Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Jersey Devil is a legendary creature said to inhabit the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. The Devil is often described as a bipedal, flying creature with hooves, but there are many variations. The legend inspired the name of New Jersey's NHL hockey team, the New Jersey Devils.
According to one local tale, the Devil was the 13th child born to Mrs. Leeds, a resident of the Pine Barrens during the mid-18th century. Mrs. Leeds was so upset at yet another pregnancy that she exclaimed "I am tired of children! Let it be a devil!" What was once a human child immediately transformed into a winged monstrosity, which flew up through the chimney. There are many versions of this legend, differing in date of the birth and the degree of the Devil's disfigurement. In some stories, the Devil is merely a human child which Mrs. Leeds confined to her cellar or attic, only to have it escape into the woods (see feral children for more on similar legends and real life examples).
Another legend attributes the Devil's birth to a Gypsy curse placed upon a selfish young woman who refused to give the Gypsy food and shelter. The Devil has also been said to be companion to a headless pirate, a ghostly woman, and a mermaid. In certain parts of South Jersey, the Devil is rumored to live in an Agent Orange plant near Chatsworth, a very small town surrownded by forest and sand.
In 1840, the Devil was blamed for livestock killings. 1841 saw a similar attack, accompanied by strange tracks and screams. The Devil made an 1859 appearance in Haddonfield. Bridgeton had a flurry of sightings over the winter of 1873.
Joseph Bonaparte (eldest brother of Emperor Napoleon) is said to have seen the Devil while hunting on his Bordentown, New Jersey estate. Commodore Stephen Decatur is claimed to have fired upon the Devil while testing ammunition on a New Jersey firing range. He and his audience were dumbfounded to watch the Devil continue its flight apparently untouched.
January 1909, however, saw the most widespread period of sightings ever recorded. Thousands of people claim to have seen the Devil during the week of January 16 – 23. Newspapers nationwide followed the story and published eyewitness reports. Hysteria gripped the entire state during this terrible week.
- 16th (Saturday) — The Devil 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, others seemed to disappear completely. Several other towns found similar footprints.
- 19th (Tuesday) — Nelson Evans and his wife, of Gloucester, found the Devil outside their window at 2:30 A.M. Mr. Evans gave the following account:
It was about three 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 Devil's seemingly impossible trail for 20 miles. The trail appeared to jump fences and squeeze under eight-inch gaps. Sightings were reported in several other towns.
- 20th (Wednesday) — In Haddonfield and Collingswood, posses were formed to find the Devil. They watched him fly off toward Moorestown, where he was later sighted by at least two people.
- 21st (Thursday) — The Devil attacked a trolley car in Haddon Heights, but was chased off. Trolley cars in several other towns began to maintain armed guards. Several poultry farmers found their chickens dead. The Devil was reported to have walked into an electic rail in Clayton, but if this did happen it did not kill the beast. A telegraph worker near Atlantic City claimed to have shot the Devil and watched him limp into the woods. If so, he was not fazed much, because he continued his assault, visiting Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and West Collingswood, New Jersey , where he was hosed by the local fire department. The Devil prepared to attack nearby people, who threw whatever they could find at it. Right as he was about to strike, the Devil flew away. He emerged later in Camden and injured a dog, ripping a chunk of flesh as the dog's horrified owner looked on. This is the first Devil attack on a living creature that was witnessed.
- 22nd (Friday) — Last day of sightings. By now many towns were in a panic, with businesses and schools closed for fear of the creature. It was, however, only seen a few times this day, and didn't attack anything.
In addition to the number of major attacks and sightings, the Devil flew over or was sighted in a great many other towns. Since the week of terror in 1909, sightings have slowed considerably, but by no means did they end. In 1951 there was another panic in Gibbstown, New Jersey, after local boys claimed to have seen a humanoid monster and heard screams. As recently as 1991, a pizza delivery driver in Edison, NJ described a night encounter with a white, horse-like creature. There today exist many websites and magazines (such as Weird NJ) which catalog sightings of the Devil.
Many different descriptions have been put forward by those who have seen the creature. Several eyewitness accounts follow.
- "I looked out upon the Delaware and saw flying diagonally across what appeared to be a large crane, but which was emitting a glow like a fire-fly. Its head resembled that of a ram, with curled horns, and its long thick neck was thrust forward in flight. It had long thin wings and short legs, the front legs shorter than the hind." — E.W. Minster, Bristol PA. Sighted on January 16, 1909.
- "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 kangaroo... 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.
- "As nearly as I can describe the terror, it had the head of a horse, the wings of a bat and a tail like a rat's, only longer." — Howard Campbell, who claimed to have shot the devil near Atlantic City (see above). Sighted on January 21, 1909.
While the descriptions vary, several factors remain fairly constant. It is commonly described as having a long neck, with wings and hooves. It is often said to have a horse-like head and a tail. The height of the creature is fairly stable among sightings as well.
There are many possible roots of the Jersey Devil legends. The Pine Barrens, as their name suggests, were avoided by early settlers as a desolate, threatening area. The barrens provided a natural refuge for those who wished to remain hidden, starting with religious dissenters, loyalists, fugitives, and deserting soldiers in colonial times. These people, cut off from much of the outside world, formed their own isolated groups and were perjoratively referred to as "pineys ." Some of the pineys included notorious bandits known as Pine Robbers . Pineys were further demonized after two eugenics studies at the turn of the century 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 imposing barrens themselves.
Outdoorsman and author Tom Brown, Jr. spent several seasons living entirely within the wilderness of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. He recounts several occasions when terrified hikers mistook him for the Jersey Devil, particularly after he covered his whole body in mud to repel mosquiitos.
- The Jersey Devil, by James F. McCloy and Ray Miller, Jr., 1976, Middle Atlantic Press. ISBN 0-912608-11-0
- A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America, by Donald Culross Peattie, pp. 20 – 23.
- The Tracker, by Tom Brown, Jr.
- Russell, Davy, "The Jersey Devil", January 16, 1999.
- The Legend of the Jersey Devil — New Jersey Pinelands Commission
- "The Jersey Devil" — Elk Township (Local Area Mythology)
- The Jersey Devil of the Pine Barrens
- Weird New Jersey
- NJ Devil Hunters — A group that organizes hunts for the creature. Home to a large catalog of sightings from the 18th century to the present.
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