Photo by Nancy du Tertre of a tree in her town.
This year, we, in New Jersey within the past three months, got hit with a triple whammy: Earthquake, Hurricane, Snow Storm.
On August 23, we experienced the most powerful earthquake to hit the Eastern seaboard in 67 years. Less than a week later on August 28, we felt the wrath of Hurricane Irene, the first hurricane to make landfall in New Jersey since 1903, causing massive flooding and damage, and one million homes to lose power. We lost our power for one entire week and half our backyard was flooded. Then, on October 29, just two days before Halloween, a powerful Nor'easter storm dumped more than a foot of snow on northern New Jersey. This was the first time since weather record-keeping began in 1869 that New Jersey ever even had snow in October!
What made this particular Nor'easter so devasting was not the fact that it dumped a foot of heavy, wet snow on us, but that the trees still had all their leaves - in fact, most had not even turned into their autumn shades of red, yellow and orange. The leaves held the snow and caused most trees to snap their branches and trunks under this unusual weight. We looked like a war zone. Trees were down everywhere - across streets, sidewalks and homes! Nothing was spared. We lost power again for one week - only this time, at night, temperatures hovered around 30 degrees. I tried calling 17 hotels to see if I could get a room, but all of them were 100% booked for five consecutive days straight. There was no place to go. So I stayed home, slept in my bed with my coat, three sweaters, and four blankets trying to stay warm, and ate out at restaurants for every meal for a week. My cat was so cold he slept on my neck for the first time.
Halloween was officially postponed in our town because you couldn't go anywhere. There were trees laying across almost every single small and large roadway. There were cables, telephone wires and live electrical wires laying on the ground everywhere. Some were left smoking and causing small fires for days because there simply weren't enough crews to send out. Even Governor Chris Christie lost power. Once again, he declared a State of Emergency in New Jersey.
So my October blog is, I believe, excused for being late. I had no power.
I do, however, have a Halloween ghost story. I was invited by an art gallery owner in Northern New Jersey to give a Halloween workshop. I met with her and she brought me to a property owned by the municipality, an historic home, known as the Glenburn Estate built in 1816 located on a little over five acres with a barn and various other smaller buildings. She thought I might like to use the barn as the location for my workshop. I asked about the main house, a beautiful Colonial-style house, to see if it was available instead. She told me no, it wasn't. She added that she had been inside once and thought she had heard ghostly noises. Of course I was intrigued and asked if we could go inside. My host told me that only the mayor of the town had the keys to get in. But she knew him personally and he soon showed up, with the manager of the property, and let us walk around inside.
This poor house had only recently been purchased by the town in 2006. But it had obviously suffered the poor taste of cheesy interior decorations and cheap renovations of previous owners over the past 200 years. There was no furniture. There were, however, remnants of shag carpeting, 1960's mod-style bathroom fixtures, and historically inaccurate window treatments which seemed to linger inappropriately. I walked into the room downstairs where my host had heard the noises. I felt nothing.
Then I walked up the grand staircase and began to feel extremely dizzy - which, for me, is generally the indiction of spirit activity. I instinctively turned into the bedroom at the top left of the stairs, and felt what seemed like the presence of a woman who predated the 1930's. I told the manager that I felt a female presence who, while she seemed fairly benign and not harmful, seemed to be on a mission - as if she needed to resolve an issue with another person who was located in the adjoining bedroom. I felt her frustration. The attic, while a bit spooky, didn't seem to be terribly haunted.
After our tour, we wandered over to the car to leave. The mayor, the manager and my host remained near the front door of the house, and, to my surprise, beckoned for me to come back to the house. The mayor was fiddling with the keys to the front door. He said he was trying to get back inside, but he couldn't get the door to open. Normally, this would not seem too surprising - except that he had unlocked the lock! Sure enough, we tried every possible combination of turning the keys in the lock and the door remained solidly stuck. It would not even jiggle, not even a millimeter! It was as if it was vacuum-sealed shut! No matter how much we pushed, shoved and kicked the door, it would not budge. The mayor said this was the first time this had ever happened to him in all the years he had ever come to the house. So, he opened up a basement storm shutter, entered the basement, and then came upstairs. He opened the front door. And yes, the door had been unlocked! It baffled all of us. I went inside and closed the door to see if it had a propensity to stick, or was warped, or had a bad locking mechanism. But it opened as smooth as butter.
Once outside again, the mayor then told me a story. He said a previous owner had once told him that the owner had seen a female ghost in the kitchen and his son had heard her upstairs. Then the mayor told us about plans in the near future to renovate this house. Apparently, the earmarked funding to renovate this house only permits the town to renovate in the style of the 1940's - which, frankly, I don't understand. It seemed to me this female ghost, as eternal resident of this house, was making her feelings crystal clear: Do not renovate a house built in 1816 in the style of the 1940's!! Sheesh!