The Jersey Devil
, sometimes called the Leeds Devil
, is a legendary creature
said to inhabit the Pine Barrens
in southern New Jersey
. The creature is often described as a flying biped
, but there are many variations. The Jersey Devil has worked its way into the pop culture
of the area, even lending its name to a National Hockey League
Many different descriptions have been offered by alleged witnesses of the creature, which are as follows:
- "I recently saw the jersey devil in you guessed it - NJ. There has always been strange things happening in my neighborhood and I have heard of sightings. A few of my neighbors goats and chickens went missing and all we found were piles of feathers/hair in the woods. I always blew them off until recently when i saw it for my self. It ran on its hind legs and was crouched over. The back was at least four feet high. It was dark grey in color and the hair was almost a rat texture. The tail reminded me of a monkeys and stuck straight out at least 2 feet. I did not see the head but my neighbor (who saw it a few years ago) said it was a cross between a dog's and a human head with red eyes. I also heard from 2 separate sources that is has kangaroo-like front legs and stands hunched over. I heard the same description from a few different people who do not know each other. This is no joke. Dont sleep! Russ Muits, Franklinville, NJ
- "It was three feet high... long black hair over its entire body, arms and hands like a monkey, face like a dog, split hooves [...] and a tail a foot long". — George Snyder, Moorestown, NJ. Sighted on January 20, 1909.
- "In general appearance it resembled a giraffe... It has a long neck and from what glimpse I got of its head its features are hideous. It has wings of a fairly good size and of course in the darkness looked black. Its legs are long and somewhat slender and were held in just such a position as a swan's when it is flying...It looked to be about four feet high". — Lewis Boeger, Haddon Heights, NJ. Sighted on January 21, 1909.
While the descriptions vary, several aspects remain fairly constant, such as the devil's long neck, wings and hooves. The creature is often said to have a horselike head and tail. Its reputed height varies from about three feet to more than seven feet. Many sightings report the creature to have glowing red eyes that can paralyze a man, and that it utters a high-pitched, humanlike scream.
There are many possible origins of the Jersey Devil legend. The earliest legends date back to Native American folklore. The Lenni Lenape
tribes called the area around Pine Barrens "Popuessing," meaning "place of the dragon." Swedish explorers later named it "Drake Kill", "drake" being a Swedish word for dragon, and "kill" meaning channel or arm of the sea (river, stream, etc.).
The most accepted origin of the story as far as New Jersians are concerned started with Mother Leeds and is as follows:
"It was said that Mother Leeds had 12 children and after given birth to her 12th child, she said if she had another, it would be the devil. In 1735, Mother Leeds was in labor on a stormy night. Gathered around her were her friends. Mother Leeds was supposedly a witch and the child's father was the devil himself. The child was born normal, but then changed form. It changed from a normal baby to a creature with hooves, a horses head, bat wings and a forked tail. It growled and screamed, then killed the midwife before flying up the chimney. It circled the villages and headed toward the pines. In 1740 a clergy exorcised the devil for 100 years and it wasn't seen again until 1890."
"Mother Leeds" has been identified by some as Deborah Leeds, who was the wife of Japhet Leeds. This indentification may have gained credence from the fact that Japhet Leeds named twelve children in the will he wrote in 1736, which is compatible with the legend of the Jersey Devil being the thirteenth child borne by Mother Leeds.
Some skeptics believe the Jersey Devil to be nothing more than a creative manifestation of the English settlers. The aptly named Pine Barrens were shunned by most early settlers as a desolate, threatening place. Being relatively isolated, the barrens were a natural refuge for those wanting to remain hidden, including religious dissenters, loyalists, fugitives and military deserters in colonial times. Such individuals formed solitary groups and were pejoratively called "pineys", some of whom became notorious bandits known as "pine robbers". Pineys were further demonized after two early twentieth century eugenics studies depicted them as congenital idiots and criminals. It is easy to imagine early tales of terrible monsters arising from a combination of sightings of genuine animals such as bears, the activities of pineys, and fear of the barrens.
Outdoorsman and author Tom Brown Jr spent several seasons living in the wilderness of the Pine Barrens. He recounts occasions when terrified hikers mistook him for the Jersey Devil, after he covered his whole body with mud to repel mosquitoes.
Not surprisingly, the Jersey Devil legend is fueled by the various testimonials from reputable eyewitnesses who have reported to have encountered the creature, from precolonial times to the present day, as there are still reported sightings within the New Jersey area.
