A spate of Jersey Devil sightings have local residents worried.
Throughout the course of history, there have been countless cryptids spotted in the more desolate areas of our vast planet. Even in an age of rapidly dwindling wilderness, the prevalence of Bigfoot, Yeti, and Loch Ness Monster sightings doesn’t seem to be decreasing.
One of the smallest states in the United States has its own resident cryptid; one that has been haunting the New Jersey wilderness since the mid-1700s. It is known as the Jersey Devil.
What is the Jersey Devil?
According to legends about the Jersey Devil, it is known to roam an area of southern New Jersey known as the Pine Barrens. Those who have seen it state that it walks on two hooved feet. Its head resembles that of a goat or a horse. It also has the wings of a bat, large horns, clawed hands, and a forked tail. Some accounts describe glowing red eyes as well. As if that wasn’t terrifying enough, it is also said to emit blood-curdling screams as it runs at preternatural speeds through the forest. Some also say that it can breathe fire or use its breath to poison water.
Based on this description, it isn’t surprising that early on in the Jersey Devil’s life, many believed that it was actually a dragon. Some also believe that sightings of the “Phantom Kangaroo” can be attributed to the Devil.
It has been sighted many times over the years, but so far, it hasn’t done any real physical harm to the humans unlucky enough to encounter it. However, the local animals are not as lucky. There have been reports of the Jersey Devil slaughtering geese, ducks, and even domesticated dogs.
The story of the Jersey Devil begins with a woman named Jane Leeds. She was the mother of 12 children already and became pregnant again in 1735. Some say that she was a witch who was impregnated by Satan himself; others believe that she was just a poor, unfortunate woman trapped in a miserable life. Whatever the cause, when Jane found herself pregnant with her 13th child, she cursed the unborn baby.
According to the story, there was a terrible storm raging on the night that Jane Leeds went into labor. After the baby was born, it seemed normal at first. Then, the neighbors who had gathered to assist in the birth watched as the child sprouted wings, horns, and a tail. The child supposedly murdered the midwife and then flew out of the house through the chimney, disappearing into the Pine Barrens where it would become legendary.
In early stories, it was referred to as the “Leeds Devil.” It wasn’t until the legend became more widely known in the 20th century that the creature became known more broadly as the “Jersey Devil.”
Famous Early Sightings
One of the earliest sightings of the Jersey Devil occurred in 1812. Navy Commander Stephen Decatur visited the Hanover Mills in New Jersey to inspect the production of cannonballs taking place there. While examining the outside of the factory, he reportedly saw a creature matching the Jersey Devil’s description flying through the trees. He fired a cannonball at the creature, but it got away.
A few years later, in 1820 Napoleon Bonaparte’s older brother Joseph also apparently spotted the Devil. He was hunting in New Jersey when he apparently spotted the creature. Others also noticed suspicious footprints in the area, leading to widespread panic.
The Terror of 1909
1909 was a time of unprecedented activity for Jersey Devil sightings. In that year alone, no fewer than 1,000 reports came in about possible sightings.
Some of the reports claimed that the Devil had begun threatening the locals of New Jersey. Reports from Haddon Heights and Camden claimed that the creature spotted there attempted to attack a trolley car and a social club. Police attempted to fire on the creature, but it was apparently unaffected. A few days later, an older man in Mount Holly, New Jersey claimed to have seen a shadow fall across his window while he was eating dinner. He supposedly looked up and saw a huge bird with hooves outside the window.
After these reports, people panicked. Reports started rolling in about mysterious footprints in the snow that strongly resembled hooves. Many people brushed off the stories, claiming that any animal with hooves, such as a horse or donkey, could have made the tracks. However, others insisted that the tracks could only have been made by a bipedal creature.
People as far away as Delaware and Maryland began seeing creatures that strongly resembled the Jersey Devil. The panic grew to such an extent that schools and businesses began to close and hunters stalked the woods armed with their most dangerous weapons with the aim of taking down the elusive creature.
The 1909 panic reached its pinnacle when the Philadelphia Zoo offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could capture the Jersey Devil alive and deliver it to the zoo. This prompted a number of hoaxes, such as kangaroos with wings attached, to be delivered to the zoo in place of the real Devil.
