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The Morristown Ghosts


Chapter 19
Page 193

In the early days of American history there was in New Jersey, as well as in New England and other parts of the country, a firm belief in the existence of witches and ghosts. Of course, there were people who knew enough not to put faith in supernatural apparitions and magical power; but there were so many who did believe in these things, that it was often unsafe, or at least unpleasant, to be an ugly old woman, or a young woman in not very good health, for it was believed that into such bodies the evil spirits delighted to enter.

Nearly all the older towns had their ghost stories, their witch stories, and their traditions of hidden treasure, guarded by spirits of persons who had been murdered, and buried with the gold in order that their spirits might act as a charm to frighten away anybody who should presume to dig in those spots. In Burlington were two great trees which were regarded with admiration and fear by many of the inhabitants. One was a large willow tree, which was called the Witches' Tree, around which these horrible spirits were supposed to dance on many a wild night. Another was the Pirates' Tree, a great walnut, under

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the roots of which many of the inhabitants firmly believed that the famous Blackbeard and his band had buried many pots of gold, silver, and precious stones; and these pots would have been dug up had it not been for the fear that the spirit of the savage pirate, who had been buried with the treasure, would have been the first thing to meet the eyes of the sacrilegious disturber of the pirate treasure vault.

There are other ghost stories of other places in New Jersey; but Morristown, some years after the close of the Revolution, took the lead of all the other Jersey towns as a scene of ghostly performances.

For years back many of the people had been convinced that an occasional witch had appeared among them, getting into the churns and preventing the butter from coming, breaking the legs of sheep in jumping over the fence, causing their horses to become suddenly mysteriously sick, and making themselves obnoxious in various ways. But it was not until the year 1788 that New Jersey ghosts determined to go regularly into business at this place.

Supernatural occurrences of this period attracted a great deal of attention, not only in the town itself, but in the surrounding country; and an account of what happened in Morristown during the time that the spirits were holding their visitations at that place is related in an old pamphlet published in 1792, written by an anonymous person who had no faith whatever in ghosts, but who had a firm belief in the efficacy of long words and complicated phraseology. We will take the story from this old pamphlet.

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For a long time there had been a tradition that a vast treasure was buried on Schooley's Mountain, or, as it was then spelled, Schooler's Mountain, which was at that time a wild and desolate region more than twenty miles from Morristown. It is said that there were two gentlemen of the place who were particularly strong in their belief in this treasure, and they felt sure that all that was necessary in order to obtain it was to find some man who had knowledge of the habits and customs and requirements of the spirits in regard to treasures. Having their minds on this subject, it was not long before they heard of such a man. This was Mr. Ransford Rogers, a schoolmaster in Connecticut, who knew many things, and who pretended to know many more. He really did understand something about chemistry, was very ingenious and plausible, and had been frequently heard to say that he was not afraid of spirits, and was able to call them up, converse with them, and afterwards cause them to disappear. This was exactly the man needed by the two gentlemen of Morristown, and they went to Connecticut to see him.

When the business of the visitors was made known to Rogers, he was delighted, for here was an opportunity to get into a good business, which would probably be infinitely more pleasant than teaching. So he gave up his school and came to Morristown, being under contract to the two gentlemen to do what he could to induce the spirits to reveal the place of the concealed treasure in Schooley's Mountain. But as it would not do for a stranger to come into the town

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and hang out a sign, stating that he was a spirit raiser, it was necessary for Rogers to pretend that he had come on other business, and so he took charge of a small school outside of the town, but gave the greater part of his time to investigating the minds of the people of Morristown, in order that he might find out what he could do in the way of duping them; and in the words of the old writer, he found that this would be a good place for the "marvelous exhibitions which he was able to facilitate with the greatest alacrity."

Of course, he was not at all willing to begin business with the support of only two persons, and the first thing he did was to gather together as many men as possible who really wished to be rich, and who were willing to be governed by him in regard to the way in which they should go about obtaining the vast hoard buried far away in the mountain. After a time he succeeded in getting together as many as forty men, who all thoroughly believed in his honesty and in his ability to take them out to Schooley's Mountain, to call up the spirits who guarded the treasure, to induce them to turn it over to them, and then to vanish peaceably, without offering to molest or harm any one.

