The Jersey (Leeds) Devil

The Jersey Devil, sometimes called the Leeds Devil, is a mythical creature/cryptid [1] that allegedly makes its home in the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey, United States. It's often referred to as a winged biped with hooves. The detailed description, that of a kangaroo-like creature with the head of a horse or goat, bat-like leathery wings, horns, taloned hands, cloven hooves and a bifurcated tail. It's said to be extremely quick and the possessor of a blood-curdling scream.

As part of today's popular culture the Jersey Devil has been featured in movies and on television, has lent its name to New Jersey's professional hockey team and is the nickname of the 177 Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard.

There are a number of possible origins for the Jersey Devil legend, the earliest dating back to Native American folklore with the Pine Barrens and surrounding environs being referred to as “Popuessing,” or “place of the dragon,” by the Delaware Indians. The early Europeans in turn called the area “Drake Kill,” “drake” in Middle English meaning dragon, and “kill” (kille in Middle Dutch) meaning water channel, riverbed or creek.

For most New Jerseyans, however, the legend begins in 1735 with Mother Leeds [2] who, finding she was pregnant for the13th time, stated that the latest was the work of the Devil. The child born normal was said to have suddenly morphed, taking on the appearance of a creature with a goat's head, hooves instead of feet, wings and a forked tail. After killing the midwife, it flew up the chimney circled the area and disappeared into the Pines.

Alleged sightings and things that go bump:

In 1820 Joseph Bonaparte, the Emperor Napoleon's elder brother, is said to have seen the Jersey Devil while hunting at his Bordentown, New Jersey estate.

In 1840/41 a number of livestock attacks, accompanied by tracks and screams, were blamed on the Jersey Devil.

In 1870 a Long Beech fisherman claimed to have seen the Jersey Devil serenading a mermaid.

In early 1909 widespread newspaper reporting of claimed sightings/attacks from South Jersey to Delaware led to mass panic and the closure of factories and schools. Also during the period, purportedly and perhaps tongue in cheek, it's reported that the Philadelphia Zoo posted a $10,000 reward for the monster's droppings.

In 1951 a group of New Jersey boys claimed to have seen a creature resembling the Jersey Devil near Gibbstown, Gloucester County.

In 1978 two boys ice skating, allegedly saw two red eyes glowing in the dark. They claimed it was the Jersey Devil.

A number of people have claimed to have heard but not seen the Devil, pointing out strange tracks that seemingly start out of the blue then go nowhere.

Possible explanations:

Skeptics view it as little more than a boogeyman story, a scary tale told around the campfire to frighten the gullible in the dead of night.

Survivalist and author Tom Brown, Jr. having spent several seasons living in the wilderness of the Pine Barrens, recounts occasions when panicked backpackers mistook him for the Jersey Devil after sighting him slathered with mud to help repel mosquitoes.

Jeff Brunner of the Humane Society of New Jersey believes the Sandhill Crane with its wings. stick legs and loud screech to be the basis for many Jersey Devil stories, adding, “there is a lack of hard evidence and no explanation of the devil's origins that doesn't require belief in the supernatural.”

[1] The word “cryptid” was devised by Manitoban John E. Wall and first used in the International Society of Cryptozoology Newsletter, Summer 1983. It basically refers to creatures that are hypothetical, presumed extinct or for which there is insufficient proof to establish their existence with absolute certainty.

[2] “Mother Leeds” is believed by many to be Deborah Smith (possibly an English immigrant) who married Japhet Leeds, a New Jersey native, in 1704. The story goes (with variations) that having already given birth to 12 children and while having difficulty giving birth to the 13th she invoked the Devil's name in a cry for help. Giving credence to the story, the family's home was in Leeds Point, Galloway Township, Atlantic County, an area on the eastern fringes of the Pine Barrens noted for numerous Jersey Devil sightings.

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