Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Kip’s Castle

Note: This blog entry was written in 2005 and, obviously, some things have changed. This article is presently being updated to include the changes.

Frederick Kip was a textile magnate who moved to the United States from Europe in 1902. The story, as it is commonly told, is that Kip’s castle was transported stone by stone from Europe to Montclair, NJ and reassembled next to the Klasztor Salvatorian Fathers Monastery. The 9,000 SF Norman Castle style mansion has 30 completely recreated rooms including the original stained glass windows, wood banisters, old-English quarter-sawn oak paneling, turrets, arches and deep set windows set on every wall – even a small chapel complete with mahogany mantelpiece. Large iron gates complete with giant stone pillars on either side frame the driveway entrance. The driveway itself is a long, winding switchback road that snakes up the hill in 3 lengths, the side of which is lit by lamp poles spaced every 50-100 feet.

I received an email from a relative of Kip which disputes the story I mentioned above, about how Kip’s Castle was built and its origins. Regardless of its origin, the castle in its heyday was large and ornate, but most of the internal beauty did not survive thanks to the actions of the second owners. In 1980 the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh came to America from India, allegedly seeking medical treatment. In reality he was fleeing tax evasion and other criminal charges. The Bhagwan, a self appointed spiritual guru since the early 1970s, taught an eclectic doctrine of Eastern mysticism, individual devotion, and most notoriously, sex. His followers, many of them well-educated, middle class citizens, surrendered all their worldly goods to him, some even changing their names. By the time the Bhagwan came to the US, he had amassed over 400 centers world-wide with over 200,000 followers.

To announce his arrival in the US, the Bhagwan placed ads in Time magazine proclaiming spirituality through sexual freedom. He also purchased the castle after being influenced by his personal secretary, Ma Anand Sheela, who had attended Montclair State University. Residents of Montclair and the surrounding towns were not overly pleased with this development as hundreds, even thousands, of red-and-orange robed followers of the Bhagwan flooded into the area, renting or buying almost every available housing space just to be near their spiritual leader. “We are very concerned about our property values, our children and about this becoming an international HQ for a free-sex cult,” said one Montclair resident in a newspaper interview.

The Bhagwan promptly covered the old stone walls of the castle with sheet rock, the wood floors with linoleum, and the stained glass windows were smashed to allegedly prevent the followers from being influenced by “materialism”. But Montclair residents had no need to worry for long – the Bhagwan as it turns out, had bigger plans. The following year, he purchased a 65,000 acre ranch in Oregon and moved himself and his followers out of NJ.

The Bhagwhan called the Oregon property Rancho Rajneesh. The 100 square mile commune, eventually known as Rajneeshpurum had its own airport, restaurants, and police force. The Bhagwan would visit small local towns each day, slowly converting the town into part of his commune. The process was quite simple, and reminiscent of tactics used in European invasions. If you inject your own culture into another, eventually your culture drives out the original culture. When the Ranjeesh followers would finally outnumber the local residents, they would elect other members of the group to be mayor, council members and other political office. Before long, the nearby town of Antelope, Oregon was absorbed into the compound. (Looks like Montclair really dodged a bullet on that one!)

The Bhagwan’s success would not last, however. His second in command fled the country with a large amount of the Bhagwan’s money after she was accused of arson and attempted murder. She was arrested in West Germany and extradited back to the US. By now the Bhagwan had attracted the attention of several government agencies including the Attorney General’s Office as well as Immigration. He was arrested and charged with immigration violations, pled guilty to 2 counts and was fined 400,000 and forced to serve his suspended sentence outside the US. Much like that garbage boat which tried to enter country after country without success before being sent home, he finally was able to return to his native India where he died of heart failure a few years later. The city of Rajneesh, Oregon reverted to its original name Antelope, after the state determined that the conversion of the town violated separation of church and state.

Back in Montclair, in 1984, Kip’s Castle was bought by the law offices of Schwartz, Tobia and Stanziale (purchase price: $850,000). Nearly twenty years later, the lawyers are planning to move, and there is a very real chance that Kip’s Castle may be knocked down to create condos and townhouses. The asking price for Kip’s Castle, the carriage house and the 15 acres of property is $4.8 million, but it is believed that the proposed development is worth upwards of $30 million.

The future of the Castle is bleak, which is why the Preservation NJ website, which focuses on preserving historic buildings and properties that are threatened by neglect or development, considered it one of the most threatened properties in Essex County. It will take a great amount of money and willpower to buy the property and resist the urge to develop it in the manner which has been proposed. Clearly, there is big money to be made. It remains to be seen whether money or history will prevail.

I was really impressed with the castle. Inside & out you can tell it was made with high quality material and built with old fashioned quality hand construction. Sure, the inside now has standard plaster walls and modern lighting, but it’s not hard to imagine what this building must have been like at the turn of the 20th century. What will become of the property is still an unknown, but I will always remember my visit to Kip’s Castle. There simply is nothing else like it in North Jersey that I know of. The office manager was extremely nice and showed me just about the entire building, pointing out interesting features such as the expensive Dutch tile (called Delft) used to cover the walls of the bathroom, and the curved glass windows in the waiting area. I must say a big thank you to the law office of Schwartz, Tobia and Stanziale for granting me a brief visit to the property.

