New Jersey Devil’s Tree: an allegedly cursed tree that represents a town’s reckoning with a racist past.
Drivers near the corner of Mountain Road and Emerald Valley Lane in Bernards Township, New Jersey, come upon a tree that rises from the brush that, at sunset, becomes a dark silhouette against the field that stretches just behind it. Known simply as the Devil’s Tree, the oak is believed to have disturbing powers, cursing anyone who harms or simply touches it. By all accounts, it is at least two hundred years old and, according to the locals, everyone in the vicinity of Bernards Township seems to have a story about it.
According to one legend, at one time a farmer killed his entire family, then went to the tree to hang himself and, according to others, numerous suicides and murders occurred around the tree. Supposedly anyone who tries to cut down the unholy oak comes to an untimely end, and It is also said that the souls of those killed at the spot give the tree an unnatural warmth, and even in the dead of winter no snow will fall around it.
Not by chance, the tree is a popular spot for teens that test their courage and, despite it is on private property, bears the signs to prove it like graffiti, burn marks, and deep cuts that cover its trunk.
A local family once tried to keep the damage to a minimum, chasing visitors away in their pickup, which gave rise to the legend of a ghost truck that guards the tree.
According to local stories, the tree’s cursed origins come from the (presumable) lynchings that took place on its branches. Despite there is no evidence supporting that any hangings occurred at this location, Bernards Township and the surrounding Somerset County have a rich history of racist incidents. The Ku Klux Klan had a strong presence in the area in the 1920s, including large rallies, cross burnings, and even one incident where Klan members interrupted a Protestant church service with a “miniature burning cross” and gave the reverend a $300 donation (which he accepted).
As per KKK policy, often they would lynch local African-Americans to set an example, not only to other African-Americans, but also as an example of their principles and resolve.
Despite the Klan’s local presence seems to have quieted by the end of the 1920s, it clearly made a mark on Bernards Township and surrounding towns.
But, Is eventually the Devil’s Tree haunted? Maybe.
Or perhaps the tree represents a town’s reckoning with a sad chapter of local history, relegating the very real evils of a real group to realm of the supernatural…