By Steve Sears
For Denville resident Peter Zablocki, it is always a whirlwind of activity, and if you’re a history fan – especially the local stuff – enjoy being swept up.
Zablocki’s latest offering, The 1788 Morristown Ghost Hoax: The Search for Lost Revolutionary War Treasure, was published by The History Press in July, and is available – appropriately – as the fall and Halloween seasons enter.
“I’m always full of ideas,” Zablocki says. “Once I start researching because I’m curious, the research always leads to ‘Well, I want to tell that story,’ so that leads to me writing. It’s been a lot.” And it leads to more for the ardent researcher. “I always want to write, I’m always asking questions, and especially the research. You find one thing while you’re researching something else, and that gets you going, and then you kind of put it to the side, and then you come back to it.”
His readers, no doubt, are grateful for it, but partner the above with his co-hosted “History Teachers Talking” podcast, his job teaching History and Advanced Placement Research at Kinnelon High School, and also being Vice-President of the Denville Historical Society, Museum, and Research Center, he’s happily immersed in his subject matter.
Minus giving too much away, The 1788 Morristown Hoax: The Search for Lost Revolutionary War Treasure, starts in Schooley’s Mountain, where a supposed treasure was buried. “I call this one of my ‘COVID Trilogy,” Zablocki says. “I wrote it the same time, believe it or not, as I wrote Denville 13: Murder, Redemption, & Forgiveness in Small Town New Jersey and Terror Over Elizabeth New Jersey: Three Airplane Crashes in 58 Days and the Fight for Newark Airport. I almost felt like a detective to be honest with you. I started doing this because the story of the Morristown Ghost has been told numerous times, perhaps not so much recently, but there are a lot of different books about stories of New Jersey and it’s always incorporated into those fables. It’s very much next to your New Jersey Devil. There’s a ghost, and then so on and so forth, and there had been a reenactment of the story that was done in Morristown years ago in the 1980’s. I started looking into it and asked myself, ‘How much of it is a fable?”
Here’s the gist of it. There was local legend that British Loyalists had buried a Patriot treasure on Schooley’s Mountain prior to fleeing as George Washington and his troops were approaching. In 1788 Ransford Rogers, a former Connecticut school teacher, led prominent Morristown families to believe that a ghost was protecting the treasure, and that he, Rogers, alone could exorcize it. His goal? Extortion of money from the families. “Once you start really looking into the sources,” Zablocki says, “you realize that actually, it’s not really a fable at all. It was a real event that transpired in Morristown in the 1700’s. There are court records of it. I was trying to place this story, take it out of fiction, where it kind of has been dwelling for the past couple of hundred years, and put it back into history. How did this happen? So if this happened, and I was able to find out that it did, why did it happen? Why would a group of wealthy members of Morris County, Morristown society, believe there to be a ghost?”
Did Rogers succeed? Read the book.
Zablocki has been churning out books with regularity the past few years. In addition to Denville 13 and Terror Over Elizabeth, he has also had published Bullets That Changed America: Thirteen Historic Assassinations, Duels, Misfires, and Murders, Denville Goes to War: Denville’s Story of World War I, and the follow-up, Denville in World War II. And with The 1788 Morristown Ghost Hoax, he is quick to recognize those who, during the pandemic, were kind enough to help when needed. “The libraries were super awesome,” Zablocki says. “A lot of different local libraries, including the Denville Library in Denville, as well as the Morris County Library or Morristown Library, were able to get me the books that I needed. I would pull up and they’d put them in my trunk. Also, the Morris County Historical Society actually opened the doors for me during the lockdown with the primary documents and files that I needed with regards to this case. I’m very thankful to local historical societies and libraries for allowing me to do research regardless of the fact that most of the world was locked down.”
The 1788 Morristown Ghost Hoax: The Search for Lost Revolutionary War Treasure, is available at both www.Amazon.com and www.BN.com. For more information about Peter Zablocki and his work, visit www.peterzablocki.com.