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The New Jersey Devil – A Halloween Mystery

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The legend of the New Jersey Devil just won’t go away. Unlike other ancient legends the winged and devilish monster has persisted in the consciousness of the state from the 1700’s right up until the modern day, with clear sighting still being reported. As Halloween approaches we thought it would be good to provide a spooky Halloween story for the children of New Jersey, so that they can keep their eyes open when they visit the woods.


The Pine Barrens


The south of the State of New Jersey contains a large undeveloped area of pine woodland called the Pine Barrens, which covers in excess of 1.1 million acres, or 4,500 km². There is said to be an eerie, unsettling feel to the woods, with people reporting a strong sensation of ‘being watched’ when exploring there. This primitive biological mechanism should not be dismissed. The feeling of being watched is a surprisingly accurate survival tool, developed over millennia. So just who or what may be spying on visitors to the Pine Barrens?


The Legend


According to oral tradition the legend begins in 1735, with a woman named Mother Leeds, so named because the shack where she lived was situated in the Leeds Point area of the Pine Barrens. Photos of Shroud House, where she lived, show a ramshackle building, in which the old lady brought up twelve children. Struggling to cope with the labor pains of the thirteenth child the story goes that she cursed it, crying “Let it be the devil!” The thirteenth child was then born as a hideous devil-shaped creature, with horns and wings, which attacked the attending midwives and flew up the chimney and into the night. Other versions of the story contradict this, saying that Mother Leeds kept the deformed thirteenth child in the cellar of the house, throwing meat down to keep it alive. One day she stopped feeding it, whereupon it transformed into the monster, escaped and terrorized local farms in search of food. Thus the legend, and the Jersey Devil, was born.


Theories About The Devil


Jersey Devil historians at The Devil Hunters website offer a number of suggestions and explanations for the legend of the creature. Some theorize that the legend arose due to a deformed child, born to an older woman. In the 1700’s, this would potentially have been seen as evidence of witchcraft, and it is possible that the child was hidden away from prying eyes from fear. As for the sightings, opinion is split. Could it merely be a misidentification of the Sandhill Crane, which has a wing span similar to that of the winged fiend, at between five and six feet? Some adhere to this theory, although the Jersey Devil has been known to attack and steal animals, which an herbivorous crane would not do. The reported sightings of the Devil also describe an animal far taller than the crane, which stands at 40-48 inches. Or is the monster a supernatural creature, a true demon, or a real life throwback, which has survived un-captured for centuries? Who knows. It has characteristics that certainly defy rational explanation, such as the ability to survive gunshots, and an unnatural ability to escape from impossible confines. Other paranormal phenomena have been reported simultaneously with Jersey Devil sightings, such as ghost like apparitions, which lends weight to a supernatural origin, if you are minded to believe in such things.


Some Famous Sightings


Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Evans had one of the longest sightings of the Jersey Devil near Gloucester City NJ, in January 1909, in a week where sightings peaked, causing widespread terror. The encounter was at 2:30 am, on January 19th, when Mr. Evans was woken by a strange, strangled sounding noise. He and his wife watched the Jersey Devil standing on the roof of their shed for ten minutes. Mr. Evans is quoted as follows “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” Around the same time a Mrs. Mary Sorbinski was witness to an attack by the Jersey Devil on her dog. Hearing a commotion she discovered a ‘horrible monster’ which had a hold of her pet. She beat it with a broom until it dropped the dog and flew off, uttering a terrible high-pitched scream. Most sightings include mention of a terrible screech, a tail, wings, hooves and claws. There are literally hundreds of reported sightings of the Jersey Devil, many quite detailed and made by credible witnesses. It is one of the reasons why the legend still grips the popular imagination. The Devil Hunters website charts sightings up to as recently as 2009. Could yours be the next?


Devil Hunting For Halloween!


If you want to go in search of the Jersey Devil yourself this Halloween, scan online for Tripbase flights, but take care in the Pine Barrens. Make sure you find out about the area before you set off, as it is easy to get lost in the vast area. Remember The Blair Witch Project? It’s a little like that in the woods. Make sure you have a cell phone with you in case of emergencies, or just so there’s a friendly voice if the feeling of being watched gets a bit too scary. If you want to find Shroud’s House, where Mother Leeds is supposed to have given birth to the creature, you may be out of luck. Whilst many attempts are made to track down the source of the legend, the property is in private hands now. It may be better to just wander in the pine forests nearby and see who – or what – you can find. One rumor is that if you say the Jersey Devil’s name three times he will appear. Jersey Devil, Jersey Devil, Jersey Dev…




Pine Barrens area:


http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/16/Mullica_River_3.jpg/800px-Mullica_River_3.jpg


Eyewitness Drawing of Jersey Devil from Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, January 1909:


http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/Jersey_Devil_Philadelphia_Post_1909.jpg


Shroud House Image:


http://www.whitesquirrel.com/house.jpg


The Abominable Snowman: Fact or Fiction?

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Whether out of pure curiosity or the desire to exploit, mankind has always been drawn to that which lies beneath the surface of things, waiting to be ferreted out and explored.  One of these not so little mysteries is the Abominable Snowman, a.k.a. The Yeti: a gigantic and intriguing creature that allegedly hails from Tibet.


