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Sunday, December 19, 2021

Decemystery (2021) 19: Shirtwood Forest

Forests, to me, have a very creepy air to them. You’re potentially miles from civilization and you have to be on the lookout for wildlife that may not take too kindly to strangers in their territory. That, coupled with the many legends that surround forests (be it shapeshifting creatures, demonic bipeds, or regular old Bigfoot-type creatures), and you’ve got yourself a place that can make you become really paranoid. Though even if we’re to ignore all of that, there’s something about forests that can be really eerie. I think it’s the fact that they’re generally very quiet. That always puts some folks (myself included) on edge.

There’s more to forests than just legends though. A great many killers have used them to dispose of their victims, treasures can be buried there, and the Blair Witch calls one her home. Though for today, we aren’t here to discuss any of that. No, today, we’re here to talk about something a lot more innocuous, yet simultaneously unsettling—in my opinion at least. I found the story on the ObscUrban Legend Wiki (because I apparently can’t find stories anywhere else) and the High-Strangeness Wiki. It’s known as Shirtwood Forest, and it’s a really bizarre… thing. So come along, it’s time to go clothes shopping.

The Story

A play on Sherwood Forest—the home to the legendary Robin Hood—Shirtwood Forest is located in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last time, that location is mentioned this month; it’s where the New Jersey Devil is said to have made its home. It’s basically a gigantic area in the state that’s nothing but forest; it makes up a staggering 22% of New Jersey. I also believe that this is the first time in this blog’s history that we’re actually covering a story which takes us there, so hooray!

Anyways, let’s get down to business. According to the book Weird U.S.: Your Travel Guide to America's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets, Shirtwood Forest is located in a swamp that’s near Route 70 in the town of Brick, New Jersey. The name was given by the denizens of Brick due to seventeen white shirts being found nailed to trees and strung over their branches. Fittingly, these shirts were found on October 17, 1999. The shirts were also said to have been placed 20 feet (6 meters) high—which seems pretty high up (at least to me it does).

I’m unsure as to who initially found these shirts. According to the section from Weird U.S., a man named Evan Levinson stated that he “ventured” through the area that’s become known as Shirtwood Forest “many times”. As such, I’m inclined to believe that he’s the one who discovered it. However, with the way that his section (or his letter to the authors, I don’t know exactly what it is) is worded, it comes across like he’d seen the shirts before the seventeenth. Admittedly, it could just be the way I’m interpreting the wording, so I’ll let you be the judge.

With that said, Evan claims that twelve days later, on the 29th, an additional twelve shirts were found at the same location. Because of that, Evan pondered if the person[s] putting the shirts there were mirroring the day of the month. However, that wasn’t the only weird thing he found when he went back, there was a “strange bird” laying at the base of one of the trees. Its neck had been broken (or snapped).

One really odd thing that happens through Evan’s little story is that he switches between saying that the shirts were “on the tree” and that they were “in the trees”. Judging by the image that serves as the header image for this write-up, I’m inclined to believe that the shirts were hung from multiple trees. Regardless, it’s rather frustrating since it draws into question if he was the one to have put the shirts there, but let’s save that for later.

Evan wasn’t the only person to encounter the mysterious shirts on the trees. A man by the name of “Joe” claims that, when he “went back there”, there were white shirts hanging everywhere, in a way that was similar to if someone was “inside them”. I haven’t got the faintest idea as to how this would look, since I imagine it would be very easy to tell if someone was inside of a shirt or not (because, you know, you’d see a body). Though I’ve got a slight feeling that I’m overthinking things way too much.

Anyways, what makes Joe’s story unique is that he decided to throw rocks at the shirts. When he did, they “made a funny noise”. This noise, according to Joe, was similar to when a shirt that’s been coated in starch is hit. For those who may be unfamiliar with starch, it’s something that’s put onto shirts to make them “crisp” or to help them “appear professional” when they’re worn underneath a business suit. It can also be used to help make ironing a shirt easier. Truth be told, I had no idea why starch was used on shirts until I was writing this story, so I learned something new. Woo-hoo!

That ends Joe’s story though. I’m guessing he was a regular outdoorsman, so that’s why he said he “went back there”, but I’m unsure. Whatever the case may be, there’s one more story listed in the pages of Weird U.S., and it’s the only one not from New Jersey. A guy by the name of Jacob O. Amos claims that he had been reading about Shirtwood Forest on Weird US’ website and got super spooked.

You see, Jacob says that he saw the same thing when he was with his fiancée in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The two were staying in a chalet (which is just a fancy word for a cottage—more or less) and saw four or five shirts hanging from trees nearby. Being the chad that he is, Jacob made a comment about how it reminded him of the Blair Witch Project. Though deep down, he was legitimately frightened. This fear was only amplified when he awoke the next day. Upon going outside, he discovered that the shirts were missing. 

