Shades of Death Road

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Many legends are associated with Shades of Death Road, which winds alongside Jenny Jump State Forest up to Allamuchy in Warren County. One of the more famous street names in New Jersey roadside culture, this road runs along an old haunted lake bed which occasionally has pillars of mist rising from the top of the water.
“I don’t know what causes it, but I’ve seen it when I was fishing,” states Pete Valliere. “I think it was a legend about the early settlers killing the Indians and throwing them into the lake.” This phenomena is also called The Great Meadows Fog. Some people claim to see the dead walking along the road in the mist. Shades of Death Road also runs by the Dark Moon Bar, a must-stop on any Weird N.J. trip. The road was also the site of many deaths once thought to be a curse on the area. But Chrissy Waters, an employee at Chruszâs General Store in Johnsonburg, said that her mother had told her it was some kind of plague caused by the water that was responsible.

“Someone is always trying to steal the sign,” says Waters. “That’s why they greased up the pole.”

Ghost Lake©Mark Moran


I have a couple of stories about Shades of Death. The first one is when I was up there with a couple of friends one night we were all sitting at Ghost Lake. When this car filled with kids drove by, they had flashlights and at first they looked like they were just shining them on us, to try and freak us out. They drove by a couple of times doing this. It didn’t work so we motioned for them to pull in, and they asked us if we saw the guy. They told us that there was some guy walking really strangely by the guardrail on the side of the road. He was wearing a flannel shirt and overalls and kinda limped. But when the kids drove by trying to get a good look at the guy he kept turning his head, then he just disappeared. You have to remember that there were four kids about twenty feet away from this guardrail and we didn’t even have a clue about this guy being there.Shades Sign©Steve O'ByrneAnother time while parked at Ghost Lake, my friend and I were sitting there in the car and it was about 2 or 3 in the morning. The people who maintained the park were trying to grow grass or something because there was hay on the ground. I remember sitting there for about ten minutes, about to leave, when all of a sudden I saw the hay move, but it wasn’t from the wind or anything like that. The hay moved like someone was walking on it.

Footprints went all the way around the car, over and over again. This went on for about ten minutes. The whole time I was sitting there going “Yo did you see that?” and my friend was just like “Yeah thats crazy, what the fuck is that?” and then it just stopped and we left. We don’t have any clue what it was that did that but it wasn’t wind or any kind of small animal like a chipmunk.

The last story about Shades is the best though. There is an old cabin that’s right off of Ghost Lake. You can barely see it in the day, but at night forget it. If you don’t know where to look, you wont find it. Me and a couple of kids were inside it one night and I remember it was trashed – the windows were all broken, the walls were falling apart the floor had holes in it, the place was a mess. In one of the far corners of the house is a hallway with a piano built into the wall. The keys are all smashed up on it and that alone is enough to be Parkway Patch Ad Buttonkinda freaky. We went on exploring the place and then went upstairs, and I was the last person up the stairs. I remember that so there wasn’t anybody else downstairs. All of a sudden the piano sounded like someone banged on it really hard. Then it happened again, and there was a crunching sound like the glass on the floor was being stepped on. This sound came closer and closer down the hallway. Our first reaction was that it was the cops. But when we heard the sound right in front of us and saw no flashlights, wee quickly ruled out that one. So someone shined a light on the area and there was nothing there. We took off out of there as quickly as we could and didn’t look back. when we got to the road we noticed that there were no cars parked along the side, so it wasn’t any body fucking with us.

I wouldn’t park on the street anywhere near the cabin, because the whole place is owned by the state and they will prosecute you if they catch you in there. So watch out.


The Long and Winding Saga of Shades of Death Road
Out of all the grim monikers encountered out on the roads less traveled throughout New Jersey, perhaps none is more foreboding than the infamous Shades of Death Road. Like many places steeped in local lore, reality and legend have become intertwined over the years, obscuring exactly what can be considered fact regarding this byway. What is known is that for centuries, this road has been a dark, mysterious thoroughfare for travellers to cut across one of the more isolated parts of our state. What isn’t known is exactly how this street earned its curious name.

Road Sign LeftAccording to one legend, murder is at the root of the Shades of Death name. One tale relating to murder says that the original inhabitants of the area surrounding Shades of Death were an unruly band of squatters. Often, men from this vile gang would get into fights over women, and the squabbles would result in the death of one of the participants. As the reputation of these murderous bandits grew, the area they inhabited was named “Shades of Death.” When the civilized world encroached on and disbanded the bandits, the last remnant of their control over the meadows was restricted to one road that retained the name they made famous.

Another murder theory says that the road was originally known as “The Shades,” because of the low hanging trees which formed a canopy over the length of the street. Legend says that over time, many murders occurred there, and many stayed unsolved, causing local residents to add the sinister “of Death” twist to the formerly pleasant “Shades” name.

There are still other explanations of how Shades acquired its name which have less to do with murder, and more to do with death by natural causes. Shades of Death traverses an area long known as the “Great Meadows,” which upon its original settlement was a vast area of marshy swampland. Around 1850, an outbreak of malaria carrying insects was discovered near a cliff face along Shades. As the citizens around Shades came to expect the yearly outbreaks of this terrible disease, they began to anticipate the annual spate of deaths of friends and family members which came along with it. Like any community, their landmarks, in particular this one road, came to reflect the morose attitude they had regarding these epidemics.

Shades Pavement©Steve O'Byrne

Traveling along Shades of Death today, it is still a mysterious, foreboding place. Whatever the real origins of the name are, something about this tract of land caused its earliest settlers to imbue upon it a name which speaks of death. No matter which legends or facts you choose to believe, it would seem that the road’s name was offered up as a warning from beyond the grave to those who might travel this dark path unaware of its potential hazards. Though we may never know for sure how the road actually got its name, it might be a good idea to heed those warnings and say a little prayer when traveling on Shades of Death Road.

SOD Illustration©Ryan Doan

Illustration by Ryan Doan.

You can read much more about Shades of Death Road in the first Weird NJ book.