Photos by R. LUBISCHER
The Brooksbrae Brick Company located in Pasadena was incorporated in 1905 to manufacture bricks for the Adams Clay Mining Company. The mining of clay started in the 1850s and soon became a profitable venture. The Brooksbrae site when built was state-of-the-art, ready to produce thousands of brick per day, but it is doubtful the factory ever opened as its owner, William Kelly died and his estate was frozen. The building was left for litigation that took years to settle.
In 1915 railroad strikers for the Central Railroad (which happens to run alongside the factory) tied up the rail line and the managers of the railroad could not ease the tensions of the strikers. The Brooksbrae agents decided to send a caretaker to stay at the factory to look over the property. He and his wife lit a fire in the stove to stay warm and went to bed. The house soon filled with smoke due to the caretaker not checking the chimney flue. In a few hours the house was in blazes and both of them perished in the fire. It was later determined that there was no foul play involved but rumors started that the striking railroad workers set the house on fire.
By 1918 Kelly’s will was settled and the property was allowed to be sold, but by then the factory had already started to fall into ruin. There were rumors that it had burned down, but that’s not the case. Years of cold winters and hot summers eventually made the walls collapse.
The site is located off Pasadena Woodmanse Road in Manchester Township.
LEGENDS OF BROOKSBRAE
Rumor has it that a man raped a young girl in the factory and then when he realized what he had done he killed her and set the place on fire with him and her dead body still inside. It’s also said that this bus driver once took a bus full of kids back there and killed them all, however the bodies were never found and the old school bus has since been removed. Now it just stands as ruins full of graffiti. Sometimes locals go mudding back there and its common for teenagers and young adults to go back there and smoke or drink. I know plenty of people who go there for fun and a few friends and I have contributed to the graffiti there. However, it is constantly being done over. -Baylynn Galante
Foul Play at Brooksbrae
It had been in operation only briefly before the death of the owner created a complicated legal situation, which left the plant idle. Years went by and then, on October 16, 1917, things went horribly wrong. An Austrian emigrant named Gildo Plazziano was serving as watchman for the facility. He had befriended 12-year-old Hannah Chattin, who lived with her par-ents nearby, and she had gone to his simple cabin that morning to help him paper the walls. Later, Hannah’s father and brother saw flames coming from the cabin and rushed there, only to observe the bodies of Hannah and Plazziano lying together on a cot in the midst of the fire. According to contemporary newspaper accounts, “The [police] supposition is that the man attacked the child and then, realizing the enormity of his crime, had killed her, set fire to the shack, and then committed suicide.” The fire spread to the factory, quickly destroying it. The local coroner (who was, himself, charged with murdering his wife in 1905) was not able to determine the cause of death, and exactly what happened that fateful morning has never been determined. -Rick F.
A GHOSTLY MYSTERY IN PASADENA?
by Scott Wieczorek
The New Jersey Pine Barrens can be frightful at night, whether from their eerie darkness and solitude or from the disembodied souls said to be haunt-ing them. Rising from the desolate forest floor, in a place called Pasadena, are the ruins of the failed Brooksbrae Brick Company factory (also known as the Pasadena Terra Cotta Ruins). It was the scene of two mysterious and tragic fiery deaths. According to local legend, the ruins are cursed and haunted by the ghosts of those claimed by the fire. Two spectral forms can be found at the scene of their demise, unaware of their passing from an earthly existence.
During my research of the factory, I happened to uncover this amazing little legend. I was no stranger to the ruined factory, and so my interest was piqued regarding the validity of a haunting at Pasadena. My research found that indeed two individuals had perished at the factory, but it also revealed a bit of a mystery. Another part of the legend claimed the two were actually victims of robbery and murder at the hands of some drifter and that the fire was set to cover the crimes. I decided a deeper investigation of the matter was warranted.
What I found was that the tragedy took place in 1915 and that the victims were named Jonas and Katherine. They were polish émigrés who were stay-ing in a house owned by the Brooksbrae Company. The factory had been inactive for several years and Jonas was hired as the factory caretaker. However, he did not always stay in Pasadena, but at his home in Philadelphia. The couple moved out to Pasadena in the late summer of 1915 in order to safeguard the factory against vandalism and foul play. Several days before they arrived there was a strike involving a number of immigrant railroad workers. The factory had been the staging ground for a group of strikers to collect and impede the commerce along an adjacent branch of the New Jersey Central Railroad. However, due to the prejudices of the times, the Italian immigrants were disliked and feared by the locals.
Railroad management had tried unsuccessfully to resolve the situation through arbitration and so the owners of the Brooksbrae factory sent Jonas. That particular night, however, was uncharacteristically bitterly cold. The couple, in their mid-sixties, set a fire in their stove and headed to bed. However, they never awoke. During the night, the house burned to the ground. The charred ruins were found the next morning when workers arriving to work at a nearby cranberry bog noticed a plume of smoke rising into the sky. They sent for help immediately, but all that could be saved was the foundation.
A newspaper article from the New Jersey Courier, dated September 17, 1915, gives two angles on the fire. The first was a verdict given by the State Trooper who was first to the scene, who declared the fire accidental ad likely caused by a clogged flue or chimney. The locals, however, never accepted this as the cause. Instead, they blamed the… (story continues below)
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tragedy on the immigrant rail-road workers and allegations flew regarding foul play and robbery on the part of some nefarious strikers. It was believed that Jonas and Katherine possessed a good quantity of money. And since the money was never found during the initial police investigation, it was surmised that they were robbed, murdered and burned to cover the crime. The police, after a second investigation, insisted that the fire was accidental and held to their interpretation of a clogged flue or chimney.
Accidental fire may have been the official report, but the locals were still able to have their final say. They maintained their tale of foul play, which was eventually recorded by New Jersey folklorist Henry Beck in his book Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey. Later, another New Jersey folklorist, William McMahon, continued this oral tradition in his book Pine Barrens Legends Lore and Lies, and added new stories of ghostly encounters at the factory.
So what really happened that night in 1915? No one will ever really know. The official death certificates, on file at the Ocean County Surrogate’s Office, hold to asphyxiation as the cause of death. But the locals are firm in their belief of murder and robbery. So the mystery does and probably will remain unsolved. Perhaps the answer is out there somewhere. Perhaps the truth simply died with Jonas and Katherine. Perhaps their ghosts hold the key to unlock the mystery. Whatever the case, this is an intriguing ghostly mystery of New Jersey’s past.
The preceding article is an excerpt from the #51 issue of Weird NJ magazine, “Your Travel Guide to New Jersey’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets,” which is available on newsstands throughout the state and on the web at www.WeirdNJ.com. All contents ©Weird NJ and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.
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