GHOSTS OF THE PRAIRIE
History & Hauntings of America
PHANTOM OF THE PARKWAY
BY TROY TAYLOR
WHO IS THE STRANGE SPECTER WHO HAUNTS NEW JERSEY'S GARDEN STATE PARKWAY?
The Garden State Parkway in New Jersey is a 173-mile-long highway that links New York in the north and Delaware’s Cape May - Lewes ferry in the south. It was built over a three-year period and was completed in July 1955. It spans ten counties and more than 50 municipalities and crosses a diverse geography of landscapes and regions. The northern end of the roadway winds through the foothills of the Ramapo Mountains and then eventually it enters the lonely forests and villages of the infamous Pine Barrens.
It is here, in the southern end, that things begin to get strange. The Pine Barrens themselves have long been a place of mystery and legend, serving as home to not only countless ghosts, but to the “Jersey Devil” itself, a bizarre creature who appears throughout American history for more than 200 years. It is along this southern stretch of the Parkway that the “encounters” take place... not with the Jersey Devil, but with a figure some consider even more terrifying!
They call the creature the “Parkway Phantom”. He has been spotted along the highway for years, although his most active center seems to be near the Route 37 exit at Toms River. It is here where the greatest number of terrifying close calls with the Phantom are reported.
The Phantom only shows himself periodically, usually leaving the witnesses confused about what they have seen. The reason for this is because of the suddenness of the sighting and the fact that it never lasts for very wrong. Or perhaps it is because of the strangeness of the sighting itself?
The Phantom is only seen at night, and only on the northbound side of the Parkway in an eight-mile stretch straddling exit 82. He is most often reported in the vicinity of the Toms River Barracks of the New Jersey State Police, but oddly, they have no “official” records of the sightings. They do however admit, off the record of course, that an unusual number of accidents does take place around the area where the Phantom has been seen.
Over the years, two separate types of sightings have been reported, although they both seem to be of the same figure, although his clothing is said to be different. In the first reported kind of sighting, the Phantom appears to be a man whose car has broken down or has been disabled. He appears alongside the roadway and waves a hand as if trying to get someone to stop for him. He is said to be very tall and lean, perhaps well over six feet. He stands on the edge of the road and looks toward the oncoming cars, never moving, except to wave a hand. The figures is described as wearing old-fashioned clothing in the form of a long topcoat that is belted at the waist and a snap-down cap.
The figure seems to be attempting to get drivers to stop and perhaps come to his assistance. However, when they do, they always discover that he has vanished without a trace. Even when they pull over and get out of the car, a search of the immediate area reveals no one on foot. Most drivers leave the roadside not frightened, but perplexed about what they just witnessed.
The second type of sighting though is much more terrifying. In these sightings, a tall, lean man is again reported although his clothing is not old-fashioned, but ragged and quite modern. He emerges at the same general spot on the road and this time he waves with both hands above his head. He waves them wildly back and forth in a manner that has been described by witnesses as “a strange football cheer”.
As the man continues waving, he begins walking away from the shoulder of the highway and into the roadway itself. Witnesses have been forced to swerve wildly to avoid hitting what they believe is a living person. Although no official “ghost connected accidents” have occurred, many drivers have been left shaken by what they thought was a near miss!
A 1955 Postcard of the New Parkway
One driver even stopped at the next toll booth and reported what she thought had almost been a fatal accident. She believed that the Phantom had been a hobo who wandered out onto the road. The toll collector merely smiled and nodded, the witness later recalled, but refused to comment on what may have happened.Copyright 2001 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.
Officially, the New Jersey State Police officers at the Toms River barracks have been reluctant to comment about the accidents and strange reports in the area. Former troopers have confirmed however, that weird things do happen along that stretch of road and that there have been an inordinate number of drivers who have lost control or who have been involved in single car crashes nearby.
Professor Gene Snyder of Brookdale Community College in New Jersey collected Parkway Phantom sightings for years and conducted extensive interviews with both officials and witnesses. His research pointed to the fact that the Phantom appeared on the average of 5-6 times each year, and still continue to appear today!
So, if you happened to be traveling along the Garden State Parkway and pass Exit 82 heading north... keep your eyes open! You never know just who you might see trying to flag down a ride on the side of the road. My advice however, is not to pick up any strange hitchhikers!
HAUNTED PLACES: THE NATIONAL DIRECTORY by Dennis William Hauck (1996)
DARK ZONES by Sharon Jarvis (1992)
Personal Correspondence with the Author