Like New Jersey is not weird enough, did you know NJ is also home to the infamous Jersey Devil. No, it’s not the baseball team NJ Devils, well maybe it is. But I am talking about the mythical beast that stalks the Pine Barrens and basically terrorizes the locals to this day. And don’t all you New Jersey fans get in an uproar, I am a bizarre Pennsylvanian, and happen to love our neighbors. Pine Barrens is located in Southern New Jersey and is home to the legendary Jersey Devil.
What is The Jersey Devil?
In 1735, Pines Barrens‘ long time resident, better known by the name of Mother Leeds, found herself “with child,” not a big deal you say. Well, this happened to be her thirteenth time at the art of baby-making. YUP, Mother Leeds had twelve of what neighbors called, I am sure lovingly, “The Brats.” With one more on the way Mother Leeds was at her wits end.
As you might guess, Mother Leeds was not a happy lady, nor did she live a life of ease and comfort. Her husband was a known drunkard that provided little to support his ever-growing family. The kids ran wild, and there was no money or food. Mother Leeds was reaching her breaking point as the birth of her thirteenth child quickly approached. It is said that in desperation, she raised her fists to the heavens and pleaded, “Let this one be the devil!”
As you may well suspect, demanding such a declaration can never be good, and Mother Leeds went into labor just a few weeks later. It is also reported that the night of her long and strenuous labor, there was a tremendously wicked storm. Her other children huddled together in fear in the adjacent room, along with their passed out Papa. The storm shook the little house, while their mother screamed in agony. But finally, the midwives were able to bring forth what seemed like a healthy normal baby boy.
When Mother Leeds hesitated to take the baby, the midwives assured her he was fine. Remembering her curse, Mother Leeds nervously reached for her baby. Sure enough, all hell broke loose as soon as Mother Leeds took the baby into her arms. Residents say skies broke open and raged with lightning and thunder. Mother Leeds is reported as screaming, “My curse has come true, God forgive me.”
Flashes of lightning lit up the small room as the baby started to morph into a terrifyingly hideous creature right before the terrified women. The infant’s wailing became shrieks as it writhed in its mother’s arms sprouting horns and talon-like claws that tore through its skin. Bat wings unfolded from its back, hair and feathers began to grow as fast as the child/monster itself.
The baby was now an immense savage monster snarling and growling with huge red glowing eyes and leathery flapping wings. The only person it focused on was its mother whom had cursed the poor child…monster. The creature savagely attacked Mother Leeds viscously, killing her and then turned on the midwives. Witnesses said that the beast flew around the home, biting and clawing at everyone it could. An unearthly scream, half shrieks of evil and half the eerie cry of a baby, filled the room as it maimed and tore the people apart.
Those who survived to tell the tale then watched in horror as the evil cursed beast sprinted to the chimney, flew up it, destroyed it on the way, and left a pile of rubble in its wake. The creature then made good and escape into the darkness and desolation of the Pine Barrens, where it has lived ever since. To this day, the beast, 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.
Where is The Devil Nowadays?
Nowadays, the Jersey Devil is still periodically spotted throughout the region of Pine Barrens and still even frightens the locals. Pine Barrens is part of the 1.1-million-acre Pinelands Natural Reserve. A reserve that stretches south and west from northern Ocean County. Making up 22 percent of New Jersey’s total landmass. Congress created the reserve in 1978. The sanctuary was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1988 and is more significant than either Yosemite or Grand Canyon national park.
Let’s say that there is a lot of room in the NJ reserve for the Jersey Devil to roam or hide, and wouldn’t you if you were a cursed mutant evil boy monster. Unearthly, wails are often reported to be heard radiating from the dark forest and swampy bogs. All the evil, strange noises from the woods only add to the mystery. Throw in the numerous sighting and slaughtering of domesticated animals throughout the region, and you have a real Urban Monster legend on your hands.
The Most Famous Sightings and Incidents of The Jersey Devil
The most infamous of these sightings and incidents happened during the week of January 16th, through 23, 1909, when the Jersey Devil left it’s home at Pine Barrens and went on a bit of a holiday. Those eight days are probably the most active days ever seen in the history of the Jersey Devil sightings. During this time, the creature was seen in at least four states: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland.
Some say that this was all a case of mass hysteria, but I think anyone who says hundreds of people, across four states, all experienced mass hysteria within one week is, to be frank, full the devil. Sure, maybe there were some hoaxsters (yes, that’s a word) who were more than excited about selling a story to the newspapers, but you can’t chalk-all-of-it-up-to panic. There are actually multiple credible witnesses, including police and government officials.
Three (yes, three) Camden County, New Jersey police officers saw the creature. After responding to a scene where a woman’s dog was reportedly bitten by the monster, two of the officers, Thomas Cunningham, and William Crouch, actually unloaded their revolvers at the beast. The beast, unfazed, flew away into the night. A crowd of over 100 people claimed to have witnessed the event.
The next night, the third officer, Louis Strehr, witnessed an animal with the head and body of a kangaroo and “bat wings” drinking from his horses’ trough. Trenton, New Jersey councilman E.P. Weeden saw the devil from his window after being awoken in the night by a banging on his door. He thought at first it was a resident coming to him for assistance, but he claims to have heard its wings flap and saw the hoof prints on his first-floor roof. And then it appeared in Pennsylvania.
This was one of the few sightings the creature made outside of New Jersey state. It specifically targeted Bristol, PA, located 23 miles northeast of Philadelphia. It was here, officer James Sackville (who would go on to become Bristol police chief) described seeing a winged beast with strange features. These characteristics included that it “hopped like a bird” and that it had a terrible scream (others refer to it as a bark). He also unloaded his revolver on the creature with no success as it flew away.
Shortly after that, also in Bristol, postmaster E.W. Minster provided an account that he saw the beast flying over the Delaware River. He described the devil as having the head of a ram, curled horns, long thin wings, and short front legs with long rear legs. He also heard the same “terrible scream” that officer Sackville heard.
Philadelphia itself felt the brunt of the events of 1909. Mrs. J. H. White saw the devil in her backyard and fainted at its sight. Reasonably only being saved after her husband came and scared it off. A motorist reported almost running over a “fire-breathing” animal on Washington Avenue, while a Mr. WIlliam Becker threw stones at it on Limekiln Pike. A crowd of people, including a Martin Burns, saw the devil between Fairmount Avenue and Beach Street in Fishtown.
These sightings caused a bit of a panic as many saw the sighting as a threat to the residents of both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. At least one school district, Mount Ephraim, NJ, actually closed school on Friday, January 26th due to lack of students. Most families opted to keep their children home in fear of their lives. A performance at a Camden, NJ theater was canceled for similar reasons. The Philadelphia Zoo offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of the mysterious animal. The famous sketch of the Jersey Devil that is most commonly referenced today was actually printed during this event in The Philadelphia Bulletin.
And then it was all over. The elders in the community blamed it all on the legend of the Leeds Devil, or as it became more commonly known, the Jersey Devil. Sightings continue to this day, and I personally know people who claim they have seen it during trips to the Pine Barrens in New Jersey. It sure seems like something attacked and terrorized the Pennsylvania Delaware Valley that week in the winter of 1909.
Was it the Jersey Devil?
Well, yeah, of course, it was!
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