“The Retarded Farmer”-ghost story

Summary: Take the little campers out into the woods to ”hangman’s tree” in Sussex county, near Newton, NJ. Gathered around a fire, one of the leaders tells the story of “The Retarded Farmer,” which goes something like this:

There was a farmer who lived on a farm up in those woods, and mostly kept to himself. Some punk kids got into his barn while he was away, knocked over a lantern, and the house and barn caught on fire. The farmer comes back in time to hear his family’s screams, and he goes to save them. The last thing he remembers is the smell form the burning flesh of his family. All the flesh was burned off of his hands and face, leaving him with claws. Somehow, he survives and ends up living in the woods. One of the kids who was responsible for burning down his home goes missing six months later. Then another one disappears. The third kid gets dragged into the woods by the farmer, and taken to a huge oak tree. There, he sees the hollowed out, burned corpses that were his friends hanging from a branch. The farmer lights the boys on fire because he has to smell the burning flesh to fulfill his appetite for revenge. But he is insatiable, and it is said that he still lives in these woods….

Then someone jumps out from behind the campers and scares the shit out of them.

Joe experienced this ghost story himself when he was a boy scout in middle school. He says it was absolutely terrifying at the time. Now that he has two boys of his own, who also happen to be boy scouts, and who are also growing up in New Jersey, he’s especially excited to share it.

“The Retarded Farmer” has many of the most effective elements of a scary ghost story. Firstly, it is set in a local area. Secondly, the victims are of the same age as the captive audience. Thirdly, the antagonist is both (a) physically disfigured and subsequently monstrous and (b) seemingly immortal. And of course, there are just enough realistic elements to make the story believably scary.

No one is sure why the farmer is “retarded”…perhaps an element of the story which was lost somewhere along the oral tradition.