A New Jersey Ghost Story
My granny was told as a child that Captain Kidd, knowing the law was on his trail, traveled up the Jersey coast looking for the perfect spot to bury his stolen booty. And he found it near a grove of gnarled, wind-swept pines on Sandy Hook. One moonless dark night, the Adventure Galley slid silently into harbor at Sandy Hook. Before the wondering eyes of two hidden watchers, a crew of scurvy buccaneers armed with cutlasses and pistols had rowed boatload after boatload of heavy chests into the shore. They were accompanied by a tall, proud man with red-whiskers and a cocked hat that the watchers recognized at once as the bold leader Captain Kidd. The captain led his men away from shore, and they disappeared with them into the grove of pines. The pirates were gone along time; long enough, according to those who watched, to bury any amount of treasure. They came away before dawn and rowed back to the Adventure Galley and sailed into the last vestiges of the dark night.
Of course, the eager watchers kept their knowledge quiet and scurried down to the pine grove a few days later, armed with lanterns and shovels. But nary a gold coin found they, and in frustration, they shared their tale with other good folks in the region. After that, there was not a night when the pine grove did not see someone digging fervently with a shovel. After a few decades of this, the pine grove gave up the ghost and died away completely. By my granny’s time, there was nothing left of the spot save a few stunted trees, some wind-swept grass, and on certain dark nights, Dem Bones.
Dem Bones are the skeletal crew of Captain Kidd. According to my granny, they come sailing up in a ship made of shadows. The ship moves silently up the coast at the dark of the moon, and anchors near the shores of Sandy Hook. Two or three boats are lowered from her side, and they are filled up with the eager forms of glowing skeletons wearing cocked hats and tattered buccaneers garb. Around their waists are belts full of pistols and long cutlasses. The biggest of Dem Bones – the one that is probably the first mate – has a skeletal parrot perched on his shoulder.
Dem Bones carry heavy trunks full of treasure onto the shore and scatter them all around the place where the pine grove once stood. Then the pirate crew hauls out kegs and kegs of whiskey and one of the skeleton’s takes out a fiddle. A phantom fire is lit on the sand, and Dem Bones start such a rowdy singing and dancing that the noise would wake the dead – if they weren’t already awake. When they are exhausted from the dancing, the glowing skeletons collapse on the sand and start telling stories about the ships they have captured and the treasure they have amassed. Some of Dem Bones open the big trunks and take out jewels and ropes of pearls and adorn themselves. Others toss gold coins back and forth as if they were a child’s ball. At the darkest part of the night, just before dawn, Dem Bones pack up the trunks and row back to the ship of shadows. One by one, the glowing skeletons disappeared into the hold and the ship draws anchor and sails away.
A longer version of this story appears in Spooky New Jersey by S.E. Schlosser.