This short piece about an experience I had in a nearby abandoned cemetery was originally published in Weird Hauntings (Sterling, 2006).
Many abandoned bits of civilization are found in the woods in the part of New Jersey where I live: Towns that simply disappeared off the map for one reason or another. Their remnants include foundations of buildings, mineshafts and cemeteries—and the closest I’ve ever come to a haunting was in one of these forgotten cemeteries.
Cherry Ridge Cemetery is located somewhere off the New York–Tennessee gas pipeline that runs through the area. According to local lore, the cemetery is haunted, and you can hear strange noises, moaning, and even music and laughter there. It served families living in the area until they were bought out by the state so that a reservoir could be built to supply the city of Newark with clean drinking water.
One day I was hiking along the gas pipeline with friends. The pipeline is buried, and there’s a large clearing along it that makes for a wide trail that’s unobstructed except for the occasional bog or boulder. We had come to a spot that was high up on a hill, and we could look ahead at the other hills along the pipeline—a vista that brought to mind a roller coaster. We stopped here for a little while to rest.
A Mysterious Urge
As a hiker who subscribes to the “take only pictures, leave only footprints” philosophy,
I don’t normally pick wildflowers on a trail. But today was different. There were these pretty little purple flowers growing just off the pipeline. And something made me pick a few. I thought I could either put them in water or press them in a book when I got home—again, not things I normally do. My friends kidded me about my breach of hiking protocol.
We finished resting and decided to head back the way we had come. We had planned to visit Cherry Ridge Cemetery, which we knew was somewhere off the pipeline on our way back. But we weren’t sure exactly where.
When I came to a certain spot along the pipeline, I had a hunch the cemetery was off to our right. Even though nothing indicated the cemetery was nearby—no trail, no markings—I slipped into the forest. The rest of the group followed, and we scuttled around for a short time in the dry leaves and undergrowth. Then I saw the graves, most of them sunken and with headstones broken or long gone.
I was drawn to the cemetery’s back corner. There I found the gravestone of Katie Rome, one of the youngest known occupants of the cemetery, who died in 1880 when she was only three.
Buried next to her was her mother Lucretia, who died only a few years after Katie.
As I stood there, I suddenly knew why I had picked the flowers. I crouched and put most of the flowers on Katie’s grave, then left the rest with her mom.
Michelle, one of the friends I was hiking with, said to me, “Oh, that’s so sweet of you!”
Maybe so, but I can’t help wondering how much of my kindly gesture was really under my control that day. Perhaps I had some help from a small, long deceased child who in life had a penchant for pretty little purple flowers.