The Jersey Devil is a creature in folklore that dates back to early Native American legends. It is claimed to roam the area in Southern New Jersey around the Pine Barrens. But, reported sightings, especially in the early 1900s, have been from all over New Jersey.
Descriptions of the creature vary, but the most common is that it has the head of a goat, kangaroo-like body, bat-like wings, horns, small arms, clawed front hands, hooves on the rear legs, and a forked tail.
The origin of this creature may have derived from the Lenni Lenape tribe. The area around the Pine Barrens was called “Popuessing” by the tribe, which means “place of the dragon.” It was later named “Drake Kill” by Swedish explorers.
The most common origin comes from a legend of Mother Leeds. She was believed to be a witch and had 12 children. When she became pregnant for number 13, it was believed that it was the child of the Devil.
In 1735 she gave birth to a normal baby, but it changed into the Jersey devil form. It then killed the midwife, flew up the chimney, and soared toward the Pine Barrens. An exorcism was performed in 1740 and the creature was not seen again until 1890.
Many other encounters of the Jersey Devil have been reported since the legend began. In the early 1800s, Commodore Stephen Decatur saw a flying creature. He fired upon it, hitting it with a cannonball, but with no effect.
Joseph, the elder brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, claimed to have seen the creature while hunting in 1820. In 1840 and 1841 livestock were attacked and killed; the Jersey Devil was blamed.
In mid-January, 1909, newspapers published over 100 reports of encounters from all over the state. This brought panic to the area, causing many schools to close and workers stayed home.
An unidentified creature was shot by a local farmer as it was stealing his chickens in the mid-1920s. He showed it to 100 people and claimed not one of them was able to recognize what it was.
Residents of Downingtown, Pennsylvania claimed to have seen a creature with red eyes resembling the Jersey Devil on July 27, 1937. In 1951, a boy from Gibbstown, New Jersey, also saw a creature described similarly to the creature. In 1957, a corpse matching the description of the Jersey Devil was claimed to have been discovered.
Tracks were found and noises heard near Mays Landing that were believed to be from the Jersey Devil in 1960. Merchants in the area placed a $10,000 reward for the capture of the creature, also offering to build a private zoo if the creature was captured.
Tom Brown, Jr., an author, spent several seasons living in the Pine Barrens wilderness. On occasion, hikers mistakenly identified him as the Jersey Devil after he covered himself in mud to repel mosquitoes.
In popular culture, the Jersey Devil has been featured in many movies, books, songs, TV series and video games. It has also inspired a professional hockey team to use its name: the New Jersey Devils.
The 177 Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard is also nicknamed the Jersey Devils.
The Jersey Devil legend has prompted many investigations into its existence. Shows like Destination Truth, Paranormal State, Scariest Places on Earth and Monster Quest have all investigated claimed sightings, but no evidence to prove the creature exists was found.
A group called the “Devil Hunters” dedicated their efforts and time in collecting information and investigating the area of sightings for proof. In their research, January 21 is the most common day for a sighting of the Jersey Devil.
Image Caption: A 1909 sketch of the Jersey Devil. Credit: Philadelphia Newspaper/Wikipedia