In 1909, a fisherman working off the coast of Atlantic City claimed to have captured the mythical creature. He told a harrowing story of fighting the “winged demon,” only capturing it through sheer luck. He showed reporters his bruised and battered arms as proof. His family and friends corroborated the story, claiming to have seen the creature tied up in the fisherman’s home, but he never allowed the public to see it.
Another man named Norman Jeffries created what is likely the most famous Devil hoax in 1909. Jeffries was the publicist for Philadelphia’s Arch Street Museum. He was known for stretching the truth in his job, so it’s unclear why people didn’t immediately discredit him in 1909 when he decided to take advantage of Devil mania by claiming to have the creature captive in the museum.
Before revealing his Devil, Jeffries was believed to have planted false stories in local newspapers about new Devil sightings in an attempt to heighten the creature’s popularity. When he finally when public with his “captive Devil,” people were excited. People lined up to see the Devil, which was actually a kangaroo with fake wings and claws. Twenty years later, Jeffries admitted that it was a hoax that he had concocted to increase the failing museum’s attendance.
More recently in 2013, this photo circulated the Internet purporting to be the Jersey Devil:
The remarkably clear image caused quite a stir but it was quickly revealed to be nothing more than a hairless Fox Squirrel looking for food.
Although 1909 was certainly the peak of the Jersey Devil sightings, encounters with the mysterious cryptid didn’t stop. There have been many other notable sightings in the years since 1909.
In 1925, a farmer in Greenwich spotted a strange animal attempting to run off with one of his chickens. He quickly grabbed his gun and shot at the animal. Unlike other Devil stories, this time, the farmer hit the creature. When he approached it to inspect the body, he was unable to determine what it was. According to the farmer, he showed a photograph of the dead creature to over 100 different people but no one was able to identify it. This led him to believe that he had killed the Jersey Devil.
However, there’ either more than one Devil or the farmer killed something else because the Devil appeared again in 1934. This time, the Devil made it as far as Tennessee. Over a five-day period, locals near South Pittsburg reported a creature matching the Devil’s description killing numerous animals, including a police dog. Even though it was far away from the Devil’s usual haunts, many believe that this creature was, in fact, New Jersey’s resident cryptid.
In 1937, the Devil made an appearance in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Numerous locals reported seeing a creature with glowing red eyes stalking near the woods. A local reporter was the first to make the connection between this creature and the Devil.
Another dead Devil appeared in 1951. A group of young boys in Gibbstown, New Jersey found a dead “monster” while exploring in the woods. When they described the creature, many believed that it must have been the Devil.
In 2005, Greg Hill visited the Pine Barrens after hearing about recent Jersey Devil sightings. While on a rural farm, he managed to capture a photo of a strange looking creature lurking near the property’s fence line. No one has been able to explain the bizarre photograph.
This photo was taken on a hunting trail camera in an undisclosed location in New Jersey. It shows a strange winged creature running on four legs towards a terrified deer. Whatever the animal is, it matches the descriptions of witness accounts over the years. The encounter is one of those creepy trail cam photos that make you second guess entering the woods at night:
One of the most recent Jersey Devil sightings took place in 2015. A man named David Black was driving near a golf course in Galloway County, New Jersey when he spotted an animal walking in and out of the trees. He thought it was a llama at first, which was unusual enough to prompt him to pull out his camera. However, the situation got even stranger when the creature spread a pair of massive wings and took off into the sky. Black snapped a photo that quickly spread all over the Internet:
These are only a few of the many Jersey Devil sightings that have been reported over the years. In New Jersey, encounters with the Devil are not unusual, and many locals set out into the forest in hopes of adding to the growing number of cryptid sightings in the area.
There are many people who believe that the Jersey Devil is nothing but a legend that sprung up in the early days of the United States before people could easily explain the things around them. Skeptics point to the reputation of the Pine Barrens as an area filled with thieves and murderers as evidence that the story was most likely made up to warn people away from the dangerous area. Some also point to evidence that the locals despised the Leeds family and believe the locals made up the tale of the Devil as a way to further damage the family’s reputation.
Most skeptics believe that these Jersey Devil sightings can mostly be attributed to hoaxes and misidentification of other animals. However, the locals of the Pine Barrens in New Jersey insist that their resident cryptid is the real deal.
Well there’s our look at some of history’s strangest Jersey Devil sightings. Do you think this mythical creature is really out there? Let us know in the comments below or on any of our socials.