But it was a long time before Rogers was ready to lead his company on the great quest. There were many, many things that had to be done before they could start, and he soon found that he was not able to work out his great scheme alone; so he went back to Connecticut and got another schoolmaster, to whom he divulged his secret, and brought him to Morristown, and the two together went into the spirit business with

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great energy and enterprise. Night after night the company of treasure seekers met together, sometimes in a dark room, and sometimes out in the wild, lonely fields, close to black forests, and out of sight and hearing of human abodes.

Rogers was a chemist; and he frequently went out to one of these lonely meeting places in the afternoon and prepared a mine, which he exploded during the midnight meetings, and thus created a great wonder and terror among his followers. When they were indoors, there would be knockings and strange voices heard coming through the cracks; these voices proceeding from the other schoolmaster, who covered his mouth with what the writer of the pamphlet calls "a superficial machine," probably a bit of tin with a hole in it, which so disguised his voice that it was not recognized.

When they were out of doors in the black night, they would sometimes see a ghost flit about under the trees at the edge of the woods; and the second schoolmaster, well wrapped up in a sheet, seems to have made as good a ghost as could have been found anywhere. There were many supernatural performances, and among them was a great act, in which each one of the members of the company lay flat on his face in the field with his eyes shut, holding in one outstretched hand a sheet of paper. This was done in the hope that the spirits would write their instructions on the paper. Mr. Rogers knelt down with the others and held his paper; but it was not a blank sheet like the others. When this performance was

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over, all the papers were shaken together, and then they were drawn out one by one; and judge of the surprise and awe of all present, when one of them would contain some writing,-generally in a beautiful hand, such as could only be expected from a supernatural being (or a schoolmaster),-which would be found to be instructions as to what must be done.

The most important of these directions ordered that before any march could be made toward Schooley's Mountain, or any definite directions given in regard to the whereabouts of the treasure, each member should pay to the spirits, through Mr. Rogers, who would kindly act as agent, the sum of twelve pounds. And, moreover, this must not be paid in the paper money then current in New Jersey, which was called "loan money", and which would not pass outside of the State, but in

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gold or silver. When every member had paid in his twelve pounds, then the party would be led to the place of the treasure.

When they found out what they had to do, each man went to work to try, if possible, to raise the twelve pounds; but Rogers soon saw that it would be impossible for some of them to do this, as specie money was so hard to get, and he reduced the sum, in some cases, to six or four pounds. He was a good business manager, and would not try to get out of a man more than that man could pay.

Not one of the people engaged in this affair had the slightest idea that Rogers was deceiving them. It is not likely that any of them were people of much culture or means; and it is said that some of them went so far as to sell their cattle, and mortgage their farms, in order to get gold or silver to pay to the good schoolmaster who was generously acting as a mutual friend to both parties. But what were these sacrifices compared to the treasure they would obtain when at last they should be permitted to dig up the buried hoard on Schooley's Mountain!

It was now winter, and of course they could not start on the expedition in bad weather; but meeting after meeting was held, and it was at last definitely promised that the expedition should go forth from Morristown early in May. On the first of that month, they all gathered at midnight in the lonely field, and there was a terrible scene. There were more fireworks and explosions than usual, and one of the spirits appeared at the edge of the wood greatly

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excited, stamping his feet, and rushing about under the trees; and when Rogers went to see what was the matter,-for of course none of the others would dare to speak to a spirit,-he found that the supernatural beings with whom they had so long been in communication, and who were now scattered about in all parts of the woods, were very angry and incensed because they had become aware that some of the party were unfaithful, and had divulged the secrets which had been made known to them. They were so thoroughly indignant, in fact, that they refused to go on with the affair for a time, and announced that the expedition to Schooley's Mountain would be postponed until they were positively certain that every man who was to go there was the sort of man who would never let anybody into the awful, soul-dazzling secret which would be divulged. So they must all go home, and wait until this important matter could be satisfactorily arranged.

