We had all heard the story before, when it was being told to our campers. But now, as a bunch of teenagers who were mostly counselors ourselves, yet we all sat mesmerized on the built in brick benches in front of the fire, huddled, as Garrett told the story of Rudolf, a grieving mother who went crazy and sought vengeance on the counselors who’s negligence caused her son’s death.
I was 16 years old in the 90s, and a volunteer camp counselor for one week every summer, but this was not a camp event. The same pool that the counselors were drawn from overlapped heavily with the 4-H Teen Council, and this was our Halloween Party.
Earlier in the day, I had hiked up the hill to the cabin in Roller Skates with duct tape over the wheels. I didn’t really think it out when I chose to be Tootie from The Facts of Life, both because of the obligatory footwear that were NOT appropriate for hiking up a mountain, and also, because I was not yet woke to the concept, and problems of black face. So I was, inappropriately Tootie to Lis and ChristaMary’s Blair and Natalie.
Later in life I would try to retell the story of Rudolf, but nobody could do it as good as Garrett could. He spoke slowly and deliberately, but conversationally. Matter of factly. In sync with the crackling logs and the katydids in the trees just outside. Rudolf’s son was killed because, like many slasher films before and after, horny teenager counselors flirting and getting it on instead of supervising. She was driven crazy with grief and locked away. Slowly forgotten about, she lived in the dark and grew claws and became almost animal like. She escaped, forgot how to speak, and roamed the woods for the rest of her life, wailing and running through the woods, living on animals, waiting to exact revenge on counselors. The story was one part Friday the 13th, one part The Wailing Woman.
The cabin we sat in, warming our hands and drying our eyes, was no ordinary cabin. At the time, it was owned by Rutgers Cooperative Extension, which ran the NJ 4-H program, which is why we were using it. It sat up in the woods, near the Appalachian Trail, as an offshoot of the nearby Lusscroft Farm. It was built in 1930 by James Turner for his brother Dr. William Turner. Much of the wood was scavenged from other houses. in the left alcove is a strange wood panel from Amherst Castle in Kent, England. Built in “Arts and Craft” style, there was some whimsy in its design; outside there were concrete animals as decorations on the wall, and a cameo, possible that of Dr. Turner himself. The lodge itself overlooked the Kitatinny Valley.
From 1956-1975, the lodge served as a dormitory for a Forestry program, but then it was used for various 4-H Youth programs, along with the farm (I myself was a counselor at the camp on the farm the first year I was a counselor!) until low enrollment in 1996 caused the camp to close (We continued to use the other camp, at Stokes.) and the EPA took ownership. At that point, the cabin in the woods was sealed up, and slowly began to decline.
A lot of stories come from the generation of counselors before me. Stories of teenage seances happening there, possession, a creepy profile on the outside of the building that would laugh a demonic laugh at night, and a story about how the house was built with coffins (and corpses) embedded in the wall. . While a quick look and think at the thickness of the wall tells you this is logically not possible, the strange oak panel does resemble a pair of ornate coffin ends.
I visited the cabin on a hike this spring. Looking forward to seeing the owls and cameo on the facade, I found the doors easily opened. Inside smelled like a dead animal. The floors had giant holes in them (no doubt probably with dead animals under them.) The loft, while seemingly in good shape, seemed underwhelming because most of the natural light was blocked off by boards on the windows.
What the future holds, for this building, I don’t know, but NJ is not very good at protecting its historical buildings.