More pictures of Kip’s Castle can be found here

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Gods Ark of Safety, Frostburg, MD


While driving along Route 68 in rural Maryland you might see this large partially constructed building, its steel beams connected to one another but never finished, and you might keep on driving not even giving it another thought. “Just another unfinished building” you might think as you continue on west towards Virginia or West Virginia or points beyond. But you’d be wrong. It isn’t an unfinished building, it’s an unfinished ark, as in the Noah’s Ark. In 1974 Pastor Richard Greene proclaimed that Jesus told him to build an ark. The ark would be a full size replica of the original Ark constructed by Noah before the biblical floods. 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high it would serve as church and a conference center to help- meet the needs of the church and the community at large. Donations were collected but construction did not begin until 1999. 13 years later the project appears to have stalled as donations have slowed considerably. Whether it will be finished is unclear as the church seems unfazed by this fact. They believe it has drawn attention to the church and helped shine a light on the teachings of God and is a reminder that one day Jesus will return, taking his followers with him to heaven.

You can learn more by visiting their website at You can visit the ark at 18606 Cherry Lane, Frostburg, MD, and it is viewable from Highway 68 just after exit 34

St Andrew’s Ukraine cemetery

St Andrews Ulraine Cemetery is located in S Bound Brook right on the Raritan river. The ornate church the church was erected as a monument to those Ukrainians who died in the quest for liberty and national independence for their homeland – and especially to the 7 million victims of Stalin’s planned annihilation of the Ukrainian nation, the Great Famine of 1932-33. It is the only monument dedicated to these victims. “The memorial church is a very modest cross on the graves of the millions of victims of the Great Famine – the graves that were plowed under by the enemy.” These were the words of Archbishop Mstyslav of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on October 10, 1965, the day of the dedication of St. Andrew’s Memorial Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

It is the only monument dedicated to these victims. On St. Thomas Sunday, or “Providna Nedilia,” thousands gather at the center to honor the dead.

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Alfred Ringling’s House

Jefferson Twp was founded in 1754, at the time going by the name of Petersburg. The townspeople primarily survived by farming & iron mining. In 1900, Alfred Ringling came to town and bought Petersburg Pond, and a large tract of land around it. Ringling had a smaller lake nearby damned and stocked with fish. It would take 15 years before construction on the mansion would be finished. An unusual aspect of the mansion is that it is made of poured concrete. The walls around the property are all fieldstone, provided by local landowners at 25 cents per wheelbarrow full.

Alfred Ringling created a circus for his son Richard in 1917, and the animals were all housed right on the property. The son had no interest in the Circus, so eventually the circus went on the road to Dover. The wooden wagons got stuck in the mud, but soon returned in motorized vehicles (the first circus to use them). John died a few years later and his wife stayed here for several more years before moving. Developers tried to sell exclusive country homes but that failed so they built small summer homes. Some of them still exist. Knowing the rumors of midgetville in this area, logically one might think that the dwarfs were employees, and might have lived on site (or nearby) I explored the surrounding block & saw some homes typical of midgetville (low flat roof lines) but nothing that screaming midgetville. I asked a local boy if he knew of any small houses (I was asking rather surreptitiously and he clearly didn’t catch my hidden meaning) “There’s a small house over there for sale, but they’re gonna tear it down to make a bigger ranch house.”

I read an extremely interesting article written in 1961 by a town historian which describes the manner in which Ringling came into town as a “taking over.” The town has primarily existed on farming and the mining of iron, both of which were difficult, and not terribly profitable. The town of Petersburg really had no reason to say no when Ringling came in offering to buy large tracts of land.

One of seven brothers, sons of a Bavarian harness maker, the boys had decided that they wanted to be circus man more then anything else. They grew from simple vaudeville performances in their barn until they had enough to buy a goat, then a horse, then eventually take it on the road, at which time they changed their name to Ringling. (it had been Rungeling) Their talent and appetite for expansion were both impressive, and eventually they began absorbing other circuses into their tent. Eventually Alfred settled on this area to settle down and create a base. he entertained people in his massive living room, and had a $75,000 pipe organ installed. In 1955, the Spes Foundation, a worldwide order of the Roman Catholic Church purchased the mansion as an HQ to reach behind Russia with anti-communists material. “Spes” means hope in polish and is run by the Capuchin Fathers. When I stopped by I saw no one and no one answered the bell. I am hoping to contact the Fathers and perhaps obtain a tour. If so, I will definitely update this site.



Temple for Hope & Knowledge suffers a fire, and is sued for fraud

I’ve come across several news articles that chronicle the end of the Temple for Hope & Knowledge. The church was sued successfully in 2001 for $200,000. The church then filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In November 2003 the paper reported that “A sheriff’s sale of the Temple of Hope and Knowledge was delayed on Thursday for the second time. The sale was originally scheduled for October, but the temple’s owner, 92-year-old Sole Mio Balaam Nicola, was granted a postponement (Press of Atlantic City, NJ)”

I visited the temple in January 2004 and discovered that the temple has suffered a massive fire.