Many contemporary theorists believe that the Jersey Devil could possibly be a very rare, unclassified species which instinctually fears and attempts to avoid humans. Such elements that support this theory include the overall similarities of the creature's appearance (horselike head, long neck and tail, leathery wings, cloven hooves, blood-curdling scream), with the only variables being the height and color. Another factor that supports the cryptozoological theory is the fact that it is more likely that a species could endure over a span of several hundred years, rather than the existence of a single creature living for over 500 years.
Some people think the Sandhill Crane (which has a 7 feet wingspan) is the basis of the Jersey Devil stories.
The physical descriptions of the Jersey Devil appear to be mostly consistent with a species of pterosaur such as a dimorphodon.
Reportedly in 1778, Commodore Stephen Decatur
, a naval hero, visited the Hanover Iron Works in the Barrens to test cannonballs at a firing range, where he allegedly witnessed a strange, pale white creature winging overhead. Using cannon fire, Decatur punctured the wing membrane of the creature, which continued flying apparently unfazed to the amazement of onlookers. Dating on this encounter is incorrect, as Decatur was not born until 1779. More likely, this incident occurred (if at all) between 1816 and 1820, when Decatur was the Naval Commissioner responsible for testing equipment and materials used to build new warships.
In 1840, the devil was blamed for several livestock killings. Similar attacks were reported in 1841, accompanied by strange tracks and unearthly screams. The devil made an 1859 appearance in Haddonfield. Bridgeton witnessed a flurry of sightings during the winter of 1873. About 1887, the Jersey Devil was sighted near a house, and terrified one of the children, who called the Devil "it"; the Devil was also sighted in the woods soon after that, and just as in Stephen Decatur's encounter, the Devil was shot in the right wing, but still kept flying.
Joseph Bonaparte (eldest brother of Emperor Napoleon) is said to have witnessed the Jersey Devil while hunting on his Bordentown, New Jersey estate around 1820.
January 1909, however, saw the most frenetic period of Devil sightings ever recorded. Thousands of people claimed to witness the Jersey Devil during the week of January 16–23. Newspapers nationwide followed the story and published eyewitness reports.
- 16th (Saturday) — The creature was sighted flying over Woodbury.
- 17th (Sunday) — In Bristol, Pennsylvania, several people saw the creature and tracks were found in the snow the following day.
- 18th (Monday) — Burlington was covered in strange tracks that seemed to defy logic; some were found on rooftops, while others started and stopped abruptly with no apparent origin or destination. Similar footprints were found in several other towns.
- 19th (Tuesday) — Nelson Evans and his wife, of Gloucester, allegedly saw the creature outside their window at 2:30 AM .
- Evans gave a descriptive account as follows: "It was about eight feet and a half high, with a head like a collie dog and a face like a horse. It had a long neck, wings about two feet long, and its back legs were like those of a crane, and it had horse's hooves. It walked on its back legs and held up two short front legs with paws on them. It didn't use the front legs at all while we were watching. My wife and I were scared, I tell you, but I managed to open the window and say, 'Shoo!' and it turned around, barked at me, and flew away."
- Two Gloucester hunters tracked the creature's perplexing trail for twenty miles. The trail appeared to "jump" fences and squeeze under eight-inch gaps. Similar trails were reported in several other towns.
- 20th (Wednesday) — In Haddonfield and Collingswood, posses were formed to find the devil. They supposedly watched the creature fly toward Moorestown, where it was later seen by at least two more people.
- 21st (Thursday) — The creature attacked a trolley car in Haddon Heights, but was chased off. Trolley cars in several other towns began to maintain armed guards, and several poultry farmers found their chickens dead. The devil was reported to collide with an electric rail in Clayton, but was not killed. A telegraph worker near Atlantic City claimed to have shot the devil, only to watch it limp into the woods. The creature apparently was not fazed as it continued the rampage through Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and West Collingswood, New Jersey (where it was supposedly hosed by the local fire department). The devil seemed poised to attack nearby people, who defensively threw any available objects at it. The creature suddenly flew away -- and reemerged in Camden to injure a dog, ripping a chunk of flesh from its cheek before the dog's owner drove it away. This was the first reported devil attack on a living creature.
- 22nd (Friday) — Last day of sightings. Many towns were panic stricken, with many businesses and schools closed in fear. Fortunately, the creature was seen only a few times that day and did not attack.
During this period, the Philadelphia Zoo posted a US$1,000,000 reward for the creature's capture. The offer prompted a variety of hoaxes, including a kangaroo with artificial wings. The reward remains available to this day.
