Since its establishment over 250 years ago, Rutgers Prep has definitely seen its fair share of history. However, besides witnessing important historical events like The American Revolution, our school also has its very own rich and extensive history from 1766 onwards.
But with every place of history comes stories and legends about the presence of ghosts and spirits.
The Elm Farm, the oldest building on campus coincidentally enough, is thought to be haunted by spirits from the past. Some members of the Rutgers Prep community have even had ghostly encounters within the building.
Before jumping into the stories of these actual encounters here is some helpful background information on Elm Farm provided by our very own Mr. Cohen.
Prior to the Elm Farm and its surrounding property becoming the site of the new Rutgers Prep campus in 1957, the building and the property began as a family residence and farm.
The story starts first with the Van Winkles, a Dutch family that owned and operated a farm right near our current campus. In fact, the house that the Van Winkle family lived in is still open for visitors to see today.
A little while after the Van Winkle family settled in this area, Anna, the granddaughter of the original Van Winkle patriarch, married Abraham Beach, a minister. Beach eventually became one the founders of our school when Prep was known as Queens College Grammar School.
The couple decided to stay close to her family on the same estate and t ended up being the ones who would live in the Elm Farm house. It cannot be determined when exactly the house was built, but some believe that Beach built the house.
After Beach passed away in the 1820s, the ownership of the house eventually fell into the hands of Beach’s granddaughter, Julia Beach Lawrence who married Thomas Lawrence Wells. The house then went to Julia and Thomas’ son, Lawrence ,who then passed the house to his daughter, Julia.
Lawrence and his daughter Julia used their wealth to renovate Elm Farm, which they kept as a summer residence, to be a 22-room mansion.
When Julia passed away in the 1950s, her cousin inherited the house and sold the property to Rutgers Prep. Ever since that time, Elm Farm has been an integral part of our campus and has also become the place with the most talk of ghosts.
Middle school principal, Mr. Marotto, is one of the many people who recalls having “ghost” experiences while in Elm Farm or on campus. His first story is more of a strange happening than an actual encounter with any ghosts.
Years ago, when he first began working at Prep, Mr. Marotto lived on campus. He was put in charge of doing nightly security rounds throughout the campus and always brought his dog Teddy along to accompany him.
Teddy, a friendly German Shepherd, enjoyed running through the halls of the various buildings they patrolled and playing fetch with his owner. Teddy followed Mr. Marotto wherever he went.
“But he’d never ever enter the Elm Farm,” says Mr. Marotto. “Not one time. I’d walk up to the door, unlock it, and say ‘Come on Teddy,’ but he’d never go in the building.”
It’s a common belief that dogs can sense supernatural presences and Mr. Marotto thinks this might be the case. Teddy’s refusal to enter Elm Farm was very abnormal and out of his character. In all of the time Mr. Marotto worked night security he was never able to convince Teddy to enter the building. Did Teddy know something others didn’t?
Mr. Marotto’s second experience with the ghosts at Elm Farm was much more intense. When he was about 19 or 20 years old, Mr. Marotto also worked during the summers at Rutgers Prep and did various jobs around campus.
One hot day, he had to move things out of a classroom in Elm Farm with two of his colleagues, Chris and Jeff. Only the three of them were in Elm Farm that day. When it was finally time for the men to go to lunch, Mr. Marotto called up the stairs for Chris and Jeff to join him.
“‘Chris? Jeff?’ I called up the stairs. But no one answered,” Mr. Marotto recalls. After walking up the stairs to find the men, he thought he heard voices inside the next room. He stood outside the door and listened.
“I’m listening and I hear people playing cards. I hear things like ‘Give me two.’ And ‘I’ll take three’,” described Mr. Marotto. It sounded as if a poker game was going on inside the room. Perplexed, Mr. Marotto stood and listened to more of the game until he heard Chris and Jeff calling him from two floors below. Realizing, Chris and Jeff weren’t in the next room and that he had no idea who was
in the room, Mr. Marotto ran out of the building.
Mr. Marotto isn’t the only one with stories about ghosts in Elm Farm. Some people have said the ghost is a little girl. Some people also have claimed that they have heard noises in the building when they knew for a fact they were alone. Some people refuse to believe the numerous stories at all.
The question remains: what did Mr. Marotto hear that day? Who
did he hear?
“I know what I heard,” stated Mr. Marotto, full of certainty.
The next time you go to Elm Farm, listen carefully- there may be spirits lurking around.