Looking at tales of the strange and paranormal, it sometimes seems that the world is full of places that are infused with forces beyond our understanding, and at times even sinister powers that roil and thrum under the surface. One such type of mysterious and ominous place are the numerous lakes of our planet that by all accounts seem to be cursed, haunted, or both. For whatever reason these lakes have drawn about them tales of misfortune, terror, and death, and they continue to elude rational answers. Here are some of the strangest.
The United States is home to several supposedly cursed lakes, with one of the most notorious located in the state of New Jersey. Clinton Township, in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, is home to the popular fishing and recreation spot Round Valley Reservoir, which at 2,350 acres (8 km2) in area and up to 180 feet (55 m) deep, is New Jersey’s largest and deepest manmade lake, and is the second largest lake in the state, period. The reservoir was created in 1960 by the New Jersey Water Authority, which flooded a circular valley- hence the reservoir’s name- surrounded by Cushetunk Mountain, after constructing two large dams. Originally formed to provide water to central New Jersey, namely communities in Bergen and Essex Counties, Round Valley Reservoir was opened to fishing and other outdoor activities in 1972.
It is important to stress that this is by no means some remote, secluded locale out in the middle of nowhere. The lake is insanely popular, with it and the scenic surrounding wilderness areas of the Round Valley Recreation Area offering SCUBA facilities, boating, fishing, camping, hiking, and biking trails, as well as various other outdoor activities and clear blue waters drawing in droves of visitors. Yet even as the myriad crowds of visitors enjoy the lake and its many activities there is a lesser known underbelly to it all, which has caused the reservoir to accrue a sinister reputation as being cursed.
For years there have been persistent reports of people mysteriously drowning or even vanishing without a trace at Round Valley Reservoir, with over 30 deaths and disappearances in the area since 1971. Drownings are probably to be expected when so many people gather at a lake, often with alcohol involved, but what is peculiar is not only the high rate of such occurrences, but also the mysterious circumstances that surround them and the fact that many of the bodies of these suspected drownings have never been found.
One eerie facet of some of these disappearances and drownings is that they very often happen under very clear conditions and with calm water. One of the first famous cases of a mysterious disappearance in the reservoir occurred on May 4, 1973, when Thomas Trimblett, 23, and his brother-in-law Christopher Zajaczowski, 22, were out on the lake fishing in a 12-foot aluminum boat. It was calm, clear, and with no waves, perfect fishing weather. According to witnesses, at some point their boat inexplicably capsized for no discernible reason, and the two men went under to never be seen again. Extensive search and rescue efforts to find the two only turned up the boat, an oar, some fishing tackle, and two, unused life jackets. The two bodies have never been found.
In another strange case, on Oct. 22, 1993, Jeffrey Moore, 27, and friend Raymond Barr were out on the lake for a relaxing day of fishing when their boat inexplicably capsized in clear, calm conditions and in full view of other boaters in the vicinity, who themselves had experienced no problems. One of the nearby boaters rushed to the rescue and managed to pull Barr from the water, but Moore was nowhere to be found despite a frantic search of the area. Moore’s body has never been recovered and there has never been any trace of what became of him. He seems to have been just swallowed up by the lake.
Other vanishings and strange deaths are Craig Stier, 18, and Andrew Fasanella, 20, who were last seen traveling along the north shoreline of the reservoir in a canoe and seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. Again the weather was clear, and strangely no witnesses remember seeing them in any kind of trouble. A few days after they were reported missing, their empty canoe washed up on shore showing no damage or signs of struggle, yet the bodies have never been found. On March 14, 1989, a John Kubu, 37, and his friend Albert Lawson both vanished while on a fishing trip on the lake in calm conditions. Although Lawson’s body was eventually recovered in 1993, the body of Kubu remains at large. There have been so many strange occurrences like this that the lake is sometimes referred to as the “Bermuda Triangle of New Jersey.”
Making things odder is that surviving swimmers who have nearly drowned or people who have fallen overboard in the reservoir have had some strange stories to tell about their experiences. Many witnesses have told of feeling as if they had been held or pulled under the water by some unseen force, sometimes even described as feeling like hands grasping at them. Boaters who have fallen into the water have reported the sensation of not being able to get back aboard their vessels due to this phenomenon, and swimmers in shallow water right near shore have claimed to have been locked into place and unable to reach the shore, inexorably drawn further away by some unknown force. This matches up with witnesses to drownings or vanishings here who have often reported that the victims seemed unable to get to their boat or to shore despite calm waters, eventually being dragged under to die or disappear altogether.
