Classic Jersey City Ghost Yarns

Dear Editor:

The commercialism of Halloween has transformed a day when little ghosts and goblins chant “Trick or Treat” to the unofficial start of the Holiday shopping season. Christmas decorations already are on sale in many shopping outlets. Of course, COVID-19 could severely curtail Halloween festivities this year. However, to get our minds away from the pandemic and into the proper “spirit,” I would like to present some interesting Halloween stories.

Jersey City is an old municipality with a rich and fascinating history. As such, there are plenty of interesting ghost yarns associated with some of the buildings in Jersey City. St. Joseph’s Church on Pavonia Avenue is our first stop on this supernatural tour. There is something rather unusual in the steeple.

Since the early part of the 20th century, people have reported seeing a pair of strange, oval “eyes” in the church’s bell tower. These “Eyes of St. Joseph” appear during the evening hours at irregular intervals. They usually have a florescent, yellowish glow to them. However, they occasionally have been observed with “red streaks.” No one is quite sure what these “eyes” really are. The priests have sprinkled flour in the belfry, hoping that the footprints of a prankster would be discovered. However, no footprints have ever been found. Some claim that phosphorous gases cause the “eyes.” Others prefer a more paranormal explanation: Ghosts. According to one tale, a former sexton supposedly uttered the words “I’m going to the tower with the others” right before he died.

Hepburn Hall, New Jersey City University, is said to house the ghost of Margaret Williams. Allegedly, unexplainable noises are heard in the Margaret Williams Auditorium and in one of the classrooms adjacent to the assembly hall. Some have claimed that the ghost of Margaret Williams can be seen on certain nights walking along the top of the tower. Of course, the campus security could have fabricated this story to keep curious students from climbing to the top of the tower.

The first Jersey City “ghost story” that I heard had to do with a “haunting” at St. Boniface Church on First Street during the late 1960s. Purportedly, a malevolent entity wreaked havoc inside the church by shredding the clerical vestments and angrily tossing sacramental items in the ready room. Naturally, when we heard the story, it caused quite a commotion throughout the neighborhood. Looking back on it, I suspect that the pastor told this “ghost story” to keep us from going into the church at night. Needless to say, it worked!

There are other locations, buildings, and private residences throughout Hudson County that supposedly entertain “spectral visitors.” Why not find out more about some of these local legends and folk tales surrounding Jersey City and Hudson County? Who knows what peculiar items of interest you may find!

May you have a healthy, safe, and enjoyable Halloween!

John Di Genio