The Bizarre Case of the Griggstown, New Jersey Ghost Cow

There are plenty of strange creature sightings reported by people all around the globe. Usually, these stories range from ferocious known animals in unfamiliar places to mythical monsters. But every so often, cryptid stories meet common critters you might find on a farm or in a petting zoo. And then, there are are those rare close encounters of the herd kind.

A bit of bovine strangeness perplexed the folks near Griggstown, New Jersey for decades. Starting back in 19721, reports of a cow wandering the area near Lock 9 (known as Griggstown Lock) of the Delaware & Raritan Canal spooked more than a few hikers and hunters. The creature seemed to appear only during foggy nights or misty days; when there was a sighting, searchers never found so much as a hoofprint or cow pie where the creature was seen. Puzzled by a lack of tangible evidence, Griggstown visitors decided that it must be some sort of ghost cow.

What became the legend of the Griggstown Cow circulated throughout the Millstone River Valley. Amusing as it was, not everyone took the phantom cow very seriously. Local residents were sure it must be a joke or some feeble attempt at an urban legend. Sightings were infrequent along the towpath and in the surrounding flood plain. All these witnesses had were a handful of questionable blurry photographs which weren’t very convincing.

That is, of course, until 2002 when the truth came out.

Thirty years after the sightings began, an employee with the New Jersey Water Authority discovered what appeared to be a black and white cow on November 23. It was lying in a ravine, unable to climb out by itself. New Jersey Fish and Wildlife, Griggstown Fire Department, Franklin Township Police, local dairy farmers, and a crowd of curious park visitors quickly gathered at the site. After a crew hauled the Holstein up the embankment, a veterinarian examined the animal—which turned out to be an old ragged bull—and found it was too weak and arthritic to survive. They put the poor helpless creature down and gave it a proper burial near Lock 9.2

A historical view of the D&R Canal at Griggstown.

Exactly where the bull came from and whether or not it was the same animal observed over the previous thirty years is still unknown. The last few dairy farms in that area went out of business long before the 1970s, so the renegade beast must have escaped quite some time ago. It is possible that there are other wild cows—ancestors of escaped livestock from these earlier times—still grazing in the region, but (for now) it seems the elderly bull was the real “ghost cow” of Griggstown. Finally, the mystery could be put out to pasture.

But not all tales of supernatural livestock come from real-life mistaken identities. Sometimes, those slow news days bring out the creative prankster in any journalist. That was certainly the case for an unnamed writer for the New York Times back in 1884.3 Among the editorials for December 8th was this little gem:

“There is a ghost in Cleveland, Ohio, who rides furiously up and down the street at night clad in appropriate white and mounted on a cow. We need ask for no further information as to the moral character of this particular ghost.
It is clear that this ghost resides in a locality where there are no horses or where his local reputation is such that he cannot be trusted with a horse. The number of ghostly horses must be almost incalculable, judging from the number of horses that leave this world every year . . . Wicked ghosts doubtless go where there are no horses, and hence must either give up riding or mount some disreputable animal—a ghostly cow, for example, who in her lifetime yielded swill milk. The ghost who parades in Cleveland mounted on a cow has, in the language of our city statesmen, given himself away. He has advertised the fact that he belongs to a gang of ghosts who are unable to obtain horses, and that fact proves that he is a disreputable ghost who deserves nothing but arrest and punishment.”

1Shackleford, James. “The Legend of the Griggstown Cow.” South Brunswick Patch. 20 Aug 2011. Web.
2Chirco, Vicki. “A Fond Farewell to a Beloved Local Legend.” The Milepost 3.3 Summer (2003): 1. Web.
3“A Recent Ghost.” New York Times. 8 Dec 1884. Web.

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