Follow the dates. The church gets sued, it declares bankruptcy as reorganization but is forced to sell the property, and now there’s a fire? Hello? Can anyway say “insurance scam”? The church settled a lawsuit accusing it of having scammed a man out of a lot of money, so if true, insurance fraud and arson aren’t an unreasonable assumption. Note: this all entirely speculation by me. I have no evidence other then two eyes and a brain.

As of January 2005 there is a for sale sign on the property.

Return trip to the Temple for Hope and Knowledge

I made a return visit & again no one was there. I saw a neighbor and asked if they knew anything. She said that the “church” met every Saturday in the early afternoon. They have healing sessions and pray to God, but “not god like you & I know it, not the Catholic or Christian god.”

I think I already had that one figured out…



The Temple for Hope & Knowledge




I saw this while we were driving near Atlantic City, stopped and I took these pictures. No one was around, and I wasn’t going to knock on the door. What I’m curious to know is whether or not the interior of these buildings are normal rooms, or if the inside is open to the roof, like the Luxor Casino in Vegas is.

The Weird NJ page about it features a statement from the TFH&K about their mission.

Virgin Mary stump update

A $200M redevelopment project is slated to go up across he street from the Virgin Mary stump in Passaic and folks are wondering if Mary has to go. Councilman Jon Soto said a religious altar should not be allowed to remain on public property. “Although the shrine is sacred to some, it’s on public property and in the sense of the separation of church and state we can’t have a shrine here”. He wanted to debate it at a town council meeting but the mayor said the town lawyers should examine the issue before any debate. Said Soto: “the whole are is going to be redeveloped and if we don’t address it now and you leave it there for a few years then later down the road it’s going to be ‘it’s been there for five years’ and it will be more difficult.”

As you can see below, the Virgin Mary tree stump now has proper protection in the former of a properly built shelter. The area has also been paved with bricks for safety…

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Virgin Mary Tree Stump


In Passaic, near the corner of Hope & Madison right as it goes under Route 21, drug users frequently would gather and shoot up behind the bushes. Local residents, fed up with the drug user going on out in the open, decided to clear the brush to take away the privacy it afforded the drug users. One teenager chopped down a thick tree and a left the stump and logs there when he was done. A few weeks later someone noticed that the stump resembled the Virgin Mother May. A protective shelter was erected around it and soon Catholics from all around were visited the shrine. People left candles, rosaries, and drawings of the Mother Mary. A fence was eventually erected to keep the crowds from getting too close.


It does appear to be a figure with sloping shoulders who is crossing his/her arms. But the Virgin Mother? I’ve seen Scooby Doo in cloud formations, it doesn’t mean I was watching cartoon network at the time. The human mind likes to see things in random designs in nature.


Although I’ve never believed that images of Jesus or the Virgin mary on toast are really, I did notice some interesting things about this particular sighting. 1) this occurred on Hope St. 2) it’s the month of the Holy Rosary in the catholic church. 3) if you walk back on Hope St perhaps 150 feet you can see over the highway and on a building on the other side someone painted the words “read the bible… Jesus is the future king.” This was painted years ago. (in the picture below you can see the building to the right of the sign post…) Coincidence or just another sign? That’s for you to decide…

Catacombs beneath the streets of Newark


I can’t recall where I read this, but I read somewhere that the only catacombs in the US were located beneath a church in the Portuguese section of Newark, NJ. I made some phone calls and found out this was true and that the church would give a tour if asked. So I asked.

Located at Lafayette & Prospect, the catacombs are beneath the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The church was established in 1927 in what was at the time, a mostly Italian neighborhood. The catacombs were constructed by church members in the late 1950’s, many coming after work to labor in the building. Eventually the neighborhood began to change, and now is primarily Portuguese. According to the woman who gave me the brief tour, there are 3 Italian families who attend the church, even though the service is given in Portuguese and (presumably) they don’t speak the language. I went to the rectory and gave a small contribution in return for the tour. No amount is specifically requested, it’s whatever you feel is appropriate. I gave $20 just because. The entrance to the catacombs are through this door….


This door is probably the heaviest, most stubborn door I’ve ever encountered. The key would barely turn the lock, and the door as almost rusted into place. We finally got it open (please don’t ask how long it took to subsequently close it) and we entered into… the basement?

When I say catacombs, it probably conjures up images of old monks walking stooped over thru tunnels lined with brick led by dripping torches as rats squeak in the distance. Maybe you think of old bones wrapped carefully and preserved lying in cutouts along the walls of the passageway. Think again. Indiana Jones this wasn’t. It looked much like any other basement in any other building or house. The walls were finished, as were the ceilings and floors, which were as tall and wide as you would expect in any normal basement. Lining the walls were various paintings of saints and other holy things. In short this wasn’t so much a catacombs as a replica of a catacombs. It was interesting, but not at all what I was expecting.

Is it worth the trip? Probably not I’m sad to say.