Originally published October 31st, 2017.
The Beacon sits high on Bergen Hill, the highest point in Jersey City, and its eight, Depression-era, hospital buildings turned luxury apartments loom large, watching the entire city, seeming as tall as the Manhattan skyscrapers across the Hudson River. And late one foggy Saturday night in October, I walked the long drive lit by fuzzy lamplight, my wine bottles clinking in the quiet, and I wondered, maybe The Beacon really is haunted.
I was invited to dinner at a friends’ apartment in The Paramount, once the nurses’ residence of the massive, WPA hospital, and revolving into the grand lobby through the original entrance, ascending to the top floor in an ornate elevator, and wandering the oversized halls that are wide enough for stretchers to pull a U-turn, I couldn’t help but get into the Halloween spirit. After all, every good ghost story starts with a strong setting.
The atmosphere was infectious and soon my friends took me on a tour, exploring the amenities as amateur paranormal enthusiasts. A set of swinging doors at the end of a tunnel that still says “Nurses Residence No Admittance” and a completely round, mirrored room that reminded me of Return To Oz were the spookiest sightings. Outside, it was a perfectly eerie evening, and a thick mist hung in the air that set the grounds aglow in orange light, and an old-fashioned street sign for Beacon Way was so worn it certainly sparked more spine-chilling thoughts.
There has been chatter at The Beacon about hearing sounds of shuffling and doors slamming shut. One resident’s legend has it that the elevators in one of the buildings would close and ascend to the 15th floor without being called. And my friend’s dog often stares and barks at the bedroom closet. He was also hesitant to jump on stage when we were wandering around one of the complex’s old theaters, and he loves an audience.
Rumors persist that no one can confirm or deny. It’s unknown if there was a psychiatric ward, and it’s been hypothesized that the huge terraces were constructed for patients with TB who were prescribed direct sunlight therapy before antibiotics were developed. Some taxi drivers are too spooked to drop passengers off beyond the gate. And there have been reports of apparitions in the mail room.
Perhaps it’s the superior restoration that helps conjure the past. The marble and terrazo were fully restored, the etched glass and decorative moldings were preserved, and the chandeliers were cleaned to a glittering sparkle. Windows were even re-gilded with gold leaf. The Beacon is the largest concentration of Art Deco buildings in New Jersey, and everything is as it was.
Every building has its own vibe, and there are whispers about what these walls have seen over the last century. It’s fun to imagine the more macabre details: a morgue’s individual compartments could have been conveniently adapted to tenant storage units, or the rusted gurneys and patient paperwork that littered the halls during the decrepit period before the redevelopment began over ten years ago.
As Halloween approaches, everyone is electrified by specters and superstitions. Ghost stories were popular in England, during the Victorian era, because they mirrored the uncertainty of the time. Just sensing something is unsettled is the scariest part. But The Beacon is so beautiful and such a nice place to live, it’s worth potentially sharing the building with some old tenants who don’t have a lease. Happy Halloween!