Such strange tales have led to the persistent rumor that the lake is in fact cursed, although why this manmade reservoir should be infused with such negative energy depends on who you ask. One idea is that the lake was built over Native American sacred grounds or burial grounds, while another is that the curse has to do with a submerged town under the lake, the vestiges of a community forced out in order to commence the creation of the reservoir. Still others think that the ghosts of drowning victims haunt the lake and try to pull others down to the same watery fate.
The most rational explanation is probably that it is due to the sudden winds the area is known for, as well as the surprisingly cold water in the lake and the fact that the lake is almost a perfect circle, creating an optical illusion wherein swimmers may think they are closer to land than they really are. The high winds that rush down the circular valley are also known to create sudden rogue waves that pop up and dissipate at a moment’s notice. Whether it is ancient curses, ghosts, or environmental and geographical factors at work here, Round Valley Reservoir has gained quite the reputation for being a mysterious and uncommonly lethal lake.
Also in the United States is the manmade Lake Sidney Lanier, also simply known as Lake Lanier, situated in the U.S. state of Georgia. Construction of the lake began in 1950, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began more or less flooding a portion of the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains along the Chattahoochee River in order to provide the city of Atlanta with hydroelectricity, flood control and water supply. In the process of the creation of the lake whole towns were relocated before being buried underwater, as well as flooding pristine wilderness and even cemeteries. Many of the structures that would be inundated were simply left as is, so that if one were to walk along the lake’s bottom one would find submerged towns complete with roads, walls, and houses all eerily intact; abandoned underwater ghost towns inhabited only by fish and perhaps ghosts of the past. Even the ferries that were put out of business by the lake’s creation were simply abandoned to become rusting hulks littering the bottom and the shore.
It is perhaps this tumultuous history that has led to the supposed curse of Lake Lanier, which has been fueled by an usually high rate of deaths by drowning, freak accidents, and unsolved crimes. Over the years, there have been an inordinate amount of deaths associated with the lake, ranging from boating accidents, drownings, and even a fair number of drivers who have lost control of their vehicles to go careening off of roads to crash into the water. Every year nearly a dozen people die, and some years have been even worse than others, with 2011 alone seeing 17 deaths.
Many of the drowning cases are somewhat odd in that they have happened very close to shore with strong swimmers and in calm conditions, which considering the history of the lake have given rise to rumors that Lake Lanier is somehow haunted or cursed. As with Round Valley Reservoir, there have been those who have described unseen hands pulling at them from below or even scarier the sensation of something covering their mouth to prevent them from breathing. There are various stories of boats hitting something in the water only for it to turn out there was nothing there, boats or other watercraft capsizing for no apparent reason, and sudden, dangerous rogue waves that seem to come from nowhere without warning to maraud across the surface before vanishing as suddenly as they formed.
The reputation of the lake as a death trap has become quite well-known, and as with Round Valley Reservoir there are a variety of theories put forward, ranging from ghosts, to Indian curses, to giant catfish the size of small cars rumored to lurk in the depths. Again, it most likely has to do with the location’s blooming popularity and the sheer number of people engaging in recreation and water sports, with a lot of partiers drinking heavily and few safety precautions observed, but the number of fatalities is still above the norm even for a popular resort like Lake Lanier and it does not explain the strange phenomena reported. Whether the lake’s dark reputation and its many accidents are due to some sinister curse or something else is anyone’s guess.
Moving outside of the United States, the continent of Africa has its fair share of supposedly cursed lakes as well. One is Lake Fundudzi, which lies in in the Soutpansberg Mountains of South Africa’s northernmost Limpopo Province. This is a place sacred to the region’s native Venda peoples, and its very formation is wreathed in legend. The lake was created when the Mutale River was blocked off by a freak landslide, which has been credited in myth as the doing of a curse that was inflicted upon a local for not offering assistance to a passing leper. This landslide and subsequent flooding apparently wrought great tragedy, killing scores of people and inundating entire villages, the screams of which can supposedly still be heard echoing in the wind.
