|Body type||Equine- or Crane-like|
|Average height||3-7 ft|
|Place of origin||Hell (rumored)|
|Habitat||Pine Barrens, New Jersey|
|Locomotion||Bipedal, powered flight|
|Behind the Scenes|
|Performed by||Ben Chester (Dark Haul)|
The Jersey Devil, sometimes called the Leeds Devil, is a legendary creature or cryptid said to inhabit the Pine Barrens in southern New Jersey.
The creature is often described as a flying biped with hooves, but there are many variations. The Jersey Devil has worked its way into pop culture, and has been featured in many forms of media.
Overview[edit | edit source]
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 pitch squeal as if something hurt it.
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 identification 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 born by Mother Leeds.
Skepticism[edit | edit source]
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. Some people think the Sandhill Crane (which has a 7 feet wingspan) is the basis of the Jersey Devil stories.
Theories[edit | edit source]
Many contemporary theorists believe that the Jersey Devil could possibly be a very rare, unclassified species which instinctively 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. The physical descriptions of the Jersey Devil also appear to be mostly consistent with a species of pterosaur such as a dimorphodon. During a search for the Jersey Devil, television host Josh Gates nearly hit a white-tailed deer with a rental car and subsequently commented on the similarities between it and the Jersey Devil and that deer could explain some ground based sightings. A 2020 investigation by Jessica Chobot and Phil Torres using equipment that picks up the echolocation of bats and uses it to identify the species yielded calls that had no match in the database, suggesting the Jersey Devil could be an undocumented species of bat. The two investigators also theorized that slave ships coming from Africa could have accidentally brought a population of hammer-headed bats, the males of which have odd-looking elongated heads, wingspans up to 3 feet and are known for making loud honking noises.
Sightings[edit | edit source]
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.
Reportedly in 1778, Commodore Stephen Decatur 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 purportedly 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. However, his father was also in the United States Navy and was named Stephen Decatur, but he never achieved the rank of Commodore.
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 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. During this period, it is rumored that the Philadelphia Zoo posted a reward for the creature's capture. The offer prompted a variety of hoaxes, including a kangaroo with artificial wings.
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 March 30, 2017, a video was posted to YouTube that supposedly shows a photograph of the Jersey Devil flying over Pennsylvania. The man who took the photo, identified solely as R. W., reported that he and a friend saw what they thought was a large vulture until they apparently realized it had bat-like wings and goat features. The video can be seen here
Appearances in Media[edit | edit source]
The horror movie 13th Child (a.k.a. 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. 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. He wrestles for WAW wrestling in Manchester, NH. Episode 15 "The Jersey Devil Made Me Do It" of the Extreme Ghostbusters casts 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. The game Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia features an enemy named "Jersey Devil". This version flies and spits fire. Its description once a picture of it is taken reads, "Out of the pine barrens and straight to your neck of the woods". October 31, 2008 Bruce Springsteen releases a music video and free audio download single titled, "A Night with the Jersey Devil" on his website, www.brucespringsteen.net with the note, "Dear Friends and Fans, If you grew up in central or south Jersey, you grew up with the "Jersey Devil". Here's a little musical Halloween treat. Have fun! Bruce Springsteen". The band Coheed and Cambria have a song on their first album, "The Second Stage Turbine Blade" called "Devil in Jersey City". A movie, The Last Broadcast has a four-men group going into the Pine Barrens in search of the Jersey Devil. The Jersey Devil is the main antagonist of the 2009 movie Carny and the 2014 movie Dark Haul