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?
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:
Eyewitness Drawing of Jersey Devil from Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, January 1909:
Shroud House Image: