This massive and stately oak tree, towering in isolation over a field in Somerset County, New Jersey, is spooky enough just to look at in the fading light… but if you know its bloody history, as well as the legends which have surrounded it, the twisting, skeletal limbs of “The Devil’s Tree” take on a far more sinister shape.
Reaching its crackling boughs across a stretch of Mountain Road in Bernards Township, NJ, the tree seems to be looking down in stern judgment… and as local legend would have it, the tree carries a dangerous curse, with the potential to harm or even kill anyone who dares harm or deface it.
Even during the harshest winter, some locals say that snowfall never stays on the ground beneath the tree, and that the earth below seems to emanate an unnatural heat — which may have helped to establish the legend that the tree’s roots extend straight down to Hell itself.
There are many origin stories for the curse of the Devil’s Tree: the most common revolves around a rumor that Bernards Township was once home to the headquarters for New Jersey’s branch of the Ku Klux Klan… and while that notion is horrifying enough on its own, it’s also claimed that the tree is haunted by the spirits of African-Americans who were lynched there by vigilante mobs.
According to Weird NJ Magazine, who researched regional lore and interviewed several locals about the tree’s history, there are accounts from multiple witnesses who insist they saw human bodies hanging from one of the large lower branches… but in at least one of those cases, the “bodies” turned out to be effigies of a rival football team hung there by a nearby high school.
Other legends hold that the tree is the site of multiple suicides: among them, the most grisly tale involves a man who hanged himself after murdering his entire family, and that maniac’s horrific deeds permeate the very wood of the tree, tainting it with evil. Curious people who dared to touch the tree have reported oily black stains appearing on their hands afterward… stains which are apparently difficult to wash off. One visitor even said they pressed their ear against the tree trunk, and could hear “the sounds of screaming” deep inside.
One of the more recent rumors surrounding the Devil’s Tree involves a large black Ford pickup truck, which is said to appear out of nowhere when people get too close to the area, and apparently disappears just as mysteriously. According to Weird NJ, the truck is said to belong to a “sentinel” from Hell, who guards the tree against trespassers.
Despite whispered warnings from locals (or in direct defiance of the curse), many curious visitors have come to the Devil’s Tree with the express purpose of touching it — or even vandalizing it.
The latter have led local authorities to construct a crude wire fence around the base of the massive trunk, which hides ragged marks left by axes and even a chainsaw — all the scars of failed attempts at bringing the tree down. It’s unknown what fate befell those who wielded those tools, but if the legends are true, it didn’t end well for them…