Haunted on Halloween Cat’s eyes, Shantytown and various social events make for a spooky Jersey City

When making Halloween plans for this Tuesday, consider taking a route that leads past St. Joseph’s Church on the corner of Pavonia and Baldwin avenues to see the “Eyes of St. Joseph.”

Or walk past the Holy Name Cemetary on West Side Avenue, where you may catch a glimpse of the “Shantytown Dead.” And if being scared out of your pants isn’t in the works, then there are various events starting from today, Oct. 29 until Halloween to enjoy – costume or not.The Eyes of St. Joseph

The “Eyes of St. Joseph,” a phenomenon dating back to 1921, has been written about in the publication Weird New Jersey, as well as on the St. Joseph’s Church website (www.stjosephjc.com) and by local storyteller Bob Leach.

They are an eerie pair of lighted eyes spotted coming from the church’s steeple that supposedly can be seen at sporadic occasions if standing on the corner of Newark and Baldwin.

First reported in 1921, the eyes were seen again on Good Friday 1954 by children playing in a nearby lot. Soon word spread in the neighborhood, and church worshippers claimed it was a miracle.

According to a historical booklet by Leach, “The Eyes of St. Joseph,” the church’s pastor was heard to have said, “It’s ridiculous. There’s no miracle here, and no one should be looking for one.”

According to the St. Joseph Church website, the legend of the legend of the lights grew when a church sexton, Matthew Guarino, went to investigate the lights in the church’s belfry only to be found dead in the belfry the next day.

Eventually, police would issue a report that the “eyes” were a product of traffic lights reflecting into the steeple.

But no one could explain why they were a constant whitish color.

Do people still believe in the Eyes in the present time? That depends on who you ask.

A young man who has worked in the neighborhood for over 10 years said he was had heard all the stories but was always skeptical – until one night.

“I was walking down Baldwin Avenue coming from the Heights. I was standing near McDonald’s on Newark Avenue when I looked up and the lights were there,” said the man, who asked to be anonymous. “Wow. Now I know what they were talking about all these years.”

Rev. James Pagnotta, pastor of St. Joseph Church, said last week in his 34 years at the church, he has heard all the stories but they have not swayed him.

“I have some people in my church who believe very strongly, and for them, it’s real,” said Pagnotta. “I had one do an e-mail with me back and forth on this matter, and I had to give up.”

Pagnotta added, “For me, it’s amusing, it’s a little local culture. It’s like believing in Santa Claus.” The Shantytown Dead

Leach recalls as a 10-year-old being introduced to another native legend by his late Uncle Frank: the “Shantytown Dead.”

“It was an astonishing story my uncle told of a parade of skeletons out of a shantytown graveyard, which lay adjacent to a cemetery on Newark Avenue below Dickinson High School in the 1860s,” said Leach.

According to the story by his uncle, the skeletons were of dead railroad workers who were buried in a potter’s field in the shantytown.

Apparently, a woman named Nora Casey, considered the “mother of the shantytown,” one day saw what were skeletons coming out of their graves and parading through the cemetery.

When Casey told her priest at St. Joseph Church at the time, he dismissed as “nonsense,” attributing her sight of the skeletons to them being moved by a mudslide on a rainy night.

Leach said the story always stuck with him as a boy, since it brings back the days of walking through the Holy Name Cemetery on West Side Avenue with Uncle Frank where those same skeletons were relocated.

“When you’re a boy, those stories would loom large in your mind and you would be fascinated,” said Leach. “Also remember that the late 1930s, early 1940s when there wasn’t a TV culture, when people sat around the kitchen table telling stories for entertainment.”

Leach created a video documentary on the Shantytown Dead as part of his job working for the Jersey City Public Library Historical Project.

When asked if he still believed in the Shantytown Dead legend or ghosts in general, Leach was a little more grounded.

“I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in the magic of ghost stories,” said Leach. “And as far as the Shantytown Dead, that was probably a metaphor to help people understand the unknown, to get closer to God.” Halloween treats

These Halloween themed events taking place from Oct. 29-31:

* The Jersey City Police Department’s Community Relations Unit is organizing a tour of their “scary, haunted” maze at K-mart, Rt. 440. The tours will be held between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Oct. 29 and 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Oct. 30. All children are welcome and must be accompanied by an adult. There will be free giveaways and activities. For additional information, call the JCPD Community Relations Unit at (201) 547-5682.

* On Halloween night, the Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Journal Square will become Halloween Central, with its annual Halloween show for children ages 5-16 and their parents free of charge. The show is from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. No admittance after 7 p.m. and first 1200 will be admitted. Again, there will be a costume contest with prizes given to the best costume. The host for the evening will be local radio personality Pat O’Melia. The Loew’s Jersey Theatre is located at 54 Journal Square. Performances will be by the NJ Tae Kwon Do Youth Foundation, Cobra Fencing Club, and Magic by Louis Montenegro. For more information, call (201) 798-6055 or (201) 963-6700. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at rkaulessar@hudsonreporter.com