The Central Railroad of New Jersey (CRRNJ) terminal in Liberty State Park is a transportation and immigration landmark. Dutch settlers began the first ferry service there as early as 1661. In the 1840s, commuter and freight transportation needs greatly expanded and everyone went crazy for coal, which was processed in the park. Liberty State Park was a bustling rail yard and crisscrossed with steel. At its peak, 50,000 commuters would pass through the terminal on 300 trains and 128 ferries a day. Also, two-thirds of the (12-17 million) immigrants who passed through Ellis Island came through it. The last train departed in 1967 when CRRNJ went bankrupt.
The terminal itself was built in 1889 as a multi-use building. It had dormitories for workers, a medical station, a double-decker ferry shed and the largest Bush-style train shed ever built. It also had a pub, gender-separated waiting rooms, a barber and, of course, shoe-shine boys. After an extensive renovation in the 1970s, it’s now used for classrooms, cultural events and getting the Circle Line to the Statue of Liberty. Most recently, it’s the inspiration for title of the “All Points West” music festival held at the park.
But there are plenty of people who say the terminal is haunted. Over the years, there have been reports of ghost trains, ladies who walk through walls, disembodied footsteps and phantom coworkers.
But reports are just reports; I wanted to see some of this paranormal activity for myself. So I set out with the park’s historian, Michael Timpanaro, and rock star Brian Leopold (of The Poconos) to learn more about the terminal’s history and catch some ghosts. I eagerly asked Timpanaro if it he’d seen any.
“I’ve never seen anything, and I’m usually the first one in and the last one out and sometimes I sleep here,” he said. “But sometimes when I come in, and I know that I’ve closed or locked a door, it’ll be open.”
Of course, that could just be the work of a nosy security guard or lazy historian’s mistake. However, Timpanaro did offer some ghost stories he’d heard from his colleagues, mostly revolving around The Lady in White.
A security guard once saw a woman dressed in white trespassing after closing time. When the guard followed her, meaning to kick her out, she walked into a wall and disappeared. The guard then cowered in a corner until a ranger found him.
Timpanaro show us the room where the Lady in White disappeared into the wall
Another longtime CRRNJ worker has seen a lady with long white hair and dress on more than one occasion. Once she even waved to him from the third floor balcony. Another time, she was wandering around the grounds in the rain at night. He asked her if she needed help, but she didn’t notice him and then vanished.
According to Linda Lee Macken’s book Ghosts of the Garden State, Timpanaro’s predecessor was working late one night when she heard footsteps on the third floor and went to investigate. The footsteps continued until she got to the room, but when she opened the door, it was empty. She called out again, and the door slammed shut behind her and she heard someone running away. She immediately opened the door, but the sound stopped and no one was there. When she told her coworkers, they also admitted to hearing footsteps and feeling that they were being watched.
Finally, a woman who currently works on that same floor says that she feels a ghost’s presence and has named it Emily. Sometimes they communicate. Another worker, who is not in the habit of speaking to ghosts, told me that she’s seen shadows passing by the door.
(As a side note, there’s also a ghost train story. In 1959, a 123-ton diesel train took off for 22 miles with no one on board. The train’s engine had been idling and the hand brake was on. No one knows why it happened, but it was finally caught in South Amboy. There’s not too many details about it, and the stories differ depending on who you ask. I got this information from a mysterious newspaper clipping in the New Jersey Room at the library. But no one, not even the Jersey Journal, knows where the clipping is from — or at least they wouldn’t look it up when I called them. Obviously, we couldn’t investigate the ghost train story because neither of us owns a diesel locomotive to experiment with.)
We started our investigation after the building closed, around sundown. Unfortunately, Liberty State Park doesn’t trust me enough to let me spend the night there (I won’t trash it I promise!). We started in the room where the security guard saw the Lady in White disappear into the wall. We took our base readings with an infrared thermometer and an Electro-Magnetic field detector. We also had a digital voice recorder and took pictures.
After a few boring minutes of not finding anything, I asked the nice lady ghost to go up to Brian, and the EMF detector went off. We couldn’t find a normal explanation for it, and we couldn’t repeat it. Perhaps it was just a device malfunction, or maybe it was the Lady in White coming on to Brian.
We moved on to the third floor, where the dormitories are believed to be, and where “Emily” communicates with people. The major problem investigating was that there were air vents and electrical equipment everywhere, making it noisy and drafty. Also, there were reflections from the metal machinery and storage units, making photo anomalies difficult to recognize. At one point, Timpanaro said, “Check over here. I just felt something on my face,” but we couldn’t because there was a stack of furniture that our mortal bodies couldn’t pass through.
I sat at Emily’s friend’s desk and tried to get her to talk to me or touch me. I felt a cold spot on my legs, and I when I moved them, it returned. But it could’ve just been a draft and not the cold touch of the dead.
But why would old white Emily be haunting the station? It’s kind of boring there. According to Timpanaro, there are no recorded deaths there. Maybe she was a nurse? Or is she waiting for her son to come back from the war? Was the station built on an ancient Indian burial ground?
“No,” said Timpanaro, “This was a mud flat that was filled in by the rail road companies with landfill. The Lenape came here to gather oysters and clams and shellfish.”
Personally, I’d prefer a mud flat where I could dig up clams. Why’d the Dutch have to ruin everything?
I didn’t see The Lady in White, but maybe you can. The terminal will be hosting “Haunted Terminal Tours” on Oct. 28 and 29 between 7 and 10 pm. To make reservations (required), contact Michael Timpanaro at 201-915-3412 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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