The Jersey Devil

Easily the most picturesque and imaginative of American cryptids, and reputed to hang out in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, the Jersey Devil is a critter commonly described as having the head of a horse, huge wings, fierce claws, cloven feet and a long, serpent-like body. It’s never described as being fat and obnoxious, so at least we know it isn’t Chris Christie out for a moonlight waddle…

Seeing the Jersey Devil is thought to be an omen of disaster. From house fires, to dying crops, to cows failing to produce milk, to hurricanes, to a Hillary Clinton presidency, the devil is a sign of coming trouble. Apart from its auguries, the Devil has apparently never actually hurt anyone, which makes you wonder how much it deserves its insulting name. The creature has, however, been known to attack animals, mostly livestock, which suggests that it is either a predator or always in a really bad mood.

Variations on the origins of the creature are many, but the most popular version dates back to 1735 and concerns a Quaker woman known as Mother Leeds. Being poor and already having to care for twelve other children, Mother Leeds cursed her thirteenth child to be a monster, or a “devil”. After being born during the course of a dark and stormy night, the child was kept hidden and imprisoned, but eventually escaped and ran off into the woods where it turned into the chimerical monster of the legends.

A second version claims that a young American woman fell in love with a British soldier during the War of Independence. Not happy with what they saw as the girl’s treasonous actions the townspeople put a curse on her, and when she later gave birth to a baby it was a hideous creature, but that may have been simply the result of being half British. 1909 was the first year that tales of the devil made it from mere oral tradition into print. According to the newspapers of the day there were over two dozen sightings involving over one hundred people as far afield as Pennsylvania, all in the period of one week. A postmaster by the name of E.W. Minster reported a flying creature that had a head resembling that of a ram, long wings and two pairs of short legs. According to Minster, the creature emitted a blood-curdling cry that he described as a combination of squawk and whistle — rather like Rhianna trying to sing a high note, i would assume. In a separate incident, a railway worker named William Wasso claimed to have seen the creature sniffing the railway tracks. As it did so, its tail touched one of the tracks and caused a massive explosion that melted a large section of track and during which the Devil vanished. Other people who saw the creature described it as having glowing eyes and making hissing sounds as it glided through the night sky — again, not unlike Rhianna after a hard night’s drinking. The sightings were taken so seriously that scientists speculated that the creature was a prehistoric survival, barnyard animals were kept locked up, and men wandered around with guns in case they were set upon by the mysterious, hideous-voiced beast.

Another spate of sightings took place in 1951. This time the panic was started by a ten year old boy who claimed to have seen a strange, blood dripping creature through his window. Other sightings described the creature as over seven feet tall and as emitting terrifying shrieks. As was the case in 1909, the panic faded before any solid evidence of the creature’s existence was found. Since then, there have been only the occasional sightings. But despite this the Devil’s presence in the popular imagination has grown stronger and it has been the topic of movies and TV shows such as The X-Files, and has had several hit albums.

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