Ep. 18 The Jersey Devil and His Love Life
Updated: Nov 5, 2019
You’re walking down an empty street just minding your own business when suddenly you hear a blood curdling scream. You look up and what do you see? A creature unlike any you’ve ever seen before.
It looks a little bit like a kangaroo with a horse like head, and bat like wings. It also has horns, tiny t-rex arms with clawed hands, a forked tail, and cloven hooves.
Congratulations my friend, you’ve just seen the Jersey Devil.
Honestly, it looks like some weird amalgamation of animals that a child would think up and draw. But according to the internet the origin story is much juicier than that.
The legend of the Jersey Devil began in 1735 with a woman named Jane Leeds, better known as Mother Leeds. Now Mother Leeds, like many women of the time, had a shit ton of children. When she found out she was pregnant with her 13th child she’d had enough. She cursed the unborn child, saying that it would be the devil.
9 months later on a dark and stormy night, I’m assuming, Mother Leeds went into labor where she delivered...a perfectly normal child.
Until it’s features started to shift before her very eyes. It’s feet changed to hooves, it’s little face morphed into a goat’s head, bat wings sprouted from it’s back, and a forked tail grew from it’s backside. It’s cries turned to growls and screams.
Legend says that the creature beat everyone with it’s tail and then flew up the chimney, out to the forest. Thus the legend of the Jersey Devil (or Leeds Devil) of Pine Barrens was born.
There are some variations of the legend. Sometimes Mother Leeds is said to be a witch, and sometimes the Devil himself is the father.
In some more gruesome versions, Mother Leeds did not mean to curse the child, but rather threw her hands up in exasperation and cried out “let this child be the devil” and then forgot all about it until giving birth.
In this story, after the creature’s transformation it attacks and kills Mother Leeds, screaming it’s hellish scream the whole time. Then it maimed or killed the midwives, tearing some limb from limb. It then went to the other room where it’s father and siblings waited, where it attacked, killing as many as it could, leaving only a few survivors to go on and tell the tale.
In 1778 A young girl from Leeds Point falls in love with a British soldier. This would be just after the revolutionary war so that was a no-no. Townspeople were dicks and said that her relationship with him was treason and cursed her. Eventually, when she and the soldier had a child it became known as the Leeds Devil. It didn’t say whether the child was a physical devil like the one I described earlier
Another story tells of a young woman who came across a gypsy begging for food. She was scared of the gypsy and refused. Doesn’t she know refusing a gypsy always results in a curse? So anyway she forgot all about this curse, but years later when she had her first child, a son, he became a devil and ran away to the woods.
Lastly, and most plausible, is that the Jersey Devil was simply a halloween costume. In 1830, a man by the name of John Vliet made a hideous mask that he would use to play with his children. It became a yearly tradition, and other men in the village took up the tradition.
Over the years, locals reported seeing the Jersey Devil in the Pine Barrens where it would terrorize anyone who dared enter. Unearthly screams were often heard coming from the forest, and animals would be found slaughtered.
In addition to scaring people in the woods, the devil was also to blame for a variety of problems facing the town. Crops failed, cows stopped producing milk, streams boiled, tops of trees blew off, and droughts came. It was also believed by some that he appeared every seven years and foreshadowed war or disaster.
But not everyone believes the Jersey Devil to be a harbinger of doom. In northern areas of the states, some believe the devil to be an anti-war symbol. And they view him similarly to the Loch Ness Monster and the abominable snowman. In the 1990’s there was even a comic book written about him with a character named JD who protects the environment. How cute?
But those people are in the minority. Most view him as a terrifying monster. Which brings us to the sightings.
Many people have seen the Jersey Devil. According to the article I read on atlantic-county.org even “prominent citizens” such as businessmen, postal officials, and policemen had reported sightings. So it’s not just the crazies.
Joseph Bonaparte, brother of good ol Napoleon even saw him when he was out hunting in the woods.
The devil also has some interesting friends.
Captain Kidd (pirate? Yes?) allegedly buried his treasure nearby and beheaded one of his men to forever guard his buried treasure. As a ghost? I guess? Anyway, this ghost and the Jersey Devil became bros and would sometimes be seen in the evenings walking along the ocean. Sounds pretty romantic to me. Gay ghostly lovers perhaps?
That’s our next book.
He was also seen romancing a mermaid at sea in 1870. Maybe it was his ghost boyfriend delighting in some sexy roleplay?
The most famous sightings occurred during a one week period in January 1909. From January 16 to the 23rd there were hundreds of claims of sightings. During this week the devil supposedly attacked a trolley car and a club. Police shot at the creature but their bullets were useless against it. Footprints were seen in the snow. And soon sightings as far as Delaware and Maryland were being reported.
These sightings scared the community so badly that schools closed, and people called off work.
Can you imagine?
Like “um...yea…I can’t come in to work today cause there’s a kangaroo bat devil tormenting my neighborhood.”
It’s rumored that the Philadelphia Zoo offered a $10k reward to anyone who caught the creature. So people geared up and took to the woods. The creature eluded capture, but hoaxes were everywhere. One of which, included a kangaroo outfitted with fake claws and bat wings. Clearly, that one didn’t work.
So what was the Jersey Devil?
At the time, scientists hypothesized that it was a creature from the jurassic period that had somehow survived by living in the nearby limestone caves. There were many guesses as to which creature it may be. A pterodactyl, a peleosaurus, a marsupial carnivore, a fissiped. But they were never able to find any record of any species that matched with the description of the Jersey Devil
When they realized it wasn’t a dinosaur, they started to think it could possibly be a sandy hill crane. These birds are large, have an 80 in. wingspan, and can be very ferocious when threatened.
Less scientific theories suggest that the Jersey Devil is a combination of human and devil, similar to gargoyles. But in reality, it is probably an old boogeyman type folk tale from early settlers. The story could have originated from the disdain the town felt towards the Leeds family, or perhaps from the shady history of the Pine Barrens itself.
At one time The Pine Barrens were rife with highwaymen who would rob and attack travelers. According to wikipedia, During the 1700s and 1800s the citizens of Pine Barrens were viewed as the lowest of the low. “It was a town of poor farmers, fugitives, brigans, native americans, poachers, moonshiners, runaway slaves, and deserting soldiers.”
So the stories may have began as a way to keep people away from the area.
Another theory is, of course, mass hysteria. Our favorite.
But to this day, there are still sightings. And in fact, New Jersey, embraced the Jersey Devil as a sort of mascot, even going so far as to name their hockey team after it. And apparently, Six Flags is building a new rollercoaster called the Jersey Devil.
So what do you think? Real? Not real?
I had some really great sources.