Essex Mountain Sanitarium

Visited Summer ’01
Written 6/0

It was June or July of 2001. 2 carloads of us left here (Toms River) around 5 PM and planned on getting to the Sanitarium between 6 & 6:30. We expected the town would be a small one, so we figured just having the town name was enough to go on. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

After stopping off at a Wendy’s, we arrived in North Caldwell. While you couldn’t call it a city, it’s a big damn town. After driving around for about a half hour, we stopped in a park to figure out what to do next. I forget who, but one of us suggested asking people at a gas station. We wanted to hurry, since it was about 7:00 and we had only one hour of daylight left.

We found a gas station and asked the attendant if he knew anything about the mountain sanitarium. The kid’s eyes lit up and he proceeded to tell us a story or 2. He even gave us directions……well, they were kinda directions I guess. I forget them exactly, but there was a trail next to a park that led right to our destination. So we went off with our crude instructions to find the park the guy attempted to specify (And no, it wasn’t the one we just stopped in).

A few minutes later, we find ourselves at a dead end road with a dirt trail. Seeing a school nearby, we assume the kid meant the playground was the park and this was the right trail. We get out and go down the trail. At the end, we found a small park next to the school and a few tennis & handball courts. After looking around for other trails or anything that might lead up a hill, we started to think this was the wrong place. I also pointed out that the Mountain Sanitarium is most likely on a MOUNTAIN, and seeing how we weren’t on a MOUNTAIN, we were in the wrong place once again. Der. So we stole some tennis balls for souvenirs and left.

Now bear in mind I’ve never been in that part of the state before, so this story may seem very vague at times. That’s because it is. I don’t know anything: road names, intersections, anything. Somehow we retraced our steps and ended up about 10-15 minutes from the playground. We were on some mountainside road and found a decent-sized park. We pulled into the parking lot, and right behind the bathrooms & baseball field were 2 dirt trails. Seeing as we had about 15 minutes of daylight left, we decided to go with this as our only option. Discussion on which trail to pick quickly ceased when I saw that they merged into one further down. We took the small footpath single-file, all 8 or 9 of us. It must’ve been funny to see.

We were a good distance into the woods and heading UP, indicating that we were, indeed, on a MOUNTAIN this time. When the park was well out of our sight, the trail ended up taking us through a strange long field. By strange, I mean there were weird plants growing and there was eerie silence: that absolute, death-like silence where you feel the forest itself glaring at you. The path took us to a paved road and…….ended. We didn’t know what else to do, so we just continued on with the road, hoping it was still the right way. That question would be answered very shortly. A little further up the road we came across a mutilated rabbit sprawled out across the roadway with the words “DEATH THIS AWAY” and an arrow pointing up the trail. The words & arrow were both in red. We like to think it was spraypaint, but there was a supply of rabbit blood available too. Past the grim scene, the trail bent to the right. We walked down it only to see that it bent back into the right direction. We were just at the end of the bend when we saw in the distance what appeared to be our goal, the asylum! But then we also heard voices up ahead. And what sounded like CB radios.

At this point we knew there were cops at the site, so we slowly turned around and headed back down the road. A bit down, back near the dirt path, a green fire engine sped past us. At this point some of the group started to run back toward the trail. I yelled to them that it was no use; the cops already knew we were there, so there was no point in running. We went back to the park and sat on a big rock next to the baseball field, figuring out what to do. We didn’t want to go back home when we were right at the place. We wanted to figure out another way to get there. Possibly there was another trail in the park or further down the road. But at this point it was night, so 2 or 3 of us argued that it was too dark to look for another way. A police car pulled into the parking lot, and we dispersed and headed back to our cars. Bad move. He immediately turned his lights on and we knew we were in for it. Then to make things worse, a 2nd cop car pulls in. Now to introduce Good Cop & Bad Cop into the story.

