THE HAUNTED RESTAURANT OF MORRISTOWN
By: L'Aura Muller
The history of today's Jimmy's Restaurant at 217 South Street, in Morristown, New Jersey, serves up some chilling tales besides food and wine. The original structure was built as a private home back in 1749 by John Sayre. His family and generations there after lived in the home without incident.
In 1833, Samuel Sayre lived there with his wife, Elizabeth, and a servant girl, Phoebe. An immigrant sailor from the West Indies, Antoine Le Blanc, was hired to help around the farm and house. However, Le Blanc misunderstood the employment opportunity and thought he would be managing a large operation in the capacity as superintendent. He spoke very little English and as his frustration grew, he decided to make off with what money he thought the Sayres had hidden in their home. One night he put his plan into action murdering the Sayres by bludgeoning them with a shovel, and their servant girl, Phoebe, with an ax. He made his escape as far as Newark, where a posse caught up with him and brought him back to Morristown for trial. He was convicted and hanged on the Green in Morristown (the area that today is still centered within the heart of the shopping district).
The hanging was a major event in Morristown history. It turned into quite a celebration. To cover the expenses of the trial and subsequent celebration, Le Blanc's skin was stripped (post-hanging!) and made into wallets and purses.
Many years later, a professor working late in the basement research area of the library of Princeton University discovered a piece of human skin tucked in to a book with hand written notations describing the fragment as that of Antoine Le Blanc's, 1833. Reta Veader, great-grandmother of the author of this article, had one of the wallets. She would take it out and show it off at family gatherings and such and relay the horror story behind it! When she passed on, it was left to her daughter, Gladys Smozanek, who donated it to the Morristown Museum.
In 1946 the old Sayre House was converted into a restaurant. It suffered a devastating fire in 1957. After the fire, reconstruction included additions and expansion to the building while maintaining the tree that was kept growing through the atrium dining area. Hence the name in the 1970's, the Wedgewood Inn, which was owned by William McCausland. My mother, Ruth Hladik, worked there as a bookkeeper. I would accompany my mother to the restaurant for the day while she worked when I had off from school. I heard the stories about the one room, Phoebe's bedroom, that could never be heated properly and how the waitresses working in that room would sometimes see Phoebe's reflection in the mirror and not their own. The shock of this reflection cost the restaurant a fair amount of broken dishes and such as the waitresses would drop their entire trays when witnessing it! Needless to say, when having to traverse this room to reach the bathroom, I would beeline straight through never even glancing at the mirror! However, I did have time to notice the distinct drop in temperature. Waitresses also reported the feeling of chilling hands being placed on their shoulders.
Mr. McCausland noted the ghostly time he had when his keys disappeared right off his desk. He searched and searched, but could not find them. He returned to his office and had his back to his desk and heard the keys drop. Sure enough, he turned around and there they were right where he had originally left them.
When the restaurant changed hands and names (to Society Hill), owner, David DeGraff, experienced a paranormal event. The night of the grand opening of Society Hill, a punch bowl was being filled for the party. Suddenly, it cracked and split apart letting the punch pour all over the place. There was no way to explain how a punch bowl could self-destruct in such a way!
Over the years, psychics have been brought in to conduct "cleansings" or exorcisms of what they believe are the tormented spirits of Le Blanc and Phoebe. Who's to say if this has worked or not? The restaurant is currently known as Jimmy's. While visiting there this past February, an orb (spirit ball of light) was captured on 35mm film up by the ceiling near the chandelier. Obviously, some otherworldly guest is still dining there!
(EDITOR'S NOTE: The tanning of Antoine Le Blanc's skin was not the only ignominy he was forced to endure. After the execution, Dr. Canfield of Morristown took the body, and with the help of the esteemed Dr. Joseph Henry of Princeton University, passed electrical current through it to see if it could be resurrected. Although they were able to make the limbs contract, the eyes roll, and the mouth grin, the corpse stayed lifeless. Only after this was the Le Blanc sent to the Atno Tannery to be transformed into such pleasant momentos such as wallets, pouches and book covers. Perhaps the authors of the book, "Murder Did Pay," put it best when they remarked, "May God have mercy on all their souls.")
(The author, L'Aura Muller, is the co-founder of the New Jersey Ghost Hunters Society located in Westwood, New Jersey, and has assisted NJHM with her expertise on numerous occasions.)
Murder Did Pay
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
The Morristown Public Library
From a Postcard in the NJHM Collection