Saturday, March 7, 2009

Devil's Tower

Devil's Tower from Weird New Jersey Magazine

Alpine Borough in Bergen County is one of the least likely spook spots in New Jersey. It's tied with Miami Beach for the number one spot on Forbes Magazine's "Most Expensive ZIP Codes 2007" list, with a median home sale price of $3.4 million. Alpine was known for years as the "Hamptons of New Jersey," and has a well deserved reputation for ritz.

And Rio Vista, the home of Devil's Tower, is considered one of its upscale communities, located in the southern section of the neighborhood, overlooking the Hudson River, and including the Alpine Lookout. But ghosts don't adhere to the trickle-down theory.

Rio Vista started as the estate of Cuban sugar baron Manuel Rionda. It was the biggest property in the Palisades, with a mansion above the cliffs where the Alpine Outlook now sits.

In 1910, he began work on a tower that would allow his wife Harriet to see New York City from Rio Vista. Legend has it that Harriet was climbing the Tower to check out its progress, but instead of seeing the Big Apple, she spied Manny with another woman.

She took the steps to the top of the edifice and then leaped to her death, heartbroken over being a spurned woman.

It's said that after her death eerie things became everyday occurrences at the Tower. Manny stopped work on the Tower - after all, there wasn't any more Harriet to impress - and closed the underground tunnel that led to it, fearing that his wife had returned from the dead for revenge. But the locals claim the spookiness continues.

Passer-bys have reported that it feels like someone has taken control of their car while near the Tower, resulting in many accidents around the vicinity of the tower and even a death.

Yet another account states that the Tower was used as a temple for devil worship early in the 1900's. Supposedly after many unspecified horrific events plagued the town, the locals murdered and burned the satanists in their Gothic stone digs. But they were a tad late - the Beelzebub posse had already managed to conjure up a few spooks to haunt the Tower.

It became a popular destination for partying teens in the ’70s and kids who had been inside reported encountering gusts of icy wind on calm nights, and claimed that you can see shadows in the windows of the tower.

It's most enduring urban legend is that if you drive around the Tower three times backwards (or maybe six, depends on who's telling the tale), stop and turn off your headlights, the ghost of Harriet (or her misty form) is supposed to appear. If you walk around it backwards the same number of times, Old Scratch himself is supposed to appear. Toss a coin...

A place of that repute isn't very well tolerated in the posh 'burbs, but it's alleged that all attempts to raze the Tower have resulted in the inexplicable deaths of several of the workmen. So it still stands, even though it's now sealed up as tight as Fort Knox to keep out the hoi-polloi, party boys, and graffiti artists.

Sadly, the truth is a bit more prosaic. In reality, Harriet Rionda died of natural causes in 1922, surviving her alleged suicide by twelve years, and was interred in a nearby mausoleum (it's still there, in the Tower's shadow, along with a chapel) until 1943, when Manny died and their remains were interred at Brookside Cemetery, in Englewood.

And the Tower was finished - in fact, Rionda, it was said, delighted in taking guests up to the top of his Clock Tower (its real function) for the stunning view across the Hudson.

The estate gradually reverted to woodlands, was taken over by the state for back taxes, and later sub-divided into 197 lots, becoming the current high-end Rio Vista community during the eighties.

But hey, pick the reality you choose. There are enough spooky encounters at this site not only to rate a visit - how often do you get a chance for a face-to-face with Satan? - but to also merit a mention in the book Weird U.S., by Mark Moran and Mark Sceurman, the People's Bible of the offbeat.

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