Good Cop was the nice guy. He told us there was a chemical spill at the sanitarium and they didn’t want anyone to be exposed (I was informed quite some time later there was a fire that night that destroyed most of the remaining buildings, not a chemical spill). He also informed us we were trespassing on government property and then questioned the contents of Colin’s Mountain Dew bottle. Apparently neither cop noticed the knives dangling from Colin’s & Andrew’s belts. That’s pretty much all I have to say about Good Cop, a nice guy, didn’t give us a hard time, and wasn’t a bully. Unfortunately, Good Cop also dealt with my friend’s carload of people. Not me. My car got Bad Cop.

Before I continue on, please note I’m not a cop hater; I happen to be friends with a cop or two. Also note I hate stereotypes. But as in all jobs, there are good people, and then there are bad ones that set the stereotypes. Now on to Bad Cop.

Bad Cop was a jerk; your stereotypical jerk cop that deserves being called a pig. He looked inbred, was pissed off, had a silly-looking haircut, and was just the kind of guy you know abuses his badge. This dude was screaming at me. He informed us that the firemen we saw earlier told them about us. Running the car’s plates, he accused me of stealing the car. I told him it was my girlfriend’s and I was just driving, which was true; she was in the passenger seat. He then questioned a bag in the backseat. My brother reluctantly gave it to him. And to Bad Cop’s horror, the bag contained……….a freshly sliced tomato! It was my brother’s Wendy’s bag (he doesn’t like tomatoes). Then he asked us why the hell a bunch of Toms River kids were in a parking lot after hours 60 miles from home. Before I could answer, he blurted out “And don’t bullshit me either!” I’m not stupid; I know when not to lie to cops, and when you’re in a situation like this, you know not to. Again cutting me off, he asked “Did you hear about this in that damn Weird NJ?”

The beautiful part about this is that I never did have to answer him, because after asking me that, Good Cop came over to our car and told us we were going to get a break since my one friend’s mom was a cop in Elizabeth and my other friend’s mom is a dispatcher for Seaside Heights. Bad Cop’s closing statement: “You don’t belong here! Don’t let me catch you here ever again!” Now I don’t remember many details about this trip, but I remember that jackass quite well, not to mention his haircut, and all his words of wisdom too. They both prompted us to “Get the hell out of here before we arrest you for trespassing.” So we did.

In summary, here’s a quick list of all the good aspects of the trip:

  • 1. This was the only trip where we had no idea where the place was. We knew a town name, and that was it. Sure, it took 3 hours to find and we got lost numerous times, but we DID find it in the end.
  • 2. There were 8 or 9 of us, and for the first time ever, we got along 99% of the time.
  • 3. Scary writing & dead rabbits.
  • 4. It was night and we were at an abandoned asylum.
  • 5. Almost getting arrested.
  • 6. Bad Cop had a funny haircut & looked inbred.
  • 7. Bad Cop thought we had drugs in a Wendy’s bag, when it turned out to just be a tomato.
  • 8. The cops were asking what was in Colin’s Mountain Dew bottle, apparently oblivious to the fact that Colin & Andrew had knives on their belts.

Here’s what puts this adventure under the Blooper category:

  • 1. Almost getting arrested.
  • 2. Me getting the Bad Cop.
  • 3. Never actually making it into the asylum.
  • 4. Not really knowing where to go or where we were.

I still wonder if we would’ve gotten off easier if we didn’t haul to the cars when the cop came. He knew there were kids up there, but if we were just sitting there on the rock, maybe he would’ve been like “The park’s closed, you gotta go. Oh, by the way, did you see any kids running around in the woods over there?” Just a thought.

In a weird sense, this was our best trip yet. Sure, we didn’t exactly accomplish what we set out to do, but it was just a cool day. I guess you had to be there. I hate when people say that.

Would I go back? Yes and no. I’d like to just because I was so close last time. I think I’d go alone or with just 1 or 2 people though; large groups are too hard to handle. And hide. What would keep me from going back is the fire. Almost all of the place was destroyed. I think there’s only 4 small buildings left. To find out more about the surviving parts of the place, check out this site if you haven’t already. Something else that makes me reconsider returning is the cops. Apparently from Bad Cop’s speech, they were stopping a lot of people from going in. I’m sure they check the area regularly.

But I was so close, and that really gets to me. So you never know, I just may try a 2nd time…..

Author: Stu