We seem to live in a haunted world. The world is peppered with all manner of haunted places, forests, buildings, even dolls and airplanes. Something beyond our experience and understanding seems to seep though into our reality and imbue these places and objects with some otherworldly force that tantalizes us with strangeness and at times pure, unfiltered horror. Yet some of the most bizarre targets of hauntings and ghostly occurrences are not mere inanimate objects or buildings, but the twisted branches of the various haunted trees of the world. Yes, trees. It is in fact not such a strange notion, as stories of haunted trees can be found throughout history in a wide variety of cultures all over the world. As we shall see, when it comes to ghastly, paranormal phenomena, trees can certainly rank among some of the spookiest.
By far one of the most famous cases of a haunted, cursed tree comes from the U.S. State of New Jersey, where there lies a solitary, gnarled oak tree that has become hopelessly entwined with a rich mythology of mystery, menace, and dark curses. The tree in question lies within a secluded, undeveloped field in the Martinsville section of Bernards Township in Somerset County, New Jersey. The tree certainly lends itself to spooky stories; standing alone in an abandoned field with ancient, twisted, with dead branches extending out into the sky like skeletal hands, it has rightfully earned its nickname “The Devil’s Tree.” It is said that the infamous curse started with a farmer that slaughtered his family and then went to the oak to hang himself after committing his dark deed. From there, the legends surrounding this creepy tree took off, with various suicides and murders attributed to it over the years. The area was also once a headquarters for a sect of the Ku Klux Klan, and it is said that the Klan carried out murders, hangings, and lynchings using the tree. Over time, these sinister events further saturated the tree with a rich legacy of evil and curses, and it was said that the wicked oak hungrily absorbed the souls of those who died in the violence it seemed to draw itself.
The main rumor surrounding the tree is that anyone who disrespects or defiles it in any way is bound to meet certain bodily harm and misfortune. According to the stories, one of the most offending manners in which one can defile the tree is to urinate on it, and anyone who does so is said to be beset by great misfortune, usually in the form of a traffic accident or freak accident of some sort. However, even merely saying offensive things around the tree has been known to incur its wrath.
It is certainly a spot of high strangeness and a wide variety of other bizarre rumors surround the Devil’s Tree as well. It is said that that the tree exudes an unnatural warmth, and that snow does not pile up around it even in the dead of winter. Another rumor is that there is a rock that lies nearby the evil oak that also produces an unnatural heat and has been deemed by some to be an actual gateway to Hell. The tree is also said to produce peculiar sounds and that if one puts their ear up to the rough trunk they can hear various gruesome sounds such as grunts, wailing, screaming, and crying, or conversely the perhaps even creepier sound of children laughing or playing. Sometimes there are booming sounds or a crackling noise said to come from somewhere deep inside the tree. Another local legend has it that if one touches the tree and then eats at a restaurant later, their hands will inexplicably turn black. Perhaps the weirdest rumor is that some who get too close to the tree will be terrorized by a mysterious, ghostly black pickup truck, which will chase them and harass them until they are well on their way away from the cursed place, after which the headlights and truck will simply vanish as if they were never there at all. The tree has also been known to draw in lightning, which seems to strike it with unnerving regularity without actually causing it any damage nor causing any fires. Those who have touched the tree also sometimes speak of sudden bursts of static electricity, sometimes reportedly potent enough to knock a grown man off of his feet.
The Devil’s Tree of New Jersey has become so infamous that many attempts have been made over the years by those who would cut down the massive oak, and its trunk holds various scars that are testament to such efforts, yet the tree remains weirdly resistant to such defilement and vandalism. Other, stranger marks seems as if they were made not by any attempt to fell the tree but rather have the appearance of having been made by the claws of some large beast. The tree still stands to this day, in the middle of a large, desolate field, and is still just as creepy as ever. There are occasional reports of nooses seen hanging from the trees branches and even of human effigies swinging from ropes as if they are bodies in a gallows. In recent years, the tree has come under the protection of the township and although it is open to the public, a chain link fence and fencing around the trunk now serves to keep vandals out.
