This is not a ghost story and it is not from the publication from which I have been recently retelling ghost stories. I grew up in New Jersey in the United States so the story of the Jersey Devil is well known to me.
On a humorous note, the Jersey Devil was the cause of one of my most embarrassing moments in school. I can’t remember if it was middle school or high school. One day we were watching a documentary about the Jersey Devil (I don’t remember why). At the end the film there was a period where all was silent and the story built up to a climax where the creature gave off an extremely loud screech. I jumped up a little at my desk because I was not expecting the screech and of course the class laughed Who wouldn’t. 🙂
This is my sixth post in my series for Halloween:
The Legend of the Jersey Devil
Legend has it that in 1735, a Pines resident known as Mother Leeds found herself pregnant for the thirteenth time. (Leeds is the surname of early New Jersey settlers). Her husband was a drunkard who made few efforts to provide for his wife and twelve children. After given birth to so may children, she cursed the thirteenth by proclaiming “Let this one be a devil!”
Giving birth a few months later, there had been no more discussion of her devil proclamation. It was a tumultuously stormy night and the midwives delivered the thirteenth Leeds child who was a normal baby boy and the birth was normal. It wasn’t long before Mother Leeds’s unholy wish of months before began to come to fruition. The baby started to change, and metamorphosed right before her very eyes. Within moments it transformed from a beautiful newborn baby into a hideous creature unlike anything the world had ever seen. The wailing infant began growing at an incredible rate. It sprouted horns from the top of its head and talon-like claws tore through the tips of its fingers. Leathery bat-like wings unfurled from its back, and hair and feathers sprouted all over the child’s body. Its eyes began glowing bright red as they grew larger in the monster’s gnarled and snarling face. The creature savagely attacked its own mother, killing her, then turned its attention to the rest of the horrified onlookers who witnessed its tempestuous transformation. It flew at them, clawing and biting, voicing unearthly shrieks the entire time. It tore the midwives limb from limb, maiming some and killing others.
The monster then knocked down the door to the next room where its own father and siblings cowered in fear and attacked them all, killing as many as it could. Those who survived to tell the tale then watched in horror as the rotten beast sprinted to the chimney and flew up it, destroying it on the way and leaving a pile of rubble in its wake. The creature then made good its escape into the darkness and desolation of the Pine Barrens, where it has lived ever since. To this day the creature, known varyingly as the Leeds Devil and the Jersey Devil, claims the Pines as its own, and terrorizes any who are unfortunate enough to encounter it.
In 18th and 19th centuries the Jersey Devil was spotted sporadically throughout the Pine Barrens region, frightening local residents and any of those brave enough to traverse the vast undeveloped expanses of New Jersey’s southern reaches. Unearthly wails were often reported emanating from the dark forests and swampy bogs, and the slaughter of domesticated animals would invariably be attributed to the Phantom of the Pines. Over the years the legend of the Leeds Devil grew, occasionally even overstepping the boundaries of its rural Pine Barrens haunt to terrorize local towns and cities.
The most infamous of these incidents occurred during the week of January 16 through 23, 1909. Early in the week reports starting emerging from all across the Delaware Valley that strange tracks were being found in the snow. The mysterious footprints went over and under fences, through fields and backyards, and across the rooftops of houses. They were even reported in the large cities of Camden and Philadelphia. Panic immediately began to spread, and posses formed in more than one town. Fear and intrigue grew even greater when it was reported that bloodhounds refused to follow the unidentified creature’s trail in Hammonton. Schools closed or suffered low attendance throughout lower NJ and in Philadelphia. Mills in the Pine Barrens were forced to close when workers refused to leave their homes and travel through the woods to get to their jobs.
Eyewitnesses spotted the beast in Camden and in Bristol, Pennsylvania, and in both cities police fired on it but did not manage to bring it down. A few days later it reappeared in Camden, attacking a late night meeting of a social club and then flying away. Earlier that day it had appeared in Haddon Heights, terrorizing a trolley car full of passengers before flying away. Witnesses claimed that it looked like a large flying kangaroo. Another trolley car-full of people saw it in Burlington when it scurried across the tracks in front of their car. In West Collingswood it appeared on the roof of a house and was described as an ostrich-like creature. Firemen turned their hose upon it, but it attacked them and then flew away. The entire week people reported that their livestock, particularly their chickens, were being slaughtered. This was most widespread in the towns of Bridgeton and Millville.
The marauding misanthrope reappeared later in the week in Camden, where a local woman found the beast attempting to eat her dog. She hit it with a broomstick and it flew away.
While there has not since been another week to match the frequency, fervor, and intensity of the January 1909 rampage, numerous sightings of the Jersey Devil have continued to be reported to this day. The tale of the Devil has spread beyond the Pine Barrens and has been embraced by all of New Jersey, even to the point where it has been largely commercialized. The Devil is portrayed in toys, on t-shirts, and is even the subject of his own feature film. Most famously, the Devil has lent its name to New Jersey’s NHL hockey team.
There are several stories of encounters on the website Weird New Jersey (see source below). There is also a video of a documentary produced by Weird New Jersey.
Here is a video from Youtube which was on the History Channel.