At the top of the world, Tibet on Mount Everest lies shrouded in clouds and mystique.  It is home to the Dalai Lama and pious monks who commune directly, through meditation, prayer, and fasting, with God.  It is also home to a number of odd creatures and as such, seems a perfect place for the fabled beast to dwell.


The men who first climbed to the top of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, are credited with initiating the global hubbub that still surrounds the mythical Yeti and enthralls us all.   In 1885, the mountain’s summit was declared the highest point in the world and therefore, the penultimate challenge to adventurers from the United Kingdom.   Between the years 1921 and 1952, seven attempts were organized to conquer the peak.  All failed.  In 1953, a man named John Hunt commissioned two pairs of climbers, who came close.  The first pair, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans, got within 300 feet of the summit, but was forced to turn back due to exhaustion.  The air at such altitudes is extremely thin; it is also terribly cold.


Bourdillon and Evans had blazed a trail and had left stores of oxygen along the way, thus enabling the second pair of climbers to gain the summit.  At 11:30 AM on May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary from New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa climber from Nepal, gained Mount Everest’s peak.  The accomplishment resulted in Hillary’s knighting and Tenzing’s honoring via the George Medal.


The night before the historic climb, it is rumored that Hillary and Tenzing lay huddled in a tent close to the summit.  Although they were fast asleep, a sudden odor assaulted their nostrils, so strong, that they were awakened by it!  At the crack of dawn, they searched the area around the tent, seeking evidence of a visitor.  But the 80 mile-per-hour winds destroyed whatever evidence may have existed.  After the climb, the two men questioned the local people with the help of an interpreter. 


Although there was no hard evidence, the natives of Tibet testified that the strange Yeti had lived amongst them for centuries.  They described it as a gigantic creature that walked upright, like a man, and was covered with brownish-red hair.  The Yeti earned the nickname “Abominable” because of its horrific odor. Think: a trip to a horse stable, and then multiple that stench by ten (at least). 


Word of the illusive creature soon leaked to the so-called civilized world, and like all good Englishmen, Sir Hillary wished to serve his Queen by capturing the beast and carting it back home for the world to admire and make a fast buck on.  He enlisted the aid of the locals, offering enticements for their help.  After a two-month search, Hillary was rewarded with a 50-pound bag of so-called authentic frozen Yeti droppings, and this is no bull.  Only a nose such as Al Pacino’s character in Scent of a Woman would have been qualified to differentiate between the scat of the Yeti, the wild Tibetan yak, and the wild Tibetan horse.  So who is to say who really dropped that load?


In the ensuing years, expeditions were formed to search for this creature, but every one of them came up empty-handed.   However, the legend continues both in Tibet and North America.  During the Ice Age, the area we now call the Bering Sea was frozen solid, forming a bridge between Asia and the North American continent.  The bridge allowed the migration of human and animal tribes, and may account for the reported sightings of our own version of the Yeti.  Dubbed Bigfoot by the white man and Sasquatch by the natives of Canada, this strange, offensively scented creature has also been reported in the swamplands of America’s Deep South.


Does Bigfoot really exist?  Does the Loch Ness Monster?  Do aliens (those from outer space, not south of the Rio Grande)?  Does the Jersey Devil exist?  With all of our science, we may never know for sure.  The only thing certain is that these mysteries make for good conversation over a drink or two and keep life interesting. 

The Jersey Devil

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Amidst the goblins, ghosts, and things that go bump in the night, New Jersey lays claim to a creature known as the Jersey Devil. Legend has it as having been born to Mrs. Shroud of Leeds Point, New Jersey. Prior to its birth, she had sworn that, if she had another child, she wished it would be a “devil.”

 

While the admonishment to be careful of that for which one wishes is often heard, rarely does a wish’s granting produce such unbridled horror as in the curious case of Mrs. Shroud. Her thirteenth child came as she had wished, deformed and grotesque. Determining to keep the creature away from prying eyes, Mrs. Shroud kept it indoors. One dark, stormy night, however, the child, infuriated by its continuing imprisonment, went on a rampage, running around the house, screaming, and flapping its arms. The arms transformed before Mrs. Shroud’s eyes into wings, and the creature flew out the window and headed for the Jersey Pinelands.

 

Since that time, for more than 260 years, reliable witnesses not only in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, but also throughout southern New Jersey and even in Philadelphia have seen the creature. Most witnesses describe it as having legs like a crane with cloven hooves, bat wings, a horse’s head, and a bark like that of a dog – what a combination!

 

Upon further investigation, I traveled to the Jersey Pinelands to interview some local people. I stumbled into a local bar to inquire if anyone present had seen the creature. I was directed to an elderly gentlemen sipping a drink. I asked him, “Did you ever see the Jersey Devil?” He responded, “Seen it, I think I married it!” After enjoying a few drinks with my newfound friend, I concluded that, after a few drinks, you can see almost anything.

 

And so, the mystery continues: is the Jersey Devil fact or myth? Like the Loch Ness Montster, Bigfoot, or Quetzalcoatl, the Jersey Devil makes good conversation over a few drinks.

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