warm. They further state that snow melts below the tree because of the unnatural warmth.

Pranksters

Over the years some locals have thought it amusing to hang a body from the hanging branch. It spooked people initially but then they realized they were just seeing dummies created by even bigger dummies.

deviltree02In an article for Weird NJ, an unnamed witness said that when they visited the tree there was a six foot noose hanging from the notorious branch. The friends also noticed a lot of cuts and injuries to the bark of the tree made by people trying to prove that its sap was colored red. (Note in photo of tree, right, the lower left branch is gone. That was the hanging limb.)

They climbed up the tree to see how high the markings went before sitting on the notorious branch. They were trying to remove the noose when they started hearing noises from inside the trunk that grew louder and louder. They claim they heard a “big bang” and then felt some kind of energy that knocked them to the ground.

The article in Weird NJ contains more firsthand reports of experiences in and around the Devil Tree, so if you’re interested, you’ll find the link in the References section below.

sanger-kkk-2Truth

I think the only thing wrong with this tree is that it got a bad rap. The KKK was present in New Jersey in the 1920s (example left), but officially disappeared when they disbanded in 1944. Historical records that I read never mentioned that the NJ KKK ever hung anyone. So that seems like a tall tale with no truth behind it.

Civilization has been encroaching on that area for decades. In fact there is little wilderness left there. It’s only natural for people to talk, gossip about possibilities, generate rumors – none of which have any basis in reality.

I would swear that every state in the union has an urban legend involving a black or dark mysterious car chasing (usually) nosey teenagers until it mysteriously disappears. I think that’s just a product of an overactive imagination.

Does the sap run red? No. Does snow perpetually melt at its base? No. We’ve had some severe winters the last few years and snow accumulated all around the tree as you would normally expect it to.

devils_tree_protectionThe cuts and injuries to the trunk have proven to be sinister to the tree, never mind the public. Scientists say that these injuries have interrupted the natural flow of sap around the tree causing a lot of branches to die and fall off. The destruction was so bad, that the township surrounded the trunk with a chain link fence to keep people from cutting it (photo right).

Regardless of the truth and bowing to public pressure, the township cancelled plans to develop the land around the Devil tree. Instead they put up a sign that limited when people could visit there. It seems that now the infamous tree is just a local landmark.

In the Weird NJ article, they quote an unnamed citizen 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.”

Nor should it be blamed on that poor, abused tree.

whiteoak02The Number One Tree

Now let’s look at the number one tree in the entire area, a tree that is much more famous than the poor Devil tree, and it also lives in Bernards Township.

That tree is a 600 year old white oak located in the courtyard of the Presbyterian Church of Basking Ridge, NJ. This white oak has seen better days and recently I heard they have pronounced it officially dead.

Over the years they tried to prop up its huge and wavy branches with cables (photo lower right), but like all of us will someday, it has reached its natural end.

whiteoak04In an article for NJ.com, Dave Hutchinson reports, “Famed English evangelists James Davenport and George Whitefield preached to more than 3,000 people beneath its branches in 1740. George Washington picnicked under its shade. Thirty-six veterans of the Revolutionary War are buried under it.”

A few weeks ago I saw a lot of people standing outside the brick wall taking selfies against the backdrop of this wonderful and historic tree. I noticed they have removed some branches already to stabilize the tree. In early 2017 they will begin taking the whole tree down.

whiteoak03jaredkofskyPeople are sad about it, but I have to focus on all the acorns it put off. If we plant a few of those around the area, we’ll be preserving the memory and history of this wonderful old oak. (Photo left by Jared Kofsky showing Revolutionary Era headstones.)

 

So what do you think about all this? Have you ever experienced strange things around a natural landmark like a tree?

References

http://weirdnj.com/stories/devils-tree/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil%27s_Tree

http://patch.com/new-jersey/baskingridge/answer-the-devil-tree-is-second-most-famous-oak-in-ba6ca434f764

http://www.hauntedplaces.org/item/the-devils-tree/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Ku_Klux_Klan_in_New_Jersey

http://www.nj.com/somerset/index.ssf/2016/10/preparations_underway_to_chop_down_600-year-old_wh.html

 

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