Wikipedia Wednesday, for real this time.
From the Wikipedia: The Jersey Devil.
Presumably you have heard of the New Jersey Devils, the hockey team that lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Los Angeles Kings earlier this week. But if you’re like me, you had never heard of the cryptid from which they got their name until Eric Simon of Amazin’ Avenue alerted you to its existence (or lack therof) earlier this week. And if that’s the case, what a strange coincidence.
Though their are many different variations of the Jersey Devil, most versions and sightings of the legendary creature say it’s a winged biped with hooves that makes a terrible shriek. Think a pterodactyl that walks on two horse legs and has the head of a huge camel. It’d be a pretty terrifying thing to see out in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, provided it existed. It doesn’t though.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Jersey Devil was better known as the “Leeds Devil” after colonial politician and incorrigible yes-man Daniel Leeds, mostly because no one liked Daniel Leeds — sort of the same way everyone in Europe besides the French used to call syphilis “the French disease.” Supposedly Leeds’ 13th son morphed into the monster then killed its mother and escaped shortly after its birth in 1735, but it turns out both Leeds and his wife were long dead by then, and not at the hands of any monster besides human mortality.
Before its breakout season in 1909, the Jersey Devil showed flashes of brilliance in its ability to flummox notable military types. According to the Wikipedia, Commodore Stephen Decatur — the War of 1812 hero for whom tons of stuff is named — spotted a winged creature in Hanover while in New Jersey to check out the forging of the cannonballs he needed for his conquests. Since he had all those freshly forged cannonballs he was itching to try out, he fired one at the beast but it was unaffected by the shot.
Later, Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s gadabout brother who was in the United States to sell jewels he had stolen from the Spanish crown, came face to face with the hissing Jersey Devil while hunting alone on his Bordentown estate in 1820. He was too stunned to shoot it, though, and ultimately moved back to Europe without ever seeing it again.
The Jersey Devil apparently laid low for about 90 years until the so-called “Phenomenal Week” of January 16-23, 1909, its “most infamous spree.” During that stretch, hundreds of people throughout the Delaware Valley reported sightings of cloven footprints in the snow and of the creature itself, prompting enough panic that schools were closed and workers stayed home. Seriously. No one died or got hurt or anything, what with the Jersey Devil not being real, but everyone got freaked out enough to take precautionary measures. And hey, better safe than sorry. Who really wants to be the first to die at the hoofed hands of a cryptozoological horse-bat that terrorizes South Jersey? It’s really a wonder any territory nearby is occupied today.
Alleged encounters that week included a Jersey Devil attack on a trolley car full of passengers in Haddon Heights and one on a social club in Camden. I don’t know what actually happened. Mass hysteria does strange things to people. Remember that just a couple of years ago tons of people in Connecticut reported seeing mountain lions after that one from South Dakota got hit by a car on the Merritt Parkway (cousin Ray has more on the subject).
And in fact, though there has never been quite a run of Jersey Devil sightings like those of 1909 since 1909, people still claim to run into it every so often. Twice there have been supposed corpses. As recently as 2008, there were 10 sightings reported to a local “Devil Hunters” group, which seems primed for its own really stupid reality show.
The Jersey Devil has been referenced, hunted and speculated about dozens of times in film, television, music and video games. Bruce Springsteen has a song about it, obviously.
Also, according to a Monmouth University poll reported on May 20 of this year, nine percent of New Jersey residents believe the Jersey Devil exists. Not Martin Brodeur. The shrieking, leathery-winged biped Jersey Devil. Roughly one in 11 people who live in New Jersey believe it’s out there, terrorizing chicken coops and such.