I remember years ago my grandfather telling me stories about a man who use to live off in the woods in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. His name was Joe, Joe the Skinner they use to call him because he did a lot of the taxidermy work for the hunters in the area. He also did some butchering.
Gramps said he was a tall man well over 6 feet may be closer to 7. Gramps had and old picture of him. Where he got it or who took it I don’t know I never asked Gramps, but remember seeing it as a kid. The picture was an old black and white one, wrinkled some and a little faded, but there was a man standing in it, a real big man in front of an old log cabin. He was tall as his shoulders were above the top of the doors frame.
Gramps said he use to hang out by Joe the Skinner place when we was a kid; a lot of the kids did Grandpa said. Joe always had about 6 or 8 deer dressed out and hanging in his back yard. Bear too, and at times a big bearskin would be nailed right to the side of his cabin. Rabbit, muskrat and beaver were stretched out too in small hoops that looked like shields.
The place always smelled of blood. Even years later after Joe was gone and his cabin had fallen in on its self, you could still smell the blood grandpa would say.
Joe was an ok guy until it seems he went crazy, or maybe he always was. It was kind of a local joke whenever someone was missing, people would say maybe Joe the skinners got him? Mothers would scare their kids off to bed by saying, “Better get to bed or Joe the Skinner will get you!”
The Pine Barrens like today is a dangerous place in some ways. More so back then. There were black bear some say mountain lion and always quicksand. Then too this was during the depression and someone who couldn’t find work would just sometimes take off for the big cities like Philly or New York that seemed always to promise work. Even the smaller cities like Newark. Patterson or Passaic, beckoned with a good paycheck from work in a factory.
So it wasn’t that odd that someone would turn up missing.
As time passed it seemed less and less people were hunting and didn’t need Joes work. But Taxidermy and butchering was all Joe knew. Joe the Skinner wasn’t seen for week’s maybe even months at a time. But then this wasn’t odd for Joe. If you didn’t go out into those woods to see him for skinning work or a butchering you might not have seen Joe for months some times.
Gramps said Joe had an old model T that he would take down to the dry goods store every now and then to buy supplies. Gramps said it never had any license plates on it at all. Gramps said he guess Joe figured he didn’t need any as he never left the Pine Barrens only went from his cabin to the dry good store and back.
It was some time in the 1940’s one winter that Joe wasn’t seen for a very very long time. The damp wet winters made travel into the Pines Barrens difficult at best. If there wasn’t snow, the unpaved roads were frozen over in deeps hard ruts. And with the spring thaw they were a sea of deep mud.
As springtime dried the Pines Barrens the sheriff drove back to see Joe. What he found could only be described as what the myth of local legends are made of. Joe’s cabin had actually fared the winter well. Flowers had sprung up everywhere yellow forsythia almost blocked the one small window of the cabin while a huge weeping willow dusted the roof with its long thin branches. The door of the cabin was shut and looked as if it wasn’t opened in a long time. The sheriff blew the loud horn of his old back and white squad car and waited.
“Joe?” Called out the sheriff, but not a sound came from the cabin except the chatter of squirrels and the singing of meadowlarks.
The sheriff stepped from his squad car and walked up to the door of the cabin. It wasn’t locked it never was. He gave the door a few strong raps with his worn night stick that looked more like a child’s baseball bat. He pushed the brim of his cap up with the tip of the night stick. He saw no footprints other than his own at the door so he knew no one had been in or out of that cabin for a while.
He expected the worse, that being that Joe was dead. He pulled the string that hung through the door that lifted the latch inside. He pushed the door open and stepped in.
Light filtering in through the small window was enough for him to see that Joe was dead on the floor with one of his butchering knives in his hand, a big old curved knife that most would have called an injun scarping knife. What the sheriff didn’t expect to see was the rest of Joe’s hobby or past time.
Inside the cabin were the mounted deer heads more than you could count; beaver, rabbit and squirrel pelts were everywhere. Even a red fox stuffed and done up nicely standing on a good size log.
But that wasn’t the surprise – it was the bodies, the human bodies Joe was working on that made the sheriffs jaw drop.
10 or 12 done up just as well as any other of Joes work. Some naked standing in the back of Joes cabin. Others dressed and sitting at the table as if waiting for coffee and pie. The men dressed in suits, one even wore a stiff straw hat. The women dressed well, and an older one with a full bonnet, a younger one with a pretty dress and blond hair hanging down in fine curls …
About the author:
Bradley Shane lived most of his life in NJ slowly making his way north and now lives in the foothills of the Adirondacks of NY.
He has written articles for Backwoodsman and Reminisces magazines and is the author of the book CLIDE AND DRUCE A Repulsive Tale of Trolls and Tax Money.
His love for Halloween had lead him to become a member of New Jersey Ghost Hunters. And, as lover of history and everything old most of his stories as well has his poetry are echoes of past.
New Jersey from its Dutch roots till today abound with stories of ghost, aliens, weird sightings and strange people.
The Pine Barrens of Southern NJ is a particular abode of strangeness. From ghost to the Jersey Devil to eccentric people it is to some a world of its own. My story, Joe The Skinner is only one whispered about and said to be a cousin to who?