Young drivers in Union County know the ultimate moonlight rush can be found on Johnston Drive — not for the scenic overlook it provides but, perhaps, for what is buried beneath it.
This mountain road that runs from Watchung to Scotch Plains is, as local legend has it, the final resting place for 13 sisters who were found to be killing children in an area that is now known as the historic "Deserted Village." That village, also known as Feltville, consisted of about 175 residents in 1850 that was abandoned after property owner David Felt sold it and future businessmen failed to make it a successful site. Some of the original structures still stand deserted in that spot.
The legend continues that these “witches” who killed children in the village were tried and hanged and then buried under what is now Johnston Drive – their bodies left as bumps in the road. The road has since been paved multiple times and with every paving application, the bumps mysteriously re-appear. Now there are some that seem to present logical explanations for why the bumps were there in the first place, but no one can seem to debunk the mystery of why the bumps pop back up.
Michelle DeRocco, the City Clerk in Watchung noted that a project to repave Johnston Drive was recently completed in June. When asked if she thinks the bumps will re-appear once again, DeRocco did not discount the legend and instead simply stated, “only time will tell.”
Mayor Gerald Mobus of Watchung said that although his family has lived in Watchung since the 1800s, he only heard of the legend about 10 years ago. Offering his own explanation for the bumps, Mobus guffawed at the notion of 13 murderous sisters, light-heartedly poking fun at those who fall for the story.
“Back in the 1800s there used to be a school house on the top of the hill," Mobus said. "Those bumps were placed in the road so that the horses and buggies wouldn’t slide back down the hill."
But wait, hold on a second; multiples sources including the 13th issue of Weird NJ state that in 1993, the road was paved again and the bumps arose two days later. Patch asked the mayor about this claim.
“That project in 1993 was the first phase of the paving that was just completed in June. In 1993, the paving ended at Upper Drive; the workers didn’t even touch the 13 bumps,” Mobus said.
James Sully Sullivan, a lifelong resident of Berkeley Heights states that “the 13 bumps have re-appeared after paving at least twice since 1978.”
In the process of investigating this local horror story, Patch tracked down Sullivan after discovering a YouTube video he had posted about his own midnight ride. He is a firm believer in “whatever makes the bumps pop back up."
“The story goes that in the days of Feltvile [now known as the Deserted Village] there was a long carriage path from Seeley’s Pond to a hotel on the top of the mountain. Thirteen sisters lived on Johnston Drive. There were families all along that trail. Supposedly these sisters went over to Feltville to kidnap children and kill them. The citizens of Feltvile hunted the sisters down, killed them and buried them along the side of the mountain. Before they were executed, the witches vowed to come back. This road has been repaved and repaved over and over again and every time the bumps come back.”
Sullivan went on to elaborate the connection between the Deserted Village and the 13 bumps.
“You can go back and research and ask, 'why was the village deserted?' Something as traumatic as having a bunch of children stolen from your town and brutally murdered would make anyone want to get the hell out of there,” Sullivan explained.
The legend continues that if you drive over the bumps and count them, then say "thirteen witches" and turn around, you can see the witches following behind your car.
Sullivan's first time driving over the bumps was as a teenager.
“I was 14 years old and sitting in the back seat of my friend’s older brother’s car who we were all afraid of," Sullivan said. "It was like getting to the top of a roller coaster; Johnston Drive is a long stretch of road giving first-timers a lot of time to build up anticipation. I didn’t see any witches that night, but the thirteen individual bumps were definitely there.”
According to Sullivan's YouTube page, he's tried to see those witches numerous times but, so far, the bumps are all that appear.
When confronted with the latest information on the paving of Johnston Drive, Sullivan reaffirmed his belief stating that “the bumps will rise again.”
*Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of stories on the ghosts of Union County. So, what do you think? Ever felt the presence of witches on that long stretch of Johnston Drive?
For our first ghost story,