Hudson County has its share of haunted tales, from noisy ghosts to missing bodies to hidden steps. To this day, enough mystery persists down through history to spook and startle anyone on this Halloween.
Peculiar Plank Road Inn
Every night a bar stool at the very end of the bar is left down for the ghost of Mrs. Mosies at Plank Road Inn in Secaucus. The ever present ghost likes to hide bartenders’ tips, ring bells, and throw a party upstairs late at night when the last bartender is down in the basement. The Mosies opened the bar in 1910 and lived in the back. The Rennie’s bought the bar in 1993. Brothers Bruce and Brian Rennie tell stories of hearing chairs shuffling on the floor boards when it’s time to close up and they head down to the basement. Whenever the person in the basement comes back up – the bar is empty. Brian Rennie said he once saw a nickel drop from midair. Bartender Nolan Johnson just six months ago saw a ketchup bottle fly across the counter and slam to the floor but he just shrugged it off. He also said it is common to feel a hand on your back as if someone is passing behind you but there is no one there. The most frightening haunt happened one night the lights became brighter, a mop fell, and bar patron Steve Amendola saw a shadow move in the kitchen.
The asylum at Snake Hill
Secaucus was once home to a county “insane” asylum from 1873 to 1939 where some patients checked in and were rumored to have never left. The site was in what is now Laurel Hill County Park and was side-by-side with other county institutions including a debtor’s prison, a tuberculosis hospital, a smallpox hospital, and a county jail. When it was first built in 1873, the hospital had the capacity to house 140 people. By the time it closed in 1939, it held 1,872.
Disappearing into the Hackensack
On Tuesday, Jan. 17, 1922 a group of 12-year old boys gathered on Ninth Street in Secaucus and took turns sliding down a hill that ended at the edge of what was referred to as Zitzman’s Creek, a 200-foot-long body of water that emptied into the Hackensack River. William Stroebele, nicknamed “Sonny,” was among the boys. He had borrowed his friend Thomas Kennelly’s sled to take his turn sledding down the hill. He slid under the ice, and that was the last anyone saw of him. That is, until a body was recovered two months later. William’s family said the body was too tall to be William, but law enforcement officers said it was him. His family believed the body was not William’s but another boy who was “much taller,” based on family accounts. If that’s true, then who was the other boy, and where is William? It remains a mystery for the family to this day.
Haunted factory: 629 Grove St.
When it comes to spooky, scary is in the eye of the beholder. One woman’s haunted house is another’s dream home in the Heights. Thus, Jersey City’s ghostly finds are what you make of them.
Perhaps Jersey City’s most notorious haunted address is the Lakawanna Center, at 629 Grove St., an old industrial building near the border of Hoboken.
Emmes Asset Management, which owns the site, plans to redevelop the center to include 200,000 square feet of ground floor retail space, and was successful in attracting “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro to the center. (The Carlo’s Bakery owner and reality TV star expanded his operations to the Lakawanna Center in 2010.) Despite this recent history and Emmes’ future plans for the site, some say the place is haunted.
According to legend, workers at the center have long heard screams and the sound of running feet. Others claim they have seen ghosts wandering about the place, especially on the second and third floors. Oh, and the ghosts aren’t wearing white sheets like Casper, allegedly they’re wearing clothing from a different era. (The ‘80s? The 1960s? That would be frightening enough.)
The Reporter wasn’t able to roam the corridors of the Lakawannana Center, to confirm the possible presence of departed spirits. But we did see a bicyclist run a red light and nearly collide with a turning vehicle outside 629 Grove – and it scared the hell out of us!
Edgar Allan Poe actually based a detective story on true events that happened in front of Sybil’s Cave in Hoboken, which was rediscovered more than seven years ago and is now accessible. The 18-foot deep cave and natural spring is located off Frank Sinatra Drive at the bottom of the hill below Stevens Institute of Technology.
On July 28, 1841, James Boulard and Henry Mallin spotted a body floating in the river along the waterfront. It turned out to be the corpse of a young woman, boarding house owner Mary Cecilia Rogers. Mary, a young and beautiful 20-year-old, left her home on the morning of July 25, 1841, and told her boyfriend and boarder, Donald Payne, she planned to visit her aunt uptown. She never returned.
According to the reports of the scene, “...she was laying on the bank, on her back, with a rope tied around her.... Her forehead and face appeared to have been battered and butchered to a mummy.”
This death gave Hoboken and Sybil’s Cave a boom of publicity and tourism. Every weekend, visitors, amateur sleuths and journalists would come to Hoboken to try and solve the case.
One of the avid followers of the story was an unknown and struggling writer named Edgar Allan Poe. Years later, he turned Rogers’ story into “The Mystery of Marie Roget.” He changed the setting to the streets of Paris, but the rest of the details remained the same.
The case was never solved. Every one of Rogers’ former suitors was publicly charged, but officially cleared. In fact, the stress and pressure drove Payne to swallow a flask of poison, and he died at the footstep of Sybil’s Cave.
For those who want to take a step in a frightening direction, try locating the Shippen Steps in Weehawken, which are said to be spooked. The blocked off stairway is located at the end of Shippen Street and once served as an access to the original town hall. Tales of doom befall the old route up the Palisade Cliffs, from a suicide to the death of a pregnant woman and her child.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.