Out here in Wyoming, when we hear the name Devil’s Tower, the image in our minds is the natural landmark in northwest Wyoming that juts into the sky like a cross between a tower and a mountain. Originally called Bear Lodge by indigenous tribes, it stands 1,267 feet above the nearby river, looming over the Black Hills and provides recreation in the form of hiking and camping nearby. It was the first National Monument, and the name is tied to the tall block of igneous rock near the prairie. 

Today, however, we’re exploring another tower with the same name in the picturesque community of Alpine, New Jersey. A man-made structure, the Devil’s Tower in New Jersey has a much more sinister past and legend. While the Wyoming tower is a religious site for indigenous communities, this Devil’s Tower is said to be a portal to the depths of hell, or a site where the devil himself can be summoned with the right ritual. Rising up to its full height of six stories, the tower is an ominous sight on the New Jersey side of the bay, said to give a view of the NYC skyline. 

Built in 1910 by sugar baron Manuel Rionda, legend says he built the tower and the tunnel connecting it to his Alpine mansion for his wife, Harriet, who wanted to see the skyline across the bay. The tower is sometimes called the Rionda Tower, or the Rio Vista Tower. Others say that the tower was built, instead, for religious purposes and intended to serve as a family mausoleum, but the motives behind its building are murky at best. Locals immediately began feeling strange sensations while viewing the tower, feeling a sense of dread by its appearance in the affluent neighborhood of Alpine and Rio Vista. 

The most predominant legend surrounds the Rionda family and tragedy. It’s said that Harriet suspected her husband of infidelity, finding her proof when she watched from the top of the tower as Manuel was seen with another woman. In her grief, she threw herself from the top of the tower to her death. It’s worth noting that this legend is very low on facts, as the real Harriet Rionda is said to have died of natural causes in 1922 and is buried in the Brookside Cemetery in Englewood. The legend persists, however, with some witnesses claiming they could see a distraught woman at the top of the tower jumping to her demise over and over again, as if repeating her final moments. No actual suicides have been reported with the tower, but that doesn’t stop the ghostly tales surrounding the tower. 

Even more legends from the surrounding populace include the procedures needed to summon the devil himself at the structure. Walking backwards six times is a recipe for the resurrection, while some claim it summons the devil, others say it brings the ghost of Harriet Rionda instead, as her spirit remains trapped in the tower her husband built for her. Either way, many have reported strange paranormal occurrences at the tower. 

Some have reported being pushed by an invisible hand, especially while leaning precariously over the edge of the open windows. When the building was scheduled for demolition in the 1970s, several construction workers are said to have lost their lives, calling for the end of the demolition efforts.  Some visitors report smelling expensive perfume that may have been worn by Mrs. Rionda, and sometimes screams echo through the night from the tower, lending more credence to the stories of his haunting activity. 

The legends surrounding Devil’s Tower make its name an apt one, with still more stories about mysterious deaths on the property, including another man who hung himself from the top of the tower and can be seen hanging there if summoned by those visiting the tower. Others say there’s a ghostly woman in white who will climb the tower stairs and be seen, glowing, through the windows. The tower gained its name from the surrounding populace due to more legends saying that driving or walking backwards around the tower could summon ghosts or demons. 

Eventually, the tunnel between the tower and mansion was filled in, the elevator removed from the center of the building, and it was locked up for good to keep teenagers and urban explorers from entering. Graffiti still dots the walls, some of it seemingly satanic and designed to scare those entering. The tower is inaccessible today, but one can still drive nearby and experience the tower in its haunting glory. Just be careful how many times you drive around it, as the sixth time may be your last. 

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