The Devil’s Tree is not the only haunted or cursed tree around by a long shot. A persistent legend of is that of a tree called the Dead Man’s Oak, which is said to lie somewhere on the road to Kenansville, and around 18 miles south of Kissimmee, in the state of Florida. The story goes that Spaniards once captured a man riding a white horse and went on to behead him underneath the tree for perceived crimes against the Spanish. The headless ghost allegedly wanders the vicinity of the tree to this day, often apparently chasing off people who get too close. The story is well known in the area, although there seems to be some disagreement as to which of the area’s many oaks are the actual Dead Man’s Oak.
Another ghostly tree can be found near the town of Pomfret, Connecticut, located about an hour’s drive from Hartford. Lying on the outskirts of Pomfret, in an area overgrown with trees and foliage, is a lost abandoned village known as Bara-Hack, which has been uninhabited since the Civil War and now is mostly a collection of crumbling stone walls and other ruins. It is here in this ghost town where one can find a supposedly haunted elm tree known for a variety of high strangeness. The origins of the village itself are somewhat murky, but it is said that it was the slaves of a landowner named John Randall who first noticed something peculiar about an old elm standing in the village cemetery. The slaves spoke of seeing apparitions of the recently deceased, as well as weirder things such as child-sized, feral creatures with glowing eyes that lurked in the dark woods near the tree. In modern times, the elm tree of Bara-Hack, which is now just a trunk, and indeed the village itself, is full of weird phenomena. It is said that the sounds of people talking, horses, carriages, and dogs barking echo throughout the desolate ruins like some bizarre tape recording of the past. The tree is known for reported sightings of glowing orbs orbiting it, and the exceptionally creepy specter of a baby that seems to be cradled in the tree’s phantom branches.
New England is actually rife with stories of haunted trees. On the remote Wolf Island Road that runs through the desolate forests of Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, there is the legend of spectral, shadowy bodies hanging from the trees of the Ellis-Bolles Cemetery. It is said that these phantom hanged bodies are those of a group of soldiers that was ambushed and captured in the heavily wooded area during the King Philip's War, after which they were hanged from the trees to be put to death. Massachusetts also harbors an enormous sycamore tree called “The Whipping Tree,” a haunted tree that was the location of a brutal whipping enacted upon a Shaker, or Shaking Quaker, by the name of Abijah Worster. The Shaking Quakers were a religious group that once lived in the area until they were forcibly driven out in a 1782 riot. It said that Worster had tried to put a stop to the beatings and harassment but was tied to the tree and whipped for his efforts, after which all those who had tormented him died shortly after. It is said that the tree is cursed. The state of Connecticut is home to another spooky tree that stands in the the Great Hill Cemetery in the town of Seymour. Local legend is that a cemetery carter once committed suicide by hanging himself from the tree, and to this day it is said that a ghostly body can be seen hanging there sometimes and that cars have the unsettling habit of stalling when passing under it.
Massachusetts doesn’t seem to get any breaks with haunted trees as another one is said to stand at the Sagamore Cemetery in Bourne, MA. The dead have been interred here since 1803, and when the Cape Cod Canal began construction in 1909, bodies from the nearby Bournedale Cemetery were hastily moved here and reburied. It was so hasty, in fact, that many of the bodies were buried under the wrong headstones, including influential people such as the Bourne family, after which the entire town is named. This apparently did not sit well with the spirits of the dead, because the cemetery has been said to be intensely haunted ever since. One of the most infamous phenomena within Sagamore cemetery revolves around an ancient gnarled and misshapen tree near the entrance, whose twisted trunk is said to appear as if a person is trying struggle free from within. A peculiar feature of the tree is the presence of the distinct smell of cigar smoke permeating the air around it. It is said that this tree is haunted by the ghost of a man named Emory Ellis, who had strongly opposed the disinterment and moving of his family’s grave during the construction of the canal. It is believed that his spirit continues to linger in the cemetery in opposition and defiance. Of course, it just so happens that he was a heavy cigar smoker.
