Gordon Thomas Ward

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Ghosts are subject of book by local author

The Bernardsville News

September 19, 2008

BERNARDSVILLE – He claims to have debunked the infamous story of Phyllis Parker’s haunting of the Old Bernardsville Library on Morristown Road and invites residents to check out his evidence. Author and historian Gordon Thomas Ward of Bedminster Township has penned “Ghosts of Central Jersey, Historic Haunts of the Somerset Hills,” designed to inform, entertain and take readers to places where the past is supposedly entwined with the present.


“Phyllis Parker never existed,” Ward said in an interview with this newspaper. “The account of the former Bernardsville Library, in particular, blows the story about Phyllis out of the water. This should be of great interest to people because it changes the account of one of our town’s pieces of folklore.”


Nonetheless, he argues in the first chapter of the book that ghosts do indeed exist. “I don’t believe that anyone can argue against the existence of ghosts,” he writes. “They have been seen by the young and old, the simply schooled and the erudite, dreamers and men of science.”


The former Bernardsville Library is one of several historic sites in Somerset and Hunterdon counties that Ward researched for his latest book. “This book is a link between history and the paranormal,” he said. “I looked at the history, experiences and the forensic evidence of occurrences.” Sites highlighted include the Gladstone Tavern, the New Jersey Brigade site and other locations on Hardscrabble Road, the Grain House in Basking Ridge, parts of the Great Swamp, Prallsville Mills in Stockton, and of course the former Bernardsville Library, which was known as the Vealtown Tavern during the Revolutionary War era when Phyllis Parker supposedly lived.


Ward presents extensive historical evidence to shoot down the often-told tale of Phyllis Parker. For instance, he says there are no records indicating that Phyllis Parker ever existed. Essentially he claims the story was created years after the Revolutionary War by people to explain the unexplainable.


Nonetheless, he still acknowledges that the old library may indeed be haunted - perhaps by multiple spirits - and says the mystery is not yet resolved. Ward, who grew up in Bernardsville, also talks about his own childhood home on Lloyd Road, which he claims “developed a reputation for being haunted.’’


From living in an old home, he said he became “rather adept at picking out the unusual sounds.”


“In the evening, there was often the sound of someone ascending the stairs,’’ he writes. “Footsteps were heard on the second floor when no one was up there, and other footsteps were heard on the porch late at night, followed by the rattling of the front door handle.”


The book gives a mix of factual history and investigation into ghostly phenomena. Ward even provides readers with a link to a web site where they can listen to ghostly voices themselves, or as he calls them, Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP).


“The book goes on to reveal forensic evidence to support the claims,” Ward said. “I think it appeals to everyone: historians, those interested in paranormal, local residents. It’s really for everyone.”


Included throughout the 128-page book are numerous black and white pictures of the local buildings where apparitions and strange noises have supposedly been seen or heard.


Ward will present a free lecture on the book at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 23, at the Bernardsville Public Library on Anderson Hill Road.


A former history teacher, Ward is currently a member of Haunted New Jersey, a group of paranormal investigators who have accrued more than 75 years of investigative experience.


Ward has written several books, newspaper and magazine articles about his interests in history and the paranormal. He is the author of “Life on the Shoulder: Rediscovery and Inspiration along the Lewis and Clark Trail,” and “A Bit of Earth in the Somerset Hills.”