By Gary Sweeney.
In Bernards Township, New Jersey there lies an unkempt field. The grass is wild and messy. Aside from a housing development across the street, few souls are in sight. Yet a sinister presence reportedly haunts this land; if the legends are true, the desolate site just may be a gateway to Hell. Standing alone in the field is a 200-year-old oak that stretches into the sky, with branches that resemble fingers of the dead.
It’s called the Devil’s Tree.
Numerous tales surround the tree and its alleged dark power. One of the more prevalent stories concerns a farmer in the early 1900s. At that time, the land upon which the tree stood was used for raising crops. A particularly barren season sent the farmer into a tailspin of depression. In the midst of his despondency, he asked his family to join him for a picnic beneath the tree, and proceeded to bludgeon them to death with an axe. Under the weight of his guilt, the farmer then hung himself from a branch. For hours, his body swayed lifelessly in the breeze.
Visitors today claim that the shadow of a hanging dead man can be seen.
Another explanation for the tree’s wickedness is its connection to the Ku Klux Klan. In the 1920s, parts of New Jersey were hotbeds of Klan activity. So the tale goes, members of the farming community who did not share the Klan’s beliefs were executed at the tree. The left-most branch, which hangs lower to the ground, is supposedly the hanging branch.
Curiosity seekers who trek across the field to get a closer look often feel as if they’re being watched. Rumors suggest that a mysterious man named “Old Nick” lurks along the field’s perimeter, monitoring visitor activity from inside his black truck. This “watcher” supposedly tears across the grass at a high speed in pursuit of anyone who disrespects the tree by kicking it, spitting on it, or trying to destroy it.
Not that the Devil’s Tree needs much protection. The old oak is reportedly hot to the touch and impossible to destroy. In wintertime, residents swear that no snow will collect at its base. Many have tried in vain to cut down the tree, with axe and saw marks scarring its trunk. The tree has also been burned, scratched, and had chunks of bark ripped from it. Such attacks led to Bernards Township wrapping the base of the tree in a chain-link fence to deter would-be vandals.
Then there are the tree’s rumored connections to the underworld. Spray-painted demonic symbols have been found upon the tree’s trunk. A nearby boulder known as the “Heat Rock”—which also stays warm regardless of season—is thought to be a portal to Hell. Such legends have caused people to avoid the Devil’s Tree completely, while others delight in taunting the dark forces said to inhabit the area. Locals believe that anyone who “tests” the evil limits of the Devil’s Tree will meet an untimely end. Everything from car accidents and freak storms to suicide and murders has been blamed on the oak’s sinister influence.
Bernards Township once planned to develop the land upon which the tree stands. They soon reversed this intention, however, choosing instead to protect the tree and surrounding property. Today, a nearby sign actually identifies the field as a public park; it closes a half hour after sunset. While there have been no real updates since it was first announced in 2013, a feature film based on the tree is supposedly in development.
If you decide to brave the weeds and desolate landscape and find yourself peering up at the Devil’s Tree, be careful. Even if you do not encounter the Devil himself, the restless ghosts of the past may be waiting in the branches.
This article was first published on The Line Up.
You may also enjoy these stories: