WEST MILFORD, N.J. - Kim and Paul McKinnon never have seen a ghost, but they know what it means to be haunted.
For six years, the West Milford, N.J., couple and their three young daughters have awakened to the blaring of car horns, the crash of breaking bottles and the explosion of firecrackers. It all started, police say, from a rumor and Internet posting that spirits are camping out at the McKinnons' rustic home.
Young people from New York City and across northern New Jersey drive up to the family's isolated house at all hours, but usually in the dead of night. They lean on car horns, hoping, they have told police, that ghosts will appear.
Nothing happens, except perhaps Paul McKinnon raises his sleep-lined face to the window. But the thrill-seekers aren't pacified. They make ghost-like howls, curse, hurl firecrackers and throw beer bottles, the family says. One bottle pierced a bedroom window screen, landing next to Paul in bed.
`To hell and back'
"We've been to hell and back for years," said Kim McKinnon, 35. "It's got to stop, and we don't know how to stop it."
Daughters Amanda, Katie and Meaghan fear going to bed, their mother says. Sometimes, they wake up screaming, "Mommy, the bad people are here!"
And more than once, the girls have called their mother at the supermarket where she works, pleading, "Mom, they're here. Come home. Help us," Kim McKinnon said.
The incidents become more frequent in the summer when school is out, police said. In recent weeks, the McKinnons have filed 10 complaints. Police Capt. James Dykstra said one morning when Kim McKinnon called, he could hear horns blowing in the background.
"It's mostly teens," Dykstra said. "They read that if they go by the house, ghosts will come out. But the only thing that is going to come out is the police."
Officers have caught culprits from all over North Jersey. They say one youth told them the home's address is on the Internet. The (Hackensack) Record could not find an Internet site referring to the house.
Police issue summonses for harassment, carrying a jail term and up to $500 in fines, and motor-vehicle summonses for blowing a horn to annoy.
Meanwhile, the McKinnons wonder how the house they have rented for 15 years gained such notoriety. It once had a first-floor general store, but never a place in local folklore, the McKinnons, neighbors and police say.
"There was never any story about it being haunted," said Muriel Van Offeren, who has lived on Clinton Road since the 1930s.
But there always have been yarns about monsters, maniacs and murderers in the dark, dense woods along Clinton Road - "It's a long, desolate stretch and makes the imagination go nuts," police Lt. Gene Chiosi said.
Old yeti story
When Paul and Kim McKinnon were teenagers in West Milford, a yeti, or abominable snowman, was said to live off Clinton Road. These days, some local teens tell of a boy and girl who ran out of gas on the road one night. The girl found the boy the next morning, dead and hanging from a tree above their car.
"That's an old one," Paul McKinnon said.
One horror story is true. In the 1980s, the body of a victim of serial killer Richard Kuklinski, known as the Iceman, was found off Clinton Road.
Other stories were recounted recently in "Weird NJ," a magazine published in Bloomfield, N.J., that reports on the state's oddities. But it makes no reference to any houses along the road, including the McKinnon home, which is isolated. There are no neighbors in view, and the house's landlords, a retired couple, live amid woods nearby.
"This is country living," said Paul McKinnon, 44, sitting with his wife and daughters in the living room, which has a large, stone fireplace topped by a mounted head of a deer Paul killed hunting. "That's why I'm here."
The family lives on the second floor, using a back entrance. The ground floor, facing the road, once was the store and now is used for storage. Knowing the dark and dusty storage area might make the house appear abandoned, Paul McKinnon keeps his black pickup truck parked in front. And, at the urging of police, the family last year gave the house a fresh coat of white paint and green trim to make it appear an unlikely home for ghosts.
They have tried all-night floodlights and one year even put up Christmas lights to discourage troublemakers. But nothing has helped, the McKinnons say.
After nine years of renting the house with no problems, the harassment started after the nearby stretch of Clinton Road was paved, Paul McKinnon notes, giving young partiers a smooth ride down the winding, nine-mile road.
The McKinnons said they understand the fun involved but wish their visitors would see that their entertainment has become the family's nightmare.