There are many urban legends that have been passed down for decades, from generation to generation. While small details sometimes change as a particular myth undergoes the ‘Chinese whispers’ effect, the focal points often remain the same. When myths are tied to a specific town or city, they sometimes begin to intermingle with the history of the place, and often locals will regale these local legends as if they are a matter of historical fact. The urban myth of the Jersey Devil is one such local legend.
The Jersey Devil is rumored to roam the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, and is described as a winged creature with a goat’s head, horns, skeletal bird like legs, and a long pointed tail. Locals know the Pine Barrens as a untamed, dark, eerie forest. There have been numerous sightings of the Jersey Devil through the centuries, and locals often advise people to stay out of the Barrens after dark. In colonial times, missing livestock or pets were often attributed to the Jersey Devil. Sometimes, the creature would even be blamed for missing children.
First Sightings of the Jersey Devil
The first rumors of the Jersey Devil seem to have sprung up in the early 1700s, around a century after the first European settlers arrived in New Jersey.
The origins of the Jersey Devil center around one particular story that supposedly happened in 1735 when a woman named Jane Leeds became pregnant with her 13th child. Just before it was born, Leeds is said to have exclaimed “Let this child be a Devil!” – and the legend is that whatever came out of this woman was the creature that eventually earned the Jersey Devil moniker. The creature was probably given this name due to its pointed tail, which closely resembles what we typically imagine when we think of the tail of the Devil. Apparently, after the creature was born, it quickly escaped by flying away, and was seen headed in the direction of thePine Barrens.
In 1740, as more stories about the creature were told and sightings began to take place, the frightened townspeople asked a local minister to exorcise the creature. The exorcism was supposed to have lasted 100 years but during that time a few sightings were still recorded. The naval hero Commodore Stephen Decantor was said to have been in the barrens in 1800 – he was apparently testing new cannonballs. One day, during the testing, he noticed a strange creature flying overhead and shot at it. The beast was hit, but it did not fall – instead, it continued flying. In another sighting that occurred few years later, Joseph Bonaparte (brother of Napolean) was apparently hunting in the Pine Barrens when he caught sight of the Jersey Devil.
The Recent History of this Urban Legend
Over the centuries sightings continued to plague the residents of New Jersey. In 1909, many people reported sightings of the creature in Bristol, Pennsylvania – including postmaster E.W. Minster who was awoken one night by an eerie sound coming from the Delaware River. He looked out his window and saw the grotesque creature in the air – it is said to have made a strange and unnatural sound before vanishing into the darkness.
In 1925, a farmer shot an animal that was killing his chickens and of the 100 people he showed it to, none could identify what it was. In 1951 a group of boys from Gibbston claimed to have seen a creature matching the description of the famed beast, and in 1960 tracks where found near May’s Landing, and people in the area claimed to have heard strange noises. At the time, wealthy merchants even offered a 250,000 dollar reward for the capture of the beast.
Today, the legend of the Jersey Devil has stood the test of time and has become subject of a number of films and documentaries . Shows that have featured the legend of the Jersey Devil include “The Lost Tapes” (Animal Planet), “Monsters and Mysteries in America” (Destination America) and ‘The Monster Project” (Nat Geo Wild).
Outside of documentary style TV, the legend of the Jersey Devil has also been the subject of an episode of the beloved TV show the X Files (which is coming back!!). Also, the film “The Last Broadcast” was centered around this popular local legend – this movie was a found footage film where a crew of documentary filmmakers venture into the Pine Barrens and don’t make it back out.
The legend is popular enough to also have been featured in other forms of popular culture, including numerous books and video games.
While the creature is sometimes dismissed as just an urban legend or a tall tale, to this day, there are still people who claim to have seen the unnatural winged beast. Some people, especially those who live around the area, don’t necessarily believe that the Jersey Devil is supernatural, but do believe that the creature is an unidentified animal of some sort (many people who believe in the existence of Bigfoot make similar claims). Filmmakers and adventurers alike cling to the hope that one day, we’ll get some hard evidence that the Jersey Devil is in fact real.
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