The Man in the Woolen Hat

When the idea of writing down the scariest event to ever happen to me came up, I got really excited. I’ve been telling ghost stories and weaving yarns of spookiness for a very long time. I’m told I’m a natural storyteller, and any natural storyteller will tell you that any good story grows and evolves. It changes to fit the needs and desires of the audience that you are presenting it to, and that is where the rub lies.

I wanted the telling of this particular story to be completely factual; no embellishments, no modifications, just actual real life events. The problem is, most of the stories I have are, well, kind of boring without the theatrics. But it is my job, nay my responsibility, to at least give it a shot…

During my time in high school I had the “pleasure” of attending two different schools, Pope John the 20 something and North Warren Regional, the public high school in my town. This story takes place during the PJ days. Going to a Catholic school means two things. One, you had to travel. Usually the Catholic school was in another town so your morning bus ride was the longest part of your day. Two, if you did high school correctly, you had friends in all the neighboring towns and very few in your own.

During summer break I spent a stupid amount of time at my best friend Eddie’s house. Eddie lived about 45 minutes from me and I didn’t drive at the time so it might as well have been in another country. Now, keep in mind this is WELL before the advent of the mobile GPS, so if you or your passengers didn’t know where you were going, you had an 87% chance of getting lost.

During one such visit, Eddie made the decision that we were going to have some people over. We agreed on just a small gathering, maybe 10 or 12 people from our high school and elsewhere. We put out the calls and waited.

The sun went down and 10 turned into 15, 15 turned into 20. The joint was hoppin! Everyone was having a blast except for me. You see during this time in my life I had a crush on an amazing girl that we will call Devin. Devin couldn’t get a ride to the party, so I made it my job to find one for her. Into the story comes John and Pete.

John and Pete were from Hopatcong and we knew them from this “Religious” function called Antioch. John offered to drive me to go pick up Devin and at that point he became my savior. Only problem is neither of us knew how to get to her house and it was now very dark out. John, Pete and I said “screw it” and we ventured out to save this girl from a very boring evening.

Now, I need to set the stage a bit because I know some people may not be familiar how things are in northern New Jersey. On a standard road up here there are no street lamps, so that means when the sun goes down it gets DARK. During the late part of summer/early parts of fall it is foggy as hell. On the right evening, it’s the you-can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face kind of foggy. Sure enough, this was one of those nights. A trip that should have taken us 15 minutes took the better part of 2 hours. I can’t honestly remember how long it took to get to Devin’s house, but what I do remember is the guy in the woolen hat.

While driving, in the dense fog, we saw a man walking on the side of the road. He was traveling in the opposite direction, so he was walking facing us on the right hand side of the road. He had a large duffel bag backpack on his back, and a woolen cap on his head. I noted the hat because I thought to myself it was way too hot and muggy to be wearing such a thing. Here is the really weird thing, the fog sort of lifted around him so we could see him clearly as we drove by.

We continued on our way and in about 5 minutes of slow driving and making no turns, we passed him again. This time he was on the left side, so he was a little further away from the car. We all gasped when he came into view, but John quickly said “That had to be a different guy”. He was still traveling towards us, still had on the backpack and still had on that same damn hat.

In my memory we saw, what I think is the same guy, at least 3 more times, each time of the opposite side of the street, walking towards us. John came up with the theory that we were driving in a very soft circle so we couldn’t tell, but my heart was telling me otherwise.

We traveled on for what seemed like an eternity and then the fog got really, really thick. We were all terrified, due to the fact that we couldn’t see anything out the windows at all. In a state of fear I said out loud to whomever or whatever maybe listening “please lift the fog; I just want to get back. Please lift the fog”.

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, the fog lifted. Now it didn’t just dissipate completely, it only lifted about six feet off the ground. The reason I knew it was about 6 feet was because as the fog lifted the beam of the headlights shone on the legs of a man standing about 20 feet in front of the car. We all screamed and John slammed on the breaks. Thankfully we were going slowly enough that he was able to stop the car with plenty of room to spare.

As we all gathered ourselves, I looked at the man that appeared out of nowhere. He was wearing jeans, a red unbuttoned long sleeved shirt, a green backpack and a red woolen hat. As he walked past the car, he stared in our general direction not seeming to make eye contact with any of us. It sent a chill down my spine. To this day, some 20 years later, the image of that man is burned into my mind.

We traveled the rest of the way to Devin’s house in silence, none of us believing what we saw or what just happened. As life goes on, certain memories fade with time. Who said what, who liked who, what actually happened at the party. But I know for as long as I live I will never forget the image of the man in the woolen hat.