Friday, February 7, 2003
Getting to the bottom of the myths of the Blue Hole in the Pine Barrens
By DANIEL WALSH
They say the Blue Hole's bottomless.
Surrounded by quicksand.
Created by a meteor crash.
Filled with water blue as the sky itself, quite unlike the murky brown
cedar water elsewhere in the Pine Barrens.
It's been called the Bottomless Pit of Beelzebub and the Jersey Devil's
Bathtub, where swimmers insisted they felt a hand come up from below and
grab their legs.
All this over a pool of water about 130 feet in diameter just south of
the Great Egg Harbor River.
Ever wonder if any of it's true?
Tony Scriviani did.
"It's not really a lake," Scriviani said. "It's a hole. It has blue
water. Here in the Pine Barrens, we usually have cedar water. They say
that this hole is deep."
Seekers of the strange here often relay a story about a group of
scientists who some years ago dropped a huge weight with a long line of
cable into the middle of the pool. Supposedly, the cable kept going down
until it was all fed out. So, they dropped more cable. Same thing
The thing is, that story's as apocryphal in 2003 as it was in 1937 when
the late South Jersey historian Henry Charlton Beck first put it into
print in More Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey.
Joe Gionti, 87, a member of the Williamstown Historical Society, never
took a dive into the Blue Hole, but he remembers it well.
"Children were forbidden to go into that water for two reasons," said
Gionti. "One, there was no bottom. Two, there were demons in there."
The science, however, is quite different.
According to Richland natural historian Mark Demitroff, the Blue Hole in
Monroe is one of numerous such blue holes in the Pine Barrens. There are
also blue holes in Newtonville and Egg Harbor Township, each with its
own folklore. The science is something unique to the Pine Barrens.
"Blue holes are places in or near streams where large amounts of water
under pressure upwell," Demitroff said. " They shoot up like a geyser.
They're large springs."
Most water in the Pine Barrens, at least when the weather' s warm,
appears brown and murky and is called "cedar water" locally. Bacteria
take iron from marl, a type of heavy soil, near Marlton and turn it to
rust, Demitroff explained. The warmer the temperature, the more active
the bacteria will be, and the rust color will be produced in the water.
Because blue holes' water comes from so far below ground, the water
temperature stays relatively constant, about 55 degrees year-round,
Demitroff said. The bacteria is less active in cooler water and doesn't
turn the water brown. As a result, the clear water reflects the sky.
And what swimmers thought was the Jersey Devil grabbing them from
beneath the surface was really just the frigid water.
"You were always told never to swim there because you would cramp up and
sink like a stone," Demitroff said. " Suckholes would come up and grab
These days, the only thing close to the Blue Hole is a shooting range
off Piney Hollow Road. The remnants of a bridge over the Egg Harbor
remain, about 50 feet from the Blue Hole.
The best way in is a dirt road off Piney Hollow Road, leading northwest
into the Winslow Wildlife Management Area. Hike in three-fifths of a
mile and follow blue trail markers, and you'll eventually come to the
A crew from the Courier-Post made the pilgrimage Jan. 29 amid a drifting
snowfall. Elsewhere, the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers froze over in
spots. Children played hockey on ponds in Medford. Temperatures had been
below freezing for days.
The Blue Hole had no ice on it. Neither did the Egg Harbor.
The hole wasn't blue this day. But it wasn't brown. Rather, it appeared
crystalline green at many parts. You could see the bottom, where odd
Measured at several spots from a canoe in the center of the lake, the
Blue Hole rang up at no more than seven feet deep. Demitroff blames
urbanization and agriculture for this, saying the Pine Barrens have been
drying up for years.
As for the quicksand, Bill Witcraft, who runs the Auto Express shop on
Piney Hollow Road, said he has towed many cars from the side of the Egg
Harbor opposite the Blue Hole. They all sink in the sand.
But no, it's not quicksand, he says.
And no, there's no Jersey Devil around here.
At least not that anybody's seen lately.
Reach Daniel Walsh at (856) 486-2462 or email@example.com