From the time we were kids in the 1950s, Red Bank Battlefield in National Park, N.J. was a special place for our family. Mother and Dad had married across the river at what had been the Navy Yard shortly after World War II, and as they raised a young family in Woodbury, National Park became a regular stop in the family station wagon for years.
We ran across the trenches and scaled the cannon still trained on the Delaware River, now busy with tankers and cargo ships. We hid under the bridges in mock battles, rarely giving a thought to the real and pivotal fight that had taken place less than two centuries before.
I rode my bicycle on Cattell Road, never realizing the significance of the name. Jonas Cattell had been a hero of the Battle of Red Bank, a local Paul Revere. Road races are held today in memory of the young man who warned of an impending enemy attack.
Through the years, a legend of the Headless Hessians persisted in local lore. Many of the eerie details rose from a colorful piece by an unknown author, whose archaic prose and odd spellings attest to its early origin. The text became a framework from which "The Ghosts of Red Bank" was constructed. The tale has been further preserved, along with other local ghost stories, through Woodburyís annual autumn ghost tour.
I was born in Woodbury and havenít lived there for a long time, but I grew up there and knew the city and its environs well. Iíve hiked to Red Bank Battlefield and Fort Mercer, climbed to the top of the Gloucester County Court House clock tower, hung around the railroad tracks and prowled about the abandoned factories as a kid who had maybe a little too much time on his hands. I delivered the local paper and sold extras with big bold headline, PRESIDENT DEAD, the day John F. Kennedy was shot. I graduated from high school there. When I visit, I still have a feel for the place even as I see it change.
What you have read is a fictional tale thatís launched by factual renderings of the Battle of Red Bank. I have taken liberty with the "midnight run of Jonas Cattell," to add drama. But Iíve tried to keep true to the sites and locations as they have stood through the years, and avoided representations of real people in the main text. This story would not have been possible without help from my sister, Rosemary Adams Lukens, a ghost tour organizer who ran the trenches of Red Bank with me long ago. Rosemary assembled much of the historical and ghostly background and shared interest in the story along the way.