The following section from the story “A Bridge to the Other Side: Hauntings in Roebling” from the book “Ghosts of Burlington County” provides a sample of the series of New Jersey Ghost books published by Haunted America.
Here Mount Holly writer Jan Lynn Bastien visits the historic of Roebling — the mill town founded by the Roebling Company below Trenton on the Delaware River.
After recounting the story of Elex Passternak, a Hungarian worker who hanged himself in 1939 after being arrested for harassing some young women, the writer visits the Roebling Museum, in the refurbished steel mill where Passternak worked and was held in the factory-town jail.
As Bastien reports:
“The site had lain fallow for 34 years,” related Roebling resident George Lengel, a retired history teacher, whose father and grandfather worked in the Roebling mills, as he did himself for many summers while working through college. Then, in 1982, the 200-hundred-acre plant became the focus of a Superfund project, and the Environmental Protection Agency declared it off-limits. A past member of the Roebling Museum board of directors, Lengel was one of the many activists in Roebling working to preserve the Roebling legacy through the creation of the museum at the main gate.
Before the clean-up began, the location was deemed worthy of national preservation as a historic site. In an August 1997 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, one industrial archaeologist examining the site declared, “It’s like an industrial Pompeii.” The team that came through prior to the Superfund clean-up to document its historical significance sifted through old drawings and blueprints and studied the plant’s many buildings and machines, “looking for ghosts,” as one of those analyzing the site described the process. “You can really feel the presence of the place,” a worker from the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office stated in the article.
Whether or not “looking for ghosts” and “feeling a presence” is alluding to actual paranormal activity, I am not sure. But George Lengel has heard many reports of ghosts in the museum and the area of the old mills. George remembers that one of the EPA workers said he always saw a face looking out of the second-floor window of one of the old buildings. He told George that three or four of the men “would always see this man looking at us.”
One day when a crew came to demolish one of the old wire mills, they saw a man walking ahead of them enter the building. The foreman yelled at him to leave as they would soon be bringing it down. But he didn’t respond. The foreman instructed a couple of his workers to go in and get him out of there. They went in and searched the building, but nobody was there. And as the remainder of the crew had stood outside watching the building, they knew nobody came out, either.
Paul Varga worked in the mills from 1956 to 1974, when they closed, and like Lengel, still lives in Roebling. Also like Lengel, he was a key player in working to establish the Roebling Museum to preserve the memory of this important community, and he still serves on the board of directors. Paul and George were serving together as museum docents one afternoon in 2011 when a woman came in to tour the museum. She paid her admission and then went into the Roebling Room gallery, which stands where the three jail cells were housed in the days of the steel mills and where Elex Passternak spent his last night on earth.
A few minutes later, “she came flying out of there, screaming that she saw a male ghost who was pressuring her,” remembered George. Then she turned and ran out of the building. George and Paul watched as she jumped into her car and sped away. They never saw her again.
Lengel and Varga said that there have been other female visitors to the museum who have reported being touched by something while seeing nothing in this same room. Ghost researchers will tell you that spirits tend to maintain the same traits and personality they had in life. It sounds like the overly flirtatious Elex Passternak has certainly not changed much, and that this lecherous ghost is still grabbing what he can, without fear of persecution now.
Elex is also a prankster, it seems, or maybe he just gets bored when there are no women around. The museum hosts meetings for many groups in the Roma Bank Media Room, and George would sometimes stay until the meeting was over to lock up. One such time, the building’s alarm system wouldn’t set. The control panel kept indicating that there was activity in the gallery, again, where the old jail cells used to be. George went over to the gallery and cleaned off the motion sensor, but it still wouldn’t reset. He could leave the building unarmed, and he suspected it was Elex. So he tried to reason with him.
“Yo, Elex, knock it off. I’ve been here all day. I’m a volunteer. Remember when this place had no roof? No heat? Please let me go home,” he urged Passternak’s spirit. Elex is not such a bad guy: Listening to reason he stopped setting off the motion sensor, and George was then able to set the alarm and go home.