Strange to say, they all did go home, and waited, and not one of them suspected Rogers.

The schoolmaster had obtained a good deal of money, but he had not enough. So, in less than a month, he started another company, this time a small one, and began to go through his performances with them. But he soon found he could not make much money out of five men, and he began to get a little braver, and thought he would try what he could do with the better class of people in Morristown; and, having discovered that a very good ghost could be called up by means of a white sheet and a

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"superficial machine", he dressed himself up one night, and made a supernatural call upon a gentleman in good standing in the church. When he had appeared at the bedside of this good man, he told him all about the treasure of Schooley's Mountain, and, if he wanted some of it, how he might obtain it.

The gentleman, having never seen a ghost, supposed, of course, that this was an authorized apparition, and became greatly interested in what was told him. The next day, according to directions, he went around among his friends in the church, and soon formed a considerable company, who all believed, that, if they did what they were told to do, they could go to Schooley's Mountain and become immensely wealthy.

They did a great many things that they were told to do: they met in dark rooms, as the other party had met; they went out into a lonely field at midnight; they held out papers to be written on; and, more than that, they conducted their meetings with prayer and other solemnities. And they all promised to pay twelve pounds in gold as an earnest of their good faith in the spirits, and to deliver the money to that great miracle worker, Mr. Rogers, who would remit it to the spirits.

The schoolmaster found it necessary to be more mystical and weird in his dealings with this second party than with the first. He did a great many strange things which savored of magic and alchemy. Among other things, he got some fine bone dust, which he assured his followers was the dust of the bodies of the spirits who were to lead them to the treasure; and a

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little of this, wrapped up in a paper, he gave to each one of them, which they were to keep secret, and preserve as a magical charm.

One of the company, an old gentleman who was sometimes a little absent-minded, went to bed one night and left the magical packet in one of his pockets; and his wife, probably looking for small change, found it. She could not imagine what it was, but she was afraid it was something connected with witchcraft, and was greatly troubled about it. The next day she told her husband of the discovery, and was so very persistent that he should explain to her what it meant, that at last he thought it wise to tell her the whole proceeding, and so prevent her from interfering with the great and important business with which he was concerned. He made her promise secrecy, and soon she had heard all about Rogers, the spirits, and the buried gold. She became convinced that it was all the work of the devil, and she went off among her friends and began to talk about it.

Now there was a great excitement, not only on the part of the believers, but among the spirits themselves; and Rogers, who had enlisted two new men in his scheme, made his ghosts work hard to keep up the delusion among his followers. All four of them, dressed in sheets, went about making communications whenever they had a chance, and assuring the members of the band of treasure hunters that everything would soon be all right, and that they must not allow their faith to be shaken by gossipers and scandalmongers.

Rogers himself, in his ghostly costume, went one

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night to the house of a gentleman who was his follower, and made some important communications to him; but as the schoolmaster had been encouraging himself by some strong drink before setting out on his round of apparitions, he talked in such a queer way to his disciple, that the latter became suspicious. The next morning he found horse tracks from his door to Rogers's house, and so discovered that the ghost had come from that place on horseback. Further investigations followed, and it was not long before it became quite plain that Rogers had been playing a well-planned trick upon the inhabitants of Morristown, and he was arrested.

Every one, however, had not lost faith in him, and there was an old gentleman-whose name the ancient pamphlet very kindly conceals, calling him by the name of "Compassion"-who went bail for him, and he was released; whereupon he and his friends decamped. However, Rogers was again arrested, and this time he confessed the whole of his share in raising the ghosts of Morristown.

But, as has been said, he was a man of ability, and able to take care of himself, and in some way he managed to escape from custody, and was seen no more in New Jersey. His followers, who had sent their gold and silver to the spirits by means of his kind offices, never saw their money again; and the vast treasures buried at Schooley's Mountain still remain hidden from all men.

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