In addition to these encounters, the creature was seen flying over several other towns. Since the week of terror in 1909, sightings have been much less frequent.
In 1951 there was another panic in Gibbstown, New Jersey, after local boys claimed to have seen a screaming humanoid monster.
A bizarre rotting corpse vaguely matching the Jersey Devil description was discovered in 1957, leaving some to believe the creature was dead. However, there have been many sightings since that time.
In 1960, the merchants around Camden offered a 10,000 dollar reward for the capture of the Jersey Devil, even offering to build a private zoo to house the creature if captured. To date, the reward has been unclaimed.
In 1991, a pizza delivery driver in Edison, New Jersey described a night encounter with a white, horselike creature.
In Freehold, New Jersey, in 2007, a woman supposedly saw a huge creature with bat-like wings near her home. In August of the same year, a young man driving home near the border of Mount Laurel and Moorestown, New Jersey reported a similar sighting, claiming that he spotted a "gargoyle-like creature with partially spread bat wings" of an enormous wingspan perched in some trees near the road.
In January 23, 2008 the Jersey Devil was spotted again this time in Litchfield, Pennsylvania by a local resident that claims to have seen the creature come barreling out of the roof of his barn.
On August 18, 2008 the Jersey Devil was rumored to have been spotted on Ebenezer Church Road in Rising Sun, Maryland. Three teenagers in a car watched the creature fly past the windsheid of their vehicle and land a few feet away in a farmer's field.
There are currently several websites and magazines (such as the NJ Devil Hunters and Weird NJ) which catalogue sightings of the Devil.
- The horror movie "13th Child" (aka "The 13th Child: Legend of the Jersey Devil") is based on the story of the Jersey Devil, as is the 2008 low-budget Leeds Point.
- In an episode of The X-Files entitled The Jersey Devil, the creatures were portrayed as being the same as Bigfoot, and were revealed to be wild humans.
- In the novel All the Rage by F. Paul Wilson, the fourth of his Repairman Jack novels, a rogue rakosh (a bipedal shark-demon, first introduced in Wilson's novel The Tomb) disappears into the New Jersey Pine Barrens, assuming the identity of the (previously only legendary, it is implied) Jersey Devil.
- In the film TMNT, One of the monsters unleashed into the world is referred to as "the Jersey Devil." Raphael fights the little creature in one of the scenes of the film.
- The monster known as The Sandpoint Devil, from the Pathfinder Dungeons and Dragons adventure "Burnt Offerings" is based on the Jersey Devil.
- In an episode of "The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest" entitled ""The Spectre of the Pine Barrens", Dr. Quest, Jonny and Hadji head to New Jersey to investigate the Jersey Devil. Then they run into a two-hundred-year-old feud between descendants of the Redcoats and the Minutemen over the original copy of the Declaration of Independence.
- In the episode of "American Dragon Jake long","The Long Weekend" Jake,his father,and friends Trixie and Spud,go on a weekend camping trip in New Jersey,where jake,Trixie and Spud discover a village of pixies,that are going to be plagued by the devil for days,unless Jake can defeat it.The devil in this episode was notabally more muscular and burly than its normal description.
- On May 31st, 1998, a game called Jersey Devil was released for the Playstation. The protagonist for the game is a Jersey Devil, though shares more characteristics of a bat.
- American professional wrestler Jason Danvers portrays a character called "The Jersey Devil", a psychopathic member of a stable called "The Asylum". His outfit consists of a black and white wrestling singlet, long tights, and boots. He also wears full facepaint of a white face covering with black makeup over it that gives him horns and a "Joker"-esque evil smile.
- Episode 15 "The Jersey Devil Made Me Do It" of the Extreme Ghostbusters cast the Jersey Devil as a creature who entered the world by being forged in a furnace. Eddie Albert and his son Edward Albert voiced the parts of the curator of a museum and the town sheriff.
- Weird NJ: Your Travel Guide to New Jersey's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets by Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran, Barnes & Noble ISBN 0-7607397-9-X
- The Jersey Devil, by James F. McCloy and Ray Miller, Jr., Middle Atlantic Press. ISBN 0-912608-11-0
- Tales of the Jersey Devil, by Geoffrey Girard., Middle Atlantic Press. ISBN 0-9754419-2-2
- A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America, by Donald Culross Peattie, pp. 20–23.
- The Tracker, by Tom Brown, Jr.