When I was a teenager growing up on the Jersey shore, I was invited one night by a group of friends to take a car ride up to Atlantic Highlands. The destination of our journey was a place called Bud’s Grave.
This is how the story of Bud’s Grave was related to me that night. A little boy named Bud had drowned and his parents buried him just down the road from the house where they lived. Every night Bud’s ghost would return to his old bedroom and play with his toys. His parents were tormented by the nightly visits, so they removed all of his toys from the house and placed them in a yard across the street. There, Bud would be free to play with his stuff without disturbing his parents’ sleep.
I was young and impressionable, yet remained skeptical – all the way up until the point where we turned down a dark lane and came upon what looked like a religious alter, set virtually out in the middle of nowhere at the foot of a dark, wooded hill. It also looked like it could have been a barbeque grill, except it was covered with statues and religious icons. It was pretty creepy. And still, it did not prepare me for what lay ahead.
As we cruised slowly down the narrow road – again, dark, dense forest to the right, a few small cottages to the left, our headlights discovered a clearing in the woods. In that clearing was an eclectic collection of stuff animals, toys, road signs and well, a lot of junk. If I came upon such a location now, without any preconceived notion of what it was, I’d probably say something like, “Oooh, somebody needs to call the show Hoarders.”
Of course the fact that the place existed as it had been described to me didn’t mean any part of the story was true. But I do remember one item in the lot that was pretty freaky. There was a stuffed panda doll that had been nailed a tree in such a manner that it looked like a crucifixion scene. Whether not or not there was a ghost lurking about, it seemed to me that at the very least a twisted mind was behind all this.
Flash forward 30 years. Reminiscing about the silly things we did as teenagers prompted me to do a little googling on Bud’s Grave. Proximity of the legendary site to the Atlantic Highlands Ferry, where I on rare occasion indulge in the pricey boat to Manhattan, got me to revisit it in person. What I found on-line, on Weird NJ for example, explained away the spooky array of toys as an eccentric collector’s ( hoarder’s ) practical joke. One account actually included an interview with Bud himself, who was still very much alive and shocked as hell that this tale grew to such epic proportions.
Still, I wanted to see what remained at the site, which hasn’t really changed that much over the years. Yes, the toys, the junk, the panda, are all gone. But the little white bungalow where Bud’s family allegedly lived is still there. And also still there at the foot of the wooded hillside, is the religious monument with 3 figurines on the altar.
As I was taking a photo of it, a man passed by walking his dog. I felt a little self-conscious, and way too old to be doing this. So I did what I usually do in an awkward moment, I started babbling, “Hi, do you know what this is?” Like, what would I be doing taking a picture of it if I didn’t have some inkling of what it was supposed to be.
The man said, “It’s a monument built for a little boy who drowned.”
How cute, and at the same time so very creepy that the local residents are still perpetuating the myth. That’s what I thought at the time. Also in the back of my mind was the idea that for some reason I shouldn’t be taking a photograph of the monument. Like the time I was at Area 51 and wanted to take a photo of the sentry gate in spite of the many warning signs not to. My partner grabbed the Iphone out of my hand and threw it to the back of the car. Certain photos are taboo and one should have the good sense to know that.
I didn’t get the picture at Area 51 but I did take the picture at Bud’s Grave last night. Mostly because I knew I wanted to blog about it, and also because I wanted a keepsake to remind me of a scary late night excursion with a group of friends from long ago.
Confident I had managed to dodge a supernatural bullet, I was a little startled this morning to open my email and see this message :
Satan is now following you on Twitter!
I was worried for a moment that by going to and photographing Bud’s Grave I had unlocked a portal to hell. Then I remembered I had started following Satan the night before, as he is into horror and posts reviews and such. Of course, if life were a movie, I would be totally cursed with demonic possession and before long my head would start spinning and the walls would be plastered with split pea soup.
So glad that movies are movies and life is not. I think I will now friend Bud’s Grave on Face Book.