When humans inhabit an area, monsters seem to follow. While some fit very specific criteria, there are other unique monsters that are creatures unto themselves. One such creature is the Jersey Devil, an all-American monster that seems to have a territory that only extends between southern New Jersey and Pennsylvania. While not the most terrifying creature in mythology, its appearance and origins are deeply connected to the fears of early colonial America.
Quick Facts about the Jersey Devil
- The creature is said to have been the cursed 13th child of Mother Leeds of Pine Barrens, New Jersey in 1735.
- The original Colorado Rockies NHL Hockey Team that existed from 1976 to 1982, moved to New Jersey in 1982 when they were renamed the New Jersey Devils.
- The first reports of the monster came as early as 1735, where it was referred to as the Leeds Devil. It wasn’t until 1909 that its name was changed.
- It is rumored that a circus once offered $100,000 for anyone who could capture the Devil and bring it in. The capture never occurred and bounty was never paid.
- The Philadelphia Zoo is also believed to have once put a smaller bounty of $10,000 on the creature.
The creature’s appearance, as with those of many other folkloric creatures, is one that has tended to change with time. A few features, however, have remained consistent since the earliest versions of the stories surrounding the creature. The Jersey Devil has always had cloven feet, usually resembling those of a goat, and is almost always portrayed as having wings. The creature usually has an animal-like head, usually said to resemble that of a goat or that of a horse. The creature walks upright on two legs and sometimes is said (in later tales) to have a body that somewhat resembles that of a kangaroo.
Strangely enough, this creature isn’t generally said to be possessed of any supernatural powers. Instead, it possesses two notable traits the ability to fly and the ability to emit a fearsome scream. There are some tales of the Devil attacking livestock, but its rare encounters with humans don’t seem to end with violence on the part of the Jersey Devil. The creature does, however, seem to be entirely impervious to harm, with certain stories reporting it shrugging off cannon fire.
Myths and Stories
The Jersey Devil is a creature of relatively modern and specific folklore, so it’s less a monster with related myths and more one that’s been the subject of countless local tales. The Jersey Devil is generally connected to the Leeds family of New Jersey, the cursed thirteenth child of Mother Leeds who took on the shape of a devil after its birth. From there, it fled into the woods where it continued to live.
Widespread stories about the Devil are, like those about Bigfoot, fairly rare. An early story in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century concerned the creature being impervious to cannonball fire, while further tales of the nineteenth century concerned attacks on animals.
In 1909, hundreds of stories about the Jersey Devil were published. One of these stories even went so far as to claim that the creature attacked a trolley car, though even gunfire was unable to injure it. Like so many other similar creatures, it seems to come and go as it wishes with most encounters being deeply personal and thus quite hard to prove.
Stories about this monster are almost always fleeting encounters. When seen, it seems to scream and then fly away from humans. Many hunt for the Jersey Devil even today, but no one has gotten any clear evidence.
There’s no simple answer for its existence. Unlike other fantastic creatures, it doesn’t seem likely that there is a specific native animal that could be mistaken for this beast. Some do point at the sandhill crane as a potential Jersey Devil, but even that particular bird doesn’t quite match up to the stories.
Instead, it seems largely to come form the reputation of its home area. The original Jersey Devil tales come from the Pine Barrens area, which at the time was known as being a liminal space for outsiders. The preponderance of folk stories of that area coupled with reports of violent criminals in the same place could easily give rise to stories about a monstrous creature.