Moving away from New England clear across the United States to the West Coast, we can find another curious case of a haunted tree in California. The iconic whitened, gnarled cypress trees that dot the coast of the Monterey Bay area are already spooky enough, but one tree in particular has gained a reputation for being especially haunted. The tree in question lies in the Pebble Beach area of Monterrey, and seems to be tied to an apparition that has come to be known as “The Lady in Lace,” a specter of a woman who is said to wander about the 17-Mile Drive, particularly on foggy nights, alarming motorists and sometimes causing car accidents. The eerie spirit is said to wear a white wedding dress and to have a remarkably sad, forlorn expression on her face. To make the tree even creepier, a renowned surfer is said to have inexplicably died while surfing near the tree. To this day, the famous Ghost Tree of Pebble Beach is open to the public and is clearly designated with wooden markers.
Haunted or cursed trees are not limited to the United States. In Ontario, Canada, there is a twisted, oddly misshapen tree growing across from an airport that is said to be heavily haunted. Apparently during World War II the bloodied victims of an airplane crash were laid out under the tree, which allegedly caused it to grow in an abnormally twisted manner and caused it to sport enormous roots that allegedly reach 75 feet down into the ground. It is said that if one approaches this tree, one can hear the rustling of thousands of crows in the branches yet no crows can be seen. It also allegedly instils a deep sense of unease and dread in people who go near it.
In India there is also much talk of haunted trees. In the eastern Indian state of Orissa, in a village called Manglojodi, there is a terrifying tree that no one will go near. The story behind this haunted tree starts with a rich merchant family from Bombay that travelled to the village on vacation, since the father had been born there. Although the son did not make the journey as he was living in America, the daughter of the family, a young woman studying fashion design in Bombay by the name of Ayesha, was fascinated by life in the quaint rural village. She spent all of her free time roaming about the village and its surrounding areas and one day came across a peepal tree which exuded a pleasant fragrance that hung invitingly in the air around it. Curious, Ayesha approached it and noticed a beautiful flower of a type that she had never seen before growing up in its branches, an odd finding considering that flowers were not known to grow in peepal trees. The woman climbed up, picked it, and headed home.
That evening, Ayesha developed a sudden high fever and became bedridden. On the same evening, after everyone had gone to bed, the worried parents were awoken by a loud scream from Ayesha’s room. When they rushed to see what had happened to their daughter they were horrified to find the young woman floating in the air above her bed. The family pulled her down to the bed, but some unseen force allegedly kept them from laying her down, as if it were forcibly holding her upright in a sitting position. Finally, whatever malevolent force had overcome the girl subsided and she slept. The next day she became even sicker and died, but not before ominously whispering that the tree intended to kill 21 people. A farmer coming to console the family later told them that he had seen the young woman picking the flower and had also witnessed a strange white shadow behind her but had been to frightened to do anything about it.
The rumor around the village was that Ayesha had been the victim of a witch who had once lived in the area by the name of Komila. It was said that this witch was fond of using black magic to steal the souls of young girls under the age of 21 in order to increase her power and prolong her life. Eventually word of her nefarious deeds got out and she was lynched and hung from the tree by angry villagers until she died, after which they buried her battered body under it. Legend said that the vengeful spirit of the witch still inhabited the tree she had been hung from and still sought out young women under 21 years of age; women just like Ayesha. The story gets weirder from there. Apparently the only way to evict the witch’s evil spirit from the tree was to find her body, dig it up, and burn it. Ayesha’s brother, Raj, apparently went to the village to do just this very thing, but when he was about to find the body he was seriously injured by a rain of thorns and rocks from above, accompanied by a screeching, disembodied voice that commanded him to leave and warned him to never again try to find the body lest he be killed.
