Some places just attract legends – castles, abandoned buildings, eerie forests. Places that stick in people’s imaginations, where the shadows hold flickers of possibility that turn into monsters of all kinds. If there’s one place that exemplifies this, it’s Clinton Road.
Named for a long-defunct settlement, Clinton Road is a 10-mile stretch of desolate, badly maintained asphalt in Passaic County, New Jersey.
The road and the wilds surrounding it are notorious for an eclectic mix of urban legends – there are ghosts under the bridges and Satanists in the woods, a castle above the reservoir and hitmen dumping their victims on the shoulder.
A local police chief once said that it’s a long, desolate stretch and makes the imagination go nuts.
What could possibly be going on up there? Let’s take a look.
Dead Man’s Curve and The Ghost Boy
One of the most well-known legends tied to Clinton Road concerns a bridge near it’s infamous Dead Man’s Curve, and a dead boy.
According to some, if you place a quarter on the yellow line, it will be returned to you at midnight by a boy who drowned underneath that very bridge. In other accounts, coins tossed into the water will be thrown back, and people see his reflection in the surface.
In other stories, the boy is less interested in coins and more interested in saving your life. He’ll push you off the bridge to save you from being run over by a car – just like he was.
There are no correlating police reports for these legends, so the most likely explanation for these stories is that the boy under the bridge is just an urban legend. Nevertheless, he’s one of the most prominent residents of Clinton Road, and people continue to see him.
Ghosts with Road Rage
The boy at Dead Man’s Curve isn’t the only ghost said to inhabit Clinton Road.
There are hundreds of stories about people who have driven the road at night and been chased by phantom vehicles for its entire length, after which they mysteriously vanish. Sometimes there is an entire vehicle sighted, but sometimes they’re just a floating pair of headlights in the distance.
Though all makes and models of vehicles have been seen, one of the more regular manifestations is the girl in the Camaro.
According to legend, this ghost is a teenage girl who died after crashing her Camaro on Clinton Road in 1988. Any mention of her while driving the road at night is supposed to trigger a violent spectre that runs down the offending vehicle before crashing into the trees.
But, like her friend under the bridge, there are no corresponding police reports for the girl in the Camaro.
Clinton Road’s “Druidic Temple”
Just east of the road, there is a strange, conical stone structure.
Local urban legends state that it’s an ancient Druidic temple where rituals and sacrifices were conducted, and that terrible things befall those who look too closely. The real purpose of this structure, however, is much more practical.
It’s an iron smelter, built in 1826. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Clinton Furnace and has been such since 1976.
Currently, it is under the jurisdiction of the Newark Water Department and has been fenced off to prevent anyone from entering and possibly getting injured. There are still numerous modern reports of strange people having “ceremonies” around it, but these are likely occult enthusiasts who have misunderstood the structure’s origin and purpose.
Welcome To The Jungle
Besides the ghosts and misunderstood “temple”, Clinton Road claims to be home to a menagerie of strange animals. Some are more like cryptids in nature, like the hellhounds, ungainly wolves that could be related to skinwalkers, and, according to one story sent into Weird NJ magazine, a dog that’s floating instead of running.
The existence of these creatures is assumed to be due to the heavy concentrations of dark magic and Satan worship in the area – which we will discuss later – but the reports are mostly unsubstantiated.
There are some animals that, while weird for New Jersey, aren’t supernatural in themselves. There have been quite a few reports of monkeys living in the woods, as well as strange animal hybrids. These are said to be survivors of Jungle Habitat, an attraction that was near Clinton Road that closed in 1976. However, there is no evidence that any animals were left behind when it closed, and there haven’t been any creatures – hellhound, monkey, or otherwise – caught in the woods.
In 1905, a man named Richard Cross built a castle near Clinton Road for his wife and three children. There are no reports of any weird activity in it until after he died in 1917, after which the property was sold to the City of Newark.
A fire destroyed most of the wooden structure, but the stone walls remained intact – the place became a spot for teenagers to drink and party. This is when the reports of satanic symbols and rituals going on in the place began.
Reports in Weird NJ magazine state that people have had seizures while in the structure, found unexplained bruises on their bodies or had strange visions after they’ve been in the vicinity.
Satanic symbols and other graffiti were found on the walls – legends stress that the parts of the castle in which the most symbols occurred were mostly inaccessible, but it’s uncertain whether this is true.
The City of Newark knocked down the rest of the castle in 1988 because it was an “attractive nuisance”, but the foundations are still visible, and several hiking trails lead directly to the site.
One of Clinton Road’s more feasible legends is that professional killers use the woods surrounding it as a dumping ground for their victims. While a widespread issue is unlikely, there is at least one instance of this actually happening.
In May 1983, a cyclist saw some vultures on the side of the road. Upon investigating, he found a body. The man was identified as Daniel Deppner, a local car thief that had been allegedly involved with the Mafia in nearby New York.
An autopsy determined that foul play was involved and uncovered something strange: ice crystals in the blood vessels near his heart. His internal organs had also decayed much faster than his skin, and the pathologist determined that he had been frozen for some time after death in order to confuse investigators as to when he died.
The investigation led to notorious hitman Richard Kuklinski, AKA “The Iceman”, who confessed to killing Deppner after his arrest in 1986.
Fact or Fiction?
There are many more stories about Clinton Road than the ones here; these are just some of the more prevalent. It’s been given the title of “Most Haunted Road in America” by numerous sources, including Weird NJ magazine, who once devoted an entire issue to the legends surrounding the 10-mile stretch.
Mark Moran, publisher and co-creator of Weird NJ, said that Clinton Road is like a dark highway into people’s innermost fears, and he’d be right. There is a horror movie based on the legends currently in production – it stars Eric Roberts and Ice-T and entered post production in January 2019.
Regardless of the validity of these claims, Clinton Road remains an important part of the fabric of New Jersey and continues to generate horrific yet entertaining legends.