A tombstone sporting one of the familiar local names - Fitz-Randolph - as in the family.

Samptown Graveyard Here We Come (Do da Do da?)

By Jessica Teal

South Plainfield contains an old cemetery that is officially named the Hillside Cemetery of Samptown and it is located just off of Lakeside Drive on the Piscataway/South Plainfield border near Clinton Avenue. Samp is a Native American word for ground corn, so it is hardly surprising that this public cemetery has roots that hearken back to when there still were Native Americans living on this land. Indeed, when the RR Team heard that there were gravesites from the 1600’s and that many of the notables were of pre-revolutionary war origin, along with some Native American plots, we decided that this was a place to scour for phenomena and oddities.

Samptown proved to be a tranquil but interesting place. There were many graves from the 1600 & 1700’s and upon further research we learned that not only did Washington’s troops battle right along Clinton Ave (you can even find musket balls in the ground) but the cemetery was a public burial ground, meaning that soldiers of differing denominations who had fallen in war were laid to rest in this hilly site- we noted the flagged graves of war heroes and Rutgers/early Piscataway family names such as FitzRandolph and Suydam.

We also became aware of a presence that made itself known by piercing the tranquilty of the lazy summer afternoon with its haunting cries. While examining some nearly illegible old tombstones, we were startled by an unusual, high-pitched shrieking call and caught a glimpse of a very large and mostly light-colored bird that appeared to be some sort of a falcon swooping over the plots. The falcon or hawk was huge and its cry was so distinct and piercing that the RR Team immediately thought of the Dino-Bird of Blockbuster, that reputed pterodactyl-like creature that haunted the overdeveloped marshlands of South Plainfield by Middlesex Mall. The cry was similar, but the Samptown falcon did not have the volume or odd metallic note that was the hallmark of our Dino-Bird’s call. This falcon or hawk was fiercely beautiful though, and in scouring the internet for pics that best resemble our bird I came across two likely candidates- the peregrine falcon and the golden eagle (though the eagle’s a little darker than the bird we saw). We also found evidence of the falcon’s nifty talon-work in the grass as a large, strangled gardner snake was found under one of the falcon’s stooping spots. The snake bore all of the marks of a battle with merciless talons as the body had many nicks and its squished guts were spilling out of a raked belly. Co-investigator Ray and I reflected on the symbolic appropriateness of an eagle clenching a snake in its talons in a cemetery that honors American war heroes. Truth, justice and the American way prevail in peaceful, if boring, Ole’ Samptown, and we don’t want to hear any dirtbags claim otherwise!


The tombstone of a Revolutionary War hero with another familiar local name - Drake - like the cake - a descendent of Middlesex County's own Sir Francis.

The tombstone of another Revolutionary War hero - this time a captain, holding a legitimate title envied by the likes of Kirk, Crunch, and Kangaroo.

A hole in front of one of the tombstones that was so deep that it was a bit unnerving to see what the closeup image would pick up - luckily not much detail.

Some of the more unusual cemetery tributes - from Greek to chic.

Some aerial shots (with closeup) of the majestic I'm going to say falcon, overlord of the dead, protecting the tombs of fallen soldiers.

The falcon showing how large it is as compared to a jet fighter or maybe just another bird. Perched high in the trees, the falcon looks for his next cold-blooded treat on a hot summer day.

The victim of a random falcon attack spotted in the graveyard - not sure if the aggressor was blue, maltese, crest, or millenium - but it was definitely some sort of falcon.

The mangled remains of a hapless amphibian - with gaping holes where talons clutched (right).

The shredded serpent was the victim of a fly-by - torn up, gutted, and dropped to its unmarked, unburied resting place.


©Rutgers Rarities and Unexplained Phenomena, 2005