Oct 13, 2014

The Ghosts of Clear Mountain

Montclair State photo MontclairState_zps7feab6fb.jpg

An old college friend of mine tagged me into a comment thread on Facebook the other day. Had I ever encountered any of these supposed ghosts when we were at Montclair State?

Montclair State is said to be one of the most haunted colleges in America.

For years there have been reports of doors and windows slamming, lights flickering on and off, constant cold, and even a ghost who hovers over the beds of the tenants.

It is believed that Montclair is built on top of Indian burial grounds and alumni say it’s a very scary school. So scary, that many refuse to go in the woods after sundown. There have been many reports of figures believed to be Native Americans spotted in the forests.

According to Classes and Careers, the worst stories come from the Clove Road Apartments. Tenants have reported electrical appliances turning on and off on their own, lights on the second floor flashing on and off by themselves, disembodied knocks on bedroom and bathroom doors, “unearthly” noises emanating from the woods behind the apartments.

I remember hearing about weird happenings at Clove Road. I never got terribly invested in it. I only visited apartments there once or twice. When you're me, everywhere is haunted, and the vast majority is really unthreatening.

What struck me, though, about this story is that it to some degree affirms something I've long suspected -- that Montclair State might well be on an Indian burial ground. I had no idea at the time that this had been rumored. I only knew that the years I spent there were miserable. I had health problems and battled depression the entire time. My grades suffered. I simply hated it there.

There's a feel to the Montclair State campus, a yawning emptiness that cut to the core of me. There was a coldness that was more than the excessive wind. And it was windy. A mountain had been lopped off to build a hodge podge of mismatched, poorly placed buildings. God it is an ugly place -- an architectural nightmare. And bad feng shui is one possibility I've considered to explain the overarching sickness of the place. The place felt wrong to me. Truly, deeply wrong.

A few years after graduating from Montclair, which sits largely in Clifton, actually, I moved from the Montclair area to a different section of Clifton. I was constantly ill.  I never liked it. I never liked the feel of it. Again, it was a kind of inner chill, like the air could get inside of me somehow. Walking anywhere on those streets made my bones hurt. Half a block and I felt every erg of energy drain from me. And I felt constantly afraid, neighborhood watch and impossibly low crime rate aside. I felt afraid.

Ultimately, my life went sideways and I was done with Clifton. I don't know when I've felt so relieved to see an area in the rearview mirror. But, I still had to periodically go there for various errands. And one evening, as I exited Rte 46 and entered my old neighborhood, I saw clearly the darkness I was driving into. It looked like a theatrical scrim, a semi-sheer curtain of blackness. And I felt that chill, that yawning emptiness, as I drove into it. And suddenly the thought appeared, fully formed in my mind. This is built on an Indian burial ground. That's why it feels so wrong, why I was so ill, why I feel so dramatically better now that I don't live here anymore.

I mentioned this once to a client. It was the first time I'd met her. She had come into a bookstore where I did readings and she happened to mention that she lived in that area, only a couple of blocks from where I'd lived. I told her I'd hated it there, that I thought it was poisonous. She didn't disagree. I told her I suspected it was on an Indian burial ground. About a month later, I received a note from her in the mail. It contained a newspaper clipping. They were doing construction in the neighborhood. They were turning up Indian artifacts and archaeologists suspected from the evidence that it was an Indian burial ground. Her note said simply, "You were right."

My college friend points out that we are always walking on history, that the world is a burial ground. He is right of course. Why is it that we find the very idea of disrupting an Indian burial ground so disturbing? And why is the energy, when we do, so completely whack?

Perhaps it's because we have violated the indigenous population of this country so completely and upturning their graves is just the final insult. But I think it's more. I think it's that we're desecrating something that was placed with a care and consciousness that our "civilized," spiritually detached culture cannot grasp. 

As I've matured in my spiritual practice, I've learned the importance of acknowledging and respecting the spirits that inhabit a space. Mostly I've learned that I have a lot more to learn.

This was a truth that demanded my attention when I visited Mexico City and slapped me full in the face when I was at Teotihuacan. Everywhere I looked, there were spirits, ancient guardians, protecting the monuments. Throughout the day I spent there with my little group, we did rituals, we made offerings of water and other things that were demanded. Fortunately, we were a pretty conscious group, each of us picking up on various messages from spirit. We worked as a team. We very much needed to, as it rapidly became clear to all of us that we weren't simply there for sight seeing. But the most palpable sensation was as we were proceeding up the Walk of the Dead toward the Temple of the Moon. I saw two very tall beings on either side of that roadway. They demanded that we stop. I stopped my group and told them we could go no further without asking permission. And so we did and from that point forward I wasn't completely myself. One of my spirit guides stepped in and directed everything I said and did from that point forward. It was a lesson I've never forgotten, one of respect for things my tiny, American, white girl mind can only barely grasp. It was a reminder that I need help from the spirit world if I intend to venture into their territory, onto sacred ground.

A few years ago I went with my family to the Montclair Art Museum. It's lovely and I had long wanted to see the Native American exhibit. Turned out I could only see about half of it. When I walked into that gallery I was greeted by a very angry Native American woman dressed from head to toe in white buckskin. She rushed at my face. I asked politely if I could continue in the direction I was heading. In short, no. I went into another part of the exhibit, which was fine until I got to close to one particular object in a glass case. She rushed at me again. The whole time I was there, I was just watching her flit around this one corner of the gallery screaming at people who could neither hear nor see her.

I don't expect everyone to perceive what I perceive. But it's clear that some people pick up on that general feeling of wrongness. Some Clove Road residents reported an "unsettling feeling or nausea." I know that unsettled feeling stalked me through all the years I was at Montclair State. I wish I'd known then what I know now. Perhaps I would have been better able to make peace with the place. Or perhaps I would have left the school entirely.

There is a very distinct feeling of corruption to areas like these that creates a constant sense of unease. It's something I've learned to pay attention to. And to ask, to simply ask, and be willing to accept the answer I receive.

I write all this because my college friend put me in mind of it. And because it's Columbus Day. This month the city of Seattle renamed the holiday Indigenous Peoples' Day. Minneapolis did the same earlier this year. The whole country should follow suit. It won't settle the debt, but at least it would show some respect.

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