That’s where the stories from Weird U.S. end—at least, I believe they do. Page 197 isn’t available for preview, but I’m doubtful there are more to explore—or at least ones that would be of note. As far as I can tell, the ones that are available appear to follow a simple pattern: someone encounters shirts on trees and they’re unnerved.

In spite of that, I tried to do some digging for additional information on the story. The first thing I found wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped to find, but it nonetheless deserves to be mentioned since it made me smile. You see, Shirtwood Forest has actually been depicted in a rather light-hearted manner in a children’s book entitled The Weird Club The Search for the Jersey Devil. You can read the excerpt here if you’d like; I actually find it quite endearing, so kudos to the author.

Beyond that, I only found three other references for this story. The first was a Reddit post which not only had a dead link in the main post, but the comments didn’t add anything of substance. Though one person did tell a decent tale about how a few tornadoes tore through Central Florida and scattered the clothing of residents. That was a pretty eerie image to be quite honest.

The second is a very, very brief reference on The website goes over a few different stories and mentions Shirtwood Forest in passing. It’s honestly rather disappointing since it seems like this is the one and only source which would’ve had the most knowledge of the location, but didn’t bother to explore it much.

The third was from a website called A photograph (which you can view below) by a lady named Marianne McCarthy was posted there entitled “Shirtwood Phenomenon; Maine 1963”. 

On the page, there is a little description of what the photo conveys and is about. Here’s what’s on the website:

“Shirtwood Phenomenon; Maine 1963” is one of a series of images which examine extraordinary occurrences and mysterious circumstances within the natural, known world. “Documented” in a decidedly tongue-in-cheek manner, the concept is actually a composite representative of any of a number of actual, notable places on earth where humans have interacted with the environment in strange, inexplicable, seemingly spontaneous and often collaborative ways.

This image mainly references a mysterious patch of land in New Jersey called Shirtwood Forest, but supposes a more universal experience. In turn, it hints at all manner of such places—the “shoe orchards” and “chewing gum trees”—which pepper our planet and continue to befuddle and mystify unsuspecting passersby.

I’m not sure what the “shoe orchards” are, but the “chewing gum trees” seem to be referencing something from Mexico. A website called has an article about “the chewing gum tree", so there’s that.

Beyond those three, it doesn’t appear there’s anything else to this story. This is rather frustrating because there’s a major loose end to the story: what happened to the shirts and did they ever stop getting put onto trees? I have no idea and I’m not driving to the Pine Barrens to go look around to find out for myself. For starters, it’s New Jersey. Second of all, it’s the Pine Barrens. Third of all, I can’t drive.

So with that in mind, I think it’s about time to go over what the truth behind our fashionable tree friends is. There are a fair number of theories, so let’s begin!


1. It was a ritual site

Shirts on trees? People saying they felt watched and/or felt unnerved when at the site in question? A dead animal? Why, that’s positively a ritualistic/Satanic/occult site!

At least, that’s what I think. There’s really only one theory as to what this is, and we’ll get to it in a bit. However, I had a few ideas of my own that I want to throw into the ring because I feel it helps to cover a few areas that aren’t appropriately explored in the main story.

So first of all, a ritual site. A lot of people will tell you that various sacrifices in occult circles are, by and large, done by edgy folks who are going through a phase. That said, there are people who are genuinely invested in the occult out there who do perform animal sacrifices and other rituals. They aren’t exactly common, but they do exist.

The general appearance of Shirtwood Forest is definitely one that gives off an ominous, unsettling vibe. Heck, it’s stated outright in Weird U.S. that those who went there were “nervous” and scared. Generally, those who go to the scenes of occult sacrifices/rituals say they feel nervous or scared because of what went down there.

That may all sound like silliness, but it’s been said that the Pine Barrens are “One Of The Most Haunted Forests In North America”. There’s also the original story of The New Jersey Devil. also has a thread on stuff related to the Pine Barrens, including spirits and ley lines within it.

While this theory may be one of my own creation, I thought it was worth mentioning since rituals tend to involve inanimate objects, and the shirts could’ve been brought there as an offering to the lost souls there. The dead bird might have also been a sacrifice to appease the Jersey Devil. Of course, that’s just my thinking. I could be a complete lunatic for thinking such a thing.

2. It was an art project

When in doubt: it was an art project.

I can’t name the number of times a weird website or YouTube video has turned out to just be some person’s art project. It’s happened countless times and it’ll happen again in the future. This could’ve been someone’s bizarre art project, which was trying to convey some message that I’m way too dumb to understand. That’s really all there is to it. Someone would’ve just put shirts there and then maybe returned to take a second picture of their project—or added to it because nobody was talking about it. Artists are peculiar, but who am I to judge? I write about aliens in Food City.

