Devil's Tree – Bernards Township, New Jersey - Atlas Obscura

Devil's Tree

Bernards Township, New Jersey

An allegedly cursed tree represents a town's reckoning with a racist past. 

5
27

As drivers near the corner of Mountain Road and Emerald Valley Lane in Bernards Township, they’ll come upon a tree that rises from the brush. At sunset, it becomes a dark silhouette against the field that stretches behind it. Known as the Devil’s Tree, the oak is believed to have sinister powers, cursing anyone who harms or simply touches it.

The tree is a popular spot for teens to test their courage and, unfortunately, bears the scars to prove it. Graffiti, burn marks, and deep cuts from axes and chain saws cover its trunk. A local family once tried to keep the damage to a minimum, chasing visitors away in their pickup, which gave rise to the legend of a “ghost truck” that guards the tree. 

According to local lore, the tree’s cursed origins lie in lynchings that took place on its branches. While there is no evidence supporting that any hangings occurred at this location, Bernards Township and the surrounding Somerset County have a history of racist incidents. The Ku Klux Klan had a strong presence in the area in the 1920s, including large rallies, cross burnings, and even one incident where Klan members interrupted a Protestant church service with a “miniature burning cross” and gave the reverend a $300 donation (which he accepted). 

While the Klan’s local presence seems to have quieted by the end of the 1920s, it clearly made a mark on Bernards Township and surrounding towns. Is the Devil’s Tree haunted? Perhaps. Or perhaps the tree represents a town’s reckoning with this sad chapter of local history, relegating the very real evils of a hateful group to realm of the supernatural.

Know Before You Go

The tree is in a public park that's open until a half-hour after sunset.