Further legends have been attributed to the lake, such as that it harbors an angry serpent god that has the habit of beating upon the rocks like a drum, and the color of the lake is said to reflect his mood. This god is also said to explain that while three rivers flow into Lake Fundudzi, it strangely never overflows. Indeed, the lake’s water levels have long been a mystery, rising or falling seemingly independent of external factors such as rain or river input.
Talk of curses comes from the various drownings that have occurred here over the centuries, as well as the strange water levels and in particular that no one seems to be able to successfully develop the area. One developer sought to turn the area into a resort only to experience a sudden swelling of water and flooding from the lake as construction was underway. The developer then apparently moved to another area and tried again, only to have its efforts foiled by mysterious floods and rising waters that seemed to come from nowhere, totally submerging the construction site. Yet, when the project was scrapped the waters returned to normal, without any further incidents.
Interestingly, the curse of Lake Fundudzi only seems to affect outsiders, with no locals known to have been subjected to its wrath. Indeed, the locals claim that although crocodiles inhabit these waters they will casually ignore any from the area, while attacking foreigners. Is this all folklore and spooky stories, or is there something more at work here? Also in Africa is Otjikoto Lake of Namibia, which is a small lake with a diameter of only 102 meters (335 ft) and an average depth of 45 meters (148 ft), and is only one of two permanent natural lakes in the entire country. Although it is mostly shallow, there are areas that drop off into dizzying depths that have yet to be determined, with possibly vast underwater cavern systems. Indeed, according to legend the lake is bottomless, and the home to all manner of supernatural creatures, which reportedly have the habit of grabbing anyone who enters to pull them down to their doom.
Lake Otjikoto has a colorful history as well. During World War I, the Germans used the lake as a dumping ground for all manner of discarded war materials including cannons, firearms, ammunition, and countless others, which was all unceremoniously thrown into the lake before their surrender in 1915, in order to keep the enemy from using them. While this is all true, and much of this World War I ordinance and equipment can still be seen rather well-preserved in these depths, if rumors are correct, the Germans also dumped other things they didn’t want found as well, including a vast treasure of 6 million gold marks.
The stories of such a large treasure lying at the bottom of this relatively small lake has proven to be irresistible to numerous treasure hunters, which has also proven that perhaps the myths that the lake is a cursed place full of vengeful spirits as well. Many would-be treasure hunters are said to have met their fates in the lake, often very experienced and seasoned divers, further enforcing the idea that the lake claims those who would challenge it. So many people have died trying to get to the treasure that the lake has gained a reputation for being a cursed death trap, and it was the focus of an episode of the Travel Channel’s Expedition Unknown, with Josh Gates. Whether the tales of this lake’s cursed treasure are real are not is up or debate.
Moving over to China we have Poyang Lake, which sits within rural Jiangxi Province. China’s largest freshwater lake, Poyang Lake had a violent birth, created when the Gan River backed up to flood the countryside, dramatically swallowing Poyang County and Haihun County, creating a mass exodus of people looking to escape the relentless invasion of the growing lake and its hungry waters. Many people are said to have died in this relentless flooding, and that was just the beginning.
In 1363, Poyang Lake was the scene of perhaps the largest and bloodiest naval engagement in history, when the massive fleets of the Ming and Han dynasties clashed here during the final days of China’s Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty, in what would come to be known as the Battle of Lake Poyang. The intense battle made heavy use of the relatively new technology of firearms and gunpowder for warfare, as hulking floating fortresses called tower ships lurched at and battered each other in ferocious naval combat. In the aftermath of the fierce battle the Ming would emerge victorious, take control of the country, and the leader Zhu Yuanzhang would become the first emperor of the powerful Ming Dynasty.
It is perhaps this dark history of death and despair that has contributed to the strange and rather sinister forces said to imbue its waters, which mostly take the form of swallowing up ships without a trace, earning it suitably grim nicknames such as “The Waters of Death” or “The Place of Death” by locals. One of the strangest such disappearances occurred during World War II, when the Japanese invasion and occupation of China was in full swing.
On April 16, 1945, an enormous, 2,000 ton Japanese cargo vessel, the Kobe Maru, along with around 200 troops, was making its way across the lake near Laoye Temple, loaded with stolen treasure, precious artifacts and loot when it inexplicably sank under totally clear conditions. In the wake of this mysterious sinking, the Japanese Navy allegedly sent a salvage team of seven divers to go recover the ship’s valuable cargo, yet only one of the divers survived. When the lone diver was retrieved, he was allegedly speechless and overcome with terror by something he had seen down in the depths. The diver is said to have never divulged what had happened, and indeed is reported as having been rendered morose, unresponsive, and driven insane by the mysterious ordeal. None of the other divers or indeed any of the crew or even a scrap of the Kobe Maru were ever seen again.