Since then, the legend has not waned. It is said that the evil spirit still inhabits the tree to this day and is especially active at dusk, a time when people take long, circuitous routes to avoid it at all costs. Even in the daytime villagers refuse to go near it and it is said that anyone who touches the dreaded tree will die horribly, typically while coughing up blood. This became apparent when villagers tried to get rid of the evil once and for all by uprooting it. One 19 year-old local boy named Bhawani Behra, who was helping in the task of razing the tree, allegedly suddenly fell ill coughing up copious amounts of blood and died soon after. It is rumored that before dying he claimed that he had seen a ghostly white cat watching him from the tree’s spidery branches. It has been reported that the murderous tree is thought to have been responsible for at least 7 deaths to date, well on its way to the 21 dead prophesied by the dead Ayesha on her deathbed. Locals believe that although the tree was finally felled and only a trunk remains, the spirit lingers and that it will not stop its killing spree until it has taken its 21 souls, which has prompted the grip of terror it still holds on the village.
Deadly haunted trees apparently hellbent on murdering people are not unique to India. In the Caribbean one such tree allegedly stands in the town of Mahaicony, in Guyana. A very large silk cotton tree supposedly once stood on land through which a major highway project was planned. When engineers arrived to clear the land, including the tree, locals warned that it was cursed, but they went ahead and tried to cut it down anyway. It is said that all who tried to chop down the tree were struck dead, which terrified the crew so much that the highway design was changed in order for the tree to remain growing. The tree is still said to be growing right there between the two highway lanes. It is perhaps not surprising for locals to believe the tree to be haunted, as the Caribbean has a long tradition of viewing silk cotton trees as sacred. The trees have long been believed to be inhabited by all manner of spirits, demons, and other supernatural entities, and it is not uncommon to find this aversion to cutting down silk cotton trees throughout the Caribbean.
Speaking of trees inhabited by supernatural beings, Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, is the apparent home of a clump of trees that supposedly stand on an ancient burial ground and are said to be the haunt of ghosts and genies. The group of 6 Gaff trees stand within a fenced off area on Al Ain road near the Dubai Exiles Rugby Ground. It is believed that anyone who ventures under them will be suffocated by the entities residing there, and there have been many alleged sightings of various spirits and specters in the trees. One man who allegedly crashed his car into the trees is said to have whispered that he saw a genie hovering over him as he died. It is also said that anyone who tries to remove the trees will be cursed to die, and that any blades will merely bounce off of the trees’ trunks. It is a dire portent for developers who wish to relocate the trees in order to make way for the construction of bridges to the area. One tree surgeon by the name of Bill Collins is one of those tasked with removing the trees for the project and said of them:
I’ve asked around and heard some funny things, but I'm not going to take them seriously. I was told the fenced-off area had been a burial ground and that it was even haunted by a headless wailing camel merchant.
There are also tales that the last contracting company which tried to cut down the trees several years ago had to give up because their blades kept bouncing off the trunks.
However, he did not seem to be perturbed by the local legends when he went on to say:
It's just myth and legend at the end of the day and I'm not worried about these trees at all. An encounter with Monkeyman would be a lot scarier.
Although it is unclear if this is all a myth or in fact spirits really do dwell within the trees here, and although Gaff trees are indeed traditionally thought to be the lairs of genies, there is at least one plausible scientific explanation for the phenomena reported. Gaff trees produce considerably more carbon dioxide than normal trees, so it is thought that this could contribute to feelings of strangulation and hallucinations in those who spend too much time under them, possibly leading to the stories that they are haunted or inhabited by genies. Nevertheless, locals still fear the trees and give them a wide berth. In fact, it is under the insistence of locals that the 6 trees will be relocated to Mushrif Park in Jumeirah rather than be cut down like others in the area.
Trees hold a special significance in many cultures throughout the world, and have been both feared and revered since time unremembered. Whether they are harboring curses, spirits, ancient evil, or black magic, it seems that trees can certainly be counted amongst the variety of haunted places of the world and are certainly capable of evoking some primal fear in us. It is something to remember the next time you are walking along a dark path at night and find yourself under the sprawling branches of a spooky looking tree.