Yes, that’s the full name of the road: Shades of Death Road. Though, it’s mostly just referred to as “Shades.” That’s pretty ominous either way you slice it. This particular 7-mile long Shades of Death Road is located in Warren County, New Jersey, right up snug next to Pennsylvania. Interestingly, the other Shades of Death is in Pennsylvania, though on the farthest western side but has far less… interest surrounding it and doesn’t have a Wikipedia page like this one does.
Several possible reasons for this name, as cited in the magazine Weird NJ (a veritable feast of New Jersey Americana), are:
“…the road’s southern half, where the adjoining forest with its aged trees provides much actual shade from the sun on even the brightest days. Highwaymen or other bandits would supposedly lay in wait for victims in these shadows, then often cut their throats after taking what they had, or they would engage in fights to the death among themselves over women.
“Or…the local populace would take revenge against these highwaymen by lynching them and leaving the bodies dangling from low-hanging tree branches as a warning to others criminally inclined.
“In the 1920s and 1930s there were three brutal murders along the road, one a robbery in which a man was hit over the head with a tire jack over some gold coins, a second in which a woman beheaded her husband and buried the head and the body on different sides of the street, and lastly one in which a local resident, Bill Cummins, was shot and buried in a pile of muck…
“The twists and turns of the road have led to suggestions that it has led to an inordinate number of fatal car accidents, and supposedly the reflective guard rails along the road indicate where that has happened. However, the road had earned its name well before automobile use became common in the area.
“Bear Swamp nearby was known as either Cat Hollow or Cat Swamp, because of packs of vicious wild cats that lived there who frequently and lethally attacked travelers along the road.
“…the Pequest lowlands and nearby Bear Swamp, used today for sod farming. In 1850, malaria-carrying insects were discovered nesting in a cliff face along the road. They flourished in the nearby wetlands of Bear Swamp, causing annual outbreaks of the disease. The high mortality rates due to the remoteness of the area from effective medical treatment cut a swath through so many families that a street once called merely Shade or Shades Road due to its tree cover took on the name Shades Of Death out of black humor. The problem was so widespread, that in 1884 a state-sponsored project drained the swamps, ending the threat.”
Sadly, the aforementioned murder of Bill Cummins was never solved. Poor fellow. Though it should be noted that the only reference I could find to this case was through this book. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but it would take further research to determine the veracity of this event.
Ghost Lake is a major feature along this stretch of road. Interestingly, the lake isn’t officially named on any U.S. government documents, so the name is a purely local attribution. The name, supposedly, comes from the phenomenon of whispy mist that hangs above the lake, often at night. Of course, there is a scientific explanation for this occurrence but that doesn’t make it less spooky when you’re driving alone at night and you see the whisps, especially considering it has been reported that it has been reported that, no matter what time of night, the lake always appears to be illuminated as though it were twilight. The local legend that really gives the lake that spook factor is the now-abandoned cabin across the lake from the road where several people were murdered, possibly causing the lake to be haunted.
Weird NJ also reported that at some point during the 90s, a couple of anonymous readers found some…disturbing Polaroid photos (of the distressed woman variety). Apparently, however, when the police started to investigate, the Polaroids disappeared. Still, mysterious Polaroids are majorly creepy, if I do say so myself.