Things That Go Bump In the Night…And Then Steal Your Money

"A Diabolical intrigue," courtesy of the State Library of Ohio Rare Books Collection on Ohio Memory.
“A Diabolical intrigue,” courtesy of the State Library of Ohio Rare Books Collection on Ohio Memory.

In 1788, a “diabolical intrigue” took place in Morris, New Jersey: Ransford Rogers, a native of Connecticut, was hired by two men to communicate with spirits protecting a treasure which they believed to be hidden on Schooley’s Mountain.  Rogers, a dissatisfied schoolteacher and con man at heart, asked for just one thing, a simple thing: twelve pounds from each man, to be paid in gold or silver.  In exchange, he would persuade the spirits to clear the way to retrieve the treasure.

A sheet was apparently convincing enough to this “certain gentleman.”
A sheet was apparently convincing enough to this “certain gentleman.”

What came next is a surprise to no one, save the residents of Morris Town, who were apparently highly superstitious and “attached to machinations.”  Rogers, who had a reputation for being able to communicate with the dead, and his cohorts – first a single accomplice and, later, two more – found that the fertile imaginations of the townspeople made them the perfect victims.  They created what seems to be an elaborate scheme to steal as much money as possible… although the fact that the schemes involved, at one point, wearing sheets and pretending to be ghosts makes them sound about as elaborate as the Peanuts Gang.

The men who had initially hired Rogers became more and more convinced that Schooley’s Mountain was, in fact, haunted, and that the ghosts could be persuaded to give up the location of the treasure.  They spread the word and the number of interested participants grew until Rogers was extorting money from a large number of townspeople.

Reproduction of the original 1792 title page.
Reproduction of the original 1792 title page.

Ultimately, Rogers and his accomplices were arrested and the con was up.  He was later released on bail (paid by a gentleman the author dubs “Compassion”) and fled the area, only to be arrested a second time.  Yet, somehow, Rogers escaped a second time, though how he did this the author does not say.  Perhaps he was carried away by the true ghosts of Morristown?

This is the story of The Morristown Ghost, published in 1792.  The item held by the State Library of Ohio is a reproduction of the original pamphlet and includes a publisher’s note; the pages that follow are “an exact imitation, in size of pages, style of type, and quality of paper….” According to the Morristown and Morris Township Library, the story has “captur[ed] the interest of readers for over two centuries,” has been printed five times, and was, at one point, turned into a play.

The library also says that the treasure has never been found.

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Thank you to Shannon Kupfer, Digital/Tangible Media Cataloger at the State Library of Ohio, for this week’s post!

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