When the war ended, the Chinese government went about trying to salvage the ship, hoping to regain some of the precious antiques and relics that had been stolen from them by the Japanese. The Chinese hired the American salvage expert Edward Boer to find the wreckage, but not only did he fail to find any sign whatsoever of the wreck after an exhaustive one-month search, but several divers are said to have disappeared without a trace in the process. Making this whole case more bizarre is that the ship is estimated to have sunk in only 30 feet of water in the mostly shallow lake.
Boer himself remained quiet about the whole search decades later, when he published a rather strange account in the United Nation Environment News. Over the span of the article, the events depicted become increasingly more bizarre. Boer claims that as he was diving with his team there was a blindingly bright light that stabbed up from the murk below, followed by an ear piercing, unearthly screeching sound. He explained that the lake itself seemed to be shaking and that they were being pulled in by some unseen force. Boer would claim that he had managed to pull free of the strange vortex sucking them in, and when he reached a distance witnessed in horror as his team dissolved away into a pulsating bright light on the lake bottom.
This is far from the only weirdness associated with the lake, and it supposedly claimed around 200 vessels during the 1960s to the 1980s alone, with their wreckage or estimated 1,600 crew and passengers never seen again. The few who have managed to come back to tell the tales are often beset with lost memories, lost time, profound disorientation, and chronic mental illness, even stark raving insanity. Boats have continued to go missing at Lake Poyang even up into the present day.
In 2001 a large cargo ship carrying sand was suddenly swamped by a sudden large wave in otherwise calm conditions and sank without a trace. One particularly strange recent case comes from March of 2010, when a huge, 1,000 ton vessel suddenly sank on a clear, calm day near shore for no discernible reason. Its wreckage was never located.
The strangest thing about these disappearances, besides the sheer number of them and the calm conditions under which they typically occur, is that in a relatively shallow lake with an average depth of only 8.4 metres (28 ft) there should be easily found wreckage and remnants of these ships all over the place, yet there are none, despite numerous expeditions that have scoured the bottom here looking for signs of them. Despite all of the supposed missing ships, very little wreckage and no bodies have ever been found, as if the lake has just digested them.
In addition to ships and divers being swallowed up by the lake, there have been other curious disappearances and oddities here as well. In 1977, three dams were built here, with the largest being 2,000 feet long, 165 feet wide, and 50 feet high. One day this enormous dam is said to have just disappeared, leaving not a scrap behind. Another bizarre case is that of a salvage diver named Shen Dahai, who vanished while unsuccessfully searching for wrecks on the bottom. Reports allege that his body was found the following day floating about in Changba Shan Lake, which is odd considering this lake is 15km away and in no way connected to Poyang Lake. Adding to these mysteries are countless reports of sudden rogue tidal waves, strange roving whirlpools, underwater lights, UFOs, spontaneous violent lightning storms that abate as abruptly as they started, and mysterious shadowy lake monsters.
Of course theories abound. For some this is merely the work of the lake’s many treacherous sandbars, but then why are there no wrecks? Others have blamed spontaneous inter-dimensional portals, strange vortices, earthbound black holes, unexplained magnetic anomalies, freak lightning strikes, supernatural forces, or of course alien abduction. Many of the more fringe theories on the disappearances of Poyang Lake point to its location upon the 30 degree north latitude. This is significant because there are many ancient places of importance that are also located here, such as the Pyramids of Egypt, as well as other notorious places of mysterious vanishings that lie along roughly the same latitude, such as the infamous Bermuda Triangle itself. The answers remain a mystery.
There are certainly more inland bodies of water like this, with their own supposed hauntings and curses, and I may come back to this topic again to cover more. It is interesting that some of these places are crowded and well-visited, or have their ominous reputations masked by the natural splendor of their surroundings, showing that some "evil" places may at first not appear to be so. What lies under the surface of these enigmatic lakes? Is there something supernatural at work here or is there some rational explanation? While we search for answers, it is certainly unsettling to know that as people go about swimming and boating in these waters the waters themselves may be circling, scheming, and looking for new prey.