As for the dead bird, that might be a coincidence. While it isn’t too far-fetched to believe that someone killed a bird and left it there to add to the illusion that this was some sort of ritual site (or in general just a place one shouldn’t be at), it’s also entirely possible a bird was attacked by something and the predator ran off because they heard someone or something. I leave this more up to you to decide.

3. It was just some guy hanging shirts as a prank

This theory posits that the whole thing was done as a prank by someone. This is also the one and only theory that appears to be given by the ObscUrban Legend Wiki, which is coincidentally the only website that gives any theories.

The basis for this theory is really simple. The Blair Witch Project was released on July 14, 1999, a mere three months before the shirt reports began (presumably by Evan Levinson). As such, the theory here is that someone decided to have a bit of fun and put a bunch of shirts in the Pine Barrens to spook hikers, outdoorsmen, and others. The same would go for what Jacob saw in Tennessee (though I don’t know when his story took place, but the general idea of it being a prank is the same).

Of course, one does have to wonder why (or how) the shirts got 20 feet up. The most obvious thought is that the person (or persons) who put them there used a ladder. It’s also possible they climbed the trees. It could have also been a combination of both.

As for the dead bird: I repeat what I said above. It might’ve been a coincidence, or it may have been a predator that attacked the bird, killed it, but didn’t eat it on account of being scared off.

4. It was a serial killer hanging the clothing of his victims

This was a theory that I thought of and I really don’t know why. I guess the idea of a serial killer going around hanging white shirts on trees in the middle of the Pine Barrens made some sort of sense to me, even if it’s incredibly impractical. I don’t believe there to be a rash of disappearances/murders in or around the Pine Barrens in the late 1990s. I could be wrong about this.

If it was a serial killer though, and I’m just too inept to find the rash of crimes that have flown under my radar for all of these years, then this person has racked up an incredibly high body count and the police in New Jersey are really bad at tying together murders. Upwards of 29 murders and nobody’s bothered to inspect the shirts in the forest. How peculiar.

4b. It was the New Jersey Devil

More of a little joke than anything else, I wanted to include that it was the Jersey Devil since, well, it’s the Pine Barrens. There have been depictions of New Jersey’s most famous cryptid as homicidal, and some even claim it showcases some degree of intelligence, but as far as I know: it’s never been responsible for any direct attacks. Not unless you count the clown show that were the 1909 sightings (which I briefly went over in the Enfield Horror write-up).

Also, I am aware that some stories from both Reddit and 4chan state that the creature has attacked people, but I take those stories with a massive grain of salt since /x/ and r/nosleep stories tend to be very fantastical and a bit hard to believe. At least, in my eyes they are. I’ll one day try to make a little analytical write-up on why I believe creatures like the New Jersey Devil and Mothman aren’t aggressive.

5. It was Robin Hood and he was stealing shirts from Bill Gates because morality


My Take

I’m extremely adamant that this was just some prank. The fact that the Blair Witch Project released a mere three months prior to when these reports came in (at least, it appears it they only came in three months prior) makes me think some kids saw the movie and were inspired to spook the locals. It’s only natural; we’ve seen it happen in this day and age whenever a creepypasta or meme takes off. Suddenly, everyone’s doing it. It would stand to reason that the same thing would happen back then with a movie like the Blair Witch Project. Heck, people thought it was real footage and tried to find the real thing.

As for the dead bird, I stand by what I said above. It could’ve been added there by someone who either found a dead bird or maybe they actually killed a bird. As grim as it may sound, people have killed animals for art before; they killed a few on the set of Apocalypse Now. Heck, they’d killed for less. The idea that some guy or girl killed a bird to add to their creepy prank wouldn’t shock me in the slightest.

So yeah. I think this was just a prank. Is it odd that it might’ve happened at two separate locations? Not really—not in my eyes at least. Hanging shirts out in the middle of nowhere to scare someone isn’t exactly a high concept prank. Besides, one was near a cottage. A few bored high school students wanting to creep the people staying there is something I can easily see being done.

Meanwhile, the Pine Barrens are ginormous. It’s possible that people have put other things deep in there to creep hikers out. Heck, I would probably put something weird out there to spook someone. I’d likely leave some weird polaroid photos on the ground with some creepy as heck images. At the end of the day: people like to scare each other. It’s nothing new and as such, I think this was just a prank bro. The camera was right there the whole time.


On one final note, dear reader: remember to always fold your laundry, dear reader. You never know when one of your shirts may end up being nailed to a tree. Until tomorrow, take care!

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